Last updated: 31 March 2015
Playa del Carmen, and its neighbouring paradise of Tulum, is one of my favourite regions on earth. I could stroll up and down Playa’s 5th Avenue all day. With the pristine beach decorated by yogis each morning, year-round warmth, endless amounts of bars and hotels, and its eclectic mix of restaurants – this is one place that I could never get bored. Whether you want to party all day and night, take a spiritual journey or a romantic trip with your partner, Playa del Carmen has it all.
Thanks to having a Mexican soulmate, I’m lucky enough to visit Playa del Carmen every year. When we visit, we usually spend around one month here, while I (slowly) learn to speak Spanish.
So, this is basically an Australian’s highlight reel for Playa del Carmen… Where to eat, where to learn spanish and where to practice yoga.
— In a Nutshell —
If you’re familiar with Australia, I like to think of Playa del Carmen as Mexico’s version of Byron Bay.
The main area in Playa del Carmen is along Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), referred to by the locals as “Quinta”, between Calle 2 and roughly Calle 36 (2nd and 36th streets) – in other words it’s a long drag! However almost everything is easily walkable. The mostly-pedestrian street is lined with restaurants, shopping and boutique accommodation.
For those coming to party, then you should stay somewhere around the Calle 12 area, as this corner is where all the nightclubs are, such as Blue Parrot, Mandela and Coco Bongo. This area is chaotic during peak season weekends, so if you would prefer to get some sleep after midnight I highly suggest staying a little further north around the streets in the 20s and 30s. I personally prefer the northern end, which is where most of my recommendations below are located.
A regular question I’m asked, “Is it safe in Playa del Carmen?” My answer to that is a big huge YES! I’ve never felt unsafe here and I often walk around alone. I was going to make my own video tour of 5th Avenue to demonstrate just how busy and safe the area is, but I think this guy covers it pretty well:
— Where to Eat in Playa del Carmen —
Fresh Market – DAC
If you’re staying for a while and need to fill up your fridge with groceries, then forget about MEGA and Walmart. DAC is the place to be. It’s an organic market full of all the fruits, vegetables, grains, spices, and almond milk you’ll need. I just love browsing around aimlessly in this place every day. If you don’t usually eat organic at home due to budget restraints, you have no excuse while in Mexico!
For a good look inside, check out this YouTube video.
Opening Hours: 7am – 8pm, daily (closes 2pm on Sundays)
Address: 30th Avenue, between Constituyentes and Calle 20
Fresh Eat – La Ceiba de la 30
Connected to DAC is one of my favourite restaurants – La Ceiba de la 30 – using all the fresh produce from the market. The veggie burritos and quesadillas are the tastiest I’ve ever had, and their wide selection of freshly-squeezed juices are delicious. I love this place so much that I visited everyday for my green-smoothie breakfast on my way to Spanish school (see below), and some days I’d even visit a second time for lunch!
The only downside is that it’s at least five-blocks from 5th Avenue.
How much did I pay? Less than 100 pesos for the vegetarian burrito pictured here, along with a HUGE freshly-squeezed fruit/vegetable juice.
Opening Hours: 7am – 8pm, daily (closes 2pm on Sundays)
Address: 30th Avenue, between Avenida Constituyentes and Calle 20
Cheap Eat – Los Aguachiles
If you like seafood and want some authentic Mexican cuisine, then Los Aquachiles is a must-visit. The menu is mostly soft-shell tacos and tostadas, with a swarm of salsas at your table to top them off. They even have “Figurines” for those wanting something more healthy, with fresh seafood wrapped in lettuce leaves.
It’s far from glamorous, and you’d likely just walk straight past it without having been given the hot tip; but for a cheap, simple, and delicious Mexican meal, put this place on your to-do list.
Also, don’t make the mistake I did and tear off the plastic around the plate they give you. Here I was naively thinking it was some kind of sanitation thing, but the plastic is there to eat on, making for easy cleaning!
How much did I pay? Around 20 pesos per taco – bargain.
