Digital Nomad Hot Spot: Playa Del Carmen, Mexico - Review
Is Playa del Carmen a good spot for a Digital Nomad to live? What about Tulum?
Welcome to the Mayan Riveria
Yes, the water really is that blue! (Well half the year, but more on that later). Here's a review of this beautiful slice of paradise from a Digital Nomad's perspective. I'll cover community, social events, wifi, cost of living, safety, the seaweed, and travel experiences close by.
And to cut to the chase, yes I think Playa Del Carmen is a fabulous place for Digital Nomads IF you come during the right time of year. In fact, I would recommend it as a 'first stop' for anyone first becoming a Digital Nomad, who doesn't want to travel all the way to Asia right off the bat. (Usually, I always recommend Bali as a great 'first stop' but I have to say Playa is the perfect western hemisphere option). It's a really soft place to land with a very active community where you can make friends quickly, live in a beautiful place, and have a fun lifestyle for a relatively affordable price. It is also a great home base for when you are exploring the Caribbean or Central America. We used it as our home base for 6 months while we traveled to Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Colombia.
First of all - how's the Internet?
This is always the Digital Nomad's first question, and here in Playa, the internet is great. I stayed in Playa del Carmen for 5 months in a newer condo complex and had great internet the whole time. There was a hand full of times when the electricity would go out for anywhere from 5 minutes to 3 hours, but that happened maybe five times in the five months I lived there.
*I will say it's a good idea to get surge protector plugs anywhere you charge electronics in case this happens in the night while you are sleeping and your building is older and can't handle the surge, I have friends who have fried their batteries or electronics this way. If you are staying in a newer building it shouldn't be an issue, but probably better safe than sorry.
If you are looking to work at cafes or coworking spaces I have found the internet to be decent there as well. But I do personally prefer working from my house here because the cafes and the coworking spaces lack some critical components specifically during the summer months. For example, the internet gets very slow around noon when the cafes fill up, and most of them don't have AC so it gets way too hot for me.
So if I were you, I would be sure to rent accommodation with enough space to also work from. But for those of you who definitely don't want to work from home, or want to get out of the house at least a few times a week - let's dive into the best cafes and coworking spaces to work at.
Best Coworking Spaces & Cafes to work at in Playa Del Carmen
The most popular cafe to work at is Bajo Cafe on 30th and 30th. It's a cool little hippie cafe with lots of vegan options on the menu. The wifi is good, the chairs are comfortable, plenty of plugs, and the ambiance is nice. The only thing is it's all covered patio spaces outdoors with no A/C so on really hot days it can be a bit unbearable. It can also get loud in the middle of the day, so taking calls there isn't ideal.
Basic Foodie on 28th and 25th is a cool spot for working too. The tables aren't super great, mostly picnic-style benches but the ambiance is also nice, there is good wifi, and nice food offerings.
I read online that people like to work at Choux Choux Cafe on 20th and 24th, but I tried and didn't find it to be work-friendly at all. It's extremely loud, they typically have live music, there aren't many plugs at all, and there are really only two tables suitable for working. The rest are really for dining only so it doesn't make it ideal for a co-work spot.
There aren't very good options here in my opinion. Maybe I am spoiled from the places I have worked at while in Bali or Medellin, but these ones here really aren't worth the money they are trying to charge.
Nukolo House is a brand new "cowork space and member's club" that charges a whopping $375 USD a month to work there M-Th 9AM - 5PM. So naturally, at those uber-luxury prices, I was expecting an uber-luxury experience, sadly it is very far from that. The Nukolo House is basically a room painted black, with six small spaces to sit at, three of which have very bad glare from the windows behind it. There's no view, the inside isn't pretty, and the space is very small. The food and coffee aren't good either. The food is similar to diner food, and there isn't anything healthy on the menu.
Nest Coworking has great reviews on google but it isn't very pretty. It's down this ally way between buidlings. It's mostly just a room with large tables in it with a view of the walls surrounding the area. To be fair the people there are very nice, and they do provide monitors for their members to use which is very cool. Also, the plus side is that it's inside with A/C which is more than I can say about the cafes.
There's another place called Work It - Cowork, that basically looks the same as Nest... nothing to write home about.
