Eric Toyle studies Spanish and Business Studies and is in his third year. He gives his insider tips about finding your way in Playa del Carmen...
An obvious tourist attraction, Playa brings in thousands of foreigners each week, to sample pristine beaches, gorgeous seafronts and row upon row of bars and nightclubs, suited to every pocket, big or small. I had a lot of fun there, though I can’t imagine staying on for longer than a month without going a little crazy - it’s literally all about bars and beaches, so if you’re looking for something a little more cultural, you should probably opt for Mérida or Acapulco, if you fancy coastal life with an anthropological mix. Having said that, if you’re a bit of a party animal, this is the place for you! Because it’s so small, you’ll soon get to know locals and tourists alike, and get a whole clang of fun-loving people to hang out with.
As I said, a lot of the culture here is hell-bent on giving you a good time, though this depends on how much alcohol you’re willing to ingest (girls can sometimes drink for free) and how much you’re willing to pay. It’s not uncommon for some nightclubs to charge more than $300MX to let you in - that’s rent money in some places for a month! Some prices are also put up in dollars, and you’ll get a lot of the sellers speaking to you in English, trying to shift some of their bracelets/coral necklaces/damn ugly mugs onto you, as that’s exactly what you were thinking of bringing your mother back from your year abroad...There are a few charlatans, so try before you buy, as they say, but as you walk out of Avenida Quinta, you’ll see that it’s less touristy and more about the city itself - which isn’t very pretty. You’ll have the beaches to make up for that, though! If you want to spend some of your day on a sun-lounger, between work or lectures, go to Mamita’s, which is on the right of the 28 Norte - the beach and seafront is a lot nicer here, as you go further out of the centre. Loads of students and tourists abound, so you’ll be sure to find a young vibe to the place. The older generation is equally fun,as most of them like to party! I found myself chit-chatting to young and old, and having a whale of a time! Though quite a few hangovers to boot! The party scene tends to get going round 12AM, though you can go for some quiet drinks before hand, at any of the many bars that populate the beach front - one of my favourites, though a little off the beach, was La Casa Roja, which also doubled up as a hotel. This place looks a little suspect, what with it’s cages and dimmed red lights, but offers some of the finest cocktails and techno music here, as well as an international menu with excellent food, at decent prices. The Blue Parrot is also quite fun, don’t miss the fire show on at 11PM and their happy hour! The food here is really good, which isn’t necessarily something you’d expect from such a touristy place - try and scout out some of the comida corridas towards the zocálo, as you’ll find tacos de camarón, fish hamburgers and typical Mexican dishes, such as enchiladas, for a quarter of the price quoted towards the beach.
Working in Playa del Carmen
Working here generally revolves around bars and nightclubs, so essentially PR work, though with so many buildings and hotels popping up, you can also get work if you’re studying architecture or are interested in working in the hotel business later on. The great thing about getting an internship here is that you’ll often be asked to translate or interpret - which is a guaranteed means of getting to grips with the language, and not just learning stuff off the street. Many empresarios come here, so you might be rubbing shoulders with the cream of the Mexican crop! I can’t speak for students planning on studying here, but a friend of mine was teaching English and really enjoyed it, too. If you can’t get onto the British Council scheme, don’t worry - there are about 10 English schools here, it’s just a question of sending your CV in or speaking to one of the head teachers!
With Playa being equidistant from Cancun and Tulum, you can either spend your day standing amazed at the ruins left by the Olmecs or making the most of shopping, restaurants and an international vibe in Cancun. The great thing about this area of Mexico is that you can make the most of Mexican culture, without actually dealing with that much culture shock, compared to some more obscure places. Mérida (beautiful colonial town) is only 5 hours away, if you fancy being somewhere a little more cultural. You can also get cheap flights across the country with Volaris - they regularly have offers to Mexico City for about £50, which beats taking a bus that will last about a day...