Address: Avenida Constituyentes, between 1st & 5th Avenues
Hole in the Wall Awesomeness – Kaxapa Factory
Owned by a Venezuelan family, this local favourite has loads of veggie and vegan options. They are big on supporting local farmers, using only local ingredients. After receiving huge recommendations, I thought “WTF?” when I saw the place, but trust me and the 500 reviews on Trip Advisor that it is awesome. The family who owns it are the ones who serve you and they shower you with welcoming love. They play reggae tunes and even provide free samples of their unique Venezuelan juices as soon as you arrive. It’s a must-try.
How much did I pay? Roughly 200 pesos for two well-fed people.
Opening Hours: 1pm – 10pm, Tue-Sun
Address: On Constituyentes, between Avenues 10 & 15
Healthy Eat – Bio-Natural
This health food store and organic vegetarian restaurant is the perfect place to fill up on nutritious supplies like chia seeds, kombucha, quinoa, tea, snacks, herbs, etc., or for a delicious spirulina smoothie and body-nourishing feast.
The relocated in 2015, so I haven’t personally been to their new digs. The store images here were supplied by Bio-Natural, but I kept my photo of my meal (and menu) from their previous location. I’ve updated the new address and opening hours. Looks like a big upgrade so I cannot wait to visit again soon!
How much did I pay? I had the vegan casserole with eggplant and a green smoothie (pictured – both so good) cost 120 pesos.
Opening Hours (Restaurant): 9am – 9.30pm, daily
Opening Hours (Store): 8am – 10pm, daily
Address: 10th Avenue, between Constituyentes and Calle 16
The Best Breakfast – La Cueva del Chango
Originally positioned in the middle of jungle-like surrounds when it first opened eight years ago, this place is now accompanied by loads of restaurants toward the north end of 5th Avenue, but they’ve managed to still keep the middle-of-the-jungle vibe as you sit inside a large hut with turtles swimming around the pond in the middle of the restaurant. Here you can expect quality traditional Mexican food for breakfast and lunch, while dinner is more of a modern Mexican style. I haven’t been for dinner, but I’ve been four times for breakfast and lunch and it was amazing every time.
This is the most popular spot for breakfast, so get there before 10am to avoid waiting for a table.
How much did I pay? Approx 80 pesos per dish. Click here for the menu.
Opening Hours: 8am – 11pm, daily (closes 2pm on Sundays)
Address: Calle 38, between 5th Avenue and the beach
Amazing Lunch – Fonda Regina
We decided to try this place after realising the wait was too long for La Cueva del Chango, located just next door… Let me tell you that was quite a successful decision! While La Cueva del Chango has such a great reputation for breakfast and lunch, newly-opened Fonda Regina offers some serious competition with the same jungle-vibe.
With only a small amount of tables, making you feel like you’re sitting in someone’s private backyard as you enjoy home-style recipes (apparently inspired by the chefs grandmother) using mostly locally-sourced organic ingredients, and healthy alternatives like coconut oil and Yucatan Caribbean seasonings. Angel and I were blown away by how amazing our seafood chilaquiles and ceviche was.
How much did I pay? I have a feeling they accidentally overcharged us, as the below photo cost roughly 400 pesos.
Opening Hours: 8am – 10pm, daily
Address: Calle 38, between 5th Avenue and the beach
Fine Dining – Maíz de Mar
A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. Famous Mexican chef, Enrique Olvera, opened this restaurant in June 2013. They are all about local, quality foods with unique (and delicious) combinations. Plenty of tables spilling out on to pedestrianised 5th Avenue for lots of people watching. The kitchen is on display, which I love – one in the middle of the restaurant and the main kitchen downstairs on the way to the bathroom with a huge window to peak in at the cleanliness).
How much did I pay? Between four of us, we had five share plates and two main dishes, we each had one cocktail and one infused water (a must try) and desert. We paid roughly $50 each. For the quality and experience, I believe that is a bargain. Check out the menu here.
