Mexico’s busy little port Playa del Carmen is a hotbed of small boutique hotels and condos that are the best places to stay for families who want to get away from large all-inclusive resorts. Once just a funky stop for the Cozumel ferry, Playa del Carmen is now the biggest town along the Riviera Maya, that beautiful 100+ mile stretch of gold sand beaches on the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Orienting Yourself to Playa del Carmen
Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue is pronounced KIN-tah AH-ven-eeda) is the pedestrian-only main street running parallel to the busy beach. Lined with shops and restaurants, it runs for about 22 blocks from the main square or zocalo next to the Cozumel ferry pier, north to about 40th Street. Walking is the best way to digest the ever-changing scene. If you’re in town for a long stay, you’ll find the necessities like Wal-Mart south of this zone.
Look for stylish wine bars, La Coste polos, fine Italian ristorante and, off 5a Avenida, several terracotta-tiled cul de sacs lined with tiny boutiques selling European swimwear and Indonesian sarongs. There are kitschy and wonderful souvenir shops selling Mexican hand-blown blue glass, fabric weavings and pewter work. Mid-day you may encounter the hordes who come from the big cruise ships to shop and enjoy land-locked margaritas. At night, everyone turns out in their resortwear finest to stroll at sunset.
Recommended Playa del Carmen Hotels
There are many, many small beachfront inns, while others have morphed into full-fledged “rustic” beach developments. South in Akumal and Tulum, near the beautiful beachfront Mayan ruins of Tulum, you’ll find the newer, luxury boutique hotels with a New Age, yoga and wellness focus.
The Mahekal Beach Resort is one of Playa’s most awarded properties, thanks to its thatch roof bungalows with terraces and hammocks, lush gardens and clean beach. The irksome resort fee covers bicycles, kayaks, paddleboards and snorkel gear, and there is a dive center and spa on property. The beach is very pretty but the Caribbean can be windy and rough, so the good-sized pools are welcome. Some oceanfront suites have their own plunge pools.
For more than 30 years, the beachfront location of Petit Lafitte in Puerto Juarez has symbolized the laid back, New Age style of the Yucatan coast, even before the “Riviera Maya” name was coined. You’ll find ocean and gardenview standard rooms and bungalows, a yoga team and temazcal sweat lodge for ritual cleansings. The restaurant El Fogón del Capitán serves up Instagrammable artisanal Maya, Mexico, Caribbean fare and vegetarian options. Thanks to its friendly staff, Petit Lafitte remains an ideal spot for those seeking relaxation and privacy. Rates include breakfast, dinner and taxes.
Smaller Budget Playa Inns
Having said there are dozens of inns in every price range, we asked some local insiders to select the smaller hotels that would welcome kids and still provide a good night’s sleep and easy beach access. From what we learned, here are the top picks within the small lanes of Playa del Carmen:
Kinbe is right off Quinta Avenida and close to the sea, not beachfront. Rooms are a bargain and there’s a nice pool with small waterfall, but there’s no on-site restaurant. Many like how accessible it is to the late-night Playa scene.
The higher-priced but still under $100/night Hotel Lunata is the project of a local architect and designers with great taste. Within a short walk of the beach (some upper rooms have a partial sea view), the Lunata is a bit away from the Playa party scene and is suitable for those seeking a more peaceful place. Note that this stylish Mexico-chic property welcomes families with children above age 10 only.
Eco-Luxe Hotel Xcaret in Playa
Hotel Xcaret Mexico is the brainchild of the eco-theme park company, Xcaret. They opened their own all-inclusive hotel in 2018 in the heart of the Riviera Maya, just 15 minutes away from Playa del Carmen, 20 minutes north of Tulum and 45 minutes from Cancun International Airport. Among the 900 rooms, all luxury suites are grouped in separate wings known as casas (some served by butlers), there are fun family swim-up suites that sleep four and have a small plunge pool or river access right outside the terrace door. This sprawling resort has earned a coveted AAA five-diamond rating thanks to its many pools, three exercise rooms, River Walk shopping zone, manmade white sand beach and lagoon and private island.
Included in the All-Fun Inclusive rates, in addition to food, beverages, entertainment and airport shuttles, are transport and entry to all of their fascinating eco-parks — Xcaret, Xel-Ha, Xplor, Xplor Fuego, Xoximilco and Xenses — free for guests, as well as guided tours to Xenotes and Xichen. On-site there’s a large spa, tennis courts and the club Xiquillos supervised kids program.
Playa del Carmen All-Inclusives
There are many all-inclusive resorts along Riviera Maya yet these are near enough to Playa del Carmen so you’ll feel comfortable bringing the kids in for a visit.
Among the closer resorts, we like the Riu Palace Mexico, rated a AAA four-diamond resort. It’s located in the classy development of Playacar and grants access to the other (less pricey) Riu hotels in this vast complex, so there’s plenty of variety. Most striking is the U-shaped layout which surrounds fountains in a long reflecting pool marching triumphantly down to the beach. Spacious rooms include junior suites which also have sofabeds. The 24-hour room service and staff overall are widely praised. If you want to learn how they produce such terrific food at the buffet and a la carte restaurants, you can even take a kitchen tour. In addition to a full spa, this resort also has a children’s playground and kiddie pool.
Totally refurbished in 2019, Hotel Riu Palace Riviera Maya has copious dining facilities, unlimited beverages of every type imaginable, organized adult activities, a RuiLand kids club and nightly entertainment provided by a professional troupe. The most exclusive of the five properties, the Riu Palace Riviera Maya’s lobby has a regal ambiance and a Spanish Colonial style. Look for several gourmet a la carte restaurants as well as a swimup pool bar and beachfront bars. The concierge desk will help in planning an excursion to the significant Mayan archeological sites or cenotes — sinkholes and water bodies used by the ancient settlers of Yucatan.
Playa All-Inclusive Plus Waterpark
Sandos Caracol Eco Resort & Spa is tucked into a beachfront jungle where palms shade the sunbathers and guests can bike along trails to find local cenotes. It’s popular with families largely thanks to a colorful waterpark including 17 waterslides and fun waterplay features. Kids of all ages are welcome at the lifeguard-tended Aqua Park, but adults are asked to hang around too, and comfortable poolside chairs and a bar make that easy to do. Additionally, this all-inclusive has a kids’ club with supervised activities (pool, games, crafts) for children ages 2–12, a mini disco and teen activities. We like the natural wood decor and bunkbeds in the Sandos Eco Family Superior and Suite rooms. Note that this resort is located farther away from Playa, south of Tulum, making it a longer drive from the Cancun Airport.
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