Living in Playa del Carmen for a month was something I had wanted to do for a while. Well, specifically, I knew I wanted to live in Mexico for an undefined amount of time, but the exact location and duration were only set in stone after a few weeks of deliberating with my travel buddy.

I had done a lot of research on living in Playa del Carmen before I arrived, but I still didn’t know exactly what to expect. Was it more resort town than cultural? What exactly is a cenote? On a scale of 1-10, how much should I stress about riding on a colectivo?

You know, things you don’t know until you actually get there.

That said, my month living in Playa del Carmen was a lot of things — it was eye-opening, it was soul-touching, it was challenging and, to be honest, it was exhausting. But, most of all, it was nothing like I expected it to be.

If you’ve traveled to Playa del Carmen before, or if you’re planning a trip there now, then get ready to relate to these 43 things you’ll learn by living in Playa del Carmen for a month!

 

43 Things You’ll Learn By Living in Playa del Carmen For a Month

 

Living in Playa del Carmen, Mexico Pinterest Pin

 

1. Cenote’s are Heaven on Earth

Before traveling to Mexico, I had only a faint idea of what constitutes a cenote.

Limestone sinkholes filled with freshwater, cenote’s are blissful places to go for an afternoon of swimming, snorkeling, or just cooling off. They’re usually covered in lush moss, have crystal clear waters, and the more popular ones even have a lifeguard on duty.

I highly recommend visiting a cenote on your visit to Playa as there are plenty of them and they’re a great switch-up from swimming in the ocean. It’s estimated that there are over 6000 cenotes scattered around the Yucatan Peninsula, many of them created way back when the asteroid struck the earth and killed the dinosaurs. But more on that later.

Just be sure to have some peso’s on hand for the entrance fee, and wear only reef-safe sunscreen or none at all (regular sunscreen has chemicals that harm flora and fauna). Chances are your cenote won’t have you in direct sunlight.

Underwater in a cenote with three scuba divers.

At Cenote Jardin del Eden in Quintana Roo.

 

2. August in Quintana Roo is Sweaty

In case you didn’t hear the news, it’s sweaty as hell in Playa del Carmen in August.

So yeah, I pretty much already knew this when I went there, but I admit I wasn’t quite prepared to face this unpleasant reality.

Wearing any clothing at all felt like torture. I wore my bathing suit under a tank top and shorts at all times in the event I needed to dive into the nearest cenote / ocean / pool, there were times my friend and I seriously thought we might have heat stroke, and we chugged water all day long and almost never had to pee.

So, in case you need to hear this again, head to Playa del Carmen in the Winter when it’s a little cooler and a lot less humid. You’ll thank yourself.

 

3. Rooftop Pools are Where It’s At

With the heat being so intense in the Yucatan, it’s no wonder there are some top-notch rooftop pools in Playa del Carmen.

One pool that my friend and I particularly enjoyed was Be Playa. While it wasn’t a large pool (and not open to children), it was awesome for lounging around in while enjoying a couple (okay, a few), drinks.

Something to note though is that no matter which rooftop pool you go to, you’ll have to hit a minimum spend. At Be Playa, this number was 200 pesos, which really didn’t take long to hit considering all the cervesas we drank.

 

4. What Constitutes a Great Taco

I’m not going to lie, I ate taco’s almost every day I was in Playa del Carmen, whether that was at a fancy place, a dollar-a-pop taco bar, or at home. Due to this labor-intensive research, I garnered a pretty good idea into what goes into making an excellent taco.

A great taco has a soft shell, squishy innards, and is loaded with salsa. It is moist, yet firm, and it can be eaten in around three bites. Please remember to chew.

Some of the best taco restaurants in Playa del Carmen are El Fogon (the Steak con queso tacos are unreal, my mouth is watering just typing this), Cerveceria Chapultepec (their fish tacos are great, everything is $1, the waiters are pretty hot, and they have a full salsa bar), and Carnitas Teresita.

A colorful taco restaurant in Playa del Carmen called El Fogon.

