Once a sleepy village, Playa del Carmen has quadrupled in population over the last few years, mostly because Europeans discovered that the beautiful beaches, coral reefs, gentle surf and relaxed lifestyle equaled those of Cozumel, the more expensive island across the straits. The pier for the ferry leading to Cozumel is in Playa del Carmen, so a short trip will allow tourists to dive or snorkel in Cozumel’s coral reefs also.
Having a strong foreign influence has led to the current melting pot of cultures found in Playa del Carmen. Many outstandingly delicious restaurants and foreign-owned hotels with outstanding service raise the bar for businesses here. All of this combined with a laid back Mexican-Caribbean ambiance and a dash of American free-spirits makes Playa del Carmen a truly unique destination. Though it is not a place to get away from it all, it is definitely a place for enjoying beautiful beaches in the day and an active nightlife at night. Stroll on the beach to Playa’s lighthouse and climb its outdoor circular staircase to the top. Bring a camera to capture the excellent view.
In the early days, the Mayan culture inhabited Playa del Carmen. Later, it developed as a fishing area prior to growing into a wonderful tourist destination. In the early 1900s, it became a Mexican territory and part of the Mexican State of Quintana Roo. Surrounding areas Cancun and Cozumel grew in the 1960s as tourist attractions. An underwater documentary on the Great Mayan Reef, which is the second largest in the world, led to the increasing popularity of Cozumel. Cancun began a big development project around this time, and tourism began to become a profitable resource. The construction of a boat dock for ferry service to the Cancun International Airport and Cozumel in the 1970’s made Playa del Carmen easily accessible. Although Playa del Carmen remained a small fishing village at this time, gradual movement of more tourists traveling through the area led to the development of restaurants, hotels, and all-inclusive resorts. Cruise lines began using the boat dock, which brought in more tourists. In the 1990’s the population of Playa del Carmen grew substantially, earning it the title of fastest growing Mexican city. Playa’s main avenue, La Quinta Avenida, began to fill with restaurants and shops for international tourists to enjoy. Despite the commercialization, the government has strived to retain the city’s reputation as a charming and small fishing area perfect for tourists seeking a fun-filled and comfortable destination.
Most activities in Playa del Carmen involve water. The beaches are perfect for snorkeling, swimming, and diving. Many dive shops can be found in the area. Golf can be played in Playacar on the 18-hole course developed by Robert Von Hagge. Beachcombers can hike north for a day, resting in a couple of beachside restaurants on the journey. For shoppers, the stores on Playa’s Av. 5 and the surrounding sidestreets hold eclectic hand-made arts and crafts and pottery, both from local artists and from all around Mexico.
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