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Our latest family vacay took us to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Yeah, baby! We were a group of four; hubby, me (the wife, mom, and planner of all trips), and our 12 year old boy/girl twins. It was a great trip and we had an absolute blast. We swam, we ate, we shopped, we snorkeled, we chilled. We did most everything one would expect on a Mexico vacation with children. 🙂 Read on to find out what you can do on your family vacation to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where you HAVE to eat, and a few tips to navigate the area. Okay, vamos!
Playa del Carmen
First, a quick rundown on Playa del Carmen, Mexico. PDC is a beach town located about 45 minutes south of Cancun, Mexico in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, more specifically in the Riviera Maya portion of the Yucatán Peninsula. Playa del Carmen has grown exponentially in the last 15-20 years, from what used to be a sleepy little fishing village to a mega resort tourist extravaganza. I mean MEGA. BIG TIME. Tourist HOT SPOT. If you don’t like being around people…well, you might want to plan a different vacation.
I remember when there were just a couple of restaurants and small stores in this town, with not much else to speak of. Literally. Nothing else. I used to frequent Cancun, Mexico quite often in my younger years (yes, I am still young…but you know what I mean!). We would rent a jeep for the day and drive down to Playa del Carmen for secluded beaches and total quiet. You know. Everything that Cancun is NOT. Yep. Those were the days.
Calle Quinta Avenida, or 5th Avenue, is the main street in Playa del Carmen and this is where you will find a majority of the shops, restaurants, tour/excursion booths, street vendors, and just about anything else you need. Including the crowds. So. Many. People. But that’s what you get on 5th Ave, and as long as you know before you go, it’s all good.
Where to Stay
I will say that Playa del Carmen is definitely considered a resort town these days! There are a plethora of 4/5 star resorts to choose from, with all-inclusive options (all meals and drinks included in the price), amenities galore, and a wide range of prices to fit almost any budget. Grand Velas Riviera Maya, Panama Jack Resorts Playa del Carmen, The Royal Playa del Carmen, Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen. This list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. The list literally goes on and on…and on, and on. Ready to shop and book your resort stay? CLICK HERE for some of the best pricing and options available!
Looking for something with more of a local feel and location? Playa del Carmen offers an abundance of boutique hotels, condos, B&B’s, and even hostels, with options for EVERY type of traveler and EVERY budget. If you are staying anywhere in the main part of town, everything is within walking distance, or a super short taxi ride away. Convenience is a proper term here. No matter where you stay in town, restaurants, shopping, night life, and THE BEACH, are all within your reach…or, just outside your door!
To search for hotels of any size CLICK HERE!
Looking for an apartment for your stay? CLICK HERE to search for the best options and prices!
They even have Villas! CLICK HERE to check them out!
If a Bed and Breakfast is more your vibe, CLICK HERE to search and book!
Guesthouses are a great option in Playa del Carmen too. CLICK HERE to check them out!
What to Eat
Oh my! Where to begin??? If there is a shortage of anything in Playa del Carmen, it is definitely NOT places to eat! The amount of restaurants here is actually a bit overwhelming. If you chose an all-inclusive resort stay, then you have it pretty easy because of your choices located on property. However, if you are in and around town, just about every other door you come to leads you to another restaurant option. Sooooo much food! Let’s all say it together…YUM-MY!
As is typical of any tourist area in Mexico, if you are walking 5th Avenue anywhere close to breakfast, lunch, or dinner hours, there will be restaurant employees attempting to lure you into their establishment. Love it or hate it, it is what it is. Learn to smile and keep walking, unless you are truly interested in their offerings. Then, by all means, check them out!
Playa del Carmen has a wide array of cuisine choices. No matter your cravings, there is probably an option. No matter your budget, there is definitely an option! Below is a list of five (out of 100’s) of the top rated spots to grab a bite to eat!
My Fave Five
Chez Celine – An amazing French bakery/restaurant with the best almond croissants I have ever tasted! EV-ER! And I have eaten my way through Paris! You gotta get you one (we had several).
Taqueria El Fogon – One of the best taco joints in Playa del Carmen (and there are MANY). Multiple locations, affordable/authentic tacos, and lots of other great choices too.
Don Chendo – Chicago style deep dish pizza, and other offerings. I can’t say it’s as good as the pizza in Chicago, but it’s a great option in Playa del Carmen!
3XL Burger – Great burgers in three sizes (XL, 2XL, 3XL) with some seriously tasty fries (regular and sweet potato). They even have ribs, chicken/pork/tuna sandwich options, and a nice salad bar to customize your plate.
Asadero El Pollo – Super low key, super cheap, and SUPER TASTY! The menu here is simple. Roasted chicken, rice, onions, salsa (red and green), and corn tortillas. That’s it. They are only open from 10am – 6pm, or until they run out of chicken. Get it while you can!