 

5. Not All Beaches are Created Equal

I’m going to let you in on a little secret here, for a town that literally has the word “beach” in the name, it’s surprisingly difficult to find a great beach in Playa del Carmen.

So many resorts and restaurants are built so close to the water that there are only a few feet of sand in some sections, despite best efforts, the sargassum (mutant seaweed) has invaded and stunk up a lot of beaches, and when you do find a stretch of sand that you can just sit back and relax on, there will probably be dude coming up to you every 30 seconds asking for a tip for his obnoxious musical (re: microphone and loudspeaker) stylings.

That’s not to say there aren’t any great beaches in Playa, rather that you just need to know where to go.

I recommend getting away from the downtown beach core and finding a spot nearby. Playacar, Xpu-Ha, and Playa Mamitas are all great beaches.

A downtown beach in Playa del Carmen with hotels and lounger chairs.

 

6. How to Haggle

When you come to Mexico, you’re going to learn how to haggle.

Of course, Mexican vendors can smell a tourist coming a mile away, and chances are you’re going to have to pay more than a local would no matter what. That said, you can still get a better deal on goods and services than the upfront price.

When the vendor tells you the price of an item, tell them that you’re carrying a lower amount of pesos than that — whatever number you think is fair — and see how it goes. The vendor might try to negotiate, and you can decide if you want to pay more, or simply walk away.

A couple of weeks into my Playa del Carmen trip, I walked into a shop selling lace beach coverups. At first, the vendor wanted me to pay $700 pesos for one. I said no, not wanting to pay that much, and he lowered the price to $500 pesos. Still thinking that was too much for what he was selling, I told him that all I had on me was $350 pesos. And just like that, I had me a new beach coverup, for literally half of what he was originally selling for.

Of course, while haggling, never come into the situation with the intention to swindle the vendors. Rather, negotiate until you both find a price you think is fair.

5th avenue in Playa del Carmen right after a rain. People are walking down the street while goods are covered in protective plastic.

 

7. Mayan History is Fascinating

You can’t come to the Mayan Riviera and not learn a ton about Mayan history; you just can’t.

On my trip, I was lucky to learn various Mayan stories from a bunch of characters — my favorites being a walking tour guide named Dan, and my caving expedition leader.

I learned all about the Mayan calendar and just how much it meant to the people of the Yucatan in 2012, I learned about Mayan food preparation customs and the methods used to make traditional dishes, and I learned about how Playa del Carmen was created and how the ruins intermingle with the modern city.

Statue of two mermaids in downtown playa del carmen with the ocean in the background.

 

8. The Privilege of Water

Of all the things I learned in Playa del Carmen, none was more constantly glaring than what it’s like to not have easy access to clean water. Due to inadequate piping systems, the water in Playa del Carmen isn’t always safe to drink from the tap and, if you do, you might end up with a nasty stomach bug.

Of course, there is conflicting information on just how bad the tap water actually is, but we opted to stay on the safe side.

While the Playa del Carmen locals take part in a water bottle service in which there are scheduled drop-offs for clean jugs of water from reusable containers, my friend and I were left to our own devices when it came to clean water. This meant using water purification tabs and bottled water.

If you know me, you know that I’m a very adamant tree-hugger, and using bottled water is just not something I condone on a day-to-day basis where there is drinkable water readily available. However, I was very much a bottled water drinker while in Mexico, despite filling up my reusable water bottle every morning before heading out for the day.

Sand and Water in playa del Carmen

 

9. How to Get the Cheapest Taxi’s

Here’s the thing about taxi’s in Playa del Carmen — they can either be super cheap or really expensive depending on where you get them, whether or not you can speak basic Spanish, and if you know what you’re doing.

So take these tips to heart, my friends.

First of all, never try to get a taxi in downtown Playa del Carmen. I guarantee the drivers here will rip you off, and you won’t even know you’re being ripped off because they have a laminated price sheet that they reference. When trying to catch a cab near 5th avenue, I was routinely quoted about 200 pesos ($20 dollars) more than what it cost to catch a cab elsewhere.

