Playa del Carmen sits on the edge of the Caribbean Sea, offering some of the world’s most beautiful white powder beaches and crystal clear turquoise water. Playa del Carmen has recently been named one of the “Sexiest Beaches in the World” by Frommers. Spending a day down on the shore, it’s easy to see why.
All beaches in Mexico are open to the public and cannot be restricted to private use. However, certain restaurants, bars and hotels are licensed to have “beach clubs.” Beach clubs usually offer chairs and umbrellas for rent, a bar and some sort of restaurant. Many offer other amenities such as massage, restrooms, changing areas, showers, lockers, and beach activities. You’re welcome to spread a towel on a open piece of sand on the shoreline, but for the true Playa del Carmen experience, spend a day sipping margaritas on a lounge chair at one of the many beach clubs that line the Caribbean Sea. Here are some of our favorites.
Mamita’s: On the beach at the end of Calle 28 in Playa del Carmen.
Mamita’s is the queen of Playa del Carmen’s North Beach. It fronts one of Playa’s finest beaches and offers a large shaded restaurant on a deck above the sand (with standard beach fare of burgers and munchies). You can also eat at tables set on the beach. There is a very small bar, but nobody drinks there. Why sit at a bar when you can have your drink sitting on the sand in front of the Caribbean Sea? They rent lounge chairs and palapa style umbrellas with food and drink service to the chairs. Mamita’s has showers, clean bathrooms, changing areas, and a kiddie pool. The “Lounge” area offers shaded double beds (some hanging swing-like from wooden structures) with loud techno music blaring throughout the day (can you tell we are older?). Massage, dive shops and various beach activities are nearby. The beach attracts a diverse crowd that includes many Europeans. As a result the beach has more than its fair share of Playa’s famous (infamous?) topless sun bathers. In the evenings Mamita’s closes down; however it hosts dances and concerts on occasion, especially in the high seasons. But the real attraction is the location. Beautiful white sand and gorgeous blue water make for a perfect place to sip that afternoon margarita and contemplate the shapes of clouds. When you stay at the Luna Blue Hotel & Garden, you receive passes for free use of chairs and umbrellas at Mamita’s.
Kool: On the beach at the end of Calle 28 in Playa del Carmen.
Kool is Playa del Carmen’s newest and koolest beach club. Formerly the Tukan, it is a small club with limited seating. They have a number of beach chair types ranging in cost from $20 pesos for a simple chair or umbrella to $500 pesos for a large bed arrangement that could fit 10 people. It has an upper deck with one of the better beach club restaurants around. Next to the restaurant is a small pool which guests can use if they have rented a chair. There is a bar overlooking the beach and beach chair service from both the bar and the restaurant. Service is the real plus about this beach club. They have opened with a number of employees who seem more than capable of handling the requests of their guests. Kool is located on the same stretch of beach as Mamita’s, just slightly south. The beach in front of Kool is slightly smaller than Mamita’s and further reduced by the presence of a catamaran channel that has been roped off in the water. However, once you rent your chair, you can wander the entire expanse of the beach and swim wherever you like. Like most beach clubs, Kool offers a number of activities, including sailing, dive shop, open air massage, and the never ending joy of people watching on Playa’s beaches.
Blue Parrot Beach Club: At the end of Calle 12 near the intersection with 1st Ave in Playa del Carmen.
The Blue Parrot bar is one of Playa’s oldest beachfront bars. It has gone by different names over the years (once inexplicably called the Dragon Bar with a Chinese Dragon as it’s symbol!), but it has always been “The Parrot” to it’s legions of fans. It has had its ups and downs, having changed owners, been filled with sand to the ceiling during Hurricane Wilma and even burned down once from a poorly aimed fire dancer’s torch that landed on the palapa roof. But it has always survived and still reigns as ground zero for partying in Playa. A standard beach club with food and drink delivered to beach front chairs during the day, the main attraction is the giant round palapa covered bar with hanging swings instead of stools. Wander up from the beach and sit yourself down at the bar still dripping wet from the ocean. And at night things really heat up. A DJ spins tunes and the dance floor fills up. Soon there is dancing on the floor, the sand, even the bar itself. The Blue Parrot’s self proclaimed title of the “Sexiest Bar in Playa del Carmen” seems well deserved around midnight (or later) as the young and beautiful kick it into high gear–dancing, drinking, flirting and connecting.
El Pirata. In the Costa del Mar Hotel, 1st Ave between Calle12 and Calle 10 in Playa del Carmen.
El Pirata (The Pirate) is an old school beach club with a small bar featuring columpios (swings) and a staff that has been there for years. (Say Hi to Reuben who works the bar in the afternoon.). You can get a beach front lounger or tables and chairs in the sand. The menu is basic beach bar with a couple of exceptions. Good french fries and the best Azteca soup in Playa. If the weather tries to mess up your vacation with rain, go down to the El Pirata, sit beneath an umbrella and sip some warm soup. In the evening El Pirata offers a quieter alternative to its louder more crowded neighbor, the Blue Parrot. Taped reggae music plays (feel free to dance on the miniscule boat shaped dance floor if you wish) but not so loud that you can’t carry on a conversation with people at the same table. And you can take a chair down to the water’s edge and let the Caribbean Sea wash over your feet as you sip some Cuban rum and watch the lights sparkle on the island of Cozumel in the distance. That’s a pretty nice way to end a day.
Playa Maya. On the beach between Calle 6 and 8 in Playa del Carmen.
