Amigo amigo! Masaje?
Amigo amigo! Vamos a Isla Conzumel?
Amigo amigo! Whatever you buy from me, tip is not included eh!
Harassing touts, mediocre food, crowded streets, and ridiculous prices…….this very much sums up my time in Playa del Carmen.
Even before arriving, I had a feeling that Playa del Carmen would disappoint me. Not a fan of crowded beach towns, I had come to Playa del Carmen to meet somebody who was also on her first time here. We decided PDC over Cancún to “avoid the crowds” the latter has…it was pointless.
It was just like that time I went to that resort in Cuba. All I could hear was English and French, even I had barely any chance to speak Spanish. And when I did, it was mainly to let them know that I wasn’t interested in their tour/massage/drink/meal/Señor Frog’s souvenir.
My first shock came at some of the prices. Back in Mexico City I could get kick-ass tacos for 10 MXN (about $0.50 USD). In Playa del Carmen’s main street, I had a hard time finding anything under $10 USD. On one night we ate at a restaurant called La Vagabunda, which’s slogan is Mexican Food With A Twist. The only real “twist” is how mediocre the food is and the ridiculous high price they charge you.
Luckily we found solace on one of the little streets not far from the main, especially from a place called Las Quekas which sold some of the most delicious quesadillas I’ve ever tasted. The 10th Avenue South, between Calle 1 and Benito Juárez, has some of the best food in all of PDC and at very reasonable prices.
There is also a very good street food spot on Parque Leona Vicario, about 2 blocks from Quinta Avenida right on Benito Juárez. Food stands selling everything from tacos, quesadillas, burritos, tortas and all the other stuff I was too full to try. The place fills with locals and not many tourists, and it’s one of the best spots for street foods in PDC.
If you like loud music, rivers of (quite expensive) alcohol and endless partying, then Playa del Carmen might be just the place for you. But even that can get annoying.
We stayed in a hotel by the Quinta Avenida which was the worst possible choice we could have made. From the hotel we could hear pretty much every noise going on outside, from the loud music from the neighboring bars to drunk people talking (yelling) their life out in the street.
In PDC, you can forget about sleeping or an early functional morning the next day.
The beaches of Playa del Carmen are pretty. White sand and clear water could make for a gorgeous picture if it wasn’t for the crowds.
A sea of people at the beach, crowds of them, all lined up on the sand. So many that it makes finding a clear spot somewhat complicated.
If you need a long chair to take on some sun, you’re in luck. The moment you step one foot in the sand, one (or many) will approach you to get you to come to their bar, and talk you into renting a chair for a fee.
I already talked about the ridiculous prices you are expected to pay for some of the most basic meals. I get that eating on the main pedestrian road of any given city will mean throwing extra cash for the simple “experience” of the place. But when you’re used to eating for less than $10 per day, suddenly paying close to $40 for a day’s worth of food is not a great feeling.
And only if the food was worth the price….
I’m not saying the food was bad, but it did not have the authentic Mexican food taste I had been having for the last couple of days in the rest of Mexico. I gave up tacos, flautas, gringas and tortas for nachos and bland-tasting food which I could easily get back home.
Having a drink will also set you back more than a few dollars. As everywhere else alcohol is expensive, but in Playa del Carmen alcohol is the commodity everyone is willing to sell you with an overcharge….and they will be happy to remind you that “tip is not included”.
An Overall Unauthentic Feeling
The crowds, the touts, the obnoxious tourists, the over-the-top prices, the bland food…..Playa del Carmen left me with a feeling of disappointment and a hole in my wallet. I honestly do not get what is so appealing about this place that it could attract backpackers and digital nomads so much.
But that is not to say I only had bad experiences in PDC. I found that whenever I was away from the Quinta Avenida and the party scene, I ate street food and walked on PDC’s little streets far from the beach, I was enjoying myself the most.
Visiting the colonial town of Valladolid or the ruins of Chichen Itza, going outside of town to visit Cenotes, or staying in the city of Merida (which by the way is my favorite city in Mexico by far) are all options which I would recommend for anyone wanting to get away from the beach.
And as for Playa del Carmen, would I ever go back? I don’t see it happening, not anytime soon anyways. Sadly, the Playa del Carmen that many seem to go for and enjoy is not for me. And while I did find some enjoyable things to do while in PDC, they do not make the effort worth it.
Have you ever been so disappointed in a place you’ve visited during your travels?