Gay Playa del Carmen / Riviera Maya
When most people think of Mexico, they think of Puerto
Vallarta or Acapulco on the Pacific coast, or the mega-party resort of Cancún on
the Gulf coast. Gay travelers may want to consider the more vibrant and
sophisticated destination of Playa del Carmen. Sheltered from the pounding surf
of the Gulf by the island of Cozumel, just off its eastern shores, Playa's
pristine white beaches and azure waters are calmer than Cancún's or Cozumel's.
Instead of English, you'll hear mostly Spanish, German, Dutch, Italian and
French spoken by the tourists in Playa. Because of the plethora of European
visitors, beaches are generally top-optional for women; rumor has it that the
beach a mile to the north of Playa is fully clothing-optional.
Playa del Carmen is poised on the upper eastern side of the Yucatan peninsula,
40 miles south of Cancún, and an hour's ferry ride away from Cozumel. In fact,
just a few years ago, Playa was thought mostly as just a way-station for
travelers heading over to Cozumel; today, it is a bustling city and fabulous
Caribbean vacation destination in its own right, now overshadowing Cozumel,
whose beaches and nightlife don't measure up to the cosmopolitan vibe in Playa
LAY OF THE LAND
Playa del Carmen does have its own landing strip, but most travelers arrive from
the U.S. at the international airports in Cancún or Cozumel.
The Cozumel airport doesn't have the hundreds of international travelers that
Cancún has, so it is a bit less hectic.
Since the bus system can be somewhat confusing and time-consuming, even if you
are a fluent Spanish-speaker, it is best to take a cab from the Cancún airport
to Playa. It will cost you about $40, but it's well worth it for the 45 minute
ride down to Playa. If you arrive on the island of Cozumel, take a cab 5-10
minutes to the pier, and then ferry over to the mainland; the ferry will drop
you off right in the heart of Playa del Carmen.
The main point of action in Playa del Carmen is Quinta Avenida, or "Fifth
Avenue." It's not New York, but Quinta Avenida is a charming, mostly pedestrian
zone, and one finds both tourists and locals promenading down the avenue every
night of the week. Small shops, restaurants, bars, tourism offices, dive shops,
and coffee houses line this avenue, and there's always something happening at
almost any hour.
Local construction workers are busy laying brick paving stones, inlaying
sidewalks with vibrantly colored bits of glass, and adding Mayan architectural
details to their beautifully constructed new stone buildings. New structures are
painted in shades of rich oranges, deep blues and luscious reds. Facades are
graced with relief patterns like those from the nearby ruins of Tulúm, Cobá and
Chichén Itzá. Commerce is sometimes frenetic, with shops selling everything
imaginable, from silver bangles and rings to Mexican arts and crafts, blankets
and bags, mirrors and pottery. Try to bargain a bit with the shop owners, who
have no qualms about striking a deal that benefits all parties.
There are no gay-only hotels, but there is a wide range of gay-comfortable hotel
accommodations, from high end to very cheap and simple. Most places will at
least offer a comfortable, clean bed and bath, without telephone or television.
Upscale all-inclusives offer a mind-boggling array of amenities, as well as
activities and entertainment, just in case you prefer not to leave your resort.
If you are interested in the full package deal, you can try the Continental
Plaza (Bahia Espiritu Santoesq. Abraira de Arriba ; +52-984/473-0100;
email@example.com; $70-130) on the south side of town; this is part of a huge
complex of hotels, restaurants, and grounds called Playacar.
The Gran Porto Real & Spa (Av. Constituyentes 1; +52-998/881-7300 or
800/543-7556; www.realresorts.com.mx, firstname.lastname@example.org; $101-291) is the newest
spa resort, built like a hacienda, on the beach with spectacular views of
Cozumel. Copa Cabaña, (Quinta Avenida; +52-984/873-1218; $50-70) is a quiet,
beautiful spot with soothing central courtyard.
Hotel Costa del Mar (Calle La Norte; +52-984/873-0058; $85-111) is just
footsteps from the beach; it offers good value with a variety of rooms and
prices, including more cheaply priced cabañas. They also run a bar/restaurant
out on the beach, with tables where you can sip your Sol or Modelo Especial and
munch on chips and salsa while observing the surf. Hotel Lunata (Quinta Avenida
at Calle 8; +52-984/873-0884, fax +52-984/873-1240; www.lunata.com,
email@example.com; $99-145) is a stylized Spanish hacienda, with a fourth-floor
garden terrace. Ask for promotional rates. Hotel da Gabi, (Quinta A v. at Calle
12; +52-984/873-0048; $50-70) is simple, but just steps off the beach and has an
The gay-owned La Villa Estrella (Aventura Mexicana Resort (Avenida 10 and Calle
22; in the U.S.: 954/294-3367; in Mexico: +52-984/873-1876;
www.aventuramexicana.com, firstname.lastname@example.org; $50-225) is a 10-minute
walk to everything. It is owned and managed by a very friendly gay German man.
