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Playa del Carmen, a quaint town that has been on the brink of rediscovery with its newly built resorts and golf courses, truly defines how there is beauty in simplicity. Nothing can be better than being surrounded by the unique flair of local culture, while also having a more modern option as well. The enchantment of the native buildings, with all of the amenities from world-class resorts creates a perfect blend and an ideal cruise destination.
 
Playa Del Carmen was once a sleepy little village on the Mayan Peninsula, however it has been discovered *primarily by Europeans) and has grown considerably over the last decade. The town is still quite quaint with its shopping streets, beaches and palapa restaurants. Playa Del Carmen is located about 40 miles south of Cancun and about ten miles north of Xcaret.

Just 10 years ago Playa del Carmen was referred to as a sleepy little village, but these days the town looks wide awake and ready to stay up all night long. The former haunt of backpackers, nature lovers and privacy-seeking Europeans has now blossomed into a full-fledged tourist destination complete with luxury resorts, dozens of fantastic restaurants, and enough clubs and live music venues to keep night owls occupied for weeks.
 
Despite its sudden popularity, though, Playa del Carmen clings firmly to a laid-back, pastoral atmosphere that's missing from Cancun, its glamorous neighbor up the coast. You won't find any glass and concrete behemoths here; three-story buildings are the tallest the law allows, and many structures are still made of stucco or rough wood, some sporting a thatched roof and others sheltered beneath layers of red clay tiles. Local Mayan culture and history are prevalent here as well, infusing some parts of town with the rustic yet exotic charm found in cities like New Orleans and Miami. Beach bars and T-shirt shops might dominate portions of the landscape, but walk a mere five minutes away from the main tourist area and you'll find yourself in a quiet neighborhood surrounded by bright pastel houses with wrought-iron doors, immaculate gardens and explosions of multi-colored flowers cascading down from their balconies.
 
This small getaway is the perfect place to find those unique and unusual gifts one will treasure forever, providing welcoming reminders of an enjoyable vacation. So take pleasure in the plethora of shops and please your taste buds with the finest of restaurants. Allow this town to seduce your senses with its European flair. Situated right in the middle of the Caribbean coast, there is no excuse not to visit this fascinating land.
 
Docking & Local Transportation
Cruise ships dock at the new Puerto Calica Pier located eight miles south of downtown Playa Del Carmen. Taxis and bus services are available to take you to the main city center.It is basically nothing more than a pier with a few forgettable souvenir stands nearby. Most passengers will be arriving by ferry from the busy port in Cozumel, just 12 miles across the water.
 
Two different companies, Barcos Mexico and Ultramar, both offer ferry service for roughly $15 roundtrip. The crossing normally takes between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on the weather.
 
This charming town is quite small and perfect to be explored by foot. However, to get to the many surrounding beaches and golf courses, one may choose to use a different mode of transportation that is available here. Buses are found all along the Avenida Principal that is just a brief walk from the ferry pier, the hotels and the restaurants. Tricycle Taxis are mainly used to travel between the ferry, bus stations and Avenida 5. They will go anywhere and fear not, for they can accommodate all of your luggage as well.
 
Playa Del Carmen is a tender port and the ships anchor quite a ways from the tender dock so expect a long ride. The dock is right downtown in Playa Del Carmen and one can walk from the tender to everything Playa Del Carmen offers

The ferry dock sits next door to the town's main square, a small open area lined with stalls selling cold drinks and slices of fresh tropical fruit. An enormous outdoor strip center with dozens of shops and restaurants is only a few yards away, although these are mostly popular American chains and old tourist standbys such as Carlos'n Charlie's and Senor Frog's.
 
Getting Around
On Foot: If you're only exploring the beaches and the main streets of town, walking is the best method. Streets are laid out in an easy-to-follow grid and the downtown area is wonderfully compact. Stepping off the ferry dock, you'll find yourself at the south end of 5th Avenue, a pedestrian-only thoroughfare which is home to many of the town's shops and restaurants. Walking the length of 5th Avenue at a casual pace only takes about 20 minutes, but set aside an hour if you enjoy window-shopping along the way.
 
