By Hillary Latos
It was in this gorgeous region of the Riviera Maya that the Mayans predicted the end of the world by December 2012. If you ask inhabitants of the region about the doomsday prophecies they merely brush it off in their laid back manner and use it as a marketing tool for tourists or as an excuse to “Party like it’s the end of the World.” Much more than just a beach town, Playa del Carmen is a perfect place to start the party to end all parties. What was merely a sleepy fishing village 6 years ago and a port to get from Cancun to Cozumel has quickly blossomed into a lovely 2 mile long pedestrian strip on Fifth Avenue with international restaurants, luxury hotels, and luxury shops sitting alongside tourist shops selling Mexican handicrafts and souvenirs, all within walking distance. Even though it earned the title of the fastest growing city in the Western Hemisphere in 2008 by the Guinness Book of World Records, developers are careful to retain the charm and quaintness that differentiate Playa from its larger overdeveloped cousins in Quintana Roo, like Cancun.
Where to Party
While Playa del Carmen is known for its party scene, there are plenty of options for all tastes on Fifth Avenue from Salsa dancing to romantic beach lounges to mega clubs. The scene gets going every night from sundown until sunrise with the majority of night clubs concentrated on 12th street.
La Bodeguita del Medio
About as authentic as you can get to Havana cantina, this outpost in Playa del Carmen is one of the best places for salsa dancing. Graffiti is encouraged on the walls and furniture to add to the character, and just about the only white spaces left are on the ceiling. Open from 1 pm, by day it’s a place to grab a Cuban sandwich or get your caffeine fix but by when the sun sets, the live band starts and the party begins. Free salsa lessons are offered on Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm.
Calle 34 and Fifth Ave
Zenzi Beach Club Lounge
A chill beach club by day and outdoor lounge by night, dance the night away with the cool ocean breeze and nightly entertainment starting at 5 pm with bands that specialize in Salsa, Reggae and Rock.
Calle 10 and 1st Ave
On a street with nightclubs occupying every storefront, Mandala Night club stands out as Playa del Carmen’s answer to a velvet roped nightclub. The striking entrance and flashy atmosphere supported by world class djs can be seen on the street as the walls are all open. With cosmopolitan feeling similar to Miami, the crowd tends to be a mix of tourists and locals done up to the nine, with banquettes on multi levels, bottle service and the requisite light display.
Calle 10 between 1st and 5th Ave
Where to Stay
For a home away from home, Acanto Hotel is the perfect base for exploring the city. Right off of Fifth avenue on 14 street it’s just around the corner from the bustling action and all night clubs yet quiet enough to hear a pin drop inside the hotel. This condo/boutique hotel is owned by Hamptons developer Matt Schilowitz and designed by Long Island designer Laurie Purnell who wanted to create a warm hacienda setting with 1, 2, and 3 bedroom condos fitted with luxurious touches like onyx sinks and lamps and marble floors that offer the comforts of home for families, couples or singles. The best rooms are the penthouse apartments with a private Jacuzzi and BBQ grills with breathtaking views overlooking the ocean. If you happen to fall in love with any of the 21 units they are also all for sale.
16th Street between 1st and 5th Ave
For the adventurous set, Hotel Reina Roja is a sexy, S & M themed hotel that seems like its transported from Amsterdam’s red light district. Outfitted in red lights, there are scantily clad mannequins to add to the atmosphere, banquettes that look like cages and whips and other paraphernalia decorating the lobby. The dark yet textured rooms have an alluring and sexy vibe decorated in exotic wood on the walls with a red abd black color scheme. If the theme is a too much for the tame stop by for one of their legendary weekly day and night Sunday rooftop pool parties that attracts locals and tourists.
Mexico is famous for their all inclusive packages that are great for families, couples and vacationers looking to relax in a large beach front resort, and Sandos is one of the top luxury chains in Playa del Carmen. The Spanish owned Sandos Playacar Beach Resort & Spa offers separate pool and hotel accommodations for families and adults only so honeymooners can have their privacy away from families. Set on an ancient Mayan site this eco friendly resort, Mayan archaeological artifacts are scattered throughout the resort. With 5 international a la carte restaurants offering culinary varieties like French, Brazilian, Mexican and Japanese, as well as 2 buffets and snack bars there is plenty of choices to whet the appetite. From their private stretch of a pristine white sandy beach, 3 pools including a hydrotherapy pool, spa, golf course and on site disco, this is the perfect getaway for all ages.
Where to Eat
Off of Fifth in a quiet alley, La Sirena has a modern take on Mexican cuisine with a specialty in local seafood dishes paired with fresh fruit pureed margaritas, most of which a dinner for 2 with drinks is under $40. This casual café likes to take a personal touch and every guest is greeted by the chef who comes out and chats about your taste preferences to deliver dishes on or off the menu that are individualized. Some of the standouts were the fresh grilled catch of the day, fish tacos, tuna tartare tostada, blood orange grilled prawns, and the roasted cochinita that is simmered in spices for over 8 hours. With daily specials its definitely worth multiple visits over a stay in Playa.
La Sirena Mary Barrio
16 Street between 1st and 5 Ave
55 (984) 803 2448
How to Get There
The easiest way to reach Playa del Carmen is on a direct flight from American Airlines or Jet Blue into Cancun, and Playa is located 45 minutes south of the Airport.