Travel Destinations

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

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January 2022
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By
Susan
Elnicki Wade

Along the east coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula just south of Cancun lies Playa del Carmen, a gorgeous seaside town and relative newcomer to the Caribbean's coveted list of must-see destinations.

Playa del Carmen - destination - marinalife
Playa del Carmen, Mexico aerial | Wikimedia Commons

For years dating back to 1,000 A.D., Mayans used this spot to launch canoes for the 30-mile journey to Cozumel. Some went to the island to trade mainland commodities such as honey or produce. Women paddled there on religious pilgrimages to visit the temples of Ixchel, Mayan goddess of fertility. After the Spanish arrived in 1518 and decimated the indigenous population, Playa settled into a quiet fishing village surrounded by endless beaches and tropical foliage.Life here began to change in the late 1950s when Jacques Cousteau visited and released a documentary about nearby Mesoamerican Reef the second largest reef in the world that stretches for almost 700 miles offshore of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. Cousteau's film shined a light on the menagerie of aquatic life ranging from coral and turtles to hundreds of fish species, and soon divers from around the globe flocked to this underwater paradise.

playa del carmen - destination - marinalife
Downtown marketplace | Braden Collum on Unsplash

In 1967, the Mexican government started pouring millions of pesos into the Riviera Maya, a massive development plan to transform the Yucatan Peninsula's coastline into a world-class travel destination. Jungles were cut back, cement was laid for roads and airports, and hotels and restaurants appeared along the waterfront. In 1970, a wooden dock was built in Playa offering ferry service to Cozumel, and the village grew into a bustling resort town.Even though Playa is one of Mexico's fastest growing cities, its streets and neighborhoods have retained their coastal charm. Strolling down the main drag, La Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), presents a cornucopia of casual to gourmet eateries, gift shops and chic boutiques, nightclubs and beach bars, galleries, day spas, and more. Parque los Fundadores is a seaside park that's lively with local performers, sculptures and heavenly sunsets.Playa's beaches are second to none, offering soft sand for sun worshipers and pristine waters for action seekers eager to go sport fishing, snorkeling, kite surfing or swimming with dolphins. Other must-do activities: Xcaret, an eco-friendly water park with 50+ natural and cultural attractions; Xplor jungle adventure park with zip lines, amphibious vehicles and underground rivers; and Xaman-Ha Aviary with colorful parrots, macaws, flamingos and other tropical birds.Out of all the many local attractions, Mayan ruins offer a unique regional experience with day excursions to ancient structures in nearby Chichén Itzá, Tulum and Coba. Along the way to these magnificent historic sites, you can cross off a bucket list wish by taking a dip in cenotes or limestone caves filled with cool water, cascading ivy and subterranean fish.

Where to Dock

Hotel Marina El Cid Spa & Beach Resort1-866-306-6113Offering everything from a luxury pool and adult-only Jacuzzi to four restaurants and a Mayan-inspired spa, this all-inclusive resort is a premier destination. The full-service marina onsite provides slips accommodating boats ranging from 25 to 120 feet, as well as tours, sport fishing excursions and more.Puerto Aventuras Beach Marina & Golf Resort+52-984-873-5107This full-service marina is located about 26 minutes outside of Playa del Carmen and is the perfect high-altitude destination for transient boaters. The area is a residential and hotel complex offering vacation rental packages and amenities such as golf and tennis. Slips can accommodate vessels up to 150 feet including catamarans and sailboats.

Where to Dine

Zenzi Beach Club & Restaurant+52-984-803-5738This upbeat beach bar offers an extensive array of Mexican and continental dishes from breakfast to late-night munchies under the shade of palm trees and an historic lighthouse.

playa del carmen - destination - marinalife
Portal Maya | Evaristo Villegas on Unsplash

Fuego Restaurante y Cantina877-235-4452Located at the Mahekal Resort, this beautiful oceanfront restaurant wins awards for its ever-changing menu of Mexican and Latin American delicacies prepared in a Tulum-inspired, wood-burning oven.The Traveler's Table+52-984-367-1739In a unique communal dining experience, share a sunset toast at the beach; learn about regional wine, mezcal and tequila; savor traditional Mexican cuisine; and end the feast with chocolate served five ways.La Cueva del Chango+52-984-147-0271Step inside the lush garden courtyard to watch fresh local fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood transform into classic Mexican dishes. Come for breakfast and lunch to escape the midday heat or enjoy a romantic evening meal.Alux Restaurant+52-984-206-1401Named after mystical elves from Mayan lore, this upscale restaurant takes you down into a 10,000-year-old cave to dine on fine Mexican cuisine with pre-Hispanic and international touches, along with craft cocktails and spectacular scenery.

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True boaters say the real Maine coast doesn’t start until you reach Penobscot Bay. This is “Down East” from Kennebunkport and Portland. The dramatic stretch of coastline from Camden to Mount Desert Island sparkles with granite shores, dotted with archipelagos of pine-tree covered islands and mountains cascading into the sea. This region offers some of the best cruising ground in the world.

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Camden Public Landing
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207-691-4314

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Lyman-Morse at
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Across the harbor on Camden’s east shores, this revamped marina is a half-mile walk to town, with new docks and a marina facility, home of Lyman-Morse Boatyard and 30 slips plus moorings.

WHERE TO DINE

40 Paper
207-230-0111

Relish artful cuisine locally sourced from farmers, fishermen and “foragers.” In an historic wool mill in downtown Camden, it’s comfy but chic. Savor octopus, lamb, mussels, salmon and more with fresh produce and creative sides. Save room for dessert made from scratch.

Peter Otts on the Water
207-236-4032

Get your chowder and Maine lobster fix from Chef Peter. This classic setting overlooking the harbor is a Camden staple you “ott” not miss. Open for lunch or dinner.

Franny’s Bistro
207-230-8199

With a neighborhood feel, Franny’s serves up lobster fritters, crab cakes, shrimp dumplings and land-lubber faves, too. A fun menu in a cozy setting.

Bagel Café
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For fresh-brewed morning coffee and daily “boiled then baked” bagels or breakfast sammies served all day.

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WHERE TO DOCK

Conanicut Marina
401-423-5820

This full-service marina has a ships store/chandlery, gift shop, extensive dockage and a large mooring field.  It’s located in the heart of town overlooking Newport and the Pell Bridge, but bring your fishing poles for the kids.

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Safe Harbor Jamestown Boatyard
401-423-0600

Jamestown Boatyard is renowned for excellent workmanship on all types of boats.  It also has a large mooring field and is in a beautiful location on the East Passage.

WHERE TO DINE

Slice of Heaven
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This family-owned café and bakery with an outdoor patio is an ideal spot for breakfast and lunch, especially if you’re looking for tasty gluten-free and vegetarian options.

J22 Tap & Table
401-423-3709

This lively, year-round restaurant specializes in classic American cuisine and local seafood dishes such as New England clam chowder, lobster tail and seared yellowfin tuna while accommodating meat eaters with wings, burgers and steak tacos.

Village Hearth Bakery & Café
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Take a seat inside this rustic eatery or outside on the patio to enjoy wood-fired bread, pizzas and pastries with a cool beer or wine.  To start your day with a smile, order a cup of the eco-friendly coffee.

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Inside the Wyndham Bay Voyage Inn, this casual dining establishment presents a seasonal menu of American cuisine standards and seafood with fresh ingredients and a stellar view of Narragansett Bay.

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