If you don't book your transfer along with your vacation package you have several options on getting from the airport to Playa del Carmen, what you don't want to do is arrive unprepared as most people advise against talking to the people in the terminal as they are likely to be involved with a time share.
The least expensive is the public bus but it's also the least convenient as they only run about once an hour and you'll have to get a taxi once you get to the bus station with the exception of a handful of independent hotels close to the station.
The middle priced option is a shared van service, there are a lot of companies that offer this service, the one we use is Best Day which was $45 each way for the two of us in December 2012. You will find the shared van services outside of the terminal, they will be holding up signs with the name of the company. Sometimes you have to wait for 15-20 minutes until they get everyone organized and usually they stop at multiple hotels along the Riveria Maya or in PDC. Be sure and print out your voucher, they didn't have our reservation on their check in sheet, probably because I booked it the night before.
The most expensive option is a taxi which I've never taken in Cancun. The most recent estimate I've seen is $60-90 each way which might work out to be cheaper if it's a whole family traveling since the shared vans are usually a per person charge.
Here's a summary of some of the options
I've found that the best deals for Mexico (and most beach destinations) from Chicago and many other US cities is to book a package that includes airfare, hotels and transfers to and from the airport.
The two companies from Chicago that used to do it the best were Apple Vacations and FunJet. I have used both several times with no problems. The last three times I've used Expedia and Orbitz who contract locally through Best Day tours and Grayline for their transportation and tours. In 2011 I went back to Apple who had the best flight options with the cheapest prices, direct using USA 3000. In 2012, USA 3000 no longer existed so I booked with Expedia, the hotel was through Expedia, the flight was a Frontier charter shared with Funjet and Apple and the transport from the airport I had to book on my own.
Downsides to using package tours? No major ones but you do have to wait at the airport until they have rounded everyone up delaying your beach vacation for a bit. And they seem to take you to the airport awfully early but if you want to pay a few extra $$$ you can just tell them that you're arranging for your own transfer.
Sometimes you will get on a charter flight and the planes are not the most comfortable but I can endure anything for 3 1/4 hours (well, maybe not the kid that was screaming and kicking the back of my chair).
I don’t have the exact address of this station, but it was in the Xelha area and there was a scuba shop with the sign “Mares Scuba System” in front of it. The station is on the west side of the highway.
I pulled into the PEMEX in our VW Jetta rental car with half a tank of gas. We were going to be traveling a lot that day and did not want to get close to empty. Immediately 3 men and 1 woman attendant came up to the vehicle, and I simply asked them to fill the tank. My wife and two kids got out of the car and went to the “Extra” mini-mart to get some snacks and I stepped out of the car to stretch my legs. The female attendant was very friendly and began asking me if I spoke any Spanish and joked with me, etc. Then one of the men asked me to open the hood of the car, so I did. He then checked the oil and showed me that it was about ¾ of a quart low. I would normally not worry about that, but since I was going to be driving my family on unfamiliar roads in an unfamiliar car all day I agreed to purchasing a quart of oil. He put about half the oil into the engine and handed me the half empty bottle.
Then the female attendant came over and said the total was 670 pesos. That seemed extremely high to me, but being the first time I had purchased gas in that area I was not sure how much to expect so I gave her the cash.
To make matters worse, I then joined my family inside the Extra mini-mart and was charged 275 pesos for one six pack of “Barroletos” beer along with two small bags of potato chips.
We left and began driving south on Federal Highway 307 and I began to convert the amounts in my head and realized that we had been overcharged for both the gasoline and the items in the store. By my estimation we should have paid no more than 200 pesos for the gas (including the oil) and no more than 130 pesos for the beer and potato chips. This means they overcharged me approximately 615 pesos, or almost $50 U.S!
I have travelled to Mexico on five previous vacations with my family and never had this happen at any other time in any other location. If I have any problems in the future, I will simply lock my car and leave it in front of the gas pump and call the local police. I've been taken for 5 or 10 bucks before but it seems like they are getting pretty bold.
If you go to Playa remember this place never ever to hire a car from there, AMERICA CAR RENTAL. I rented an All inclusive 0 deductible colision assured car in spanish "Covertura TOTAL, TODOS LOS SEGUROS" this means I am covered in anycase and I payed in advance for it, everything was OK until a mexicano crashed his car against mine from behind, when he was trying to overpass me in a forbidden place he marked the road with a 16-18 meters tire mark on the pavement. Anyway the police made a report and delivered I was guilty, nobody knows why, but of course the mexicano has no insurance at all. I lost the whole day dealing with the police and the rental company after four hours sent us a man that payed the mexicano as he resulted with no charges at all. I thought that was all caude I was fully covered for all. Once at home the rental company chargeg me 400$ for the damage. But now they do not answer to my enquiries. NEVER GO TO AMERICA CAR RENTAL.
I have rented cars on the last four trips down to Playa and have not had any problems. I recommend Caribbean Rent a Car, they include full coverage with no deductible on their cars and every car I rented was nearly new. They pick you up at the airport and shuttle you to the off airport office and meet you at the airport when you leave.
Warning: The rules of the road in Mexico are different, if you are on a major road and want to turn left the local custom is to pull over on the right shoulder to let traffic behind you pass before turning. Also the right shoulder is where slower traffic pulls over to let others pass. They kind of make three lanes out of two.
Also be careful when you buy gas. Make sure the pump is reset to zero or you will get ripped off. If the gas station attendants are overly friendly or trying to distract you watch out !
Last advice, don't drive off the beaten path at night.
All the major rental car companies are located in the cancun airport. Really, do yourself a favor and rent a car! We're VW bug fans, but since it was so hot we rented some kind of toyota from thrifty...the VW's don't have AIR! Our cost? 22 bucks a day. Total cost for four days was still less expensive than two people taking the shuttle to and from Cancun.
The "collectivos" are a good way to get from playa to other beach areas...problem is, they drop you off on the main highway. So you can end up walking a good half mile or more to get down to the beach. Parking is free everywhere.
The main highways are in GREAT shape. The Pay roads are in GREAT shape.
The only time you'll hit bumps, holes, etc are on dirt roads getting to some beaches or visiting villages inland...and oh, DO look out for 'topes". The are clearly marked and tell you you are c oming up on a village so slow down! You really have no choice. If your journey gives you the choice of a free or toll road, only take the free road if you have BUNDLES (as in HOURS) of extra time. Lots of villages. Lot's of Topes. We missed a flight once trying to take in some local color!!
It is easy enough to get around the tourist area of Playa on foot. Bus lines and collectivos run on a regular basis up and down the coast, and there are tours that go to Chichen Itza. If you prefer more flexibility, I'd recommend renting a car. The local companies rent cars starting at about $45 a day (clocked for 24 hours). Even for two of us, renting a car was cheaper than going on a bus tour to the ruins in the interior. Make an overnight trip of it, and you can easily visit Coba or Tulum and a more isolated beach en route.
We rented from Buster Rent a Car on Avenida 10 near calle 10, but there are several others that probably are more or less the same. The large companies such as National and Hertz have offices in central Playa, and although the cars are better, they are also more expensive. The car we rented from Buster was $45 USD. A different day we got a jeep from them for $60 USD, but it was a slow day so we got a lower rate than what was listed.
Prior to arrival I had made arrangements with Agitours following some recommendations that I found at the Internet. They are a serious company with nice vehicles and professional drivers. I paid $150 for a round trip airport-Bahia Principe. The trip takes around 1 hour but if you take the tour buses it can double that time as the BP is one of the last stops
Mexico is a very big country, and if you plan to do a lot of travelling you should consider taking a plane at least once. The bus from Playa del Carmen to Mexico City takes 24 hours. We enjoyed it so much at the Mayan riviera so our busjourney back was postponed as long as possible. But when we checked the price on planetickets there was no longer any doubt. 24 hours on bus for 500 pesos or 2 hours on plane for 800 pesos...?!? Hard choice... ;) So we stayed even longer and took a plane from Cancun to Mexico City.
Planefares on routes that are highly trafficated can be quite cheap. But if you want to take a route which is not as popular, you might have to pay a lot more. Anyway you should check out the price if you are going to travel long distances. If it's a little bit more expencive it might be a good choice when you think about the time you save. Plus sleeping on overnightbuses can sometimes be a bit difficult.
If you are in or around Playa Del Carmen, and you want to visit Cancun, then the sensible thing to do is to go to the main bus station in PDC where you can take a fully air conditioned bus for 32 pesos (less than 2 dollars) to Cancun each way - the buses leave every 10 minutes. The trip takes approximately one hour and you can get off in the hotel zone or downtown. I wasn't sure which to get off at and got off downtown, where I caught the R1 bus which loops around the hotel zone - the cost is a meagre 6 pesos!
South of Cancun, along Highway 307, is the Riviera Maya. The road through this 160 kilometers coastline run parallel to the sea, and almost every turnoff to the left leads to a marvellous place. Playa del Carmen is midway between Cancun and Tulum and you can reach many destinations by taxi, car and bus, or take the boat and go to visit Cozumel Island.
If you are arriving by bus you can hire one of these bikes to transport your bags to your hotel. Also, they will transport your bags to the ferry that goes to Isla Cozumel.
These bikes can be flagged down all through town - on Isla Cozumel as well.
Once you get the idea that you are going to run into speed bumps and pot holes you'll be fine. we rented a simple vw bug from Hertz for 170 bucks for a week. Manual trannie, no ac and really loved the freedom it gave us.
Some trips, like the one to Chichen Itza are very long. The pay road is really smooth but it's pricey. 19 bucks.
The free road is fine but you will be slowed down by the well marked speed bumps that are present before, during and after each small pueblito along the way. I would advise this trip only if you have PLENTY of time and a healthy longing for something off the beaten track.
Look into buses to Chichen Itza, our friends went for a total of 40 bucks a couple, and that included lunch! We spent 105 on our own between tolls, gas, admission and lunch.
If you hop the ferry to Cozumel be sure to rent a motor scooter. Bargain hard (we didn't!), they are all over the place for rent for a few hours or days.
Two people can ride on one, but the drivers hands do get tired from the gas and breaking. It's a fun a fairly safe adventure. Be a geek, wear your helmets!
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