Once a soporific fishing village where travellers camped out en route to Cozumel, Playa del Carmen (often called simply Playa) has mushroomed in recent years to become a trendy place touted as the next Miami Beach – and, from a local’s perspective, a goldmine of employment in construction. Not only do Mexico City’s elite pop in, but so do day-trippers from Cancún and passengers from cruise ships. As a result, the town’s main centre of activity, Avenida 5 (also called La Quinta), a long, pedestrianized strip one block back from the sea, is often packed to capacity with tourists rapidly emptying their wallets in pavement cafés, souvenir outlets and designer-clothes shops. Nonetheless, the low-rise development and numerous European-owned businesses make it, compared with Cancún, seem positively cosmopolitan and calm. The nightlife in particular has a hip edge, and you’ll also find sophisticated cuisine, hotels for most budgets and diverse shops. Everywhere visitors will want to go is compact and pedestrian-friendly – even a walk to the Playa Norte, the better beach on the north side of town, is an easy one.
For anyone interested in scuba diving, Tank-Ha, on Calle 10 between avenidas 5 and 10 (t984/873-0302, wwww.tankha.com), is a good place to start. The shop offers PADI certification courses, one- and two-tank dives and twice-daily snorkelling tours (9am & 1.30pm; US$40; 3hr). Kiteboarding specialists Ikarus give basic instruction on the beach in Playa, then take you up or down the coast for in-water lessons; visit the shop on Avenida 5 at Calle 20 (t984/803-3490, wwww.kiteboardmexico.com) for details.