Located along the glitzy Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen is undoubtedly one of the most expensive areas in Mexico, but even budget travelers will rejoice in the legion of well-priced apartments, good local restaurants market and affordable day trip options available in Playa del Carmen. For the budget conscious, here are some tips for maximizing your money in Playa del Carmen.
Take an ADO bus to Playa del Carmen
Most travelers land at Cancun International Airport (CUN), 45 minutes north of Playa del Carmen. From there, the cheapest way to get to Playa del Carmen is the ADO bus. These iconic red buses are equipped with all the features: reclining seats, air conditioning, on-board toilets and power outlets. A single ticket costs $216 million (US$10.50).
Reserve your seat online at least one day in advance and download an e-ticket to your phone. Take the bus right outside arrivals and drop off at the central Playa del Carmen bus station, one block from Parque Fundadores. It is a safe, comfortable and economical way to get to Playa.
Visit in low season for the best deals
Playa del Carmen’s peak tourist season runs from December through April, when the town swells to the seams with spring breakers and sun-seekers. If you’re not averse to scorching heat and extreme humidity, July and August are excellent months to visit for the least crowds and the best bargains. It’s best to avoid hurricane season from September to November, when high winds and torrential rains can cause power outages and damage roads.
Book your accommodation in advance
Looking for a beachfront resort in Playa del Carmen for your group of friends or family? These are fully booked for the coming months, especially over Christmas and during Spring Break. To grab the best deals, book at least three months in advance. The closer you book to your travel dates, the higher the prices. Buy early and you can choose from more accommodations and save a decent amount.
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Choose a budget district to stay in
Playa del Carmen has plenty of accommodation options, so shop around. The section that stretches from the ferry terminal to Calle 8, known as Centro, is the most expensive – and noisiest – area to stay. This is where you’ll mostly find upscale boutique hotels with rooftop pools and beach bars.
The nearby towns of Gonzalo Guerrero and Zazil Ha are much nicer to live in, with a decent selection of backpacker hostels ranging from USD 15-25 a night and modern, tastefully decorated apartments available for short-term rental from $40 a night. Plus, staying in a hostel or apartment gives you access to kitchen facilities and common areas, saving you money on food and drink.
Walk everywhere to save on transport costs
Another factor that makes Playa del Carmen so economical is its walkability. You can easily get around on foot if you plan to stay in Centro and Gonzalo Guerrero. The city has a well-designed grid layout, with call (streets) perpendicular to the avenidas (avenues) and the beach as a beacon.
The beating heart of the city is centered on Parque Fundadores, a bustling plaza directly on the beach characterized by a 52-foot (15.8-meter) Mayan sculpture. It is the starting point of the pedestrian street Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) lined with restaurants and trinket shops. This pedestrian street is so long that it crosses Centro, Gonzalo Guerrero and Zazil-Ha.
Exploring cenotes on a budget
A simple walk on the collective (shared van) costs between 25 M$ (1.25 USD) and 45 M$ (2.15 USD). Ride with the locals on the collective not only takes you further, but it’s also a great way to get to know the culture better. Most vans depart from Juarez Avenue, just below the freeway. These vans only start their engine when full, but they usually take no more than 10 minutes to fill up.
The closest cenotes (natural swimming holes) to Playa del Carmen are the trio – Azul, Cristalino and Eden – which are all grouped together. Any van going in the direction of Tulum will get you there in about 20 minutes. Just let your driver know where you’re going ahead of time.
Consider your transportation options
Although it is easy to walk everywhere or take collective, it can be convenient to rent a vehicle to explore the most remote cenotes and Mayan ruins. For those who want the best of both worlds, we recommend spending the first three days of your trip exploring Playa on foot and renting a vehicle for the rest of your time.
Driving in the Riviera Maya is relatively straightforward – with speed bumps and potholes the main things you need to watch out for. Daily rental rates in Mexico are relatively affordable, averaging between $30 and $50 for an economy car with full insurance. Note that the deals you find online may seem incredibly attractive – some as cheap as US$9 a day – but you’ll want to check that they include taxes, airport fees and third party liability insurance (mandatory by law). law) in addition.