By Taxi: Taxis are both common and inexpensive in Playa del Carmen, with a ride from the ferry pier to the outskirts of town costing no more than $3 or $4. Tipping is neither necessary nor expected unless you're taking a much longer trip.
 
By Collectivo: A collectivo is a passenger van which acts as a communal taxi carrying anywhere from eight to 12 people. These travel up and down Highway 307, the Yucatan Peninsula's main artery, picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. Many of these vans are new and air-conditioned, and the fares are incredibly reasonable; you can cruise all the way to Cancun for less than $4 and, depending on how many stops the driver makes, the trip normally takes no more than an hour. To catch a ride, either flag down one of the vans as it approaches you on the road or walk to the stand at 2nd Street between Avenues 15 and 20.
 
By Rental Car: There are plenty of rental car outlets along 5th Avenue including well-known American chains like Hertz, Budget and Thrifty. Expect to pay around $25 per day for an economy car with air-conditioning.
 
Things to See and Do
Playa del Carmen may be a very small town, but it has more than enough attractions for its lucky visitors. Many parks have been created to preserve the amazing wildlife native to this environmentally friendly town. A 1.3 million acre Biosphere Reserve, also know as Sian Ka'an, (984/871-2499) is a great place to get in touch with its two-thousand-year old history.
 
With all of the things to do and see in a city, deciding how to spend your time can be quite an agonizing decision. 10best has narrowed all of the available attractions in Playa Del Carmen to a list of the most appealing and reputable, to aide in your decision making. You can rest easy knowing that any choice you make from our list is sure to please.
 
Tulum Mayan Ruins
More than 2 million people visit this site annually, making it the most popular Mayan ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula. Many Mayan ruins are located deep in the jungle, but Tulum is situated next to the sea, making the site especially beautiful. There are about 60 structures including the Temple of the Frescoes and El Castillo (the Castle), two of the most interesting buildings.
 
The remains of a walled Mayan city over 800 years old, Tulum is the only collection of ruins anywhere on the Yucatan to actually overlook the Caribbean. With those shimmering blue waters as a background, the various temples and towers make quite an impressive picture. There are also several beaches near the ruins for those who want to swim and sunbathe in a completely natural setting with no resorts, snack bars or souvenir shops in sight. There's a charge of roughly $3.50 to enter the ruin complex, and the area is open from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily. Tulum is 45 minutes from Playa del Carmen by car or taxi, with a cab costing about $36. Guides are available at the entrance to Tulum, but the most important buildings have placards with information in English, Spanish and Mayan. It takes about two hours to tour the ruins, but visitors might want to bring a picnic lunch and swimsuit and make a day of it. Additional fee to use video camera. Children under 13 are free.
 
Xcaret
This unique eco theme park is great for a full day of entertainment for every member of the family. Xcaret means "small inlet" in Mayan, and the park is located on 200 acres next to the water. Watch tropical fish in the coral reef aquarium, learn about the birds in the aviary or visit the butterfly pavilion. You can float or snorkel along an underground river that features beautiful rock formations and fossils. Many visitors come here just to swim with the dolphins; a one-hour frolic costs $150. In the evenings there are live shows with traditional Mayan dancing and games. The park has several restaurants serving Caribbean and Mexican food, as well as a more casual cafeteria. There is a locker room with showers, and towels and lockers are available for a slight fee. A souvenir shop sells hand-made items as well as the usual t-shirts. The photo center offers one-hour developing so you can have your prints the same day you snapped them. Free parking. (52-984-803-1052)
 
(www.xcaretcancun.com, 984/871-5200) is well worth a trip . Swim in an underground river and play with the dolphins. Roam through Mayan ruins, and visit with the jaguars and tortoises. Arrange for a guided horseback riding tour of the park, and pay a visit to the small museum that recreates the lives of the ancient Mayans. Located in Tulum, Xcaret Park is a 45-minute drive from Playa Del Carmen.
 
