Playa del Carmen is part of the Riviera Maya — the stretch of beach-facing land between Cancun and Tulum. This resort town is, and always has been, more ‘down to earth’ and authentically Mexican compared to trendy, commercial and high-rise Cancun situated thirty miles north of here.
Its central location at the heart of the Mayan Riviera makes it a favorite for travelers, tourists and certain types of expatriates who are seeking the warm, laid-back lifestyle accentuated by pristine white-sand beaches and year-round warm turquoise waters for swimming, diving and snorkeling coupled with a multi-national, multi-ethnic and artsy atmosphere. Playa attracts visitors and expatriates from a more diverse range of geographical locations than Cancun: Playa has a more rustic, more toned-down approach to tourism and, for foreign residents, it offers a ‘more Mexican’ feel and atmosphere, whereas Cancun is more about package vacations, mall shopping and all-night-parties.
A fun and lively beach culture has sprouted up around Playa del Carmen that demonstrates the diverse blend of interests which become attracted to these shores. The expat community is equally diverse, with a particularly strong European following; and if you live here, you’ll become comfortable intermingling with multiple nationalities and the crucible of cultures and languages thrives within the sphere of a Mexican resort town that has moved far away from its fishing village roots.
Excellent Transport Links
Playa del Carmen is the main port for ferries connecting the Yucatan peninsula to Cozumel, the largest island off Playa’s coast and one of the world’s best scuba diving hot spots. Playa is also well connected by means of a modern highway to Cancun’s international airport (less than an hour away); and a small international airport on the Island of Cozumel. Plans are also afoot to build an international airport in Tulum, just a few minutes away from Playa del Carmen, to serve the Riviera Maya ‘corridor’ and take pressure off Cancun’s airport system, which is the second busiest airport in the country, after Mexico City. When completed, the mix of roads, airports and ferries will make the Riviera Maya one of the best connected regions in all of Mexico.
Cozy Beach side Living in Playa del Carmen
Although Playa has undergone a faster pace of development than any other place in Mexico over the past decade, the local authorities have taken care to retain the characteristics and atmosphere which attracted people here in the first place. For example, by city ordinance, new buildings cannot rise more than three stories in height. From the time Playa was a small quaint town with few developments and a tony populace, the local authorities were certain that they did not want to create “another Cancun” here and, even today, continue to make great efforts to ensure that the high-rise commercialization of Cancun stays thirty miles north of here.
The principal boulevard, Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue, and referred to by locals as simply “La Quinta”) is where a collection of boutique shops, bars, cafes and restaurants coalesce and make for an entertaining stroll as well as modern-day shopping and leisure experiences in a pleasant, outdoor setting.
Commercial retail centers have also been growing to accommodate the retiree/expat communities that have been moving in over recent years, as well as middle-class and affluent Mexicans who have become used to U.S.-style shopping facilities in other bigger towns and cities across Mexico. Today, you can find big name supermarkets including Wal-mart, Soriana, Chedraui, Sam’s Club and CostCo as well as brand-name department stores like Liverpool.
Actively Relaxing Experience
This location is synonymous with relaxation and diversion and, as one of Mexico’s premiere resort towns, both may be enjoyed in equal measures at Playa del Carmen.
For relaxing: walks along the beach, shopping, spas and massages, and simply taking time to enjoy the relaxed way of life that emanates in this part of the world; watching sunrises and sunsets, listening to a cacophony of wild birdsong, or letting the waves brush gently against your feet as you stroll along one of the many white sand beaches. The peak tourism season runs from November through to March. At other times of year, the beaches are quieter and you can enjoy the natural beauty of the coast without the significant influx of seasonal vacationers.
To exercise and engage with a more active lifestyle, tennis and golfing are easily accessible from here. Outdoor activities include first-class scuba and snorkeling (including some some of the finest SCUBA diving in the world, just across the water in Cozumel), sports fishing, sea kayaking and a plethora of other water-based activities including wind-surfing, sailing, and swimming — all amidst the crystal turquoise waters of Mexico’s Caribbean Sea.