Opening Hours: 2pm – 12am, daily
Address: 5th Avenue, between Calle 30 & 32
A Touch of Europe – Chez Celine
This French bakery is always busy – especially for breakfast. For those who love a coffee and homemade cake, this is a must-visit and the almond croissant is a must-try! They also serve quiches, sandwiches, salads, etc. I haven’t been for dinner, but they service cheese, crepes, wine, etc Try their specials of the night, to pare with a glass of wine: cheese and cold meats platters, terrines, vol-au-vent and their savory and sweet crepes! Natural products, 100% homemade, high quality ingredients and lots of love… !
How much did I pay? Click here for the menu
Opening hours: 8am – 11:30pm, daily.
Address: Corner of 5th Avenue and Calle 34
For Something Unique – Alux Restaurant
Alux is a Mayan restaurant with a twist – tucked inside an old, dried-up cenote. As you walk down the stone staircase, you enter the cave which is full of winding pathways through the large restaurant, with separate private dining areas, bar, and a large event space – all surround by the raw elements of the cenote. It’s a bizarre feeling, and can get a little humid/stuffy under there as you’re literally inside an cave. Most importantly, the food is excellent and so are the cocktails. They are accommodating to vegetarians, so just ask about variations that aren’t listed on the menu. This is a great place to go for a romantic dinner.
How much did I pay? Roughly 300 pesos per main dish. Check out the website for the menu.
Opening Hours: 5.30pm – 11pm, daily
Address: Av. Juárez Mza. 217 Lote. 2 Col. Ejidal entre diagonal 65 y 70 (give that address to your taxi driver – this is not walkable from 5th Avenue)
Juice Therapy – Green Box
I love stopping by Green Box for a freshly-squeezed juice and a hand-made wrap or bagel. Don’t stop by here if you’re in a hurry though, as it’s all genuinely freshly made by the solo person working inside the “green box”, so speed is not their biggest asset, however the wait is always worth it, and the staff is so friendly that I usually end up just chatting with them in “Spanglish” as they perfectly handcraft my order.
UPDATE 1 Jan 2014: While the original “to go” stand is still located on the corner, Green Box has also opened a proper restaurant, just a few meters away!
How much did I pay? Juices are only around 45 pesos. Check out the menu here.
Opening Hours: 7am – 10pm, daily
Address: Corner of 5th Avenue and Calle 38
Beachside Lunch & Cocktails – Canibal Royal
Canibal Royal is at the north-end of central Playa del Carmen, at Coco Beach. Slightly far out, but worth it if you’re in town for a little while and want to mix up the scenery for your afternoon cocktails, and the food is so good.
On the weekends it gets really busy, turning into a day club. During the week it’s pretty peaceful. This was our “local hangout” last year, as our apartment was next door – I could easily eat here daily.
Menu: Click here (sorry I could only find it in Spanish)
Opening Hours: 10am – 7pm, daily
Address: On Calle 48 and the beach
— Learn Spanish in Playa del Carmen —
I’ve been to two language schools in Playa del Carmen. In 2011 I took two weeks at IMAC, and in 2012 I took two weeks at Solexico. I loved each school and learned a valuable amount at each of them, but if I had to pick a favourite, I’d recommend Solexico.
IMAC has an excellent location in Playa del Carmen, in the heart of all the Fifth Avenue action. The two-storey building is called International House, and the classrooms surround the small gardens in the center where you can hire bikes, and order freshly-squeezed juices and snacks.
My class had six students in the first week, and I think one or two more in the second week (my memory is being tested), all from a diverse mix of nationalities and ages. Our teacher was lovely, however she couldn’t speak any English. At first we were all overwhelmed by trying to keep up with everything being explained in spanish, however I grew to believe that this was the best way – as we were forced to eventually catch on, and associate our growing vocabulary of verbs with pictures and acts of charades. However, I now believe otherwise – as explained in my Solexico review. In the end, I felt I had learned a great base of the language out of my two weeks there.