Where to Shop
5th Avenue. That is all. Next! 🙂
I’m only slightly kidding. Just about everything you could possibly need or imagine can be found on 5th Avenue. From high end stores and boutiques, to every day options like Old Navy, H&M, Forever 21, full scale malls to street vendors, to…you name it. So. Many. Stores. Looking for something in particular? You can probably find it on 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen. If you can’t find it, you probably don’t need it. 🙂
There are also plenty of places to shop that are not nearly as crowded on 10th Ave, 30th Ave, and several of the main blocks in between. There is no shortage of local souvenir shops, so make sure to pick up a few Playa del Carmen goodies to take home to your loved ones who are not lucky enough to be on vacation with you! And, of course, if you are looking at anything from street vendors, prices are ALWAYS negotiable!
Oh yeah. Let’s not forget there is a Walmart located on 30th Ave between 8th and 12th. We were there every day of this visit for one reason or another. Every. Single. Day.
What to Do
Hmmmmm…this might be a tough one. Ummmmm, NOT! Head to the beach, of course! While the sand and water is definitely not as clean and clear as nearby Cancun, there are still several places to find a nice spot to cool down in the ocean. Seaweed and rocky areas are a reality in the Rivera Maya, so please know that before you go. If you are not staying at a resort with beach access, you still have plenty of choices available. I suggest heading to Mamita’s Beach, which is fairly clear of debris. There are several beach clubs to hang out at for the day, or you can stake your claim directly on the beach and head right into the water.
Beaches in the Playacar area (gated community just on the south side of Playa del Carmen) are not horribly crowded, but the seaweed can be overwhelming. We spent an entire day on the beach in this area and had a great time. We packed our lunch, drinks, portable speaker, towels and sunscreen, walked less than 10 minutes down the beach from town, found a shaded spot in the sand, and had a great time.
As I mentioned, there are several beach clubs to choose from if you want to spend the day at the beach but are staying inland. In no particular order, there is Mamita’s Beach Club, Kool Beach Club, Indigo Beach Club, Carolina Daylight Club, Zenzi, Inti Beach…just to name a few. If you are seeking variety, why not try several during your stay? I mean, I can’t get enough of the beach, great views, and great food and drinks. Can you?
Considering the Yucatán Peninsula area is on the second largest reef in the world (second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia), snorkeling and/or diving are a given here. There are simply too many choices when it comes to tour companies and dive shops in Playa del Carmen, so I will only mention the one we chose for snorkeling on this trip. Dune Mexico Blue Dream. This was a phenomenal experience. From the moment we walked in the shop to the moment we left, everything was excellent. We were the only four people booked for snorkeling on that particular time slot. so we got a personal guide and Nico was awesome! We snorkeled the Moc-che reef for at least an hour. Ah-Maz-Ing!
I cannot say enough good things about this experience. I will absolutely book another trip with them next time we are in Playa del Carmen. We are now considering getting certified to dive!
Because of all of our time in the water, my Amazon travel product pick of the week is biodegradable sunscreen. Waterproof and reef safe. Perfect for snorkeling, beach frolicking, and required by all of the local Eco parks.
Speaking of local Eco parks, Xcaret, Xhel-Ha (and all of the “X parks”), Tulum, Chichen Itza, Cancun, and all of the other day trip options deserve their own post. I will get to writing right away and link the post HERE when done! 🙂
The island of Cozumel is just a 45 minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen and definitely worth a day trip! Heck, Cozumel is worth a trip of it’s own. But we will save that post for another time. Ultramar, Mexico Waterjets, and Barcos Caribe are your three main choices for ferry rides to the island (Cozumel = the island, Playa del Carmen = the main land). Ferries leave every hour on the hour, unless it is peak season and they add extra half-hour departures. Prices are around $8-10 USD per adult ticket for one way, or $16-20 round trip. Each ferry offers multiple seating levels, inside air conditioning and outside seating options, restrooms, and drinks available for purchase.
When on the island of Cozumel, the options of places to stay, eat, shop, swim, etc. are similar to Playa del Carmen, but on a slightly smaller scale. If you are visiting for the day, consider hanging out at one of their beach clubs (I recommend Paradise Beach [where we spent a full day], Mr. Sancho’s, Playa Mia, or Nachi Cocom), experience world renown snorkeling and/or diving, visit one of two Eco parks (Chankanaab Adventure Park or Punta Sur), or simply peruse around town enjoying the shopping and restaurant options.
No matter what you choose to do, you can’t go wrong with a day in Cozumel!
Playa del Carmen – Family Vacation Tips
Playa del Carmen, Mexico is a great place to vacation with the family. There is so much to see and do there, it’s practically impossible to get bored. And with accommodations, cuisine, and shopping to fit every budget and lifestyle, I truly believe there is something for everyone. Unless you are not a fan of the sun, sand, and ocean. But honestly, you could stay inside the whole time and still have a great trip!
While we focused on our family trip this time around, we all KNOW Mexico is a top pick for couples, singles, and group trips. I could tell you stories! I even ventured to Cabo San Lucas all by my lonesome a few months ago and it was AMAZING! Check out the deets on my first solo trip HERE! On both my Cabo and Playa del Carmen trips in 2018, I felt completely safe. Never a single issue. I highly recommend you book a trip to Mexico too!
Until then, where to next?