Explore the area
Some years ago this was a sleepy fishingvillage, but it's fast growing to be a popular touristresort. Still it is much smaller and calmer than Cancun which lies just one hour north. If you want a smaller place with less tourists you can head to Tulum one hour south. But Playa del Carmen has a lot to offer so you should stay a few days.
This is a good place to use as a base for exploring the rest of the Yucatán peninsula. Hop on a ferry and after half an hour you are at the island of Cozumel. Here you can find some of the best snorkelling and diving in Mexico, and some say of the whole world. In Tulum you can find some great ruins overlooking the sea and the beach. Three hours drive takes you to one of the most magnificent maya ruins; Chichén Itzá. It might be a long and bumpy ride, but believe me; it's worth it!
There are also plenty of cenotes, underwater wells, around. You can find both small and large, crowded and lonely. Tour organizers can take you on all kinds of trips around the area. There are two big "theme parks" nearby, one is Xcaret and the other is Xel-Ha. Other places nearby are Aktun Chen, the Sian-Kaan reserves and the ruins at Cobá. You could go on an organized tours to all of these places, but you could also just take the bus and go by yourself.
Beach bumm'ing :)
Playa offers an excellent beach, but not as good snorkeling and diving. This is typically the case elsewhere in the Caribbean. If the beach sucks, then the diving and snorkeling is probably beautiful. Rarely will you find a perfect combination for both. I did snorkel in Playa and had fun watching plenty of fish along the way. For those with more time and money, then take the ferry to Cozumel, one of the best diving destinations in the world.
I found this place thanks to another Vt member. I looked everywhere in Playa for the "bed bar" and NO ONE had heard of it. Because they don't even tell you there, what you are getting in to. They call it the Deseo Lounge...because that is what you do. On a roof top there is a small pool, a dj playing a great mix of ambiant music to chill to, and BEDS! You are brought a tray for your bed and a bill for what must be the most expensive drinks in town....10 dollars for a martini, but it was totally worth the price for the experience! There was something quite european feeling here. People were dressed better, but of course, not OVER dressed.
Easy to eat
Since I don't have lots photos of the restaurants, let me just rattle off a few good bets. I don't think I ever had a bad meal in Playa del Carmen. Guacamole was good in every resturant, so was the ceveche and the shrimp.
Even the resturants at Chichen Itza, Xel Ha and Xcaret, which are all tourist attractions were excellent! Stick with Mexican or Mayan food and you'll do great!
Sabor on 5th. Great shrimp in garlic for a great price.
Blue Lobster, just off 5th, you'll pay for it, but 37.50 for a seafood platter for two is great. Two lobster tails, two different fish filets, shrimp, incredible calamari..worth every penny. Skip the lobster bisque, it's more like gravy.
Ajue Lobster, just off 5th. Great food, great presentation, incredible mixed ceviche. Expensive by Mexico standards but worth it. One night everything was perfect, the other night was less than perfect yet still good. Friendly waiters who will torture you (in a good way) with magic and puzzles after dinner.
Yax Che, just off 5th. Mayan food! I found out that I am not a huge fan of Mayan food,(except for Mayan pork tacos...yum!!) but everyone else RAVES about this resturant, Ask to sit in the garden. incredible drinks! Incredible Mayan food. They use a leaf called Chaya in their food, (and in some of their drinks) which I am not a fan of, but if you are adventurous try it!
2003 update. We Revisited Yax Che for Lobster and these WERE HUGE. They have a price tag to go along with it at 39 dollars each. They came grilled with grilled pineapple..not what i wanted but no complaints. Asked for a bit of drawn butter and it was wonderful. They also serve you a complimentary after dinner shot of a mayan liquer and kahlua...wonderful! EXCELLENT service.
Good post on local restaurants
I found this website after we returned when I was trying to figure out where one of the restaurants was. It looks to be a comprehensive list of local restaurants and their specialities
And here's another website with some good restaurant info, the taquerias for gringos post is a good one
2007 restaurant list Some of the ones I'd like to try:
La Adelita-10th Street between 5th and 10th avenues
El Faisán y El Venado -- Located out on the federal highway (#307) close to Ave. Benito Juarez
Taqueria El Pastorcito on 30th Avenue, one block north of Constitutiones on the west side of the street
Carboncitos on 4th Street between 5th and 10th Avenue