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An Expat's Guide to Living in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

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Playa del Carmen is a rising star in Mexico, attracting many expats. Nestled between Cancun and Tulum, this beach town combines natural beauty, cultural richness, and a unique mix of the old and new. It's a perfect destination for relocation.

Mexico in general continues to be one of the best places in the world to live for expats, with foreigners choosing to settle in Mérida, Mexico City, and Guadalajara. Personally though, the beach life that Playa del Carmen offers was just too good to pass up. It's a popular destination for expats and tourists alike but I can totally see why.

Thinking about living in Playa del Carmen, too? Let's dive right into the most important things you should know before you move to paradise.

Best Areas for Long-term Accommodation

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Playa del Carmen offers a range of neighborhoods, each with its own charm. Centro, located along Quinta Avenida (5th Ave), is a bustling area. It offers vibrant nightlife, eclectic restaurants, and small shops. Its close proximity to the beach makes it a prime location for expats seeking long-term accommodation. There are a lot of apartments and studios for rent.

For those who desire peace and quiet, Playacar is an ideal choice. It's known for its golf course and private beach. It's just a 10 minute drive south from Centro so you'll still be able to enjoy the action of downtown Playa del Carmen but able to retreat to tranquility when you're at home.

Quality of Life and Cost of Living

Living in Playa del Carmen feels like a perpetual vacation with a tropical climate and ocean breeze. The cost of living is affordable compared to Europe or the U.S., even in the luxury neighborhoods like Playacar. With reasonable food, utilities, and entertainment prices, you can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle for about $1000-$1500 a month per person.

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Visa Options for Expats

Mexico's visa policy is welcoming to foreigners. Many expats opt for the six-month tourist visa, which can be renewed indefinitely with a quick exit and re-entry at the border.

On the other hand, the temporary resident visa allows you to stay in Mexico for up to a year and can be renewed annually for up to four years. But you must also meet certain financial conditions. After four years of holding the temporary visa, you can also apply for a permanent resident visa, allowing you to live in Mexico indefinitely. Although they don't yet offer a digital nomad visa, many use the temporary resident visa as one.

A Digital Nomad's Paradise and Making Friends

With affordable living costs, superb weather, and reliable internet connectivity, Playa del Carmen is a favorite destination for digital nomads worldwide. Co-working spaces like Nest and Bunker offer a professional environment for remote workers and ample networking and collaboration opportunities.

The thriving expat community in Playa del Carmen makes it easy to make friends and establish connections. Zenzi Beach Bar or The Rotary Club offers socializing platforms to meet fellow expats, swap stories, and form friendships. For those fitness enthusiasts, join local yoga classes, gyms, or running clubs to meet like-minded individuals.

There are also a number of Facebook Groups you can joined. There, you'll be able to see different events going on or host your own. It's also a good resource to ask questions and get some help settling in, like finding long term rentals.

The expat and digital nomad community is large and welcoming so you shouldn't have any trouble meeting like-minded people here. Just be sure to try and branch out and make local friends, too.

Getting Around Playa del Carmen

Navigating the city is relatively simple and affordable. Intercity travel is made easy with ADO buses, while for short distances, colectivos (minivans) are a popular choice. Taxis are readily available but be sure to negotiate the price with the taxi drivers before starting the ride.

Local Culture and Food

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Playa del Carmen is a vibrant blend of Mayan traditions and Caribbean charm. The local festivals, such as Day of the Dead and Semana Santa, offer expats a chance to immerse themselves in Mexican culture. If you'll only be in Playa for a short time, try and pick the best time to visit so you can best enjoy what brought you to Mexico in the first place.

The food scene in Playa del Carmen is a vibrant blend of traditional Mexican flavors and international cuisine. There are plenty of great restaurants in town but these are a few of my favorites:

  • El Fogon is a must-visit for those seeking authentic Mexican cuisine. Their al pastor tacos, slow-roasted marinated pork served with pineapple, are nothing short of legendary.
  • La Cueva del Chango, set in a jungle-like setting, offers a Mexican menu focusing on fresh, local ingredients.
  • For seafood lovers, Los Aguachiles is a local favorite. They serve delicious fresh ceviche, tacos, and seafood tostadas.
  • Vegetarians and vegans should visit La Senda and Clorofila. They offer an array of plant-based dishes.

For drinks, the rooftop bars are the best options.

  • The Rooftop at the Palm at Playa: This bar is on top of the Palm at Playa Hotel. It offers panoramic views of the city and the Caribbean Sea. With a stunning infinity pool and a varied menu of cocktails, it's a great place to unwind after a long day.
  • Thompson Hotel Rooftop: One of the most luxurious rooftop bars, which provides breathtaking views of the city and the sea. Their cocktail menu is perfect, and the infinity pool looks stunning.
  • Be Roof: Located on the rooftop of the Be Playa Hotel, it offers a more intimate setting. With a rooftop pool, comfortable seating, and a variety of cocktails and tapas to choose from, it's an excellent spot for a relaxed evening.
  • Fives Rooftop: This rooftop lounge and club provide an exquisite view of Playa del Carmen. Along with a stylish pool and an extensive list of cocktails, Fives Rooftop also regularly hosts DJs and live music.

Attractions and Activities for Expats in Playa del Carmen

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Living in Playa del Carmen offers many attractions and activities for expats, ranging from learning Spanis and embracing the yoga lifestyle to exploring the underwater world.

Language schools like Playalingua del Caribe and International House offer Spanish classes tailored to various proficiency levels. They provide an interactive environment for learning, often including cultural activities like Mexican cooking lessons or salsa dancing. While it's not mandatory to speak Spanish if you live here, it'll certainly make your experience better if you do. Get a head start with learning and download Mondly to practice Spanish basics before you arrive.

Yoga is increasingly popular in Playa del Carmen, with many studios offering classes for all skill levels. Yogaloft Playa del Carmen, located just off the bustling Quinta Avenida, is a favorite among locals and expats. They offer various classes, from Vinyasa Flow to Ashtanga Yoga.

Playa's coastal setting allows for water activities. The clear turquoise water of the Caribbean Sea makes for excellent scuba diving and snorkeling in the vibrant coral reefs. Notable diving spots include Tortugas Reef, known for its turtle sightings, and Barracuda Reef, which offers a chance to encounter bull sharks. If you're new to scuba diving, several diving schools like Phantom Divers and Scuba Playa provide certification courses.

The eco-park Xcaret offers cultural performances, wildlife encounters, and water activities that make for a fun-filled day. Or you can stroll down the bustling Quinta Avenida for shopping, dining, and meeting friends.

Best Beaches Nearby

Playa del Carmen's coastline is dotted with pristine white sand beaches. The trendy Mamitas Beach offers beach clubs and music festivals, while Playacar Beach provides a tranquil escape with its soft white sands. For a unique experience, head to Punta Esmeralda, where a freshwater cenote meets the sea.

Cenotes Near Playa del Carmen

Cenotes, natural sinkholes filled with fresh water, offer a swimming and snorkeling experience in crystal-clear waters. These are some of the main reasons people visit Riviera Maya and you shouldn't miss out on a chance to visit a few.

Cenote Azul, just a 30-minute drive from Playa, is a beautiful open cenote with shallow areas perfect for families. For those seeking a more adventurous experience, the Cenote Dos Ojos, about an hour's drive from Playa, is an underwater cavern system ideal for diving and snorkeling. The El Jardin Del Eden Cenote is another popular spot, known for its stunning underwater garden and cliff jumping opportunities.

Exploring the Yucatan Peninsula

Playa del Carmen is strategically located as a gateway to the wider Yucatan Peninsula and the surrounding towns. Day trips to the mesmerizing pink lakes of Las Coloradas, the flamingo sanctuary at Rio Lagartos, or the historic yellow city of Izamal are perfect ideas. Thanks to its central location, it's also easy to get to the world-class historic site of the Chichen Itza Pyramid.

Paradise Islands

Playa del Carmen's proximity to three paradise islands - Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, and Isla Holbox - offers perfect opportunities for weekend trips.

Cozumel

Cozumel is a haven for diving enthusiasts, and it's only a 45-minute ferry ride from Playa. The island's underwater world is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest coral reef system globally. Notable snorkeling spots include Palancar Reef and Columbia Reef.

Isla Mujeres

Accessible by a short ferry ride from Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a slice of Caribbean paradise. Playa Norte, the island's main beach, is considered one of the best beaches in the Caribbean. The island also boasts an underwater museum, MUSA, promoting coral life. It can be explored through snorkeling or diving.

Isla Holbox

Situated northwest of Cancun, Isla Holbox is a lesser-known, unspoiled gem. Its tranquil atmosphere, laid-back vibe, and car-free sandy streets. The island's shallow, calm waters make it ideal for swimming and spotting marine life.

My Motivation for Moving to Playa del Carmen

As a European, my heart was always pulled toward the allure of North America. I cherished traversing the vast, diverse landscapes of the USA, from the wilderness of Alaska and the lush expansiveness of the Pacific Northwest to the rich, red hues of the American Southwest encompassing Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. So I started a travel blog with tips for traveling to these destinations.

Despite my love for these regions, the hefty cost of living in North America was a deterring factor. Comparatively, Playa del Carmen presented an economically viable alternative, with its cost of living considerably more affordable. Consequently, it became my investment choice, and I acquired an apartment just a 15-minute walk from the sandy beach.

Life in Playa del Carmen was everything I hoped for and more. I reveled in the agreeable weather, the year-round tropical climate, and the delightful wildlife of monkeys, coatis, and various birds offered a blissful serenity.

A significant convenience of residing in Playa del Carmen is its proximity to Cancun International Airport, a mere 40-minute drive away. The excellent public transport system further simplifies the commute. With its robust network of international connections, the airport acts as my gateway to all my favorite places in North America.

I can easily take spontaneous trips, catching a flight to New Orleans for the weekend or going on a road trip through Colorado, courtesy of direct flights to Denver. This accessibility to the best of both worlds, living in a tropical paradise with easy access to my favored North American locales, truly made moving to Playa del Carmen the best decision for me.

Five Things to Know Before Moving to Playa del Carmen

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  1. Learn Basic Spanish: While English is widely spoken, a basic understanding of Spanish can enrich your experience.
  2. Embrace the 'Mañana' Culture: The pace of life in Playa is slower; patience is essential.
  3. Prepare for Hurricane Season: Late summer and early autumn can bring storms.
  4. Be Aware of Seaweed Seasons: Sargassum seaweed can be a problem from March to June.
  5. Venture Beyond Tourist Zones: Local markets and eateries offer an authentic taste of Mexico.

Will You Try Living in Playa del Carmen, Too?

Moving to Playa del Carmen was a life-altering decision that offered a high-quality lifestyle at a fairly low cost compared to the U.S. or Europe. The warm community, great food, rich culture, and the town's proximity to my favorite American locales make it an expat's dream. Yes, there can be challenges, but the rewards far outweigh them.

So, if you're considering a move, embrace the vibrant tranquility of Playa del Carmen; it’s waiting for you.

Hero photo by depositphotos.com.

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