Rent a bike to visit Playa del Carmen on two wheels
Thanks to the city-wide bike-sharing system, biking is the latest craze in Playa del Carmen. Head to one of the many BiciPlaya kiosks dotted around town – they’re literally around every corner. Download the app and unlock a bike for just $98M ($4.80) per day.
The city’s most convenient bike path runs along 10th Avenue, one block from the beach. It starts from the entrance to the residential area of Playacar and extends to Avenida Constituyentes. Pedestrians often overflow onto the cycle path; pay attention to them. Avoid main avenues however, local drivers are not used to cyclists.
Wander further into the city for the best street food
Playa’s pedestrianized Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) is lined with lively restaurants and bars, but prices tend to be higher than average. Wander away from the bustling boulevard and down the side streets – you’ll discover an underground world of cheap tacos and eateries where you can get your fill for less than US$5.
The Palacio Municipal Night Market serves up an assortment of regional Mexican flavors and culinary delights from other parts of Latin America Friday through Sunday. Grab a trio of tacos for just $75M ($3.50) and a coconut Frappe for $50M ($2) and enjoy them on the bench while listening to a Lord sing old school tunes in the square.
Stroll further down Avenida Constituyentes to find a line of food trucks offering some of the best tacos in Playa del Carmen. Of all the taco carts perched on the sidewalk in Mega Soriana, Hermanos has the most following. Adventurous foodies shouldn’t miss their tripe tacos (crispy pork intestine tacos) for just $25M ($1.25) each.
Eat cheaper at lunchtime
Taco-ed? Luckily, Playa del Carmen has around 20 international restaurants and modern cafes that offer great lunch deals from 1-4pm on weekdays. the menu of the day often packs in the same dishes you’d shell out a fortune for dinner – at discounted prices. Most of these lunch combos come with an appetizer and main course, while some also add fresh juice or dessert.
All beaches in Playa del Carmen are free
In Mexico, all beaches are public. This includes resort beaches and stretches attached to private residential communities. Don’t be put off by the rows of lounge chairs on Playacar Beach or the crowded beach clubs along the main Centro spit – everyone can enjoy the beaches of Playa del Carmen for free.
Beach clubs can be expensive, especially in Centro. They charge a minimum consumption ranging from US$15 to US$50. Instead, we suggest you bring your own drinks and beach mats – you can lay on any Playa beach all day without spending a dime.
Join the fitness culture without breaking the bank
Playa del Carmen is synonymous with fitness and wellness. It’s a great place to follow your health regimen without emptying your wallet. Sunrise Yoga Playa holds sessions at 7 a.m. daily on the CTM beach. Classes are free and no reservations are needed – just show up with a towel or mat and grab a spot on the sand!
Playa Yoga Tribe hosts a slate of yoga sessions, from Hatha to meditation, also by donation, in a comfortable palapa-roofed studio.
Look for Playa del Carmen happy hours
If you’re looking to have a good time without burning a hole in your pocket, Playa del Carmen has plenty of lively bars offering happy hours, as well as affordable nightclubs. Start your evening at Cerveceria Chapultepec, a popular chain of bars with multiple locations around town, offering everything on their menu – from margaritas to mini-burgers – for $29M (US$1.40) all night.
There’s also “Ladies Night” almost every day of the week: Wabi Hostel whips up specialty mojitos on Tuesdays; The Deck 5 Skybar serves free cocktails by the pool on Wednesdays. Bronze launches strong gins every Friday; and Sushi Club whips up “ladies free” martinis on Saturdays.
Most nightclubs charge a cover of $100M ($5) to $150M ($6.50), but that goes up to $200M ($10) during peak season and holidays. Get out early, many clubs let customers in for free before midnight.
Daily costs in Playa del Carmen in US dollars
- Hostel room: 15 to 25 USD (bed in dormitory)
- Basic room for two: 30 to 80 USD
- Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): 40 to 150 USD
- Daily car rental rate: 30 to 50 USD
- Public Transportation Playa del Carmen to Tulum (40 miles): US$2-6
- Entrance to the Mayan ruins: 4 to 25 USD
- Coffee: 2 to 4 USD
- Tacos: $1-3 per taco
- Beer/pint at the bar: 1 to 3 USD