Playa Del Carmen, Top 10 Things to Do and Costs of Living

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Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, Top 10 things to do and money saving tricks and the costs of living in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.

Playa del Carmen is not as inexpensive as it once was.  To retire early and travel the world, reduce your cost of living while you start your new online business, or travel cheap while you write your first novel, Google “Vagabond Buddha Travel Cheap to Paradise Locations” to find your cheat sheet for low cost of living in paradise locations.  But once you save crazy money living cheap in paradise most of each year, you can afford to stay in more expensive places like Europe, the USA, and Playa Del Carmen.  

I hadn’t been to Playa Del Carmen in 7 years.  But now when I think of low cost of living destinations, Playa Del Carmen no longer fits that definition, but it is still worth a month every few years because of a unique combination of elements found here: Turquoise Water, Blue Skies, White Sand Beaches, Scuba Adventures, Tulum, Cozumel, Chichen Itza, Cenotes, Partying, and Excellent food.  

Turquoise Water, Blue Skies, White Sand Beaches:  I will let the pictures in the video accompanying this, speak for themselves.   

Scuba Adventures:  4 reef dives in Playa Del Carmen with equipment is less than $180.  4 reef dives plus two cenotes dives including equipment is less about $280.  Prices vary based upon season, but walking into a few of the many dive centers may provide even lower rates.  It is getter harder every year in Mexico to dive without a showing certification.  

Tulum Ruins:  You can catch the air conditioned ADO bus for about $5.00 per person to Tulum.  Just Google ADO Bus station in Playa Del Carmen, there are two stations.  Once in Tulum downtown, you walk a few kilometers north to the Tulum Ruins, or ask anyone which way to the Tulum Ruins (or get a Taxi to the Ruins for about $7).  You can also catch a non-air-conditioned local mini-van labeled “collectivo-Tulum-Playa Del Carmen” for about $1.00 and just ask them to let you out when you see the sign labeled “Tulum Ruins.”  You might be sitting next to a chicken, but you will have better stories.  You can catch the collectivo’s anywhere along “30 Avenida Norte” which runs north south in Playa between the beach and the highway.  

Tulum Beaches:  Make a day of your trip to Tulum Ruins.  Once you are done with the Tulum Ruins, exit the ruins on the south side (your right hand when you face the beach).  You will walk less than a kilometer and you you will see a dirt road on your left.  That will take you to the most beautiful beach in the world.  You will be hungry and thirsty (if you forgot water and a granola bar) but don’t eat at the first restaurant on the right as you see the beach.  They are land pirates, the food sucks, and they add insult to injury with a 20% mandatory tip.  Walk just another 200 meters south on the beach (your right hand as you face the beach) and the real food and drink choices will unfold, one after another.  Bring your sunblock and your dreams.  When your battery is dead from (all the pictures of this beach you will brag about for years) and your pockets are empty from drinking $6 Margaritas or $3 Beers, catch a taxi back to Tulum and catch a collectivo full of locals back to Playa Del Carmen for $1.00.  Go first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds or go in the hottest part of the day when tourists are hiding under umbrellas.  Bring your sun block.  

Cozumel:  Catch a ferry to Cozumel for the day.  Cozumel used to be a dump, honestly.  I used to go over there just to rent a scooter and drive around looking at Mayan Ruins and swim naked on the deserted east side beaches on the east side of the island.  Cozumel has always been one of the best dive sites in the world.  Walk to the southern pier in Playa (on your right when you face the beach) and catch the ferry to Cozumel for about $20 per person round trip.  Ask when the last ferry returns to Playa so you don’t miss your ferry home.  The trip is about 20 minutes each way.  Rent a scooter for about $20 for the day (includes insurance, bring drivers license) and do the loop around the island stopping when you see anything interesting.  Just follow the road as it curves along the beach, it is impossible to get lost.  The round trip is less than an hour but you are likely to find fun stuff along the way and take another gazillion Instagram pics.  Make the world your bitch, in a non-sexist way.    

