Playa del Carmen: Such A Good Place To Live

Playa del Carmen

When many people think of Playa del Carmen, Mexico, they automatically think of a heavily touristed party destination for Americans. As a result, it’s no surprise that many independent travelers don’t really have a desire to visit this town at all.

However, every now and then, some independent travelers do end up here, usually when en route to or from Central America, and of course, most of these travelers, at least the ones I’ve met, typically have the same initial reaction upon arrival.

“Playa del Carmen is not for me.”

And I can understand that. For those in search of wild adventures in new and exotic lands, seeing a gringo as soon as you get off the bus, one wearing an over-sized sombrero while inhaling a constant stream of beer from a neon purple, 3-foot long plastic drinking vessel, is not a good start.

Just walking down the street, passing t-shirt shops and sports bars, seems to lead many travelers to declare, “What am I doing here?” and to start thinking about their next destination.


Actually, about four years ago, I backpacked through Playa del Carmen during a brief one month trip to Mexico. And not surprisingly, I stuck around for only 2 days, not wanting to spend another minute here. It simply wasn’t the type of travel experience I look for at all and after one walk along La Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), which is a mile-long, pedestrian-only street full of cafes, restaurants, boutique hotels, bars and shops geared towards tourists, I was ready to head elsewhere.

After all, more than any other form of travel, I am at my utmost happiest when I am traveling around destinations where very few travelers care or dare to visit at all. These are the adventures that I live for and that prove the most rewarding to me.

So what am I doing here right now, right in the middle of touristland, if I had such a forgettable experience in Playa del Carmen only a few years ago?

Well, the interesting thing about Playa del Carmen is that the people who stick around for a while, beyond that initial “Get me the hell out of here!” phase, tend to undergo a drastic transformation, one that has happened to just about every friend, family member and traveler who has visited me here. Their initial disappointment suddenly turns into an intense attraction, and instead of looking for the next ticket out of town, people start asking me for apartment recommendations instead.

The phrase of the day then becomes: “I could easily live here for a while!”

And that’s the key. They could easily LIVE here for a while, which is much different than visiting this town as part of a Latin America backpacking adventure.


These days, I love Playa del Carmen. I wouldn’t have spent so much time here last year, and then returned this year, if I didn’t find it to be a perfect place to live. I may enjoy traveling through remote and barely accessible regions of the world, but I certainly wouldn’t want to live in those places for an extended period of time, at least not right now. And due to the nature of my digital work, I need to spend about half of each year living in one place, as it’s too difficult to get significant work accomplished while on the road.

From what I’ve discovered so far, Playa del Carmen offers a combination of impressive benefits that is difficult to ignore for anyone looking to live overseas, especially if you prefer to live near the beach.

What are these benefits exactly?


Most nationalities receive a free 6-month tourist visa upon arrival, making it quite easy to stick around for a while. And if you leave Mexico and then return, even if it is only a couple of days later, you’ll receive another 6-month visa valid from the date of your reentry. Working visas are a little more complicated to obtain, but nothing that a lawyer can’t sort out for a couple hundred dollars, especially if you’re hired by a Mexican company or take the necessary steps to start your own business here.


Playa del Carmen SignFor those of us who are from the US or Canada, Mexico is a most convenient foreign destination. The airport in Cancun (which is located 45 minutes north of Playa del Carmen) is very well connected, with regular non-stop flights to cities such as Fort Lauderdale, New York, Boston, Houston, Raleigh, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Denver, Chicago, San Francisco, Phoenix, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. As for me, the flight from Mexico to Florida, where my family now lives, is significantly shorter and cheaper than a flight from almost anywhere else in the US to Florida.

And even for Europeans, there are frequent, direct flights to/from Belgium, UK, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Germany and France, making Cancun a surprisingly simple destination to reach.


