It happened gradually, I have fallen in love with Playa del Carmen.
From the sunsets; baby pink and electric blue, to the cloudless skies, to the inviting heat of the bright sunshine, its rays turning me golden, then brown. The refreshing ultramarine sea, the fine white sand under my feet, the cool shade of the palm trees. Laying on deck chairs at night, when the beach is quiet and still, listening to waves lapping, gazing at the stars. Standing on the shore; not knowing where the sky ends and the sea begins. The boats, anchored and bobbing, look like they’re suspended, floating in an inky blackness. This paradise fills me with these moments of perfect calm and beauty.
The warm breeze kisses my skin, as I sit in Rufino mezcaleria, cocktail in hand. The music in this rock bar is perfect, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers & Deep Purple drift from the speakers in the background while I people watch on Quinta Avenida. I don’t think I have ever felt so relaxed and it is compelling. It’s easy here, too easy to lose yourself in thought and do nothing and yet, feel guiltless. Slow, easy Mexico… Have an iced coffee in Ah Cacao. Have any coffee, anywhere. Mexican coffee deserves its own post. Though, not much beats drinking litre sized smoothies and eating perfectly ripe avocado slices with lime & salt, accompanied by a basket of tortilla chips (a staple here) in Nativo restaurant. Just the place for some chat with friends, while on the screens, Mexican band, Zoé provide a blissed out, Latin acoustic set on MTV Unplugged. What a perfect accompaniment.
Behind shiny, touristic Quinta, you have 10th Avenue with its quirky, brightly painted hostels and street art. Here you’ll find tattoo shops, folk art, crafts, textiles and so many colours. Seashell lights, jellyfish lamps, dreamcatchers, ceramic sugar skulls, recycled glass & leather bracelets, iconic Frida Kahlo images adorn t-shirts, bags and canvases.. Uptempo music pours out of most shops and puts a spring in my step, a swish in my hips. Diez is also numero uno for tasty and cheap Mexican eateries with strings of taco restaurants, complete with plastic cutlery and plastic furniture… Two restaurants beside each other; the creperie & Ranchito are my favourites. Same owner. Generously stuffed pastor burritos for 60 pesos (€3) with agua naturalle – mashed fruit blended with ice water. Frijoles on the side, as always. Habanero sauce causing hot cheeks and tingling lips, devilishly addictive on empanadas con crema.
I love it here, as I meet the most interesting people – I seem to be a magnet for the creative type. Or more likely, they are a magnet to me… Not so much the other mochileros (backpackers) I prefer to engage with and learn from the Mexicans themselves. Who, in general, are friendly but dislike small talk. They are direct and open people, ready to dive into the nitty gritty and divulge their war stories. Many come to Playa from the North, Mexico City, and it seems as though everyone has a story. I chat with a street artist who gave up a graphic design career, preferring to sell his gorgeous little paintings in the plaza, because it was truer to him. A free spirited eco-warrior who ekes out a living from being a breakdancer/ percussionist and prefers to sleep in a cabana on the beach, living as he wants. A skateboarding ex gang member from LA who turned his life around and now runs a tattoo shop. A single father, living out his childhood passion, working as a cenote diver/cave explorer and being with nature, whose ex was deported back to the US for being on crack… I suppose those telenovela storylines aren’t so far fetched, or else people here are very imaginative… These encounters give me plenty to think about life in general and feed my pipe dreams. The people watching pays off.
Off Quinta Avenida is the legendary Calle 12. Most of our weekend binges start with a shout of “Doce!” This is Party Central. Palm trees wrapped with cable lights guide the way as far as the beach front. Musically, there’s something for everyone here – dance, house, Latin, reggaeton, salsa, pop, live rock bands… It’s home to the mini Vegas that is Coco Bongo! (which has its own ambulance. hmmm) and the Blue Parrot (complete with foam parties). All tastes catered to – Mezcal, tequila, sophisticated cocktails, hookah, chela. The club lights escape and illuminate the street multicoloured, all the music styles booming out and melding. It’s like Funderland minus the waltzer. Hundreds of tourists, hen parties, frat boys, locals hang around outside the clubs deciding which is worth visiting, as promoters compete with each other through free drink offers and wrist bands. My favourite is a little place, La Mezcalina, lit by a red hue that gives it a dive bar atmosphere. This alternative gem is general packed with Mexicans of a tattooed & pierced variety, and has a different DJ playing electro/house every night. Not to mention shots for 25 pesos and flavoured mezcal. Many drinks here, many cringey drunken chats, many laughs, though not enough photos, I’m down a phone and gained a unforgivable hangover.
The other clubs vary between achingly hip, velvety suaveness and cheesy fun. The dancefloors are alive and pulsing; the Mexicans know how to dance. Men shimmy their shoulders effortlessly to a slowed down, natural groove that I strain to hear amongst the deliciously hectic Latin rhythms. No one is shy here. The native chicas seductively sway their hips to reggaeton and the couples (all thick shiny hair, dark almond eyes, full lips and cut-glass cheekbones) ooze smooth, sexy coolness.
Playa Del Carmen has provided fun and freedom that I really enjoyed. Beating the streets until my soles are worn, I wander, hungry to explore all it has to offer, until it’s all familiar and feels like home. Though this slice of Mexico has an artificially created Caribbean island vibe for the benefit of tourists, it remains charming and inviting. It is impossible not to feel happy and recharged here.