Chichen Itza:  Every eleven steps you take while in Playa will include someone pimping a trip to Chichen Itza.  Go.  Make sure to get one that includes a trip to a cenote and a colonial town on the way there or back.  The bus, lunch, and an english speaking guide will cost about $45 per person.  Don’t buy any of the pimped trips that allegedly include upgrades like a drink or a light breakfast for an extra $10 per person.  If you are a foodie, just eat breakfast before you leave and bring snacks (chips, nuts, water from the 7-11 or OXXO store) and a bottle of wine for the trip home.  It is an extremely long f-ing day, but well worth seeing one of the “Seven Wonders of the World.”  No really, go.  Would you skip the pyramids if you flew to Egypt?

Xcaret:  If you go to a few Cenotes, and the Tulum Ruins, you should skip this.  Why do I say that?  It is a water park with beautiful landscaping but only a beautiful cenote river which you can find in many cenotes for much cheaper in this area.  There are also some animals in Xcaret forced to live in captivity, a zoo.  A nice zoo, but why pay someone to imprison animals?  Just go see a few cenotes and see a few wild animals who have choice about where they roam, like you do, hopefully.  There are a few cool shows at night in Xcaret about Mexican history, and I love Mexico, so I only sadly recommend not going to Xcaret.  

Cenotes: A cenote is a natural sink hole or underground river that has developed naturally over millions of years.  You can take amazing pictures, swim in many of them, and scuba dive in some of them.  This will blow your mind.  Do this.  Just google and read about the various cenotes near you and go for it.  I mentioned cenotes in my suggestion for a trip to Chichen Itza, so you get to see one for sure.  You can also see the “Gran Cenote” on your trip to Tulum and there are other trips you can take to see cenotes near Playa.  The taxi to “Gran Cenote” from Tulum downtown is about $5 and the entry fee to Gran Cenote upon is $10 per person.  The ultimate is scuba diving in cenotes.  

Partying:  This goes without saying in Playa.  Just head to the beach at 10 PM and listen for music that makes you move your groove thang.  It is a beach party scene.  If you are looking for a bottle service VIP type place (barf), go somewhere like “Coco Cobana” or head to Cancun (double barf).  I enjoy more funky places.  

Excellent Food:  I have become a great chef since my last visit to Playa (7 years ago), and I had a hard time paying USA or European prices for Entrees not even as good as what I cooked in my Airbnb.com kitchen in Playa.  So I may not be the best source for meals anymore.  But of the meals I had in Playa restaurants, I can tell you my favorites, where I came away impressed. 

  1. Silver Fox: Great dishes both vegetarian and non-vegetarian and amazing drinks.  Expensive but I don’t mind when it is quality food as opposed to pretentious beyond merit.  
  2. El Sangha-Rito: Cheap and quality.  If you think $$ equals quality every time, you may need to listen to someone else.  Google has the location wrong.  Just walk east 20 to 30 meters east from Silver Fox (above).  They have great traditional Mexican meals for less than $5 dollars, and delicious juices.  This is a Mexican family place that really cares about quality and delivers every time, so far.  No booze, sorry kids.  
  3. Byblos Restaurant:  We just stumbled upon this place on a walk back from a day trip to Cozumel.  Great Pasta, soup, bread, red wine, and Crème brûlée.
  4. Cenacolo Playa: Embarrassingly overpriced in relation to quality.  If you can’t make a nice Margherita Pizza for $20 why bother seeing if you can make other more complicated Italian dishes for $50 each?  You have to make great food before you ask people to pay for a white table cloth, no?   
  5. La Trattoria del Centro:  The best Italian in Playa Del Carmen.  Our Italian friend agreed with us.  This is high quality without the high prices, so expect to wait.  
  6. Mar de Olivos:  If you are starving while waiting for “La Trattoria del Centro” just eat here.  You will be happy.  It is next door.  
  7. Almirate Pech:  We met a friend from Italy here, for cocktails.  Very nice, but expensive and we did not have food.   
  8. Cafe Andrade Restaurante:  Very nice Mexican food almost as low as Mexican prices.  We had some very nice Huevos Rancheros and Green Enchiladas.  You will be surrounded by locals who know quality..  
  9. Negroamaro:  The best Tiramisu in Playa.  Decent pasta and Pizza too, but nothing to write home to mom about.   