If you’re not a digital nomad, Playa del Carmen offers a handful of work opportunities that could help you pocket some money while living down here, although a good working knowledge of the Spanish language would be needed. Under the table jobs are available in bars, restaurants, hostels and small hotels and you could always try to teach English (or Italian, French or German) informally. In addition, you could apply to work as a Timeshare salesperson at one of the dozens of resorts in the area, as they prefer to hire foreigners for these potentially well-paid positions.

And for those who simply require an internet connection to get your work done, most apartments come with Wi-fi and there are at least a dozen cafes around town that offer air-conditioned lounges with comfortable seating and Wi-fi (and that don’t mind you sitting there for a few hours working and sipping one cup of coffee).


Playa del Carmen has an abundance of sun, fresh tropical breezes, white sand beaches and warm Caribbean waters, all of which seem to play a role in keeping the body feeling healthy. You’ll also find a never-ending supply of tropical fruits and freshly-prepared fruit juices available for sale on every street corner. Throw in free dance and yoga classes in the park, a public sports complex complete with well-maintained basketball courts, tennis courts and a running track, as well as several modern gyms that offer inexpensive monthly memberships, and it’s difficult to avoid living a healthy lifestyle.


Yes, the throngs of vacationers that flock to Playa del Carmen are actually a major benefit for anyone thinking about living here for a month or more. How is this possible?

To put it simply, tourism equals infrastructure.

It may very well be that, during a travel adventure, we thoroughly enjoy sitting on the floor of an old, rusty, overcrowded bus, bouncing along a dirt road for 27 hours just to reach a destination that is 100 kms from where we started. However, I’m willing to bet that most of us don’t really want to go through that very same experience every time we need to go to the market to buy tomatoes.

Playa del Carmen Colectivog

Thanks to tourism, getting around the entire region that surrounds Playa del Carmen (known as the Mayan Riviera) is not only easy, but comfortable and inexpensive as well. Air-conditioned minivans travel between every town and village in the Mayan Riviera, often leaving every 15 minutes and running 24 hours a day. The cost to travel anywhere in the region is rarely more than $3 – $4 per trip and for an additional 50 cents or so you can even take a luxury bus, complete with free Wi-fi and plush seats.

The roads here are some of the best in Mexico, the taxi operation is well-organized and uses a simple flat rate system, car rentals are cheap and the beaches are kept in immaculate condition. And it’s all thanks to tourism.


When I’m traveling, I almost never eat anything but the local cuisine of whatever country I happen to be visiting (the exception being Indian food, which I will eat anywhere I find it). So for the most part, you won’t see me eating sushi in Honduras or enchiladas while in Malaysia.

However, when I’m actually living somewhere for an extended period of time, I do prefer to have a variety of cuisine available, because truthfully, one does get bored when eating the same food for several months in a row (again, except for Indian food of course!).

Lebanese Food in Playa del Carmen

Luckily, as a result of having so many tourists from around the world vacation here, Playa del Carmen offers an excellent selection of Italian, Japanese, Middle Eastern, French, Spanish, Chinese, South American and German restaurants in addition to the endless local Mexican eateries scattered all over town.

There are also supermarkets, fruit and vegetable markets, organic markets and even shops that sell the ingredients necessary for one to prepare any type of international cuisine at home. I’ve found Thai curry powder imported directly from Thailand, homemade pesto from Tuscany and even grape leaves from Lebanon.


For many people, this is the one factor that makes or breaks any destination, in terms of deciding whether or not a place is suitable for long-term living. I’ll be honest, in terms of costs, Playa del Carmen is no Chiang Mai, Thailand, where comfortable, perfectly-located studio apartments can be rented for $300 US per month and large plates of freshly prepared Thai food barely cost $1. Things in Playa del Carmen are a little more expensive than that, but in comparison to other destinations, and especially in comparison to what I would need to spend in the US for a similar lifestyle, it’s still remarkably cheap.