Imagine a Disney property dedicated to animals, nature and the ancient Maya culture and you've got Xcaret, a sprawling 200-acre park filled with numerous attractions. Guests can float down an underground river; visit a butterfly pavilion, a bee farm and a manatee lagoon; stroll through a simulated Mayan village; and even swim with dolphins (for an extra fee). The park is only five miles south of Playa del Carmen, about 10 minutes away by car or taxi. Adult admission is $59 and the park is open from 8:30 a.m. - 10 p.m. in the summer and 8:30 a.m. - 9 p.m. in wintertime.
 
If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, visit La Selva (the jungle) and marvel at the native birds and monkeys that inhabit this mangrove swamp. Or, see the jungle on a smaller scale by going to the Xpu Ha Eco Park. A guided tour includes food, drinks, and many planned activities. Here you will be able to see a wide range of animals and birds, windsurf on the pristine coastline, and kayak to your hearts delight.
 
No visit to Playa del Carmen would be complete without appreciating the clean white beaches of Xaman-Ha, the original name of Playa del Carmen. There is always an afternoon volleyball game going on, and the atmosphere is relaxing and tranquil. Swim in the clear blue waters and enjoy a marvelous sunset. If you get hungry or thirsty, there are plenty of restaurants and cafés that are waiting nearby to serve you.
 
Hidden Worlds Cenotes Park
You might recognize Hidden Worlds from the IMAX movie "Journey into Amazing Caves" which was filmed here. Cenotes are large sinkholes filled with fresh water. Snorkeling or diving allows a visitor to explore the beautiful underwater stalagmites and rock formations. Hidden Worlds offers professionally guided snorkeling and diving tours, and beginners are welcome. An all-terrain jeep drops you and your gear — provided by Hidden Worlds — in the jungle a short walk from the cenotes. (Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and to bring water and bug repellent.) Your guide will help you suit up and slip into the 75-degree waters. (52-984-877-8535)
 
Muyil / Chanyaxche
This small ruin is known by two names: Muyil or Chanyaxche. It is just down the road from the Tulum ruins but is much more quiet, so you can tour at your leisure. Muyil was a trading post for the ancient Mayan people and the structures at the site date from 1100-1200 AD. One interesting feature here is the unique round tower on top of "El Castillo." Admission is free on Sundays, so make your plans accordingly.
 
Tank-Ha Dive Center
Tank-Ha is one of Playa's oldest and most respected dive centers. All of the dive leaders and instructors are SSI or PADI certified, so your safety is assured. The shop offers daily 3-hour snorkeling tours (complete with snacks, equipment and instruction), as well as dive tours and diving lessons. If you plan to dive more than once during your visit, ask them about the package deals that can save you money. Snorkeling is $30 and a 2-tank dive is $60. Equipment rentals are available. (52-984-873-0302, 52-984-879-3427)
 
Puerto Aventuras
Though Puerto Aventuras is technically a residential community, the casual visitor will also find a variety of activities here. The 900-acre resort includes facilities for golf and tennis and the largest marina in the area. There are slips for more than 90 vessels, and many boats are available for fishing charters. Sailfish, blue marlin, wahoo and yellow tuna are just a few of the fish that might be biting on any given day. The complex is also home to a small museum filled with artifacts recovered from local sunken ships. The museum has an eclectic collection including 18th century sewing needles, pottery dishes, old coins and seafaring tools of the trade. The museum is open daily from 10am until 1pm, and from 3:30pm until 5:30pm. A donation is requested. (52-984-873-5000)
 
Cobá
The name of these Mayan ruins means "water stirred by wind," probably because the site is located between several lakes. At one point Cobá was a city covering 27 square miles with a population estimated at 55,000. Fewer tourists visit these ruins since they are farther away from Playa than the more popular Tulum site. This affords visitors a wonderful opportunity to explore the giant pyramids in quiet. Allow two hours to explore the ruins at leisure. Multi-lingual guides are available for a small fee, and you can rent a bicycle if you'd rather not walk. Visitors are urged to wear comfortable shoes and to bring water and insect repellant. There are several daily buses between Playa del Carmen and Cobá, or you can park at the site for $2.
 
