People fall in love with Playa del Carmen, Mexico, for what it has (gorgeous beaches and rustic charm) and for what it doesn’t (the crowds and overbuilt beachfronts of some of the Yucatan peninsula’s big tourist traps). It boasts unique little hotels and restaurants and an authentic village feel (with a minimum of multinational chains to be found) that appeals to fashionistas and hippies alike. One of the area’s strongest selling points is that its idyllic beaches are just a quick drive or bus ride away from some breathtaking historic sites, so you can balance out all that margarita sipping with an inspiring journey into the region’s past.
Before You Go: Need-to-know info
Currency: The Mexican peso is the official currency, though US dollars are accepted at many places.
Entry requirements: Passport that’s valid for at least six months from the date of entry and a tourist card (usually included in the price of your flight)
Flight time (to Cancun): 4.5 hours from New York City; 4.5 hours from LA; 4 hours from Denver; 1.5 from Miami; plan on a 45-minute taxi ride to Playa del Carmen
Getting around: On foot (the town is extremely walkable), car and taxi
When to Go: Playa del Carmen at its best
Best weather: The driest (and most popular) months are December to April, when 80 degrees Fahrenheit is the average temp. The summer months are even hotter (highs close to 90) and September and October are often rainy (and hurricane prone).
Best prices: Prices begin to come down at the end of spring break season, around May, and you can find bargains from then until around Thanksgiving when the peak season begins again.
What to Do
Soak up the sun: The golden sands and clear Caribbean waters of the local beaches are Playa’s main attraction. If you get bored sunbathing you can snorkel, scuba or partake in the other standard water sports, but the vibe here is more about lounging around, languidly reading a book or entwined with your new spouse on a towel.
See awe-inspiring ruins: Don’t let the sun and cerveza lull you into such a stupor that you forget some of the Western hemisphere’s most fascinating archeological sites are a quick drive away. The ruins of the ancient Mayan empire, at nearby Tulum and Coba, will give you a heavy and memorable dose of history. In addition to the famous ruins, you can check out colonial cities (Merida and Campeche are two) and traditional haciendas to the north.
Stay up late: A diverse array of energetic nightlife options is one of Playa del Carmen’s big selling points. But don’t worry, you won’t be engulfed by a raucous college crowd; the after-dark atmosphere is more sophisticated than that. You can hit a salsa venue one night, a rock club another and spend the rest sipping your tequila of choice at one of the myriad of laid-back sidewalk cafes.