For those on very tight budgets, you could definitely survive here for around $600 US per month. On the other hand, if you have $1000 US per month to spend, then you could live very well, with about as much to worry about in life as this guy:

Man in Playa del Carmen

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212 Responses to Playa del Carmen: Such A Good Place To Live

  1. jon says:

    Nice read!

    I am also considering going to la Playa for a couple months this year. My spanish is good, was wondering how hard it would be to pick up a job once I get there?

    Any advice would be great!


  2. Christian stones says:

    Great piece.. Am booking now! .. On a side note I wish people wouldn’t compare apples with oranges… Chiang Mai is a city is in the north of Thailand.. Near the mountains no sea. You can’t possibly compare this to PDC as this is a beach resort town.. Why don’t you compare it to Phuket? It’s the closest comparable or koh Samui…and I bet your cost of living is less in PDC thank Phuket.. Just a thought :)

  3. Hi dude! Amazing post! I’ll be moving to Playa in 4 days, I’ll be working at Xcaret, I have one question.. Any recommendations about apartment locations? I’m not taking my car so I don’t want to be so far either from Xcaret and the public transportation!

    Hope to see you around when I get there man!

  4. Jillian says:

    Hi Earl!
    You have no idea how happy this article has made me! My husband and I are from the states and are in our early 20s and have been dreaming and dreaming about moving to the Riviera Maya. He works on planes and I am just finishing nursing school. From what I have read in the past it seems hard to get jobs in our career field in Mexico due to the fact that we could be taking a job away from a Mexican citizen. It wouldn’t bother us to work outside of our career fields but we are just wondering if it is possible to make a steady living and not just some extra cash down there. We have been to the Puerto Aventuras area which we loved but I am sure renting there would be a little more spendy. Do you have any other suggestions for an expat type community in the area that could be more affordable? Also we have two dogs that if we decided to make the move that we would like to take. Is there any type of rules about bringing dogs into Mexico? This is the most positive review that I have read about living in the area for a long time so I would love to hear back from you :)
    Thanks Earl!

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Jillian – I appreciate the comment and here’s some thoughts. First, Puerto Aventuras is actually quite inexpensive compared to other destinations in the Riviera Maya. This is probably because there’s not much around so most foreigners want to live in Playa del Carmen or Tulum instead, driving up prices there. But in Puerto Aventuras, with less demand, the prices have remained lower.

      The main place is Playa del Carmen. There really aren’t many options – Playa, Cancun, Puerto Morelos, Tulum, Puerto Aventuras. And Playa is the most popular because it has everything you could possibly need, but as a result, it is quite expensive these days. It really depends on your interests and what kind of atmosphere you’re interested in because each town has it’s own feel.

      As far as I know, you can take your dogs with you. You might need to get some paperwork though.

      And with jobs, yes, it is difficult for foreigners to find real work in Playa apart from the occasional jobs in the tourism industry (hotels, scuba diving operators, etc.), usually if you speak Spanish, and the pay isn’t so good as it’s based on Mexican wages. You can work as a timeshare salespeople in the major resorts but most people living there full time either work online, work remotely for a company back home, have started their own business in Playa or don’t need to work.

      It’s all possible but definitely takes some planning first!

      • Evan says:

        Earl — Excellent info but I’d like some clarification: You mentioned that Playa is very expensive these days — so it takes a great deal more than the $1000 to live in reasonable comfort? It that’s the case, where is still reasonable in the Yucatan and approx how much monthly?


        • Wandering Earl says:

          Hey Evan – Along the beach, you could try Tulum which would be a bit cheaper than Playa. Other than that, you would want to head inland to places like Merida or Valladolid. I’m not sure how much money you would need exactly per month in those places but my guess is that it would be closer to the $600 range.

        • Karl says:

          Just left playa a week ago after 10 days.Agree with Earl that at first you thought you were in the Mexico Las Vegas strip, but after three days I was looking for apts and gyms. I work online so thats not a problem other than my hotel internet was sketchy at best. I’m assuming residential paid service is far superior. But I found two bedroom apts for $500 on the other side of the hwy that looked very safe and comfortable.
          Eating is dirt cheap by US standards. Dont know your budget but I think $1200/month budget is doable. Am I missing something Earl?