Itza Spa
Downtown Playa del Carmen is the location of a world-class spa, specializing in beauty treatments inspired by ancient Mayan practices. The Mayan Healing baths are infused with native plants, which help relieve the pain and itch of sunburn and insect bites. Itza Spa also offers a variety of massage therapies, facials, manicures and pedicures using only natural ingredients. The spa is home to Playa's only oxygen bar. Open most days until 9pm. (52-984-803-2588)
 
Xel-Ha
Xel Ha was once a sacred place where Mayans worshiped many of their nature gods. Today, visitors will still experience transcendence as the landscape, lagoons, and coves mix to form a natural masterpiece for your senses. The lagoon forms Mexico's largest natural aquarium, and snorkeling is a main activity due to the lagoon's warm waters and multihued fish. The ruins of the temples are also noteworthy, especially since they seem to blend into the forest as if they arose from the forest floor at the beginning of time. Xel Ha is great for the entire family, and there are several shops and restaurants nearby that enable you to make a day of your adventure. (998-884-9422)
 
5th Avenue: This pedestrian-only street is an attraction unto itself, jam-packed with jewelry stores, craft shops, cantinas, upscale restaurants and more; you can easily spend several hours delving through its assorted treasures. Since the avenue runs parallel to the beach, a fresh view of those beautiful turquoise waters awaits you with each block you travel.
 
Xaman Ha Aviary: Located in the swanky resort section of town known as Playacar, the aviary is home to nearly 60 species of tropical birds collected from the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula. Instead of being confined to cages, the parrots, toucans and other species have free reign over the open-air sanctuary. The aviary is 15 minutes on foot from the ferry pier and less than five minutes away by taxi. If walking, simply turn left on 5th Avenue after leaving the pier and look for the large Playacar entrance sign.
 
Crococun: This combination crocodile farm and regional zoo gives visitors a chance to see, and even touch, some of the more exotic species found in the area. Led by a guide, visitors venture down a twisting jungle path where they encounter over 300 crocodiles in addition to monkeys, snakes, exotic birds, and even the unusual hairless Mayan dog. Crococun is located just outside of Puerto Morelos, about 20 minutes north of Playa del Carmen by car. Open 8:30 a.m. - 6 p.m. every day.
 
Golfing
Whether you are a professional golfer or an amateur at the sport, there is a course for you. For the beginner, the Porto Real (984/873-7325) is known for its prime location. It is located on the northern end of Playa del Carmen. The southern end is more accommodating for the seasoned golfer at the wonderful Continental Plaza Playacar (998/881-6088). A new golf course (984/873-0624) created by famed designer Robert Von Hagge is an 18-hole championship course and one of the sporting highlights of Playa Del Carmen.
 
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Enjoy all the clear blue seas have to offer with the reef-diving opportunities Playa del Carmen affords you. Guided diving trips can be arranged at the Hotel Maya Bric (984/873-0071). Tank-Ha Dive (984/873-0302) offers reef diving and tour packages which include all of the equipment you need and beverages as well. The Alberto Leonard diving company also gives you the opportunity to dive caves and cenotes.
 
Beaches
You'll be within a few yards of the beach from the moment you step off the ferry pier. To the south are the sections commandeered by the big all-inclusive resorts while the public beaches run northward. The sand is sparkling white but different from the powder-soft variety found up in Cancun; here it's more like fine grains of salt, but it slopes down into an exquisitely beautiful slice of the Caribbean Sea -- so hanging out on Playa del Carmen's beaches is still a dreamy experience.
 
