Playa del Carmen, now the third-largest city in Quintana Roo, is the trendiest spot on all of the Yucatán Peninsula. Sitting coolly on the lee side of Cozumel, the town’s beaches are jammed with superfit Europeans. Strolling down Playa del Carmen’s pedestrian corridor, Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), is a fabulous game of see-and-be-seen. La Nueva Quinta (New 5th Ave) is also called La Zona Italiana for the number of Italians operating businesses there. It begins on Calle 22 and stretches north for 10 blocks.
The town is ideally located: close to Cancún’s international airport, but far enough south to allow easy access to Cozumel, Tulum, Cobá and other worthy destinations. The reefs here are excellent, and offer diving and snorkeling close by. Look for rays, moray eels, sea turtles and a huge variety of corals. The lavender sea fans make for very picturesque vistas. With daily cruise-ship visitors, Playa is starting to feel like a mass-tourism destination, but it retains its European chic, and one need just head two blocks west of the main strip to catch glimpses of the nontouristic side of things.