Less a beach club and more a restaurant, the PM is still one of our favorite beach destinations. Connected to the hotel of the same name, the Playa Maya restaurant/bar sits beneath a cute palapa palm roof structure right on the beach. Sit at a table and squish the white powder sand between your toes. The setting is great, the staff helpful and courteous. Open throughout the day the Playa Maya is best known for its legendary coconut shrimp. Order a plate and one of their excellent margaritas and you have a nearly perfect Caribbean meal. However our favorite time to visit the PM is early in the morning before the crowds awake from last night’s partying and head down to the beach. We enjoy walking along the shore and stopping in for breakfast. Eggs Benedict, good coffee (maybe a Bloody Mary. Hey! You’re on vacation!) while sitting outside in the ocean breeze and watching the sun come up from behind Cozumel island. Pelicans swoop low over the waves and the dive boats push out into the surf. Morning on the beach is possibly one of the best times in Playa del Carmen, and the Playa Maya is one of the best places to be in the morning.
Bad Boyz on the Beach: On the beach between Calle 4 and Calle 2 in Playa del Carmen.
On a beach filled with beach bars, Bad Boyz stands out. From the first time you see the skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger pirate flag flying out front, you know this is something different.. Back behind the requisite lounge chairs and umbrellas is the giant palapa of a bar. The beach sand goes all the way to the bar, so walk right up in your swimsuit. Hoist yourself up on one of the ridiculously high stools (no swings in this joint!) and order a beer or a shot of tequila from one of the pretty girls working there. They have an average beach food menu, but the cheeseburgers are pretty good. Yes the bar is a little seedier than most, a little more ragged around the edges. A bit of a dive in fact. However several times a week, around 5 or 6, some of the guys at the bar suddenly wander to the back where there is a small stage fronted by a dance floor. Instruments are brought out and a Chicago blues riff splits the air. And then things start to cook. Bad Boyz is where local blues players jam and people boogie. The party can go to 8 or 9, sometimes longer depending on the guys playing and the mood of the crowd. Before it gets too late, the music and the customers head over to Captain Dave’s on 10th Ave near Calle 8 which is owned by the same folks. The party continues there. Bad Boyz, bikinis, beer, blues and the beach. That’s a party.
La Playa: on Xpu-Ha beach, between Puerto Aventuras and Akumal.
As you’re driving south from Playa towards Tulum, before you reach Akumal you’ll see a large resort called the Xpu-Ha Palace. The next resort after that is the Catalonia. Just south of the Catalonia you’ll see a dirt road and a large sign marking the entrance to La Playa Beach Club. Take the next u-turn (retorno) back to the road and head for the beach. There may or may not be someone collecting an entrance fee, which is credited towards any food or drink purchase. Follow the bumpy pothole-filled road down to one of our favorite beaches. Xpu-Ha is a beautiful bay, and La Playa Beach Club offers all the necessary amenties: restaurant, bar, hammocks, chairs & umbrellas (no cost) and loungers for a fee. You can go fishing, take a snorkel tour, or rent jet skis. You can also snorkel just off the beach. It’s a very nice swimming beach with a gentle slope into the water. Check out our mini trip report about a day on this beach, Another Day in Paradise…Xpu-Ha.
La Buena Vida: On Half Moon Bay in Akumal.
La Buena Vida (the Good Life) is a Caribbean Cheers. It feels like your special hangout, even if you are visiting for the first time. You know you are in the right place when you see a couple of skeletons sitting at the end of the bar–old customers who just couldn’t leave. In addition to a large bar (again, swings) there are tables set in the sand on various levels overlooking the bay. On windy days you can go to the enclosed upstairs dining room. The menu is varied and better than average for a beach front bar. The drinks are generous and the music usually reggae or blues played at an agreeable level. If you feel really adventurous, climb up to one of the crow’s nests perched upon poles looking out to the ocean and enjoy the view. The crowd at the BV is nice and welcoming made up of tourists in the know and long term locals. The staff is friendly without the usual resort hustle. It is a perfect place to relax after a day of snorkeling at Yal-ku Lagoon or in Akumal Bay. Once you are there, it won’t take long to feel like “everybody knows your name.”
El Paraiso Beach Club in Tulum.
The El Paraiso sits on one of the nicest beaches in the entire Mayan Riviera, possibly the whole of the Caribbean, about a half-mile south of the Tulum ruins. To reach it by car, turns towards the ocean at the Coba/Boca Paila intersection with 307. When the road ends, turn left and look for signs. It’s about a mile or so from that point. The beach is snow white powder sand which slopes easily into turquoise blue waters. There is nothing but the water breaking on the coral reef offshore to interfere with your view of the sea. The beach club has a very nice little bar and restaurant (the required swings at the bar and tables in the sand) which serves good food and tasty drinks. On either side of the bar are beach loungers and/or round beds large enough for you and a couple of friends. The beach is big enough that even when full of people you don’t feel like a sardine. Nearby a couple of local Rastafarians will gladly take you out to the reef for snorkeling. It’s a very pleasant way to spend the day. Warning: This area is in a state of flux. It was purchased over a year ago and targeted for condo development. The beach bar closed, and contruction started when for some reason (legal, money, who knows?) the development came to a halt. For the past several months, the bar & restaurant have reopened, and it has been a beautiful beach once again. We don’t know when this may change. For an account of a day we spent on this beautiful beach, check out Not Civilized…Yet.