The section of beach near the ferry pier is both the widest and the most crowded. Walking north, you'll eventually reach Coco Beach -- a narrow but calmer patch of sand where crowds are sparse and you can relax to the sounds of the surf without all that peripheral noise. The snorkeling at Coco Beach is the best in the area as well, although true fans of snorkeling and diving should check out Paamul, a secluded spot 15 miles south of town with wonderful dive sites and a dive shop called Scubamex, which can handle all your rental equipment needs. 
 
Alltournative Expeditions
This eco-tour company has been offering excursions since 1999. Their specialty is Mayan adventures that combine outdoorsy activities such as kayaking and biking, with cultural tours of the local ruins or exploring the jungle or caves around Playa. Half-day and full day trips are available, as is a weeklong bird watching tour, sure to appeal to avid amateur ornithologists. Popular excursions include the Mayan Encounter that takes you on a tour of the Coba Ruins, lets you ride a zip-line over the jungle and has you rappel into a cenote. The Jungle Crossing tour involves snorkeling and kayaking through caverns and underground rivers, as well as 4x4 trekking through the jungle. In addition to their main office, Alltournative has two stores on Quinta Avenida, one located between Calle12 and Calle 14, the other between Calle 26 and Calle 28. (52-984-873-2036)
 
The Caverns by Jeep & Beach Combo gives newcomers a taste of some of the area's best features. Begin with a guided tour through the tropical jungles and ancient caverns the ancient Maya used to call home; then leave the wilderness behind and travel to lovely Xpu-Ha Beach for lunch and a relaxing dose of sun, sand and sea.
 
Swim with dolphins, and then explore beautiful Discovery Beach at Puerto Aventuras, a glamorous resort community just 18 miles south of Playa del Carmen. Children must be at least 8 years old to interact with the dolphins.
 
ATV Explorer Jungle Tours offers two-hour excursions which give participants the chance to take a wild ride through the jungle, swim and snorkel in a freshwater cenote, explore mysterious caves, and climb ancient Mayan ruins. Tours are offered four times a day every day, rain or shine.
 
Eating Out
There's definitely no shortage of places to eat in Playa del Carmen. Most of the town's restaurants are located on or near bustling 5th Avenue, and as a general rule the places closest to the ferry dock are noisier, more crowded and geared towards tourists. As you walk north along the pedestrian-only street, however, the crowds seem to melt away and you'll find more unique little places with a wider variety of cuisine including fusion restaurants combining local Mexican fare with Italian, Asian or Mediterranean influences.
 
You can sample Argentinean beef, sushi, fancy pastas, and basic tacos al pastor, but be prepared—dining in Playa isn’t cheap. The least expensive places are several blocks away from Quinta Avenida and close to Hwy. 307. For fish tacos and inexpensive seafood, try El Oasis, on Hwy. 307 at Calle 22 (tel.  984/803-2676). For arrachera (marinated beef) tacos, the place to go is Super Carnes H C de Monterrey, Calle 1 Sur between avenidas 20 and 25 (tel. 984/803-0488).
 
Don Emilione (5th Avenue, one block north of the Main Square, lunch from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.) specializes in seafood and Mexican cuisine. Start out with the lime soup, and then move on to lobster tacos or pozole, a pork stew recipe dating back over 500 years.
 
Best for an Upscale Treat: Yaxche (8th Street, between 5th and 10th Avenues, lunch from 11 a.m.) offers one of the most unique and authentic dining experiences in the entire Yucatan Peninsula. The beautiful decor seems lifted straight from an ancient temple and the food can only be described as upscale Mayan fusion. Try the grilled chicken marinated in tangerine and chipotle pepper sauce or prawns drizzled with lemon and served over pureed garlic.
 