To get the best deal, walk away from the beach for about 10 minutes, and then see what the drivers quote you. To get from downtown to Residential Marsella where I was living (a 20-minute drive), the best price I got was 50 pesos, but this fluctuated up to 70 depending on the driver.

Secondly, negotiate in Spanish. You don’t have to be fluent, but a typical taxi driver transaction should go something like this:

You:Hola, buenos dias/ tardes/ noches!” (Hello, good morning/afternoon/night!). Tell the driver where you’re going or show them a map. “Quantos questa?” (How much?).

Driver:Cincuenta pesos” (Fifty pesos).

You:Si” (yes) or “No” (no), and then state the number you think is fair. Know your numbers in factors of 10.

Driver:Si“.

You: Get in and buckle up. There aren’t a lot of stoplights, there are a lot of speedbumps, and stop signs are vastly disregarded.

 

10. You’ll Need Basic Spanish

So yeah, on that note, you’ll need basic Spanish to get around Playa del Carmen. Of course, everyone on 5th avenue will speak English, and you can expect the same if you’re staying at a resort.

However, if you plan on being adventurous and exploring the area for yourself, you’ll eventually run into people who don’t know English at all, and you’ll want your transactions to go as smoothly as possible.

Personally, I used the South America version of Rosetta Stone to get down the basics before I went.

A pink building and Mexico flags in downtown playa del Carmen

 

11. Mexico is Safer Than You Think

For casual travelers, anyway.

So, here’s the thing — Mexico gets a terrible rap in the media. A lot of this is fear-mongering, some of this is ignorance, some of it is prejudice, and some of it is the actual truth. Because in reality, if you’re at the border seeking asylum, if you’re involved at all in gangs, cartels, or drugs, or if you go to well-known high crime rate areas, you’re probably at risk.

However, if you’re a traveler in Mexico sticking to the beaten path, chances are you’re going to have a problem-free time.

While I lived in Playa del Carmen for a month, I was actually in Mexico for 5.5 weeks total, and besides a high amount of street harassment, I had no issues. Plus, for a lot of this time, I was traveling on my own.

When you travel, there will always be people trying to swindle you out of money, but the truth is there aren’t many who are actually looking to cause you bodily harm.

My advice is to do your research on the area you’re visiting, don’t pay attention to fear-mongers who have never actually visited Mexico, and remember what you see on the news is usually concentrated and gang-related.

 

12. It’s Pretty Cheap to Live in Mexico

Want to know how much I spent on a month’s rent for a two-story villa with a backyard, air conditioning, wi-fi, a full kitchen, two bathrooms, and two bedrooms?

$450 Canadian dollars.

Granted, I split the total cost with a friend, but given that we kind of went high-end on a place, it was a great deal.

In Playa del Carmen, you can completely tailor how much you spend — and this goes for anything from rent to food and all kinds of goods.

Yes, you can live on dollar tacos in Mexico.

Or, you can eat at 5-star gourmet restaurants if you want to.

Quintana Roo is your oyster.

Mexico hats piled high on top of each other.

 

13. But it still has all the Amenities

Although Playa del Carmen was first settled a long time ago, the iteration of the town you see today has boomed in the past 15 years, and a lot of the people living there are ex-pats. In fact, in 1995 the population of Playa del Carmen was 17 621. In 2014, that number boomed to more than 186 700. It’s even higher today.

Because Playa del Carmen is such a young city, it had a lot of opportunities to install modern comforts. Whatever you’re looking for, you won’t be without.

 

14. Public Transit is an Adventure in Itself

There are a few ways to get around the Mayan Riviera. You can drive yourself (more on this in a bit though, as I do not recommend), you can take a charter bus, you can taxi, or you can take the local’s preferred form of public transit, the colectivo.

