Flickr Matthew Fuentes
Flickr/Matthew Fuentes

It’s hard to top Playa del Carmen when you want a sunny escape from winter (or anytime you want to wiggle your toes in the surf and sand, for that matter). The city has white-sand beaches, Mayan ruins, authentic Mexican cuisine, and plenty of shopping and nightlife.

Like any vacation, though, the fun and sun comes with a price tag, and you can choose either a budget or a luxury experience. Here’s how to have a great winter escape no matter which route you take.

Playa del Carmen on a Budget


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Stay: If you plan to spend your entire time at the resort, an all-inclusive that includes alcohol may be a good option. However, if you want to dine at a few of Playa del Carmen’s restaurants, a vacation rental may be more economical. Stock up at a local supermarket for meals you intend to eat in.


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Vacation rentals average $122 USD on Airbnb. (This sleek, one-bedroom apartment rents for $124 USD per night and is a short walk from the beach.) If you’d rather stay at a boutique hotel in a similar price range, opt for Hotel Cielo, located just steps from bustling 5th Avenue.

Dine: You’ll find taquerias — inexpensive taco shops — throughout Playa del Carmen. For arguably the best in the city, head to El Fogon and order the tacos al pastor, fresh tacos made of pork that is sliced from a Lebanese-style shawarma. In addition to tacos, the restaurant serves fajitas and massive burritos.

See the Sights: Most day trips from Playa del Carmen will set you back at least $75. One way to save is to rent a car and drive to your destination. For example, organized Akumal Bay snorkeling trips that pick you up at your resort start at $75. Drive yourself, and the price drops to $25 to go with a guide at the beach. Bring your own gear, skip the guide, and you’ll pay nothing to swim with the sea turtles in the sparkling waters.

If a rental car is out of your budget, take advantage of the free things to do in Playa del Carmen. There’s no charge to visit the beach — all beaches in Mexico are free — or to stroll along 5th Avenue (as long as you fight the urge to buy souvenirs from the vendors and shops there).

Playa del Carmen in Luxury

Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Playa del Carmen/Flickr/Christopher William Adach

Stay: The adults-only Royal Playa del Carmen delivers first-class luxury, including “beach butlers” to bring you drinks on the beach and a “pillow menu” for a good night’s sleep (all-inclusive from $330 per person, per day). For Mayan culture, though, we like Sandos Caracol Eco Resort (all-inclusive from $255 per person, per day). The property offers a cenote for snorkeling, jungle nature trail, Mayan ruins, and traditional ceremonies with a Mayan shaman.

Dine: If you splurge on one meal in Playa del Carmen, make it Oh Lala!. The intimate, open-kitchen restaurant serves perfectly prepared filet mignon, lamb chops, grilled octopus, tuna, and even curry. Expect to spend $50 per person, and make reservations early to ensure you get a table.

Another unforgettable option is the restaurant-in-a-cave, Alux. While waiting for your rib eye steak, orange salmon, or surf and turf, you’re free to wander between stalagmites and stalactites to the cenote.

See the Sights: The ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a must-see when visiting Playa del Carmen. Although you can find cheaper tours that herd you on buses, budget approximately $100 for roundtrip transportation from your resort.

Xcaret Park is well worth the $89 admission to spend the day exploring the replicated Mayan village, zoo exhibits, and nature trails. For something more adventurous, take a day trip through Xenotes Oasis Maya to four different cenotes, where you can rappel, zip line, kayak, and snorkel ($109, including round trip transportation).

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