Ajua! Maya (4th Street between 5th and 10th Avenues, lunch from 11 a.m. on) is another restaurant offering delicious examples of traditional Mayan cuisine, but the real emphasis here is on fun. Live music, dancing waiters and extravagant cocktails keep the party going nonstop while dishes like fresh fish steamed in banana leaves and roasted chicken smothered in cocoa and chili sauce ensure that patrons spend at least part of their visit focused on their plates.
 
 Media Luna (5th Avenue between 12th and 14th Streets, lunch from 12 p.m. - 6 p.m.), a trendy little bistro down at the quiet north end of 5th Avenue, is one of Playa del Carmen's best and funkiest restaurants. The building is open and breezy, the decor colorful and the food marvelously eclectic. For a little taste of heaven, sample the black pepper crusted fish with mango salsa. 
 
The nightlife is when Playa del Carmen truly blooms. There are several restaurants and bars that are on the beach and offer that priceless ocean view. There are cafés and the popular Blue Parrot located at the beachside, offering jazz music. Located at the Blue Parrot is a large pirate ship bar, Captain Tutiz, which houses a dance floor perfect to match its live entertainment.
 
Shopping
Playa is the Caribbean coast’s retail heart, with huge box stores and shopping malls on the highway serving as supply houses for much of the coast.  In the tourist zone, you'll find shops and boutiques along Quinta Avenida, where everyone seems to gather for leisurely strolls in early evening. Once you get past the ferry terminal area, low-key, locally owned shops vie for your vacation dollar with high-end clothing, Cuban cigars, specialty tequila, handicrafts, jewelry, and beach wear. Sadly, chain jewelry, sportswear, and junky souvenir shops catering to cruise passengers, along with large department stores and fancy mini-malls, are claiming prime strolling areas—there’s even a Victoria’s Secret where a charming folk art shop once stood, forcing out the smaller businesses and sending rent rates sky-high. North of Calle Constituyentes, artists and artisans display their creations on the sidewalks on Saturday evenings. Credit cards are widely accepted in shops, most with fixed prices.
 
There is no better place to shop than on Avenida 5. Here you will find the American standards, such as Guess? and Gap, surrounded by tiny shops, which carry a variety of gifts and souvenirs. You will be able to get clothing made from beautiful Guatemalan threads, hand-made pottery, blown glass, and even Cuban cigars.
 
Some favorite shops along La Quinta, south to north: De Beatriz Boutique, Calle 2, west of Quinta Avenida (tel. 984/879-3272), an unsung little side-street shop selling locally designed manta (Mexican cotton) clothing; Rosalia, between calles 12 and 14 (tel. 984/803-4904), for fabulous textiles from Chiapas, including embroidered huipiles and inexpensive shawls, scarves, and bags; and Corazon de Mexico between calles 14 and 14 ([tel] 984/803-3355) for high-quality folk art. Casa Tequila, at Calle 16 (tel. 984/873-0195), is the most popular place to sample tequilas from their stock of more than 100 brands.  Ah Cacao, at Constituyentes (www.ahcacao.com; tel. 984/803-5748), is one of the area’s most successful local businesses, expanding from its original Playa shop to several outlets in Cancún. Its specialty is intense and rare criollo chocolate, the Maya’s “food of the gods,” in bars, cocoa, or roasted beans—the cafe’s fudgy mochas, frappes, and chocolate shots will ruin you for Starbucks, and the brownies cure any blues.
 
North of Constituyentes, artists display their works along Quinta Avenida, wine bars abound and shops offer high-quality clothing, folk art, shoes, and trendy objets de art. This section is often used for art shows and festivals. La Sirena, at Calle 26 (tel. 984/803-3422), offers trendy folk art with calaca (skull), lucha libre, and Frida Kahlo themes. Gorgeous woven hammocks swing outside Hamacamarte on Calle 38 between Av. 5 and the beach (tel. 984/873-1338), where shelves are stocked with high-quality hammocks from Yucatán, El Salvador, and other countries. The silk matrimonial-sized hammock woven with thousands of colored strings cost $100 or more but last forever—mine’s been hanging in my backyard for years.






  
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