Some handy info about Playa del Carmen, such as currency, weather, languages, safety and seasons.
Mexican Pesos. At the time of writing this, the exchange rate is hovering between 12 – 13 Pesos per US dollar.
US dollars are widely accepted in Playa del Carmen, but generally the exchange rate will be lower.
Hot, humid summers (June-Aug) and usually warm, dry winters (Dec-Feb). Weather has become increasingly unpredictable, however. 2013 was the year of the ‘29 days of rain’ which lasted the whole of September. The winter has also been unseasonably wet, with a few chillier-than-normal mornings and evenings.
Mamitas beach, summer 2013.
Hurricane season is technically from June to October, though the town hasn’t seen one since 2005.
I think the best times to visit is either March/April or November. It’s a bit cooler, and there is less rain.
Note: Even though the summers are HOT, it’s when the sea is at it’s best – clear and calm.
Recommended, at your discretion. Usually 10 – 20%. Most places do not include a tip on the bill, but some beach clubs and up-market restaurants do, so check your bill carefully.
High season includes Semana Santa (Easter) and the Christmas/New Year period. The busiest season is from December to February.
Note: The busiest I ever saw the town was the first two weeks of January, during the electronic music festival, BPM. If you are not going to the festival, I’d recommend visiting outside of this time.
Mid season includes the month of July (summer).
Low season is April to June and August to November, although any time out of the Easter/Christmas/New Year period is relatively quiet and a less expensive time to travel. Plus, the town has a more relaxed vibe, and I recommend visiting during these times.
Playacar: A gated community south of Playa del Carmen center. It has tree-lined avenues, many condo buildings, lots of all-inclusive resorts, a few restaurants, cafes and stores. It also has some nice beaches.
El Centro: Refers to the center of town between Avenida Juarez and Avenida Constituyentes which is also the oldest part. This area contains the main ADO bus station, the port for catching the ferry to Cozumel and many stores and restaurants. It’s the busy part of town.
‘El Centro North’: Is a general name for the many small neighbourhoods such as Xaman-ha, Tohoku, Quintas del Carmen, and Zazil-ha from Avenida Constituyentes to Avenida CTM. This is where I have spent most of my time living, eating and going to the beach. It’s the newer part of town and grew rapidly in the time we lived there with many new restaurants opening.
Colosio: A large local neighbourhood north of Avenue CTM, with many small homes, stores and local eateries, out of the tourist area but close to the beach. It is becoming increasingly gentrified as new apartments are popping up along the new extension of Fifth Avenue.
Ejido: The local neighbourhoods on the ‘jungle side’ of the highway. Most locals live west of the highway, with new developments being built constantly. The older section, closest to the highway has some lovely houses and is popular with ex-pats.
US, Australian, Canadian, European and UK residents receive a six month tourist visa upon arrival at Cancun airport, or at the immigration checkpoint when crossing overland.
There is no cost on entry, but there is a departure tax of US$25 which is usually charged at the time of purchasing your air ticket, otherwise payable at the land border upon exit. If you exit via a land border and come back to Mexico, keep your departure tax receipt! We got pinged twice when we flew out of Mexico last time because we didn’t have our receipt from the previous overland exit via Belize.
When you enter the country you will receive a white tourist card which you will need to show when you exit. Replacements cost about 300 Pesos ($25), but from what I hear can be a painful process so it’s best to hang on to it if you can.
Work permits for Mexico should be obtained from your home country (or embassy) prior to your arrival, and always check whether visa rules have changed prior to travel.
Tap water is unsafe for drinking in Mexico. This is a well-known fact in Playa del Carmen and therefore large 20L bottles of mineral water are available everywhere for around 25 Pesos ($2). Many hotels provide complimentary mineral water, so it’s a good idea to bring a reusable water bottle.
Ice in restaurants is made from mineral water, so there is no need to worry about whether it’s safe.
I brushed my teeth with the water for a long time but then realised I was getting sore gums. Since then, I avoid it where possible.
I wash my vegetables with the water and dry them off. Some people use a special solution to kill the bacteria.
I eat salad and salsa in restaurants and have never gotten sick from them.
Playa del Carmen is very safe. Police sometimes patrol the town in imposing vehicles with large guns, which can be rather shocking the first time you see it.
Apparently it is in order to keep the peace and make the residents/tourists feel safe, even though it has the opposite effect with me. You do get used to it though.
Like anywhere, safety depends on the circles you roll in. Drugs are available in Playa del Carmen like most places in the world. They are illegal and tough penalties apply for possessing and dealing, so if you want to be safe, stay away.
Personally, Playa feels like one of the safest places I have ever lived, including the UK and Australia. It is lively at night, with many people, including families, strolling the streets until late.
The streets are mostly well-lit, but if walking alone at night, it’s best to stick to the main roads where there are stores, restaurants and people around.
Check out this interesting website for realistic statistics on crime in Mexico.
Spanish: Mexico has it’s own unique variation, as do many Latin American countries, so there may be some differences if you have learned ‘Spanish Spanish’.
Maya: The native language which you will hear spoken around town, with many different dialects. Many Maya words are used for the names of restaurants, tourist sites, hotels and towns in the Yucatan.
English: Being a tourist-oriented town, English is widely spoken. This can be a little frustrating if you are trying to learn Spanish, but helpful until you do. There are still plenty of opportunities to practice your Spanish at local restaurants.
I have a section on learning Spanish in Playa del Carmen later in the guide.