After Porto Morelos, the next logical stop was Playa del Carmen, a 30-minute drive South. We had been there twice before and it’s not really our kind of place—it mostly caters to a bar and party crowd and tourist who are mostly looking for cheap fun and mucha cerveza.
Indeed, Playa del Carmen’s main street, the pedestrian 5th Avenue, is a concentrate of everything independent travellers usually try to avoid—tacky souvenir shops, overpriced bars and restaurants, ubiquitous US and international franchised flagship stores and touristic gimmicks.
I hated it last time, probably because I was in a bad mood since we it was the end of our trip.
It’s actually fun to notice that wherever you are in the world, tourist spots offer the same bland hybrid “culture”: favourite foods are pizza, pasta and burgers, the drink of choice is cheap bear, t-shirts all have the same mildly humorous and vaguely offensive messages, everyone wears the same sarong/t-shirt/shorts, etc.
Yet, once you escape this street, Playa del Carmen isn’t so bad. It even feels like Mexico. There are cheap and tasty restaurants, a few lively plazas and a fairly nice—if overcrowded—beach. The town is big enough to walk around for a bit and locals are super friendly.
Compared to the last time we were there, there are definitely fewer Europeans. In fact, I have barely seen any. Tourists are mostly Americans or Canadian (many Quebecois). And shopkeepers along the 5th Avenue don’t try so hard to sell excursions or souvenirs… or maybe it’s just me.
We arrived in Playa del Carmen early, around 10 a.m. Being our usual irresponsible selves, we didn’t have any reservations—but we did have a toddler whose diaper needed changing.
¿Tiene habitaciones? ¿De dos camas? ¿Cuánto cuesta la habitación? ¿Puedo verla?
Yes, getting us a room is usually my job.
The first hotel we tried was expensive, plus the room was trashed. The second one had okay rooms at an okay price but they wouldn’t be ready until twelve (checkout time is rather late in Mexico).
We decided to wait and grabbed a quick breakfast at the supermarket, where I also used the sanitarios to change Mark.
By noon, Mark was getting tired and very cranky and the room wasn’t even close to be ready. Mark passed out on me, in the front seat of the car (yes, I know… told you, we are irresponsible!) and I got cranky too—when he is sleeping, I need the time off, I certainly don’t want him to sleep on me!
We gave up on the second hotel and opted for a third, a lucky pick by the plaza. Not only it was cheaper but the room was ready. Lo and behold, I transferred Mark into his stroller and we parked him in the room, where he napped for a bit.
We bought Mark a plastic bucket at Walmart, the best 40 pesos investment ever as it keeps him busy at the beach. That and other kids…!
So here is Playa del Carmen for us: no booze but beach-bumming and people-watching. Not so bad!