A colectivo is your standard shuttle bus that carries around 10 – 15 people and, in Playa del Carmen, you can get ones that go from downtown to Cancun, Tulum, and any of the major towns and attractions in between.

The colectivo’s only run when full (thankfully, they fill up steadily and often), and will cost you a fraction of the price of any other form of public transport (I’m talking like $3 dollars or less per journey).

A couple of things to note on this. First of all, you’ll have to keep track of where you are on the colectivo, as the drivers will only yell out the stops in Spanish, and you’ll have to yell back in order for them to know you want to get off. Also, before you get on the colectivo, ask the driver how much it will be to get to your destination. Then, when you’re on the bus, get your money ready. No local wants to wait for a tourist to go through their wallet looking for the right change.

The big kicker of using Colectivo’s? If you want to catch the colectivo from anywhere that’s not a major stop, chances are you’ll have to flag one down on the side of the highway. You know, as I did.

Storytime! So, after a chill afternoon of swimming in Cenote Jardin del Eden, my friend and I knew that the only economical way to get from the cenote back to Playa was to take a colectivo. A taxi would have been way out of our budget.

So, not knowing where to go to catch the colectivo, we asked the cenote gatekeeper guy. He told us to get on the other side of the highway, and then just wave our hands when we see a white shuttle bus come along. Easy peasy, right?

Cue the two of us running across 4 lanes of busy highway traffic like maniacs, inadvertently flagging down the exact right colectivo in the process.

Told ya it was easy peasy.

Winjet ticket and sunglasses in playa del carmen with the ocean in the background.

 

15. Always Have Cash on Hand

In Playa del Carmen, cash is the name of the game. Don’t even think about paying for small things on the street with cards, because nobody has readers.

Thankfully, there are banks on almost every corner in Playa, so you can take out however much you want at the drop of a hat.

That said, stick to the banks. Try not to use the ATM’s on the street as you never know if they’ve been tampered with.

 

16. It’s More Diverse Than You Think

When you think Mexico, you think local Mexicans, right?

Well, in the Yucatan Peninsula, I found that the population was much more diverse than originally thought. Of course, I knew there were substantial Mayan and Aztec populations, but I had no idea that Playa del Carmen is also home to large Italian, Northern European, and American communities as well.

Specifically, it’s one of the most popular destinations for digital nomads.

Taylor in front of the Tulum ruins with palm trees, a blue sky, and lots of green grass

Photo by Ashley Senja

17. Climate Change is Rapidly Altering the Landscape

While on a walking tour through the downtown area, I learned that what you see in Playa del Carmen today isn’t what you’ll see in a few year’s time.

As mentioned previously, due to a lack of enforced regulations regarding how close property owners can build to the ocean, many of Playa’s restaurants and hotels are built dangerously close to the water. Mix that with consistently rising sea levels, and Playa del Carmen’s oceanfront is about to change drastically.

Of course, property owners know this, and the battle to keep the beaches and buildings intact has begun. Sand is constantly shipped down the coast from Cancun to deal with the disappearing beaches, and you’ll find sandbags scattered around some of the shallower beaches to stop the high tide from getting too close to the buildings.

All of this, mixed with the new sargassum seaweed infestation (that’s due to rising temperatures and changing river patterns) means the Playa del Carmen of today won’t be the Playa del Carmen of tomorrow.

Sunset in playa del carmen with palm trees, the ocean, and people lounging on the beach.

 

18. A Cave is Always a Good Idea

One of my favorite experiences in Playa del Carmen was taking a private caving tour just north of the city.

Our guide on this tour, Pako, was an expert caver who had been exploring the caves around the Yucatan for decades. He told us all about his Mixtec heritage and had us marveling at the stories he told.

Pako decked us out in water shoes and headlamps, and then our trio descended into a dark, yet pristine cave. We waded through shallow waters, swam through areas where our feet didn’t touch, and took in the darkest and quietest environment I have ever experienced.

At one point, Pako decided to give us a special treat. We all turned off our headlamps, my friend and I sat on a rock, and Pako sang a traditional Mixtec prayer that had been passed to him through his family.

