Aaaaah, Playa!! Was there ever such a beautiful place? The year before I retired, Marv and I spent a week at an all-inclusive resort just north of the city of Playa del Carmen called, the Ocean Maya Royale. As usual, we went during the “low” (“off” to gringos) season in order to get a bargain. And, what a bargain we got!
Playa is a fishing village that is now the heart of myriad ocean resorts. The trip to Cancun takes you through less and less natural landscape each year as the development spreads along the coast. With Cancun to the north 40 Km (25 miles) and Tulum to the south about the same, Playa is ensconced along the Riviera Maya along with its suburbs Puerto Moreles, Puerto Aventuras and Akumal. The whole coastline offers the most beautiful white sand beaches and best snorkeling and diving in the western hemisphere.
That stretch of coastline is also home to several of the amazing Mexican ecological parks, including Xcaret, Xel-ha and Xplor. Every park is unique and worth a day or two spent in them. You can swim, float or paddle your way through an underground river, fly over the jungle on zip lines, snorkel, skin dive, jump from a cliff into a lagoon, walk the trepachanga, swim with dolphins and much more.
Our package was “all inclusive” and the resort sported five (now four – the Italian one burned down and wasn’t replaced) restaurants inside its walls. We were there five nights and ate at a different restaurant every night. Our last night we ate at the Yookoso, a Japanese restaurant that makes wonderful sushi!! Every morning, we ate at La Hacienda’s breakfast bar, which served every kind of food – breakfast and otherwise. At one kiosk, you could get an omelet made to your specifications, but they had meat dishes, pasta, vegetables, salads, fruits, cereal, and desserts, too. You could eat dinner for breakfast, if that’s what you wanted.
As I mentioned, Playa has become very “developed” over the past 15 years, so if you’re looking for something slightly more native, head down the highway to Akumal, or better yet, Tulum. Tulum has not been as developed most likely because it’s an hour and a half drive from the Cancun airport. But, therein lies its charm. It still has a mercado, or central market, where you can buy food fresh from the garden, ocean or barnyard, along with any kind of merchandise you could want. A mercado is kind of like a modern department store spread out over several square blocks that sells fresh food and handmade clothing, instead of the processed kind. It is my favorite thing about Mexico. Playa’s mercado is long gone, replaced by Sears and Walmart stores.
Playa is, in essence, a beautiful, commercialized stretch of beach on the Riviera Maya – like Cancun, a wonderful place to visit. But, if you want to live in the area, I suggest you head a little further south – the beaches are still pristine and development hasn’t made it so far down the coast yet.