Playa del Carmen is a seaside resort city just south of Cancún on the coast of the Caribbean Sea, in the northeast of the Mexican State of Quintana Roo. Just last year the city had a population of 149,923 people and it is swiftly growing, making Playa del Carmen the third largest city in Quintana Roo, after Cancún and Chetumal.
Playa del Carmen takes its name from Our Lady of Mount Carmel, patron of Cancún; the first people who were spotted on Playa del Carmen were Mayan. For a while it was a rest stop for travelers making their way from the great cities of the Mayan world to the island of Cozumel. The coast and lowlands of the peninsula were still heavily populated with the descendents of the Mayan civilization when the Spaniards arrived.
Tulum, about an hour away and south of Playa, was the last Mayan settlement and to this day numerous small ruins are still present in Playa del Carmen. Oddly during the 17th and 18th centuries, the Caribbean coast was considered a wild place with not much to offer for potential settlers!
At the beginning Playa del Carmen was a fishing town, but later on it turned into a touristic place, as the passenger ferry service to Cozumel passed through Playa del Carmen; it did not take long for voyagers to understand that the best beaches in Mexico were indeed located at Playa. People quickly realized that it was a nice place to relax away from the crowds and noise of Cancún, only with better beaches and crystal clear waters.
At Playa del Carmen there is Avenida Quinta, or "Fifth Avenue"; the street is accessible only by pedestrians for 2 miles. There are hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops; the restaurants to the north, in the neighborhood of Little Italy, are of exceptional value. There are many small boutique hotels on Fifth Avenue and on the beach, such as Luna Blue Hotel & Bar, Fusion Beach Hotel Bar & Grill, Deseo, Basico, Casa Ticul, Barrio Latino, La Tortuga and many others.
Playa is a stop for several cruise ships docking at the nearby Calica quarry docks, six miles south of the city. The Xcaret Eco Park, a Mexican-themed "eco-archaeological park", is a well-known tourist destination just south of the town in Xcaret.
Playa del Carmen’s local community and government have tried to maintain Playa del Carmen's reputation and charm as a small fishing village and artists' colony, thus avoiding for Playa del Carmen to become a large and metropolitan city like Cancún. The city passed an ordinance limiting buildings to four stories, although there are a few five story buildings despite the ordinance.
Playa del Carmen has been called “Heaven on Earth” and the expression truly reflects the beauty and the magnificence of the place. Although the existence of this wonderful place is becoming more of common knowledge to tourists, Playa del Carmen still manages to maintain its wild and natural landscape, which among others, is the reason why visitors prefers it over Cancún and Cozumel.