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On the Rivera Maya coast of Mexico’s Yucutan Peninsula, Playa del Carmen is quickly growing as a popular tourist destination, stealing thunder from its nearby neighbors Cancun and Cozumel.
It’s not hard to see why Playa, as it’s called, fascinates: the white sand beaches and crystal clear Caribbean waters are stunning, it has a coral reef system with scuba diving and snorkeling, and the shopping and nightlife is some of Mexico’s best. And with rates for hotels well under $100 a night, Playa del Carmen is no longer a secret.
While Playa del Carmen used to be known as a tiny fishing village, now it’s a bustling, energetic hub, especially on La Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue). Here, you can buy Cuban cigars and Mexican handiwares, and enjoy the people watching at El Zocalo public square popular among European tourists.
While 2012 might not have brought about the end of the world, the Mayan ruins near Playa del Carmen still fascinate. Tulum is only 45 minutes away (you can easily rent a car), and Chitchen Itza, a few hours afield, is arguably the best restored Mayan experience anywhere.
Stay at the beachfront Luna Blue, the Trip Advisor 2013 Traveler’s Choice Winner for Best Bargain, with room from $85/night, or check out Hotel Aventura Mexicana, steps from La Quinta Avenida and with an all-inclusive package from $159/night.
Fly into Cancun International Airport, then take a taxi or bus to Playa del Carmen. It’s also possible to fly into Cozumel and take the 45-minute ferry, which runs hourly.