Two boys stand in front of a multi-coloured sign spelling out Playa del Carmen, in front of a beach

Playa del Carmen, Mexico – on a budget (2024)

We spent a week in Playa del Carmen on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico – one of the most popular areas of Mexico for a family holiday. We knew it would be a) very touristy and b) expensive but despite these drawbacks, it still had so much to offer for a family vacation that we wanted to include it on our itinerary. Also, we knew we wanted to be in Central America and the flights to Cancun from the UK were waaay cheaper than elsewhere in the region due to the volume of holiday options on offer here. So how did we manage the Maya Riviera on a budget?

Where is the Mayan Riviera?

The Mayan Riviera is basically the area of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico that stretches from Cancun in the North down to Tulum near the border with Belize. The main airport for the region is in Cancun, which is also the main transport hub and where many people start and end their vacation in Mexico.

For those wanting to travel slightly further afield, there are a number of towns and resorts strung along the coast to choose from, including Tulum, Puerto Morales, Akumal and the islands of Isla Mujeres and Cozumel. We opted for one of the larger resort towns on the stretch, Playa Del Carmen.

Why stay in Playa del Carmen with kids?

We opted for Playa del Carmen as we wanted somewhere away from the madness of Cancun but still with enough to occupy the kids during our stay. Playa del Carmen has a long stretch of beach, lots of accommodation options (ranging from budget to luxury), a TON of restaurants and cafes and is in easy reach from Cancun.

Playa del Carmen has a long ‘strip’ of shops, attractions and restaurants that feels VERY MUCH like a tourist hotspot (which it is). We expected it to be busy but it was much more hectic than we imagined in the evenings. Having said that, it’s definitely somewhere where you have everything you could need on your doorstep so it’s easy for a family vacation.

Playa del Carmen is also a great location for exploring the rest of the Mayan Riviera – it’s located off the main highway that runs parallel to the coast and it about halfway between Cancun and Tulum, so it’s easy to hire a car and visit cenotes, hit up some of the big theme parks in the region or just visit some of the other towns and beaches nearby.

Playa del Carmen is also the jumping on/off place for ferries to Cozumel island, which makes a great day out (see separate post on snorkelling in Cozumel here).

How do you get to Playa del Carmen from Cancun Airport?

The quickest way to get to Playa from Cancun Airport is in an Uber or a licensed taxi from the airport – this of course has it’s massive advantages if you are getting off a long haul flight with exhausted children in tow. If you haven’t pre-arranged a taxi then this is likely to set you back around £60-70. Be warned that there is a LOT of hustling for your business outside Cancun Airport – if you look a bit lost, or like you are even remotely considering a taxi, then expect to be jumped on by a lot of super keen taxi drivers. If this kind of slightly stressful arrival in-country isn’t your thing, then you can pre-book an airport transfer before you arrive with a company such as e-transfers – they quoted £60 for a private vehicle to Playa del Carmen.

A taxi from the airport should only take around an hour to get you in to Playa del Carmen.

We opted to take the ADO bus from the airport to central Playa del Carmen. This is the cheapest option and we wanted to start with a tight rein on the budget! The ADO buses in Mexico are a great way to get around – pretty fast, reliable and really comfortable. The bus from Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen cost us £34 for two adults and two children. The bus does take a bit longer (around 1.5hours).

I should add that we then needed to take a taxi from the ADO bus station in Playa del Carmen to our hotel, but this only cost an additional £7 – so all in, still a cheaper option than a taxi or private transfer.

Where did we stay in Playa del Carmen?

We opted to stay at a small hotel called Hotelito del Mar, about a ten-minute taxi ride from the heart of Playa del Carmen. Initially when we arrived I was a bit concerned about being a bit too far out, but once we’d discovered just how hectic downtown Playa del Carmen was I was relieved that we’d opted for somewhere a bit further out.

