By Jason Holland | International Living
Playa del Carmen lies about midway between the all-inclusive resort hub of Cancun and the up-and-coming, low-key, and still somewhat bohemian destination of Tulum. It’s a happy medium between those two extremes and a favorite for those seeking to live an active retirement in an atmosphere that is sophisticated, yet laidback at the same time. Casual dress and relaxed attitudes are the keys to living in Playa del Carmen.
The region is the Riviera Maya, a focal point for tourist activity and site of investment by the Mexican government, which started with Cancun in the 1970s and spread down the coast. The whole region is linked efficiently by Highway 307, which parallels the coast and is well-maintained. The feel here is First World, with services, infrastructure, and amenities to match.
Living in Playa del Carmen is no different. On the outskirts of town, near the highway, you find Home Depot and Sam’s Club, as well as large shopping malls and big box stores, full of brands and products you know from the U.S. And in-town you find specialty shops of gourmet foods, clothing boutiques, art galleries, and more. High-speed internet, good cellphone coverage, reliable electricity, and good quality roads are also hallmarks of this area. The international airport in Cancun, which is about an hour north, makes getting to and from your home country (and receiving visitors) easy.
The heart of Playa del Carmen is the famous Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue. It’s a miles-long pedestrian avenue that parallels the beach about a block inland. It’s lined with shops, boutique hotels, bars, cafés, and restaurants of every cuisine imaginable (Italian, Argentinian steakhouses, seafood, sushi, Mexican favorites, sports bar fare, and more), at prices from high-end to budget. It’s frequented by tourists in big numbers. But Quinta Avenida is also a favorite of expats for shopping and dining. Happy hours, group dinners, as well as parties at private homes are the main social activities. The place has energy. Among those living in and visiting Playa del Carmen, there are a wide variety of nationalities represented.
Americans and Canadians are the biggest group, with significant numbers of Italians, French, and Argentinians. All come seeking the year-round warm weather, the beach lifestyle, the vibrant culture, and lower cost of living, including bargain real estate. It’s quite common to have friends from many countries, including Mexico, of course.
Despite the tourism and expat population, you’ll still find plenty of Mexican flavor in Playa del Carmen. Walking down the street you will find street taco stands, Latin music booming out of car stereos, and bar TVs tuned to the football (soccer) match. Traditional celebrations for Carnival, Day of the Dead, Mexican Independence, and more are also popular and well-attended by locals, tourists and expats.
Snowbirds Flock to Playa del Carmen for the Climate
Retiring in Playa del Carmen is attractive for many reasons. There is warm weather year-round, which is especially nice in winter. At that time—December to April—the city also plays host to snowbird, or winter residents, who escape the cold part of the year in North America and Europe by the beach. Some rent a home or condo for those four months, others have bought a property and rent it out when they aren’t there.
The city is safe and clean. An active police force keeps an eye on things and the local government is committed to community improvements. The medical care, at the several doctor’s offices, as well as clinics and hospitals, is world-class and affordable. There are housing options—both to buy and rent—to fit any budget. And if you like to stay fit, there are plenty of gyms, yoga studios, and fitness clubs. On top of that there are many championship level golf courses within a 45-minute drive thanks to the many resorts in this region.
You also have a lower cost of living. A typical couple can expect to maintain a budget of between $2,000 to $2,500, although it really depends on lifestyle. With all the high-end dining, fancy shops, and luxury places to live—not to mention nightlife and entertainment options every night of the week—it’s quite easy to spend more. But if you live more like a local, sticking to local markets, typical Mexican restaurants, and Mexican neighborhoods, you can pay much less.
Real Estate in Playa del Carmen
Playa is in the midst of a building boom, with many new condo developments going up all over town.
Condos can be found right on the beach, with terraces and balconies facing the water. A one-bedroom condo, in the middle of all the action between the beach and the Quinta Avenida is listed for $194,000. In a beachfront building, downtown, is a studio condo for $178,500—it could be a nice investment as a vacation rental. A three-minute walk from the beach, near Quinta Avenida, is a two-bedroom condo, with private rooftop deck, for $215,000. The community includes a pool.
As a general rule you find more affordable options a bit further inland, like a two-bedroom condo for $92,500—and you can still walk or ride your bike to the entertainment district and the beach. If you want to splurge it would be a $2 to $3 taxi ride.
Outside of town to the north and south you can also find resort-style condo developments. They have spas, restaurants, tennis clubs, golf courses, and other amenities attached to hotels on the property that are available to residents at reduced rates. One such development features a two-bedroom unit for $210,000 but watch out for higher homeowner’s association dues in these situations.
The beach is beautiful, with the blue Caribbean laid out before you. It’s an active area, with hotels and beach clubs lining the water. It’s not quiet. But if you like a nice chair, an umbrella for shade, and a waiter to bring you drinks and snacks, you’re all set. Plus, less-crowded beaches can be found just down the coast.
Living in Playa del Carmen is not for everyone. It’s a growing city with tourism and an increasing number of expats, as well as well-heeled Mexicans taking up residence, either full- or part-time. But if an active social life is what you seek…plenty of restaurants to choose from for a night out…and a full slate of live music (from blues, to one-man acoustic, to raucous dance mixes)…you’ve found your spot.