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About Playa del Carmen/Riviera Maya
The small town of Playa del Carmen on Mexico's Yucatan coast is the geographic and cultural center of the Riviera Maya, one of Mexico's fastest-growing destinations. It is enjoyable for what it is, but perhaps more for what it's not. It's not Cancun, the major resort area that's about an hour's drive north. For those who find Cancun too large and glossy and lacking in local character, Playa del Carmen is the cure: cozy, funky and quite international, though still with a Mexican flair.
It's also been the inspiration for a boom in ecotours, which fan out into the jungle wilderness with unique excursions to isolated Maya villages and numerous underground caverns and rivers, which have gained an international following with modern-day explorers. Dive operations that specialize in cave-diving have also taken root here, providing access to some of the most mysterious bodies of water in the Americas.
But the town is changing quickly: Large numbers of new luxury and all-inclusive hotels, boutiques and restaurants opened over the past decade, and the lovely Playa del Carmen beach is becoming sandwiched between large-scale developments that weren't part of the town's original vision. The Playacar complex just south of the Playa del Carmen town center now includes more than a dozen resorts, with further development continuing all along the Riviera Maya.
These days, Playa del Carmen's main pedestrian walkways are often jammed with tourists and aggressive salespeople trying to lure them into stores and restaurants. Some claim this is the fastest-growing city in Mexico, but lovers of the relaxed vibe shouldn't give up on Playa just yet.
Despite the town's growing popularity, the pace remains delightfully slow much of the time. And the core of this pleasant town is still decidedly homegrown: During the day, the central plaza is full of local youngsters playing games and Maya women selling handicrafts; in the evenings it takes on a festive air, as seemingly everyone in town gathers for a stroll.
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