On land activities include yoga, salsa lessons and Spanish language lessons. For day and weekend trips, Playa serves as as the ideal base for a compelling choice of adventures including exploration of Mayan ruins in Coba, Tulum, Chichen Itza and beyond; taking in the flora and fauna in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere and Nature Preserve; taking part in an assortment of eco and adventure tours; snorkeling in crystal clear fresh waters, tubing down natural water outlets to the Caribbean sea and swimming with dolphins.
Cost of Living
Playa offers residents a slightly lower cost of living than other major Mexican resort towns; for example, in comparison to Cancun and Los Cabos. The cost of living is always slightly higher in popular resort towns than in resort towns which are off the beaten track: although the higher costs are compensated with facilities such as better transport connections and more choice in terms of retail and medical services.
Property prices have soared in recent years, but remain affordable especially in comparison to the cost of ocean-front and ocean-view property in the United States and Western Europe.
Coastal towns — and especially popular resorts like Playa del Carmen — are always more expensive to live in than colonial cities and other smaller towns ‘off the beaten track’ in Mexico. However, the higher prices reflect the added costs of getting the goods to more remote locations as well as the popularity (demand) from expats who want to live, work or retire alongside the beautiful oceanside environments like Playa del Carmen.
A Warm and Genuine Mexican Resort Town
Playa del Carmen is today one of the most popular resort towns in Mexico, but it remains an authentic Mexican town: a place where you can still find tienditas (small local stores) run independently by local families, ambulant vendors, local plumbers and carpenters advertising their services on the street, and the abundance of day-to-day life situations which are omnipresent across most of Mexico’s towns and cities and which help to put emphasis on the definition of ‘the real Mexico’.
One of the principal features which attracted people to Playa from its early days, is the way the town was able to blend the concept of ‘resort’ with the reality of ‘genuinely Mexican’. Some might argue that the ‘Old Playa’ is dead and buried, and although it’s true that a town whose population has grown from a little over a thousand to over 100,000 in the space of a decade* is going to undergo some change and transformation, it’s also fair to say that the people who live, work and retire here are genuinely warm, friendly and welcoming – and not in a superficial way. This characteristic: being able to pull off ‘the double act’ of transforming from a fishing village into a world-class resort and yet remain authentic to the location’s roots is one of Playa’s trump cards as a location — as much so for visitors and for residents.
There’s an international flair in Playa, created principally by a balanced mix of Europeans and North Americans, although people from a wide array of nationalities call this place home, part or full-time: indeed, according to the Mexican Immigration Service, over seven per cent of Playa del Carmen’s population is non-Mexican.
Most foreigners discover Playa del Carmen when they come here to vacation or as part of a living or retirement ‘scouting’ visit. An increasing number of people fall in love with the climate, the sea, the atmosphere and the food; and thus make plans — and realize those plans — to move here. Those who come to live and work often set up some kind of trade or shop; this is demonstrated by numerous foreign owned businesses operating along La Quinta as well as younger professionals moving to Mexico to work as consultants or ‘knowledge workers’.
For retirees seeking a tropical paradise for part or full-time retirement in Mexico, Playa del Carmen: part hippy, part artsy, part chic, part traditional and unmistakably Mexican, combines these many and varied characteristics to form a unique and beautiful location for retirement living in Mexico.
* Data from Mexico’s National Office of Statistics, INEGI.
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Cost of Living in Playa del Carmen
The cost of living in Mexico is typically lower in Mexico than it is the USA, Canada and Western Europe, although precise costs depend upon where you live and your lifestyle choices.
Cost of Living Report
To learn more about the cost of living in Mexico, connect to the Mexico Cost of Living page on Mexperience.
Regional and geographical cost variations do exist, and this part of the guide shows you how some goods and services at Playa del Carmen vary from the average.
Real Estate in Playa del Carmen
Information about the real estate market in Playa del Carmen
Real Estate Market in Playa del Carmen
The ‘real estate bargains’ that were available here a decade or more ago are long gone, but property prices remain affordable in comparison to beach-front or beach-side property in places like the U.S.A. and Western Europe.
Playa offers a wide variety of property types to choose from. Realty developers have entered the market in earnest and this, coupled with other smaller as well as private investment projects has produced a local realty market that serves a broad range of interests and budgets including modest condos and casitas (little houses) mid range and luxury condos, apartments, suburban town homes as well as super luxurious properties on the beach or overlooking the sea.
