As owners of the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar, we read a lot of internet chatter about Playa del Carmen. After all, we live and work here and want to keep up with what people are thinking about Playa. We also take note of people’s questions about traveling here. Over the years, we have seen many repeat questions on a few certain topics that never seem to go away or get fully answered.
Many people ask about the weather: “My family will be there the second week of August of next year. Will it rain during our vacation?” Others ask about safety: “My brother-in-law’s friend’s boss’ cousin says he heard that people were being machine gunned down in the Walmart. Should I cancel my trip?” But probably our favorite repeat question is…“Are there any nude or topless beaches in Playa del Carmen?”
Some folks ask about nude or topless beaches because they want to search them out to do a little au natural sunbathing. Others want to avoid them, worrying their husbands or sons will be scarred for life by exposure to all that flesh. And some are just…curious. So here is the truth about what you can and can’t wear on the beaches of Playa del Carmen (and some other select spots).
Many people say that Mexico prohibits all public nudity. And they are right. Mexico federal law prohibits lewd or immoral behavior, including nudity, on public federal lands. All beaches in Mexico including those in the Riviera Maya (Cancun to Tulum) are federal land. However, as in most cases of the law, there are few absolutes and a lot of gray areas about this.
Mexico’s federal law on public nudity is enforced by local authorities who have the discretion to decide what constitutes lewd behavior. In Playa del Carmen the local authorities have never enforced the law with regard to topless sunbathing. They do not consider it “lewd conduct.” On Playa’s main resort beach (between Juarez and Constituyentes) and in Playa’s north beach (Playa Norte), topless sunbathing is commonplace and will not draw the attention of any cops, except for perhaps an admiring glance. Topless sunbathing and swimming is also accepted on the beaches in Xpu-ha and in Tulum.
So why does Playa allow women to go topless on the beach when other places in Mexico don’t? Primarily it is a tradition that predates Playa’s city government and status as a resort town.
A couple of decades ago Playa del Carmen was a sleepy little beach town know mostly as a place to catch the ferry to Cozumel. The world and the travel industry paid little attention to it. However, Playa was exactly the unspoiled tropical paradise many people were looking for.
European travelers, mostly from Italy, began to visit here. Some never left, and a large Italian expat community began to develop. The Italians brought many traditions to Mexico with them including great pasta and “European style” sunbathing. In other words…topless.
Along with the Italian expats, Playa became a destination for American vagabond travelers, i.e. “hippies,” whose lifestyle was based on being free–which included getting naked on the beach.
In the beginning, there was no one who cared. The town was too small and remote for anyone to worry about boobs on the beach. By the time the town grew and was discovered as a destination by the travel industry, the existence of topless beaches had become accepted by the local authorities.
This is not to say everyone does it. Only a relatively small percentage of visitors to our beaches go topless, but it is still a significant number of women who feel at ease in just a swimsuit bottom on the beach, in the water and occasionally at the beach bars.
The All Over Tan
While being topless is acceptable on Playa’s beaches, complete nudity is not. In all the years we have been coming to and living in Playa, we have never seen nudity on the town’s main beaches. We suspect that if someone was nude on one of those beaches, with the first complaint from onlookers the police would step in.
There was a nude beach in Playa some 10 or 12 years ago. Coco Beach, north of town, was commonly used by those seeking to avoid tan lines. Back then the town ended at Constituyentes, and access to this beach was limited, so no one raised a fuss. However, the famous nude beach disappeared when it was washed away during a particularly bad storm season and then rebuilt as condos and resorts as Playa’s city limits expanded north. As of now, there is no place in Playa’s city limits where public nude sunbathing is allowed.
However Tulum has for many years had a reputation for allowing total nudity. A few beach hotel/resorts in Tulum are clothing optional. In addition, while there is no nude beach per se, we have observed over the years that the smaller beach clubs seem to have no objection to nude guests. We have seen a fair number of nude sunbathers on the beaches of Tulum and once observed an entire soccer team from England get off their bus and completely disrobe in the parking lot before running buck naked down to the water! However Tulum has recently grown large enough to create its own local government which by some accounts is very strict about beach club rules. It might be best to ask the beach club employees if it is okay before losing those swimsuits.
Beach Etiquette: What do You Say to a Naked Lady?
Women who sunbathe or swim topless or nude are doing so for their own enjoyment, not yours. It is not an invitation to stare at them, talk to them, photograph them without permission or comment about them. They may not meet someone’s particular standard of beauty or age…and neither should they have to. The same goes for men who may choose a swimsuit to their liking but not yours. We have seen all ages, shapes and sizes in all stages of undress on the beaches and we have never felt offended.
If someone’s attire or lack of attire is bothering you, simply move to another part of the beach. There is no beach so small in the Riviera Maya that you need sit near someone or something that makes you uncomfortable. We regularly relocate when someone near us is smoking heavily.
If you do want to get topless or naked on a beach, remember that Mexico is still a conservative Catholic country where many women swim in t-shirts and shorts rather than a skimpy bathing suit. Please limit your expressions of personal freedom to the resort zone beaches which allow such behavior. Avoid the smaller out of the way beaches where local families gather. Tourists are guests in this country and should conduct themselves in away that does not upset the locals.
The Final Word
A word of warning: If you do find yourself on one of the Riviera Maya’s tropical seashores, and in the heat of the moment you are tempted to expose a little more skin than you normally do back home, we would strongly suggest one little word to make the experience more enjoyable… SUNBLOCK! And lots of it.
Have fun on our beautiful beaches no matter what you do or do not wear.