Poised along the glitzy Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen is no doubt one of the most expensive parts of Mexico, but even shoestring travelers will rejoice at the legion of well-priced apartments, cheap local eats and affordable day-trip options available in Playa del Carmen. For the budget-conscious, here are some tips on how to stretch your cash in Playa del Carmen.

Grab an ADO bus to Playa del Carmen

Most travelers fly into Cancún International Airport (CUN), 45 minutes north of Playa del Carmen. From there, the cheapest way to get to Playa del Carmen is by ADO bus. These iconic red buses come with all the bells and whistles: reclining seats, air conditioning, on-board toilet, and power outlets. A single ticket costs M$216 (US$10.50).

Book your seat online at least a day in advance and download an e-ticket on your phone. Catch the bus right outside arrivals and get dropped off at the bus terminal in Playa del Carmen’s Centro, a block from Parque Fundadores. It’s a safe, comfortable, and economical way to get to Playa.

Visit during low season for the best deals

Playa del Carmen’s peak tourist season runs from December to April, when the town bulges to the seams with spring-breakers and sun-seekers. If you are not averse to scorching heat and extreme humidity, July and August are great months to visit for the least crowds and best bargains. It’s best to avoid the hurricane season from September to November, when high winds and torrential rain can cause power outages and damage to the roads.

Outside image of a Playa del Carmen street with a vine covered building
Book early for the best prices on accommodation in Playa del Carmen © Emma Shaw / Lonely Planet

Reserve your accommodation in advance

Looking for a beachfront resort in Playa del Carmen for your group of friends or family? Those get fully booked months ahead, particularly at Christmas and spring break. To seize the best deals, make reservations at least three months ahead. The closer you book to your travel dates, the higher are the prices. Shop early, and you can pick from a larger pool of accommodation and save a decent amount.

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Choose a budget-friendly neighborhood to stay 

Playa del Carmen has plenty of accommodation options, so shop around. The section sprawling from the ferry terminal to Calle 8, known as Centro, is the most expensive – and noisiest – area to stay. This is where you’ll primarily find high-end boutique hotels with rooftop pools and beach bars. 

The neighboring Gonzalo Guerrero and Zazil Ha are much more liveable, with a decent selection of backpacker hostels ranging from US$15 to US$25 a night and modern, tastefully designed apartments available for short term rental starting from US$40 per night. Plus, staying in a hostel or apartment gives you access to cooking facilities and communal areas – saving on food and drinks.

Walk everywhere to save on transport cost

Another factor that makes Playa del Carmen so budget-friendly is how walkable it is. You can easily get by on foot, if you’re planning to stick around Centro and Gonzalo Guerrero. The city has a well-designed grid layout, with calles (streets) running right angles to the avenidas (avenues) and the beach as your beacon. 

The palpitating heart of the city is centered on Parque Fundadores, a lively square right on the beach characterized by a 52-foot (15.8 meters) Maya sculpture. It’s the starting point of the pedestrianized Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) rimmed with restaurants and knick-knack shops. This walking street is so long that it cuts through Centro, Gonzalo Guerrero and Zazil-Ha.

Medium wide shot of woman looking around cenote before going swimming
Getting to the cenotes is simple and inexpensive if you use local transport © Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Exploring cenotes on a budget

A simple ride on the colectivo (shared van) costs between M$25 (US$1.25) and M$45 (US$2.15). Riding with locals on the colectivos not only gets you further afield – but it’s also a great way to get to know the culture a little better. Most vans leave from Juarez Avenue, right below the highway. These vans start their engine only when full, but they don’t usually take more than 10 minutes to fill up.

The nearest cenotes (natural swimming holes) to Playa del Carmen are the trio – Azul, Cristalino, and Eden – which are all clustered together. Any van going in the direction of Tulum will take you there in around 20 minutes. Just let your driver know where you’re going in advance.

Consider your transport options

While it’s easy to walk everywhere or take colectivos, it can be convenient to hire a vehicle to explore the more remote cenotes and Maya ruins. For those who want the best of both worlds, we recommend spending the first three days of your trip exploring Playa on foot and renting a vehicle for the rest of your time. 

Driving in the Riviera Maya is relatively straightforward – with speed bumps and potholes the main things you need to watch out for. The daily rental rates in Mexico are relatively affordable, averaging around US$30 to US$50 for an economy car with full coverage insurance. Note that the deals you find online may look incredibly attractive – some as cheap as US$9 per day – but you’ll check they include taxes, airport fees, and third-party liability insurance (required by law) on top of it. 