The real estate market in Playa continues to experience ongoing and brisk development driven by rising investment in the region, and there are also plans to expand development of the town inland, past current limits, to include the other side of Highway 307, the main highway connecting Playa with Cancun and the rest of the Yucatan.
It’s particularly important to visit Playa before you decide where to purchase, as the local marketing makes potential buyers believe that somehow all residences here may be found “a ten-minute walk” from the beach or La Quinta.
The area of known as Playacar (distinct from Playa) is the premier residential and tourist development where most of the all-inclusive hotels, golf courses and a U.S. shopping mall are located. Playacar also has condos and villas for sale in within upscale, gated developments.
Prices of realty in Playa del Carmen, as in all Mexican resort towns, have risen considerably over the last decade, although they still remain at very affordable levels when compared to ocean-side realty prices in the U.S. and Western Europe. The financial ‘credit crunch’ has tempered market activity and this is beginning to influence some prices, especially of properties whose owners had come to adopt unrealistic expectations of their value.
Prices for very desirable real estate situated on plots of land which are by nature limited (e.g. on the beach) continue to hold, or at least the price tags haven’t changed much,keeping in mind that price is negotiable. For example, for properties overlooking the ocean or very close to it. However, the tear-away price rises of recent years are yielding and to a more stable price market.
Most real estate is sold through local realty agents who know the area and the surrounding region, as well as directly through the developers marketing major realty projects, often on prime beachfront locations or on fine golf courses.
Playa del Carmen is one of the principal areas where Mexican time-share projects are sold, due to the massive draw of tourists and foreign visitors seeking to vacation in this region each year (note that time share is not ownership). Private residences (mostly re-sales) are available in the town center of Playa del Carmen as well as out-of-town, where some expat investors are buying homes offering semi-rural surroundings, away from the town proper, but close enough for easy road access to the beach, local shops and amenities.
Rentals Market in Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen has an abundance of rental properties on the market all year long. Most rental properties in Playa del Carmen are offered through local realty agents or directly by individual property owners listing properties on the Internet or local newspapers and magazines as well as signs posted at restaurants, cafes and bars near the vicinity where the rentals are situated. Some developers rent out their units or rent out units on behalf of absentee owners who only occupy the property part-time: check with local developers or a local realty agent for details and further information.
Healthcare in Playa del Carmen
In addition to Mexico’s state sponsored healthcare provided via the country’s national health service IMSS, good quality healthcare services offered through private clinics with US -standard healthcare services exist in Playa del Carmen. The privately-run out patient clinics available locally are ideal for day-to-day ailments, sprains, broken bones and other health matters which would normally be diagnosed and treated by a General Practitioner of medicine.
Local Climate in Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is hot and humid with dry and wet (rainy) seasons. The annual average temperature is around 80F/26C. Humidity levels are very high all year long; often exceeding ninety per cent. The rainy season runs from May to October each year. Sea breezes bring cooling winds which help to make the location feel cooler, fresher and less aggressively humid than towns and cities located away from the coast.
November to January are the coolest months with average temperatures ranging from 81F/27C during the day and 68F/20C overnight. The “high” season for tourists and part-time residents begins in November each year.
February thru early May offers a beautiful spring-like climate with very little rain. Temperatures begin to increase from April, with average temperatures ranging from 84F/28C during the day and 71F/21C overnight.
June through September are the hottest months, with temperatures ranging from 75F/23C overnight, to 95F/35C in the daytime. The rainy season begins between mid and late May and will last through to October. Hurricanes may occur anytime during the hot summer months but are most likely during July, August and September. Temperatures and humidity reach their peak from mid-July to the end of August.
The temperature begins to moderate again in October. Mid and late autumn brings cooler temperatures with averages ranging from 87F/30C during the day to 73F/22C overnight.
Playa del Carmen’s rainy season runs from May to October, with most of the rain falling in July and August. Torrential afternoon rains may be experienced several days a week and, in the peak temperature months of July, August and September tropical storms and hurricanes may feature, too.
Hurricanes can affect Playa del Carmen at any time during the summer, although they are most frequently experienced here during the peak summer months, especially mid-July through September. The last major hurricane to land on Playa was Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
Sea Temperature in Playa del Carmen
The average sea temperature in the region is 80F/26C. Sea temperatures rise higher in the summer months, and dip slightly November through February.
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