Playa Del Carmen: Tulum's brash sister
Firstly let me begin this post by saying that I don't know where the last few months have gone. My time in the Mexican sunshine seems a distant memory and I would love nothing more than to be back on the stunning beaches of Mexico, basking in that summer sunshine.
Our time in Tulum came to an end and we moved on to check out its brash sister, Playa Del Carmen. Located in the middle of the Riviera Mayan coastline, some 50km from Cancun Airport and around 60 odd kilometres from Tulum, Playa Del Carmen was originally a small fishing town. Tourism first came to Playa Del Carmen by way of a passenger ferry to Cozumel and over recent years it has undergone rapid development with luxury resorts, restaurants and entertainment venues springing up. Tourists flock to Avenida Quinta (or Fifth Avenue) which stretches from Calle 1 norte to Calle 40 and is set a few blocks back from the beach.
Initially I struggled to find my place in Playa Del Carmen, which after the peace and tranquility of Tulum, hit me like a freight train. Comparable to Cavill Ave on the Gold Coast, Avenida Quinta is loud and brash. Multi-level shopping centres jostle for attention amongst the heaving nightclubs and bars, and initially the only restaurants I could find were full of "Americanised" Mexican classics. The catcalling from shop traders and attention seeking from the nightclub traders on Calle 12 Norte trying to pull us into their establishments, with pulsating music and disco lighting, was almost too much to bear...
But then I met Alexis at the Hotel La Semilla and he generously shared his local knowledge and all was right with the world, but more on that later...
In Playa Del Carmen we stayed at the Be Tulum's sister hotel Be Playa. Set on Calle 26 Norte, Be Playa is just a few hundred metres from Avenida Quinta. Far enough away to avoid the hustle and bustle, yet close enough to embrace the madness when you are ready. A boutique all-suite hotel of just 23 rooms, Be Playa is an eclectic blend of contemporary lines with antique world globes, jars of seashells, mismatched lamps and coffee table books thrown in for good measure.
Rooms are generous in size, light and bright and each of our junior suites is well equipped with two queen size beds. A jacuzzi set into the raised tiled platform leads out onto the balcony complete with a single hammock, while the bathroom features a large marble tiled shower and dual sinks. The walls behind the bed feature scripture of local Mexican literary artists.
One of the biggest draw cards at Be Playa is their rooftop pool and lounge bar which looks out to the horizon over the rooftops of Playa Del Carmen. An assortment of foam beds and beanbags sit alongside minimalist furniture. The pool features the frame of a singer sewing machine repurposed as a table complete with a trio of metal chairs, perfect for in-pool dining. The perfect rooftop oasis for whiling away afternoons in the summer sun.
Service at Be Playa from the front desk was fantastic, while breakfast was nothing to write home about. A fairly bland selection of scrambled eggs with a hash brown and some refried beans. The lift was not for the faint hearted, I took the stairs most days. Be Playa has a Japanese restaurant, Sushi Club, that I am sure would be very buzzy in peak tourist season. I would recommend Be Playa for the young and young at heart. For the quality of accommodation and service, Be Playa is very well priced.
Shopaholics rejoice- Playa Del Carmen has something for all tastes and is the perfect place to stock up on presents to take back home. From somewhat tacky slogan t-shirts, to leather bags, cowboy boots and other Mexican handicrafts if you cannot find what you need in Playa Del Carmen I doubt you will find it anywhere.
Much of the accommodation in Playa Del Carmen is either hostel style for the many backpackers that are attracted to the buzzing party scene, or small boutique hotels. For luxury accommodation you need to look outside the town centre along the beaches where you will find resorts galore. While in Playa Del Carmen I went to have a look at two of Design Hotels offerings: Hotel Deseo and Hotel La Semilla.
First up was Hotel Deseo which is located right in the heart of Avenida Quinta. A small property of just 15 rooms with a modern, contemporary feel of crisp whites and duck egg blue accents. The property does not accept children younger than 16 years, so it is perfect for fun loving couples and honeymooners between 28-38 years who like to party. Walking up the sandstone stairs you arrive at the main hub of the hotel, which features a bar set around the pool with large outdoor beds perfect for lounging. At sunset, the terrace becomes a Lounge serving cocktails and snacks with regular DJ sets and black and white film screenings around the pool. Across from the bar is a small functional kitchen which offers a self serve breakfast menu and a small menu of snacks perfect for those who do not rise early or feel peckish come lunchtime. With so many restaurants surrounding Hotel Deseo, there is no need for anything larger. The rooms are set around the pool level and also on the floor above. There are three categories of rooms; lounge view, balcony and suite, with the balcony rooms and suite being the pick of the bunch. A fun and contemporary choice in the heart of Playa Del Carmen.
Next I wandered all the way down to the beginning of Avenida Quinta to the corner of 5th and 38th Street to visit Alexis and his gorgeous BnB Hotel La Semilla. This was a real highlight and would be perfect for couples looking for something unique in Playa Del Carmen. Also catering to adults only, from the moment you pass through the door you have a sense of being welcomed into someone's home. The property had only been open for five months when I visited and a lot of care and thought had been put into its design with all furniture having been collected from local flea markets. Just three stories high with a central staircase (no lift) and only 9 rooms and suites this property is a real gem. Lots of white accents and wooden floors add to the feeling of openness.
There are no TVs or phones so you are encouraged to switch off, though Wi-Fi is available should you feel the need to brag about your surroundings to friends back home. The central courtyard garden is an oasis in this busy town and a small lounge area and open kitchen serves a delicious breakfast each morning and invites one to curl up with a good book. The owners have worked the BnB around nature, which explains the huge tree growing in the centre of the lounge. All the food is sourced locally or homemade. There is also a delightful terrace above the dining room complete with a double hammock, which is perfect for an afternoon siesta with your loved one. There is no pool at Hotel La Semilla, but with the beach located only 5-10 minutes walk away there is no need. On the third level there is another small terrace which is perfect for soaking up the sun's rays and topping up the tan. All of the rooms are slightly different but all are equally stylish. If I was to choose any particular room I would recommend the curatos terrazzo with their ground floor terraces and the two suites terrazza which are situated on the third floor and offer panoramic views from the terrace. The BnB is surrounded by five restaurants in 38th Street alone including the colourful Fonda Regina next door, which serves authentic Mexican cuisine and fresh seafood and La Cueva Del Chango which is set within a tropical jungle and also offers local Mexican classics. There is also a local Thai restaurant and an Italian one that serves terrific pizzas just across the road. There are two vintage bicycles available to guests who want to explore further afield. If I was to head back to Playa Del Carmen this would be the only place I would choose to stay. Alexis also shared his list of recommendations in Playa Del Carmen with me, which we tried out over the next few nights and thoroughly enjoyed. More on that in the next post.