As soon as we stepped off the plane in Cancun…
…we immediately felt that sweet, sweet humidity.
Coming from Alaska, we were thrilled to be in warmer weather and close to the beach again.
Living in Playa del Carmen as a digital nomad has been on our list for a while because it is quickly becoming a top digital nomad hotspot and try to understand why it’s so great. And after spending 3 whole months in PDC, we got it!
Are you headed to Playa del Carmen?
Maybe you’re feeling a little overwhelmed as to how things will work out, whether you’ll be able to get a SIM card or even if it’s a safe place to be.
If that’s you – it was me too!
I googled endlessly to find all the information I could to be able to settle into life in Playa del Carmen as swiftly and as easily as possible. As someone who’s also never been to Mexico – I knew it was going to be quite the learning curve.
Living In Playa del Carmen As A Digital Nomad in 2021
This blog will take you through the steps we took to settle into living in Playa del Carmen as digital nomads. Even as simple things like “can we drink the tap water?” to getting a SIM card.
You can avoid the mistakes we made and simply settle in quicker and better with the information below.
How To Get To Playa del Carmen From Cancun?
As we had just come in from a long flight from Alaska, USA – we decided to go with the most convenient (but more expensive) option.
Most international flights land at Terminal 3/4 and once you exit, you will be met with a huge crowd of people. Kind of overwhelming but you’ll manage.
The drive from Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Going from Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen, you’ve got several transport options.
1. ADO Bus – The Affordable Option
If you’re okay with waiting a while (around 30mins – 1 hour) and you want to pay less – this would be your best option. You can simply buy a ticket before you exit the terminal and get inside the bus to wait for it to depart.
Note: If you take the bus, it will drop you off at the bus station/terminal in the center of Playa del Carmen. Depending on where you’re Airbnb is located, you might have to walk with your luggage around town for 10-20 minutes.
- Price for 1 Ticket from Cancun to Playa del Carmen: $216 pesos or $10.73 USD (at the time of writing, April 2021).
- For the ADO bus schedule, click here.
2. Private Transport -The Convenient Option
We recommend this option because it just gives you more peace of mind (especially if it’s your first time in the country). I researched heaps to find a good private driver at a reasonable price.
Thankfully, we found one!
eTransfers allows you to book ahead/online then you state your final destination, and use WhatsApp to communicate with your respective driver.
Once you exit the terminal, they are usually in blue collared shirts and you can ask to see your name and details on their checkboard to verify you’ve got the right company (because there’s lots standing out there).
- The price for eTransfers Private Transport is $45 USD from Cancun Airport to your Airbnb (this can depend on your final destination). We stayed fairly in the center and this was the price we paid.
- To book your private transport, simply click here.
3. Colectivo – The Brave Option
Colectivos are usually a Toyota Hiace that takes passengers from one town to the next. They stop frequently and it is a shared form of transport (aka you’ll be sharing the van with other passengers).
This is the cheapest option for you but also probably the most complicated. You’d have to find the stop (which can change regularly) and if you don’t speak a moderate amount of Spanish it could become more difficult.
We don’t recommend this if you’ve just landed in Cancun but it will be a good one once you’ve got the hang of your surrounding. This is a popular way to head to Tulum from Playa del Carmen without spending heaps!
Our First Impressions of Living in Playa del Carmen
We didn’t know what to expect when we got off our private transfer car in the center of PDC other than some Youtube videos we had watched.
Immediately, we noticed that the entire town was set up for tourism (which has its benefits). There were plenty of convenience stores, the biggest one being OXXO.
The roads are well built and quite wide which made it easy for us to drive around in our rental car later on. Most people seemed to have spoken a little English and there were plenty of food options. Plus, we were a 10-minute walk away from the beach, how could you complain?!
Where To Stay While Living in Playa del Carmen?
Most people will stay in the center of town because then you’re only a 10-15 minute walk from all the cafes, restaurants and the beach.
Naturally, the further out you are from the beach/center of town – the cheaper your accommodation will cost.
These are several neighborhoods around Playa del Carmen:
- Zazil Ha
- CTM area
- Luis Donaldo Colosio
- Bella Vista
We highly recommend staying in the Centro area because you can basically walk everywhere!
However, just ensure you are 2-3 blocks (at least) away from the 5th which is the main walking street infamous for noisy nights and crows of tourists.
In Playa, most people will give directions by the street numbers. For example, we lived on 15th Avenue by Avenue Constituyentes. One thing to note is Playacar might offer cheaper accommodation, however, it is a 15-minute drive from the center.
Note: We didn’t hear great things about the Luis Donaldo Colosio area in terms of safety from our local WhatsApp group.
How To Get Around Playa del Carmen? | Transport Options
While you’re living in Playa del Carmen, you’ve got several transport options. Again, if you stay in the center you will probably pay very little for transport as everything is within a 10-15 minute walk.