We stayed in a two-bed apartment in Hotelito del Mar that came with a small kitchen, dining table and a bit of a scrappy outside terrace (but useful for drying wet swimming gear!). The beds were super comfortable and the aircon was fierce, which was a godsend. Each apartment also comes with it’s own Wifi server, which means that it’s reliable and pretty speedy.

The hotel has a small but perfectly formed swimming pool on the roof which we had almost entirely to ourselves throughout our stay. Given the sheer heat and humidity (which the boys have never really experienced before) this was a lifesaver for us and we spent hours and hours up there enjoying the views over Playa del Carmen and cooling off in the pool.

To book a stay at Hotelito del Mar, click here.

What is there to do in Playa del Carmen?

The list of things you can do with kids in Playa del Carmen is pretty much endless, however, many of these things come with a pretty hefty price tag attached which our budget just didn’t stretch to. We knew this in advance so had planned to spend most of our time in Playa del Carmen chilling out on the beach, swimming in the sea and hanging out by the pool.

We did though manage to include a couple of pricier activities here and there. We visited Ventura Park (read our review of Ventura Park here), snorkelled the reef off Puerto Morales, took a boat over to Cozumel and did a snorkel tour (read our review of Cozumel snorkelling here) and hired a car to drive out to Cenote Azul for the day.

There are a number of cenotes within a short drive/taxi ride from Playa del Carmen, and these are a fab way to spend a morning or afternoon. There’s a great blog post here on the best cenotes in and around Playa del Carmen that I read through several times when deciding which would be best for the kids. 

Xcaret and Xel-Ha are hugely popular days out on the Mayan Riviera and are both easily accessible from Playa del Carmen. We looked at both of these options but ruled them out on the basis of cost – they are very expensive and just weren’t possible for us on our backpacker-level budget.

It’s useful to know that Playa del Carmen has a main stretch of shops/bars/restaurants called Fifth Avenue which stretches through most of the town parallel to the beach. This is PACKED with people trying to sell you stuff/tours/drag you in the bars and restaurants – this is OK for a while but the boys were definitely a bit overwhelmed by it all (especially in the evenings) and it was a bit tiresome to walk through at times.

What is the beach like in Playa del Carmen?

Our hotel was only a 10-15-minute walk from the beach, where the boys were happy to wile away hours in the surf (mostly pretty small waves but much stronger on a couple of days so we did need to keep an eye on them). There are beach clubs aplenty where you can rent sun loungers/beds from but (given the budget) we just opted for a towel on the sand, and despite the relatively narrow stretch of sand there was always plenty of space.

It’s definitely a beach with a bit of a party atmosphere – there’s music playing from the various bar/beach clubs and a whole assortment of vendors plying their wares up and down the beach. I quite liked this vibe though so enjoyed hanging out there for a few of our days in Playa.

Its not really somewhere you can snorkel off the beach, which is a shame but it why we looked in to other options nearby for this.

Where to eat in Playa del Carmen (with kids!)

We did a mixture of eating out and self-catering during our stay to keep costs down. There wasn’t much in the way of street food in Playa (apart from the ubiquitous marquesita stands – like crispy crepes stuffed with various fillings, obviously the boys loved these!) but there were the odd couple dotted around if you walked further out away from the central area. When we did find these they did some delicious tacos that were VERY cheap (we paid around £7 for tacos for the four of us).

The boys loved the ice-cream tacos from Get Rolled but they were a bit pricey; it is worth a trip though as a treat as they were delicious.

We ate twice at a little place called Resaka’s opposite our hotel and this was a big hit with all of us – giant burgers for the boys, burritos for the grown-ups and amazing fruit juices. There was so much food that on our second visit we only ordered three meals between the four of us; really good value.

What’s the verdict on Playa del Carmen?

Overall, Playa del Carmen turned out to be a pretty good pick for us – I knew I didn’t want the high-rise experience of the Zona Hotelera in Cancun or the party town of Tulum further down the coast, and whilst Playa del Carmen was way busier and more commercial that I expected it still made a great base for trips elsewhere and provided a lovely beach for us and the boys to hang out on during downtime.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *