Playa del Carmen
Text: Richard Carroll
Photos: Halina Kubalski
or scores of far-flung years Playa del Carmen was a sleepy little village
tucked away in the southeastern Mexican state of Quintana Roo, 35 miles
south of Cancun
in the virtually undiscovered Yucatan Peninsula.
A half century ago, barefoot Bohemians blackened by
the relentless sun, ponytails flopping, plucking at guitars with missing
strings, singing off-key, and with a big smile mispronouncing Spanish,
tabbed Playa del Carmen their secret enclave, where life could be about
nothing more than freedom, irresistible love, and walking in the footsteps
of the Maya. For them Playa del Carmen was an astonishing paradise where
one could sit on the beach all day reading Kerouacs On the
Road, while counting sea birds.
Fifth Avenue, the new Playa del Carmen.
The cast of village characters from Europe and the United
States would have made tremendous novel material; though imagining themselves
to be writers and poets, they were more adept at sipping head-pounding
tequila than holding a pen. Some were on the road running from bad deeds
and broken relationships, while a gaggle of high school and college
dropouts were cleverly pretending to be hip, but silently aching for
a blast of cold air, clean sheets, and a can of mosquito repellent.
In the cool of the evenings Mexican musicians performed
under a beach palapa while fresh fish sizzled on a grill, and the nearby
pier greeted Cozumel
ferryboats, and the hard working residents, a few of whom spoke only
Up the road, Cancun, a sandy L-shaped, 24-mile-long,
one-quarter mile wide island was a simple place, where Canadians pitched
their tents, the Maple Leaf Flag flying high. An older sunburned American
man with a long speckled beard, piercing eyes, and missing toenails,
who claimed to be the only permanent Cancun Island resident, lived in
a handcrafted tree house encircled by noisy parrots and songbirds, overlooking
a large coconut plantation.
The popular Cuban La Bodequito Del Medio on Fifth
In a distinctly southern accent he quietly threatened
this journalist, Please do not ever write about my little bit
of Yucatan heaven or repulsive karma will follow your shadow.
Sadly a short time later in the early 1970s his dreamy
paradise was shattered forever, and my shadow was saved when Mexican
developers moved in tearing down his tree house, bull-dozing the coconut
plantation and slowly covering the stretch of island sand with hotels,
restaurants, and shopping malls.
For the next decade or two, Playa del Carmen was a poor
second cousin to Cancun, but then the developers waved their wand once
more and the town slowly grew into a passionate teenager bursting with
vigor and gusto. The vibrant area along coastal Hwy 307, now called
the Riviera Maya, anchored by Playa del Carmen, is home to a string
of resort and boutique hotels that rival anything found in Hawaii.
This distinctive and diverse destination is booming
with an array of humanity that includes everything from backpackers
on a budget to Wall Street bankers concealing their identity and hopeful
that no one will recognize them.
The all-inclusive Royal Hotel located in the heart
of Playa del Carmen
The Royal, a spacious, all-inclusive, all-suites Real
Resorts property ensconced in the heart of Playa del Carmen (open to
those age 16 and over) with a sister property across the street hosting
families and children, are designed with a blend of Italian and classic
The Royal features a selection of splendid award-winning
restaurants, live show-style entertainment, and a large spa with a Maya
Temazcal sweat lodge where a Shaman directs guests though a traditional
Maya physical and mental cleansing ritual. Busy Beach Butlers offer
all guests fresh fruit, cold drinks, towels, and a hefty selection of
A Scuba Diving School with a separate 18-foot deep plunge,
a quiet swimming pool for lovers, and a glorious beach for water play,
are emblematic of the new and innovative Playa del Carmen, which is
the gathering place for those with love and affection in mind.
The Royals focus is on romance and honeymoon;
services include a Royal Romance Concierge, Private Romance Check-in,
and a Civil Judge who yearly performs a whopping 250 legal weddings.
Between the four Real Resorts properties (two in Cancun), some one thousand
wedding are celebrated each year with extra champagne for insufferable
Just steps from The Royal is Fifth Avenue, a pedestrian-only
street lined with the ubiquitous t-shirt shops, as well as upscale boutiques,
sidewalk cafes, and La Bodequito Del Medio, an earthy Cuban room where
one can drop back to the ambience of the early 1940s, and with a little
imagination picture Hemingway and wife Mary sitting at the bar deep
into their cups sipping Cuba Libres. Hot Latino music swings
on weekends with free salsa lessons, Monday and Tuesday.
A huge bonus for those who begin to flourish after sunset
is the Coco Bongo Nightclub, a large crowded venue with the atmosphere
Vegas, Monte Carlo and West Hollywood California combined. The room
is flooded with non-stop entertainment in the form of large videos of
everyone from Gene Kelly, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Jennifer Lopez,
Elvis, to Edward Maya and Mia Martina, all intermingled with live performers
and trapeze acts. Even the Playa del Carmen Bohemians of yesteryear
would love Coco Bongo.
After a night out on the town Xcaret is a delightful
change of pace. A 45-minute drive south of Playa del Carmen, Xcaret
is a jungle Eco-archeological Park where guests can float along an underground
Maya river, snorkel in gorgeous inlets swarming with fish, and experience
an island where jaguars and pumas roam.
Kids can cross inlets on ropes, search for wild Howling
Monkeys, swim with dolphins, and feel like island castaways for a day.
Xcaret, a popular Maya site featuring a dinner show
and numerous attactions
Once an important ceremonial center and Maya port, Xcaret
presents dance and music shows throughout the day, and a highly rated
two-hour dinner theater in the evening, which includes Pre-Hispanic
performances, scenes of the Spanish conquest, and best of all, Mexican
dance and music showcasing the heart and pride of a vibrant people,
illustrating that Mexico remains among the most music-oriented countries
in the world.
History buffs can walk in the footsteps of the Maya
to stony temples standing for some 3,000 years. Flights of fantasy and
puzzlement swirl about, fulfilling a longing for adventure and discovery.
The Maya flourished between AD 250 and 900 and, like jungle vines, spread
across the Yucatan and Middle America.
While Europe languished in the Dark Ages, the haunting
ceremonial centers of the Maya, loosely called cities by some, were
being carefully designed to be inhabited by rulers, nobles, and priests,
and used for religious festivals, courts of justice, and lively marketplaces.
Tulum Maya Site, near Playa del Carmen
The Maya splendor is experienced in Tulum located near
Xcaret. The only Maya site constructed on the coast. Built high on a
rocky bluff with commanding vistas from the temples, iguanas sunbathe
on weatherworn stones, and where trading vessels once arrived from Central
America. The Maya of today, guides and archeologist who work at Tulum,
claim that at times, there is an unexplained presence of spirits and
sighting of ancients around the ruins at dusk and early mornings. Sightings
or not, only the iguanas know for sure.
When You Go
For information or reservations call your travel professional
or Real Resorts, 800 760-0944; www.realresorts.com;
Paz, Baja California Sur