Playa del Carmen is ideally situated on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula: It’s close enough to Cancún that you can be on the beach not long after landing at the international airport, but it’s far enough removed from major resort areas to allow for a relaxing vacation with family or a significant other. But that doesn’t mean it’s sleepy—Playa del Carmen (“Playa,” for short) sees a fair share of crowds, as the destination is especially popular among Europeans.
A day trip to nearby areas like Cozumel, Tulum, and Cobá are easy and worthwhile escapes. If you prefer to stay put, consider grabbing a mask, snorkel, and fins before flopping on the sand: The bright coral reefs off the coast of Playa del Carmen are teeming with aquatic life, from sea turtles to stingrays and moray eels. You can also expect prime people-watching on Playa del Carmen’s Quinta Avenida (“Fifth Avenue”), which runs parallel to the beach and is stacked with boutiques selling trendy swimwear, chic home wares, and every imaginable Mexican souvenir.