What area of Playa should I live in?
In my opinion, there is a square area of Playa del Carmen that is better for living. The red square below is- more beautiful, within walking distance to most things, and feels safer than outside of this square. When I first arrived I stayed in an Airbnb outside this square and really didn't like it. The buildings were pretty run down, there were a lot of stray dogs, and it was a ghost town at night which made me feel like I couldn't walk home alone after dark. There also were a couple of times when I walked home alone during the day that I felt uncomfortable.
In general, it's not wise to walk home alone late at night, probably after around 10 PM, even within the red square. My friends who are from Mexico City said they would always walk home with a buddy when leaving the bars or nightclubs after 10 PM.
Once I was living within the red square, specifically within the purple circle, I really loved it. The little neighborhood over here is very cute and quiet and has a nice community vibe.
Home security is something to be aware of in Playa Del Carmen. While staying here we have had two friends experience break-ins. Both of them were out for short periods of time and someone very professionally quickly broke in, took all their electronics and money, and left. I mention this so you are more aware and picky about where you stay and what you leave in your apartment when you leave for the day, for a trip, or even for an hour. Both friends whose stuff was stolen were only gone for either 1 hour or for 2 hours.
Ideally, you can stay somewhere with front door security and a cleaning crew you feel comfortable with. If possible it's nice to have a safe in your unit, but that isn't always an option. Most importantly follow your gut instincts!
How much does it Cost to Live in Playa Del Carmen?
I have found Mexico to be pretty affordable, especially compared to Costa Rica where I was right before coming here. Here's the breakdown of my monthly expenses on average in USD:
Rent: $1,000 (including wifi, trash, water, and electric) -- I do split this with Andres, so technically it's $500 for me a month
Eating out 4-5x per week: $400 -- average meal around $12- $15 including a drink
Misc Fun Things: $200
Spanish Lessons: $200
Plus all my other things that don't change where ever I live- cell phone bill, Netflix, Spotify, etc.: $200
Obviously, everyone's lifestyles are different, but this is living a pretty free lifestyle, eating out when I want and where I want, going to yoga classes, scuba diving once or twice a month, or attending a ceremony or workshop. I don't party much so I don't spend really any money on alcohol, I think if you do like to drink in the evenings or go out partying maybe add another $200-400 to that depending on your lifestyle.
For transportation, I mostly walk or ride my bike. If you were going to take taxis frequently those can be $4- $10 each way depending on how far, and if the taxi driver thinks you are a foreigner and charges you more.
There is a Walmart close by that makes shopping really easy and accessible. As well as a mall maybe a 5-minute taxi ride away. You can find stores like American Eagle, H&M, Victoria's Secret, and Sephora here too. I also appreciate how easy it is to get some American brands here for the same price as in the States for things like shampoo and conditioner, sunscreen, or even Gold Fish haha.
How to get to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
It's actually really easy. There is an international airport in Cancun (only about 45 minutes north of Playa del Carmen) that had direct flights from a lot of major cities around the world. For example, my family is from Southern California and there are direct flights from Cancun to San Diego, Los Angeles, and Tijuana - lots of options. They are very reasonably priced too, you can usually get down to Cancun from the USA for under $200 (depending on the season and state of the world economy of course). Once you arrive at the airport in Cancun there are a few ways to get to Playa.
Take a private shuttle - this is what I do since I like someone to promptly pick me up and take me home, also it's great if you are traveling with surfboards since there's plenty of space for them and your luggage. This is a great option to split with friends or family, usually, the shuttles can seat 8-12 people. I typically use this company, it's around $60 USD one way.
Take the bus - ADO is a local bus company that provides bus services from the airport to Playa del Carmen. If the bus terminal they drop you off at in Playa is too far away from your accommodations to walk you can hail a local taxi to take you the rest of the way. Here's more information on the buses and how to find them from the airport.
Rent a Car - this is a nice option if you will be driving to see beaches in the area or other attractions. But it's really unnecessary if you are a digital nomad planning on living here. The best ways to get around here are by walking, biking, taking collectivos, taxis, or hiring a driver for the day if you want to go on an excursion to Chichen Itza for example.