Young male standing on the beach with his bike on Playa del Carmen Mexico
Playa del Carmen is becoming more cycle-friendly: hire a bike see the area on two wheels © Malgosia S / Shutterstock

Hire a bicycle to tour Playa del Carmen on two wheels

Thanks to the city-wide bike-sharing system, biking is the latest fad in Playa del Carmen. Head to one of the many BiciPlaya kiosks dotted around town – they’re literally at every street corner. Download the app, and unlock a bike for just M$98 ($4.80) per day.

The city’s most practical cycling lane runs along 10th Avenue, a block away from the beach. It starts from the entrance of the Playacar residential area and stretches to Avenida Constituyentes. Pedestrians often spill onto the bike path; watch out for them. Avoid the main avenues though, local drivers aren’t used to cyclists.

Stroll further into the city for the best street food

Playa’s pedestrianized Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) is lined with lively restaurants and bars, but prices tend to be higher than average. Wander away from the busy boulevard and into the side streets  – you’ll discover an underworld of taco joints and cheap eateries where you can fill up for less than US$5.

The night market at the Palacio Municipal serves up a smorgasbord of regional Mexican flavors and culinary delights from other parts of Latin America every Friday to Sunday. Grab a trio of tacos for just M$75 (US$3.50) and a coconut frappe for M$50 (US$2) and enjoy them on the bench while listening to a señor belt out old-school tunes at the square.

Meander further down Avenida Constituyentes to find a line of food trucks slinging some of the best tacos in Playa del Carmen. Of all the taco carts perched on the curbside of Mega Soriana, Hermanos has the biggest following. Adventurous foodies shouldn’t miss their tacos de tripa (tacos with crispy pig’s intestines) for just M$25 ($1.25) each.

Eat for less at lunch hour 

Taco-ed out? Thankfully, Playa del Carmen has a score of international restaurants and modern cafes that offer excellent lunch deals from 1pm to 4pm on weekdays. The menu del dia often packs in the same dishes that you’d fork out a fortune over dinner – at slashed prices. Most of these lunch combos come with an appetizer and a main dish, while some also toss in a fresh fruit juice or dessert.

Idyllic beach at Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Heading to a beach in Playa is a great way to spend the day and they are all free  ©Pola Damonte via Getty Images/Getty Images

All beaches in Playa del Carmen are free

In Mexico, all beaches are public. That includes resort beaches and the stretches attached to private residential communities. Don’t be deterred by the rows of lounge chairs on the Playacar beach or the beach clubs packed along the main spit in Centro – anyone can enjoy the beaches in Playa del Carmen gratis. 

Beach clubs can be pricey, especially in Centro. They charge a minimum consumption ranging from US$15 to US$50. Instead, we suggest packing your own drinks and beach mat – you can lay out on any beach in Playa all day without spending a penny.

Join the fitness culture without breaking the bank

Playa del Carmen is all about fitness and wellness. It’s a great spot to keep up your health regimen without emptying your wallet. Sunrise Yoga Playa holds sessions at 7 am every day on the CTM beach. Classes are by donation, and no reservations are needed – just show up with a towel or mat and grab a spot on the sand!

Playa Yoga Tribe runs a roster of yoga sessions, from Hatha to meditation, also by donation, in a cozy palapa-roofed studio. 

Seek out Playa del Carmen happy hours 

If you’re looking for a good time without burning a hole in your pocket, Playa del Carmen has you covered with a slew of lively bars that offer happy hours, plus affordable nightclubs. Start your evening at Cerveceria Chapultepec, a popular chain of bars with several locations in town, offering everything on their menu – from margaritas to mini burgers – for M$29 (US$1.40) all night long.

There are also “Ladies Night” almost every day of the week: Wabi Hostel whips up specialty mojitos on Tuesdays; Deck 5 Skybar serves free cocktails by the pool on Wednesdays; Bronze slings strong gins every Friday; and Sushi Club whips up martinis “gratis for the ladies” on Saturdays. 

Most nightclubs charge a cover of M$100 (US$5) to M$150 (US$6.50), but this increases to M$200 (US$10) during peak season and holidays. Go out earlier, many clubs let patrons in for free before midnight.

Daily costs in Playa del Carmen in US dollars

  • Hostel room: US$15-25 (dorm bed)
  • Basic room for two: US$30-80
  • Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): US$40-150
  • Car rental daily rate: US$30-50
  • Public transport Playa del Carmen to Tulum (40 miles): US$2-6
  • Entry to Maya ruins: US$4-25
  • Coffee: US$2-4
  • Tacos: US$1-3 per taco
  • Beer/pint at the bar: US$1-3

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