Airport Transfers to Playa Del Carmen:  A taxi will cost you in the range of $40 to $80 dollars for the 40 minute ride to Playa Del Carmen.  An an airconditioned ADO bus will cost $8 per person.  Just look for the the “ADO” sign in red in the baggage claim area, and after buying your tickets, turn right as you exit the baggage claim and walk about 30 meters until you see ADO buses leaving a few times per hour.  The taxi from the ADO station in Playa to your accommodations will be about $3.00.   

Accommodations: While in Playa, we stayed in a beautiful new condo that I found through a friend.  They offered it at $1500 (US) per month and we countered offered $1400/month.  It was plus utilities and I was worried that they would totally screw me on utilities at the end of the month, but it was only $64 dollars more.  Very nice people and reasonable these days for Playa.  It include two swimming pools, one one the roof and a basic gym (free weights and treadmill).  Normally I would suggest an Airbnb.com condo which includes utilities to remove the uncertainty of a heat wave, but we booked last minute and it was the best I could find.  The biggest problem with the condo is that the Internet sucked, so I won’t provide a link for you to book.  Life is too short.    

Cooking:  If you like to cook and get an apartment with kitchen, you will find many grocery stores within walking distance of central Playa Del Carmen.  There is even a Walmart if you want to buy cheap flip-flops, a beach umbrella, adult beverages, or a cooler, etc.

Weather:  The first week of our month in November, it reached low 90s (F) a few times during the day, but the rest of the month the highs stayed between 78 and 88.  I wore a suit coat to dinner for Qiang’s birthday, but never needed more than a shirt at night. November is a nice time to go because it is before high season and after Hurricane season.  If you like warm weather, you will love this part of the world.    

Exercise:  Monday, Wednesday and Friday I ran on the beach doing laps between Calle 38 Norte and Constitution.  On Tuesday and Thursday I did yoga in my room with Adriene–Yoga Revolution (Google it).  The condo I stayed in had a gym so I lifted weights after my run.  

Alcohol:  The below prices do not include alcohol.  Beer is $0.75 in stores, $2 in local restaurants, and $4 in tourist places.  A drinkable bottle of wine is about $10 in stores but you can pay much more in restaurants.  Drinks are about $6 in restaurants.  

Walkability:  The touristy areas of Playa Del Carmen are very walkable.  Walk the beach north and south to get a feel for a beach area that suits you.  Also, walk Calle Quinta Avenida in the evening to see all the freaks and beautiful people that come out at night.  No vehicles are allowed which makes for a pleasant walk.  You will also see hundreds of restaurant choices, bars, and music venues.  There is also a bit of an art scene there.  But also get off the beaten path and eat and play with the locales.  Just a block or two inland will give you the feel.  Plus, you will be amazed at what great quality and prices you find that never get to the top of your Google searches.  You will find decent hotels and restaurants for lower prices than I am quoting below.    

Conclusions:  After a month of experiencing Playa Del Carmen after not being here for 7 years, I think it may be a bit overbuilt for my taste now.   Next time I return I will stay in Puertos Morelos, Tulum, or Cozumel.  Playa Del Carmen has become a little too much like Cancun.  After a month in Playa, we headed to Tulum for a week.  Look for my post on Tulum.  If you are curious what a more traditional Mexican fishing village looks like, take to ADO bus from Playa Del Carmen to Puertos Morelos for about $6.  The taxi to the beach from where the bus drops you in Puerto Morelos is about $6.00.   

Thank you for reading this post about Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.  Please leave a comment below, subscribe to our youtube channel, share this video with your friends.  Please visit Vagabondbuddha.com if you would like to learn how to wander the planet being healthy wealthy and wise.  This is Dan Bell from VagabondBuddha.com.

Have an amazing day!  Below are example costs of living in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico:

Cost of Living, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico: Monthly Multiplier
Expense Cost Low Medium High
Airbnb (1 Bedroom Apt) $48.00 0 14 30
Moderate Hotel $40.00 0 12 0
Backpacker Hostel $10.00 30 4 0
High End Restaurant $15.00 1 4 8
Local Restaurant $8.00 30 44 48
Food Cart $1.50 30 12 4
Subway/Train/Metro $1.00 20 26 8
Bus $1.00 20 10 0
Taxi $4.00 6 10 20
Total Per Month $664.00 $1026.00 $2038.00
Total Per Day $22.13 $34.20 $67.93

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