This was one of our favorite ways to get around especially when it was waaay too hot to walk even 5 minutes.
There is a bicycle rental company that is very cheap and accessible by an app. The bicycle rental app is called BiciPlaya. If you’re familiar with Lime, it works similarly to that.
You can pay hourly, daily, monthly and yearly. You have unlimited rides when you pay yearly (up to 30 minutes per ride). There are bike paths all along the center so it was super fun to ride around town!
Download BiciPlaya here:
We tried to avoid taking taxis just because we never really needed to go very far.
I personally just don’t like to barter (Matthew loves it though).
We had a mix of experiences, some taxis quoted us pretty fair prices and others tried to overcharge us (sometimes by double). A little Spanish goes a long way in these moments.
A ride from Calle 15 to the ferry was $50 pesos for us and the guy tried to charge us $100 pesos.
This is a more local form of transport. A colectivo is a shared shuttle van that usually goes longer distances e.g. PDC to Tulum.
This is the cheapest form of transport to take if you want to head to cenotes around PDC or Tulum.
Where To Shop For Groceries in Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is a pretty big base so they have good shopping options.
DAC is a local grocery store with tons of fruit and vegetable options. And you’ll find the occasional odd stuff like curry paste or Asian food.
This is only 2-3 blocks from Walmart and pretty close to the Centro area.
Mega was our main grocery store for most of the things we needed like meat, vegetables and more! We also bought our coffee grinds from here and we recommend SF Bay Coffee Organic Blend (soOo good).
This was also the closest store to our Airbnb and the most convenient for us.
Oh Walmart, it’ll have everything you need – groceries, house supplies and more.
Although the produce options were a little better than Mega, it was a further walk for us and so we only went if we needed specific things we couldn’t get at Mega.
Chedraui is basically the Mexican equivalent of a bigger supermarket.
Oftentimes, the prices of things will be a bit cheaper than Walmart for example. In PDC, Chedraui is quite far from the center and you’ll need to take a taxi to get there.
Cost of Living in Playa del Carmen | How Much Does It Cost?
Your cost of living in Playa del Carmen will totally depend on how you want your lifestyle to be. This was our first time in Mexico and we just wanted to have a fun and easy time (so maybe we splurged…just a bit).
- Accommodation: $684
- Utilities: –
- Coworking: –
- Groceries: $356
- Dining Out: $403
- Coffee: $144
- Drinking-Water: $18
- Transport: $48
- Phone Plan: $22
- Activities & Entertainment: $194
- Gym Membership: –
Our cost of living in Playa del Carmen for one month is: $1,869 USD
Want an in-depth look into our cost of living in Playa del Carmen? Click here.
Need To Choose A SIM Card Provider in Mexico?
There are several providers in Mexico and these can be found pretty much anywhere.
Movistar – If You’re On Budget
Movistar is your cheapest option as they have very good deals on their monthly plans for digital nomads like us. However, their coverage is probably the weakest.
Telcel – Our Choice for Most Travelers
Telcel is the provider we went with simply because we couldn’t find any Movistar branches to get SIM cards.
Thankfully, it was the better choice! The plans are a little more expensive than Movistar, however it has the best coverage which is helpful if you plan to travel around Mexico.
A relatively new option which also means smaller coverage. This might be the option for US citizens with AT&T already as it can easily be connected.
How to Buy a Prepaid SIM Card in Playa del Carmen?
Buying a local SIM card in Playa del Carmen is the smart and cost-effective choice.
From Mega Soriana
To get a Telcel SIM card, go to the Mega Soriana Building in Playa del Carmen. Inside the building, right next to the escalator – you’ll see a phone shop. This is where you can buy a Telcel SIM card and even top-up / recharge it right away.
The SIM card will cost around 300 pesos and you choose a plan that’s suitable for you. We chose a monthly plan that included 3GB of data and unlimited social media. This worked well for us and we just recharged every single month.
From The OXXO
OXXO is a convenience store with snacks, drinks and online payment services like recharging your SIM card.
Have your phone handy and simply ask to buy a SIM card then they will ask you which provider you want. They will do their magic and once the process is complete you should receive a text.
Note: This might be a bit tricky if you don’t know a little Spanish so just expect to have Google Translate handy.
Can You Drink the Tap Water in Playa del Carmen?
Short Answer: No.
People don’t drink directly from the tap in Playa del Carmen, however they will brush their teeth with tap water. Most people will buy bottled water or a huge 9-gallon bottle for the week or so.
Where to find a 9 gallon jug of water?
A Water Guy
Some people chose to have their water delivered to them, they just send their “water guy” a WhatsApp message and get it delivered to their house.
If you’re like us and just want easy and fast access to water – your best option is OXXO.