As we listened to this, small fish came and brushed up against my legs, just saying hello.

It was the kind of day that you know you’ll carry with you forever.

Taylor and a friend pointing to the t-shirt of their caving tour guide that says "best day ever"

After the caving tour with Pako

 

19. There’s a Scene Here for Everybody

Although it looks like a touristy resort town on the surface, if you dive a little deeper you’ll learn that there’s actually a lot going on in Playa del Carmen.

Into art? There’s a scene for you. Interested in learning Spanish? There are some of the best Spanish-learning schools around. Are you an ex-pat? There are thriving ex-pat and digital nomad communities.

No matter what you’re into, do some digging and I’m sure you’ll find some likeminded people to hang and explore with.

A mural display in Playa del Carmen

 

20. Support Local

Another tidbit I learned from my walking tour is that so many of the souvenirs and gadgets in Playa del Carmen are, you guessed it, made in China. Due to this, the locals don’t see the bulk of the profits.

To support the local creators and vendors as much as possible, do your best to buy home-made Mexican items. There are a lot of options, and you’ll get a much more precious souvenir out of it.

A traditional clothing store in playa del carmen with mounds of clothing on display

 

21. Stay Casual

Locals in Playa del Carmen dress very casually — think jeans or shorts and a t-shirt. While there’s no cultural rule that says you can’t dress up, doing so will make you stand out as a tourist, and you’ll probably get some vendors on your case because of it.

Additionally, while wearing bathing suits near the beach is okay, it’s kind of frowned upon to rock your bathers when you get farther away from the water. For this reason, bring a cover-up or some clothes to change into while walking around town.

 

22. There is a Lot of Dinosaur History

Without diving too deep into it, the Yucatan Peninsula is where the asteroid hit the earth that killed the dinosaurs. Because of this, there is dinosaur history everywhere you turn.

All of the caves and underground river systems are direct remnants from the asteroid, as are the cenote’s you’ll visit.

buckets of multi-colored turtle figurines in playa del carmen

 

23. Stalactites Make for Beautiful Music

While you should never touch stalactites — the oil from your hands will tarnish and degrade them — I was in awe when, on that same caving tour with Pako, he clued us into the amazing music that stalactites make when you ting them.

Resembling something between a windchime and a flute, the sound stalactites make is a testament to the incredible natural beauty of nature.

If you’re on such a tour and are interested in hearing this sound, ask your guide if there are stalactites that have been touched before, and let the guide show you the way.

Taylor and a friend in water, standing under stalactites in a playa del carmen cave

Photo courtesy of Pako Loa

 

24. Good Shoes are Hard to Find

A word for the wise — make sure you have comfortable walking shoes before you come to Playa del Carmen as, while you’re there, it’s hard to find a quality pair.

Sure, there are tons of shoe shops in downtown Playa, but a lot of the shoes aren’t great quality, and chances are they’ll hurt and blister your feet before you break them in.

My friend had some bad shoe experiences in Playa. So come prepared.

 

25. 5th Avenue is Not for the Faint-Hearted

I’ve mentioned Calle Quinta Avenida a lot so far in this article, but I’ve yet to really describe the feeling of the place.

A tourist extravaganza, 5th is where to go to buy souvenirs, witness the highest energy of Playa, and get constantly yelled at from all directions at once. 5th Avenue is also where you’ll find one of the main bus stations, the ferry terminal, and some of the best restaurants, so it’s pretty hard to avoid.

Every time I went, I had people yelling some version of the following at me: “Mexican boyfriend?”, “Tickets to Coco Bongo?” “Cocaine? Marijuana?”, “Come in for a shot of my homemade tequila”, “I know you, I’m the manager of the hotel you’re staying at”, “You dropped your wallet”…. the list goes on.

Scam artists and lame-o catcallers galore.