Each time I have driven to and from the airport I have felt extremely safe, in fact, I have felt very safe pretty much the whole time I have been in Playa del Carmen (more on safety later). I personally feel very comfortable taking a private shuttle to and from the airport alone. Now I also have the phone number of two taxi drivers I trust and have used them to take me to the airport alone as well. (DM me on Instagram if you want their numbers).
Making friends in Playa del Carmen
The community here is off the charts! There is a WhatsApp group and meet-up for everything you can imagine. Scuba diving groups, tantra groups, yoga groups, boardgame groups, crypto groups, working-out groups, ladies who brunch groups, salsa dancing groups, e-commerce groups, online business owners groups, seriously you name it. Here's a link to the spreadsheet that someone very nicely organized all the main groups in.
Also, the Nomad Base has a group here that does bi-weekly meet-ups. They are the people who had created the Nomad Cruise (which I can't recommend enough) and a great place to meet some fellow travelers quickly.
I have found it really easy to make new friends here. There is the traditional Digital Nomad spirit where it seems like everyone is open to a new friend and I love it.
Playa del Carmen is known in the Digital Nomad community for being a great spot for Digital Nomads. So it's no surprise that there are so many here!
*Caveat: Having been here from March through June now, I think it's important to come to Playa Del Carmen between the months of Oct-March (May at the latest). It seems that 85% of the nomad and expat population leaves Playa around May heading home for the summer. This dramatically decreases the things to do and people to meet here on a social level.
When to Come and the Seaweed
As I mentioned above the time of year you come really makes a big difference for three reasons: the heat, the seaweed, and the social life.
Right around June the humidity and the rain came it, for basically the whole month of June it was either too hot outside or too rainy out to leave the house between the hours of 11AM and 5PM. Since Playa is such a walking town, that makes life pretty difficult. (This is why I hope they increase the availability of scooters here it would make such a difference).
The Seaweed... Ugh such a disappointment.
The seaweed is a SERIOUS problem here if you come to playa del carmen for the beach (which is why 90% of people come here). The seaweed completely takes over the beaches, creating a terrible smell, taking over most laying areas on the sand, and also turning the water a dirty poop brown color. I am not exaggerating. Here are photos to prove it. Now this happens every year between March and July (inconveniently the entire time I have been here). There were like 2 random weeks when the beach had clear blue water, and then poof gone again for the rest of the time.
So let me repeat this loud and clear - IF YOU ARE COMING TO PLAYA FOR THE BEACH DON'T COME MARCH - JULY.
Things to see Near Playa del Carmen
There is so much to see and do here. Honestly, 6 months didn't even feel like enough. There is so much culture, heritage, natural beauty, and outdoor recreational activities to do. Here are a few of my favorite things to get you started:
Mayan Ruins and Culture
Wind Surfing, Scuba diving, and Snorkeling
Trip to Cozumel
Catamaran to Isla de Mujeres
Weekend Trip to Tulum, Bacalar, and Holbox
Quick trips to neighboring Caribbean Islands
Quick trips to neighboring Central American Countries
Quick Note on Tulum - Is Tulum the Bali of Central America?
I wouldn't go that far, but Tulum is a cool spot. What makes Tulum unique is the culture and people it attracts. There's a strange mix of models and Instagram influencers, rave lovers, and extremely spiritual people. Some call this group the "tuluminati" for their extremist behaviors around life. But others really love the vibe. There does seem to be more luxurious housing options there, that are more "bali style in their beauty and trendy interior decorating and design.
I have found Tulum to be more expensive than Playa with fewer amenities, so if I were going to choose one to live in I would personally choose Playa. The plus side of Tulum is all the nature. Since Playa is pretty urban, it's easy to feel more disconnected from nature and all the beauty the Yucatan peninsula has to offer.
If you are on the fence maybe visit Tulum for a few days before you decide to make sure you land where feels best for you.
Overall, Playa Del Carmen is a Great Spot for Digital Nomads
This place checks all the boxes for a great Digital Nomad spot. Cost of living, internet speed, culture, experiences, beauty, weather, safety. I recommend coming to Playa and giving yourself a couple of months here to really sink into the local culture and the community. Just make sure to come between Oct - May if you want to have more community and social events as well as the beautiful water.
Pictures from my time in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.