The school offers cheap accommodation for students, however my boyfriend and I organised our own place. Some after-school activities were offered at an extra cost, such as cooking classes, however I unfortunately didn’t attend any of them.
How much did I pay?
Week 1 – $220.00 USD
Week 2 – $220.00 USD
Material – $25.00 USD
Total – $465.00 USD
Address: Calle 14, between 5th & 10th Avenues
Solexico is located five blocks inland from the southern end of Fifth Avenue, and is a fantastic place to study Spanish. It is a decent walk if you’re staying by the beach on the opposite end of town, however taxis are exceptionally cheap in Mexico, so you shouldn’t pay more than 25-30 pesos for a ride if you’re feeling lazy.
The classes are held outdoors in the tropical garden, in small villas accommodating no more than six students each. My class only had two students for the first week, and then four students for the second week. So I felt the classes were like having private tuition. Again, the students were from a wide spread of cultures and ages.
The teachers were excellent, and they all spoke English. I particularly loved that the program was divided into standard classes, and then optional conversation classes afterwards. My teacher for conversation class was different to my teacher for grammar, and because I did multiple weeks, my teachers changed each week. I found this to be a really strong bonus. By the end of the two weeks I had learned from four excellent teachers, each with different teaching styles.
As I said above, I had believed for a while that having a teacher not speak any English was better, but I realised almost immediately on my first day at Solexico that having the support of the English-speaking teacher to ensure we’re following along, is much better. The teachers would mostly speak in spanish, however whenever they saw a look of confusion, they bring you straight back up to speed. I feel like I learned double at this school in comparison to IMAC. This could be a combination of not wasting so much time trying to figure out what the teacher is saying (so actually missing large portions), and also largely reliant on me having a stronger base in the language when I went to Solexico.
Solexico also provides cheap housing for students, which I didn’t use. If you like social activities, then Solexico is most definitely for you. Leon takes so much pride in running Cafe Social, which is basically “Wednesday night drinks”, each week. They also organise beach volleyball every Friday afternoon, and plenty more if you’re up for a good time.
How much did I pay?
Week 1 – $271.00 USD
Week 2 – $271.00 USD
Material – $45.00 USD
Total – $587.00 USD
(Week’s 4+ reduce to $243.00 USD per week)
Address: Calle 6, between 35th & 40th Avenues
— Yoga in Playa del Carmen —
I’ve been to two yoga studios in Playa and they happen to be easily confused with their similar names…
I only made it to the beginner class at Yoga by the Sea, so I didn’t get a full experience, however I can say that the location is fantastic. The class is held on the rooftop of Kool Beach Club, located right on the beach. You can’t beat the feeling of the sea breeze, and sound of the waves crashing as you vinyassa through your morning. I would have loved to go more, however they only run classes in the mornings, which conflicted with my spanish classes.
How much did I pay? USD $15 per class, or a 3-class pass for USD $35.
Address: Kool Beach Club, Calle 28 on the beach
Yoga by the Way is excellent. I went to Ellen de Jonge’s 6pm class every night. David Campos runs the 7.30pm class, and while I always went at 6pm, he took our class a few times while Ellen was away, so I was glad to experience both teachers, who are equally fantastic – and each pushed me further than I’ve ever gone before. The class always has around 10-15 students, with an even split of men and women. A lot of the students are amazingly talented and experienced at yoga – I think many may be teacher training graduates – however there are plenty of beginners too, so don’t feel intimidated about giving it a go.
How much did I pay? 10-class pass for 700 pesos
Address: Calle 26, between 5th & 10th Avenues
As a final note, I must admit this town has changed a lot over recent years. I adore it, but Playa del Carmen is slowly turning into a replica of Cancun with commercialisation taking over 5th Avenue such as the opening of a multi-storey Forever 21 inside a ginormous mall on Quinta. While I find this unfortunate, some may appreciate this if more comfortable with the familiarity of home – each to their own! If you’re looking for something a little more “untouched”, I suggest Tulum as a better option, just 40 minutes south of Playa del Carmen (or 1.5hrs south of Cancun).