A lot of vendors can be pretty adamant with you too, constantly beckoning you to come check out their shop or restaurant. But, even though it can get intense, I kinda get this. Their businesses are their livelihoods, even though I’d be much more interested in checking out their shops without the constant yelling.

My advice to you is to keep your wits about you on 5th avenue. You didn’t drop your wallet, that isn’t your hotel manager, don’t drink the homebrew tequila, and only buy tickets from a legit source.

a statue of a man riding a horse in downtown playa del carmen

 

26. Always Keep Your Wits About You

Yes, I just said this two lines ago, but it’s one of my top tips for Playa del Carmen, so it gets its own point.

Keep your wits about you in Playa del Carmen.

In addition to all the above, I highly recommend you take it easy on the alcohol and stay away from drugs entirely. Getting caught with drugs, even pot, can be a pretty serious thing in Mexico, especially when you look like a tourist who can be easily bribed. The same goes for alcohol.

I can’t tell you how many warnings I got from locals to not be drunk in public in Playa del Carmen. They said, on more than one occasion, that they had seen a drunk tourist getting frisked by the police and having their wallet snatched in the process.

While not something I personally encountered, bribery, especially when you’re intoxicated, have drugs on you, or have committed a driving infraction, is a very real possibility.

You may like to indulge when you’re at home, but stay cool on the streets of Playa.

 

27. What Constitutes a Great Public Transit System

Okay, so being from Canada, where the public transit systems leave much to be desired, I am constantly blown away when other countries have systems that not only work, but are super efficient.

You’ll have no problem getting around Mexico, and there are so many ways to travel. The prices are always fair (if not a bit on the low side), the transit is always clean, and the schedules are usually pretty often adhered to.

That said, my friend did mention a bus driver who dropped her off in the middle of nowhere Cancun instead of at the designated stop. I don’t know exactly what happened there, but from everything I’ve experienced, heard, and read, this is the exception, not the rule.

Cerveceria and Chapultepec restaurant in downtown playa del carmen

 

28. Mezcal Is Always a Great Idea

Before traveling to Playa del Carmen I had never tried Mezcal.

I always associated Mezcal with tequila and, as a result, was kind of turned off by the idea (New Years 2012 happened and I’ll never drink tequila again), and I was mostly right in that they’re both made out of agave. However, Mezcal is more of an all-encompassing term for agave-produced alcohol, while tequila can only be made from one kind of agave strain.

But, when in Mexico, right? Since cozying up to Mezcal, I have to say it changed my life a little. I have no idea why I like Mezcal but can’t stand tequila, it may be entirely psychological, but damn that stuff is good.

Yes, this is the drink that has a little worm or scorpion in the bottom of the bottle; I’ve yet to eat one.

 

29. Sometimes Sea Turtles Swim At You

After spending an afternoon at the Tulum ruins, I was craving a little ocean action and booked myself a ticket to snorkel the reef. The brochure said that there would be both stingray and sea turtle sightings on the trip, and boy did it deliver.

It was amazing to see stingrays slip by on the bottom of the ocean, but I wasn’t prepared for the sea turtles to be quite so friendly.

Despite trying my best to give the turtles their space, they came right up to our group to say hi. They were so close that I had to try anticipate their actions so I could get out of the way before they chest bumped me.

I was so in love.

A sea turtle swims away from the camera underwater in Tulum, Mexico

This was the best photo I could get of the turtles with my limited underwater photography experience. I was more focused on not drowning tbh.

 

30. It’s Okay to Say No to Adventure

This one was hard for me. I’m usually the person who says yes to adventure — who swims the stormy seas, climbs the mountains, and paddles the rivers. But when I visited the Coba ruins in Mexico, I said no to adventure for the first time in a while.

For background, the main pyramid at Coba is one of the few in the Yucatan that you can actually climb, and many people do this. The pyramid is pretty steep, and the stairs are shallow in places, but there is a rope that will help guide you up and down and, as far as I know, there have been no major “whoopsies” in recent memory.