  5. Richard says:

    Great piece, Earl! Man, the seo on your blog is through the roof as I’ve often been directed to your site over the past 5 years while sussing out my own wanderings. So thanks for that.

    Question: I’m visiting Playa for a few days and I found an airbnb apartment that says it’s in the “Hollywood area of Playa and is full of ex-pats, especially Italians and Argentinians.” Do you know this area? Is it a good area? Central to beach, 5th, etc? I’m a seasoned traveller, 50 countries on 5 continents, so I’m good with ‘roughing it’. Mainly, just curious as to your valued opinion! ;o)

    Thanks in advance for any reply, Richard

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Richard – Thanks for the comment and for visiting the site over the years! As for Playa, I’m not too sure where is the “hollywood area” actually but I have a feeling it’s off of 5th Avenue, around 38th – 50th Streets, an area that has become the new hip part of town to hang out in. I can’t imagine an area called “Hollywood area” being anywhere far away from 5th Avenue and the beach so I’m sure it will be a good spot!

  6. Emilia says:

    Hey dude great article!
    I just moved to Playa yesterday running away from the stresses of Mexico City, though I’m pretty sure I will be making less money, my health, and mostly my nervous system, will be very very thankful! I loved the picture of the guy sun tanning on the roof so funny!!! I hope I can make it here, I hope so, but anyways if there are some bumps in the road… This is Playa sort of a slice of paradise,
    Thanks dude! only one question what about safety tips for us moving down here?

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Em – Welcome to Playa :) As for safety tips, there’s not much to say. It’s quite a safe town, not much happens at all. Just use your normal common sense and that’s about it!

  7. A Hopeful Digital Nomad says:

    Thanks for the great post. I’ve heard some conflicting reports on internet reliability, I’m glad you are saying that in general it shouldn’t be an issue. I work remotely online but on a fixed schedule and I have to have a solid reliable connection. I’ve also heard that in the peak months there is a bad smell over much of Playa Del Carmen…did you experience that? Other than that living somewhere either in Playa Del Carmen or close to in along the Mayan Riviera sounds like a great place to live. Thanks for sharing.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      @A Hopeful Digital Nomad – I’ve never heard of the bad smell over the town during high season and I’ve been here for a couple of high seasons in the past. Some people mention a smell at one small area of the beach but that’s about it and I’ve never experienced that myself either.

      As for internet, it’s as reliable as most places I’d say. I work online and have never had a problem at all here.

  8. Pingback: Playa del Carmen: The Good, the Bad & the Smelly | Seek New Travel

  9. Katie says:

    Thank you for the info! I’m about to embark on a 4 month journey through Central America, working in hostels, volunteering, couchsurfing etc along the way and was torn between Playa Del Carmen or Tulum. I’ve been to Playa before, but for very brief trips where I didn’t have much time to explore. I found opportunities in both, but wasn’t sure which I would prefer staying in for 2 week-1 month. I think I’m leaning towards Playa the more I research though :)

  10. Anouk says:

    Hi Joanne!

    We are a young family (me, my partner and our 6 yrs old daughter) from Montréal, Canada. We are moving soon (in 2 months!!) to Playa del Carmen to escape the cold, discover a new culture and learn Spanish. We are going to be “digital worker” there. Opening a business in Mexico is possible, I know from the internet a young woman from Québec, Canada, who opened with her mother her own hotel in Playa! It’s called LunaSol or something like that. There is also the “Chambre de commerce québécoise de Riviera Maya”, the members are people from Québec running businesses in PDC. You can check out their website if you have questions.

    I’m gonna lauch my website about my journey in PDC, it’s not ready yet but you can check it out too. Bonne chance!

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