The clientele includes straight German campers and couples who stayed there, but
it is mostly gay guys from all over the world.
The facilities are in a contemporary, three-story tropical courtyard setting
with pool and hot tub and include a bar and restaurant that is open all day and
evening. Breakfast is included. Spanish classes are even offered as part of a
package. A classy new place, Mosquito Blue, (Quinta Av. Between Calle 13 and 14
north; +52-984/873-1335; www.mosquitoblue.com, email@example.com;
$149-339) with 45 exquisite rooms and suites, has The Glass Bar on premises
selling the best wines. Ensconced in an orchard and landscaped gardens, two
pools, a library and Internet access give you all the connection you wish as you
take refuge from the world. Ask about spa packages for true pampering.
Your best advice for dining in Playa: seafood. Playa del Carmen was a fishing
village long before it was a tourist destination, and, as you lay on the beach
perfecting your tan, you'll see fishermen drag in the day's catch that will
probably be part of your dinner later that night. Fish is fresh and almost
always beautifully prepared. Some of the folks who do it best are at
award-winning Yaxche Maya (on Calle 8 between Ave. 5 and 10; +52-984/873-2502;
www.mayacuisine.com; $7-36), featuring what they call nouveau Maya cuisine,
combining traditional spices with variations on Yucatecan recipes.
Local favorite Media Luna (Ave. 5 between Calle 6 and 8; $10-15) offers
succulent seafood and fresh vegetables, as well as good pastas and a nice
atmosphere. Da Gabi Ristorante (Quinta Av. at Calle 12; +52-984/873-0048;
$10-15), does wonderful hand-tossed pizzas, seafood and pastas in an incredible
Caribbean atmosphere. 100% Natural (Ave. 5 between Calle 8 and 10; $8-10) is a
vegetarian hangout, situated in a garden and serving vegetarian entrées and
Limones Café (Ave. 5 between Calle 6 and 8; $10-12) serves great chiles rellenos
and other traditionally Mexican fare. Some folks are reluctant to venture to
some of the more authentic Mexican restaurants off of Quinta Avenida, toward the
center of town. Don't let old fears about Montezuma's Revenge keep you from
enjoying the marvelous tastes of Playa's little Mexican loncherias. If you're
searching for unbelievably cheap, exceptionally delicious, traditional fare, try
one of the two locations of Los Almendros (Avenida 10 at Calle 6, or El Correo
at Calle 1 and Avenida 15; $3-10).
A gay club, though not new, is Playa 69 (5th Av. Between Calle 4 and 6 at Restr.
Buenos Aires), owned by Michael and Carlos, usually open on weekends late. Light
is on if the club is open.
Playa del Carmen is a great base camp from which to explore the ruins of Tulúm,
Cobáand Chichén Itzá. Scuba diving, snorkeling and other water sports are also
very popular, and tours run every day. Other Mayan tourist spots, such as Xel
Ha, Xcaret, Xpu-Haand the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Preserveare close to Playa, and
make a great day trip.
You can book travel to these sites. Contact Aerosaab Airlines (at the Playa del
Carmen airport; +52-984/8730804; www.aerosaab.com) with private plane rentals
and tours; Alltournative Expeditions (next to entrance of Continental Plaza
Hotel; +52-984/873-2036; www.alltournative.com) with ecotours of many of the
Mayan sites; and Tank Ha Dive Center (Ave. 5 between Calle 8 and 10;
+52-984-873-0302; www.tankha.com), PADI certified, with daily diving and dive
instruction and snorkel trips.
PLAYA SHANGRI-LA (BEACH)
Playa Shangri-Lais a clothing-optional, gay-popular (mostly male) and very
sexual beach just north of Playa del Carmen, and easy to reach from Cancún. This
description of how to find it is from Ferrari Guides' Gay Mexico. It is about 62
kilometers south of Cancún along a good highway (buses run frequently between
Playa del Carmen and Cancún). Turn toward the ocean at the VW dealership and
drive to the beach. We found it easiest to follow the Coco's Beach signs and
park in their restaurant/bar/ beach parking lot. Then walk about 500 meters to
the north. Sometimes the beach is cruisy in the early morning, but late
afternoon is definitely the best, most active time. For safety reasons, make
sure to leave the beach before it gets dark. Recent reports indicate that the
police have started patrolling the area after a series of complaints about lewd
behavior. Prudence is advised when visiting this beach. Another beach listed as
gay is just north of CoCo Beach, two beaches beyond the Shangri-La. In any case,
clothing is optional, but as always, exercise caution and have a great time.