So, despite being drenched in sweat from the early-September Mexican humidity, I started climbing. And then I felt faint. As much as it would have been great to see the jungle from atop this incredible pyramid, I knew that there was a solid chance I would pass out or get heastroke in the process. Or, you know, get stuck at the top of it from either of those two options.

So, after climbing about a quarter of the way up, I climbed back down.

However, my friend did make it to the top and got some incredible photos. I was happy just watching and cheering her on.

One day, Coba, I will conquer you.

The main coba pyramid at coba, mexico under a blue sky

 

31. How to Make a Proper Mojito

Want to learn how to make a kick-ass mojito? Take a class!

My friend and I took a mojito making class at The Yak Hostel in downtown Playa del Carmen for only 100 pesos, and we got unlimited drinks out of the deal. The mojitos were delicious, we met some fellow travelers, and we took a great skill home with us.

Five people make mojitos around a table in playa del carmen, Mexico

 

32. How it Feels to Not be 21 Anymore

On the subject of the mojito making class, this was the first time I had taken part in a hostel activity and felt… old.

Not that I consider myself “old”, or think that being old is anything more than a state of mind, but there was something about going to that hostel and being one of the oldest people in the room that made me feel.. well, yeah, old.

That is to say, I’m not a 21-year-old backpacker like everyone else at that mojito making class.

In fact, when they found out how old my friend and I were, one of the girls proclaimed, “Oh wow, I had no idea you two are that old! I would have pegged you at 22 or 23.”

Honestly, the situation was fine until then.

 

33. Don’t Underestimate the Salsa

Chances are when you go out to eat at a casual restaurant in Playa del Carmen, you’ll be given a few options of salsa to use on your food. Two of these salsas are usually pretty mild, but the third one will probably melt your face off.

Ask your waiter which one of the salsas is the hot one before you dump it all over your food.

By the way, the Spanish word for water is agua.

 

34. Iguanas are Better Than Geckos

There, I said it. Iguanas are better than geckos. They’re slower, cuter, easier-to-spot, and I didn’t find a single one of them hiding under a picture frame or in my bed.

Sure, Iguanas may be a little friskier than geckos, but they leave no room for surprise.

End of argument.

A large iguana lounges on a rock in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

 

35. How to Live With the Geckos

I admit, when I first got to Mexico, I was vehemently anti-gecko. Not that I would ever harm a gecko, but I just didn’t want them around me and wasn’t oohing and ahhing at their “cuteness”.

Quite frankly, I wanted them to buzz off and leave me alone.

But, just like you can’t tell the Spaghetti to go away in Rome, I eventually had to learn to live with the geckos in Playa del Carmen. I learned to identify their distinctive chirp, that if you stuff plastic bags under the villa doors it would temporarily keep them out, and that the best way to chase a gecko out of a house is with a Tupperware lid.

Then, over the course of the month, I just gave up.

I still didn’t let them sleep in my room with me, but if they were elsewhere in the villa, I really didn’t give a hoot.

 

36. What a Mayan Raindance Looks Like

A few weeks into our stay in Playa del Carmen, my friend and I took the aforementioned free walking tour. Part of this walking tour included heading down to the main square and watching local Mayans do an incredible Raindance.

The dance consisted of the men dressing up in traditional clothing before ascending a really really tall pole, singing at the top, and then swinging themselves down the pole (UPSIDE DOWN), until they hit the pavement.

Given that this was all performed without a safety net, it looked dangerous, yet enticing.

Needless to say, I was biting my lip, totally wide-eyed, the whole time.

Five men do a mayan raindance atop a tall pole in playa del carmen, Mexico

 

37. It’s Always a Good Time to Celebrate Frida Kahlo

To be honest, I never really associated artist Frida Kahlo with the Mayan Riviera, as she is from the Mexico City area, a long ways away.

However, the national pride for Frida runs deep, and I was excited to see that Playa del Carmen has their very own Frida museum.

Less a museum of her artwork and more about her personal life — think her tragic accidents, Diego, and her fashion style — the Frida museum is a great way to take in a dose of one of Mexico’s artistic treasures.