You’ll have to buy the first bottle plus the water which costs around $100 pesos then once you return the bottle to them you’ll only pay the cost for the water which is about half ($40-50) pesos for each refill.
Want to stay on the safe side of drinking water in Playa del Carmen? Click here for more info.
How Safe is Playa del Carmen For Digital Nomads?
On my Instagram, this was probably the number 1 question people asked me…
“Is Mexico/PDC safe for you?”
There’s a stigma I suppose on Mexico being this dangerous country only known for cartels, drugs and who knows what else.
Here’s the truth-
This was the opposite of our experience.
Our Personal Experience
We felt very safe in Playa del Carmen.
We didn’t experience any troubles ourselves. We didn’t have anything stolen or got into any altercations.
Just like any country, you have to be careful of your stuff and aware of your environment.
We were in several WhatsApp groups and they posted times when people would get their bags stolen while they were having lunch. Again, this happens everywhere and you need to be aware of your bags at all times.
Police in PDC
The one thing that did make us uncomfortable was the amount of police driving around Playa del Carmen. We were shocked at just how much were around the corner.
For instance, we would see a cop car every 15 minutes – they also keep their flashing lights on and have huge guns with them. After being digital nomads in Asia, we’ve come to hesitate around the police because you don’t know when they will decide to do their job or bribe you.
No police caused us any trouble but we just try to stay away completely.
Safety Tips For Living In Playa del Carmen
You can never be too safe – anywhere in the world! Follow these tips, be mindful and aware of your surroundings.
Don’t Stay Out Past 11 pm
The trouble seems to come in the night. If you were at home by 10-11 pm, you’ll have lower chances of getting into any trouble.
Send Your Location to Friends
If I’m out alone, I’ll send Matt or some friends my location just so they can see where I’m at. WhatsApp and Messenger allow you to do this.
Don’t Accept Drink From Strangers
Again, a common practice everywhere. Please don’t accept drinks from strangers – like EVER.
Take A Photo of Your Passport and FMM Visa
I always take photos of my passport plus the visa page. In this case, you should also take a front and back cover photo of the FMM visa (that paper you filled in when you arrived).
If the police do stop you, they might ask you for these things.
Can’t Speak Spanish? In Playa del Carmen, You Don’t Have to Worry
When we lived in Playa del Carmen, we spoke ZERO Spanish…
…and we got away with it!
In most places in PDC like cafes and restaurants, the servers will speak some English. Most menus will have an English option or they’ll be combined with the Spanish menu.
I will say – it is good to learn some Spanish for your own sake.
We eventually took Spanish classes and this helped us soOoO much! We were able to understand what was happening around us and we could interact with the locals.
What’s the Currency in Playa del Carmen?
While living in Playa del Carmen the currency you’ll have is the Mexican Peso.
It can get confusing at times because they use the dollar ($) sign so you would think it’s dollars but no. That’s what they use and it still means Mexican pesos.
Some places will allow you to pay in USD rather than in Mexican Peso. We would not recommend this because you get a worse exchange rate anywhere, anytime.
If you can, always pay in Mexican Pesos.
Which ATM Can You Trust in Playa del Carmen?
BBVA is the ATM we used the most and it was reliable for us!
The fee wasn’t the cheapest but it did allow us to use our Revolut cards.
- Cost of Fees: Around $30 pesos each withdrawal
- Availability: High – you can usually find BBVA wherever you go
- Google Maps:
This has the cheapest fees! If you can withdraw from this ATM, it’s worth it. Unfortunately, for some reason, our Revolut cards wouldn’t work at this ATM.
- Cost of Fees: Around $20 pesos each withdrawal
- Availability: Low – we only ever saw 1 CIB Banco ATM
- Google Maps:
Warning: This ATM had the highest fees!
We went to this once because we HAD to and never again. The lines seemed to be long if you wanted to do banking, but the ATMs were always free.
- Cost of Fees: Around $100 pesos each withdrawal
- Availability: Moderate – we saw this a handful of time around
- Google Maps:
Living in Playa del Carmen Isn’t So Bad – It’s GREAT!
We honestly enjoyed our time in PDC so much, we consider going back every time.
The amount of restaurant and cafe options were endless. The number of things to do in PDC and around the Riviera Maya was plenty. And the balance of work, play and fun you can have here…
…is one of the best!
Who doesn’t want to live a 10-minute walk away from the beach right?!
We had all the same questions as you when living as Playa del Carmen digital nomads and we hope this blog answers them for you!
You can always connect with us on Instagram and ask away or you can also comment below. We respond every time!
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Is Playa del Carmen a digital nomad hotspot you’ve wanted to try out? Does the lifestyle in Playa del Carmen suit you? We’re curious! Comment below and share your response. We read every comment.