A yellow "frida" sign outside of the Frida museum in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

 

38. How to Exist on Nothing But Corner Store Food For Days

While there are enough taco stands in Playa del Carmen to feed you til the end of time, during my stay in Playa del Carmen there were a lot of days where I just had to bunker down and work. So, in order to feed myself, I got very very acquainted with the people working at the nearest OXXO convenience store.

Stocked with everything from cereal to questionable meat, OXXO is akin to your standard 7-11 — a place that, although you’ve probably never tried, you know that you could survive off of if you absolutely had to.

I made a surprising amount of diverse meals courtesy of OXXO, and I gotta say, they were pretty cheap!

 

39. That Ruins by the Sea are The Best Kind of Ruins

I had the pleasure of visiting a few Mayan ruins while in Mexico — Chichen Itza, Coba, and Tulum being the most prominent. While each of these ruins had their positives and negatives, I have to say that the Tulum Ruins were my favorite, mostly because they were by the sea.

While at the Tulum ruins, I loved watching the waves crash into the cliffs below, I enjoyed having the option of venturing down to the ocean and swimming, and I loved having the opportunity to go snorkeling right after the ruins tour.

Chichen Itza and Coba, you’re cool, but you don’t have the ocean at your feet.

Tulum ruins above a blue sea in Tulum, Mexico

 

40. Driving in Playa del Carmen is a Sport

Back in my research stages for this trip to Playa del Carmen, I came across so many articles saying how easy it is to drive in the Yucatan peninsula. They said that it is undoubtedly the easiest way to get around and that renting a car is very cheap.

WELL. I have some thoughts on that.

First of all, while renting a car might be an easy way to get around, that doesn’t mean it’s not the most stress-inducing way. In my experience, drivers rip around on the roads with abandon — speed limits are thrown out the window, stop signs are mere suggestions, and you never actually know how many lanes are on the road.

Not to mention, the roads aren’t great everywhere in Playa, and there are unmarked speed bumps everywhere.

If you feel like bottoming out your car, be my guest and drive!

 

41. Flash Floods are No Joke

Granted, I went to Playa del Carmen in the rainy season, but let me tell you, the flash floods here mean business.

In August, the rain comes down almost daily, and when this happens, the waters in the streets quickly rise with seemingly nowhere to go.

On many occasions, I saw water levels rise so high that it was brushing the bottoms of cars, soaking people to the bone on the sidewalk, and making the pavement indistinguishable from the ditches.

Another reason why I will never ever drive in Playa del Carmen.

Brown sand and blue sea at a downtown playa del carmen beach

 

42. Playa del Carmen is Not the Resorts

Admittedly, before I went to Mexico, I had never visited a designated resort destination before. Therefore, I just kind of assumed that Playa was going to be nothing but large properties without much personality.

Thankfully, I found there is so much more to Playa del Carmen than resort life. There is a culture in Playa.

However, I also noticed (and was told by many locals) that the income disparity between the resorts and the locals is extreme. Meaning, the towns don’t really benefit by having all those high-end luxury resorts lining their waters. All (or if not all, almost all) of the resort owners live elsewhere, and the money that goes into the resorts is largely untouched by the communities.

Of course, there are many political and socio-economical reasons for this, but it’s something to think about and be aware of as you travel.

 

43. That you Can’t Experience all of Quintana Roo in a Month

Between cenotes, caves, restaurants, beaches, jungle treks, lagoons, and other activities, there is no way in hell you’re going to be able to canvass all of Playa del Carmen and the surrounding area in just a month.

While I definitely feel there are places I visited near Playa that I don’t need to go back to, I’d love to see more of the nearby islands and trek more of the jungle.

Needless to say, Quintana Roo is a Mexican state that I’ll happily be returning to for years to come.

***

That’s it for my top 43 things I learned by living in Playa del Carmen, Mexico for a month! Have you ever been to Playa del Carmen? Let me know in the comments!

 

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