Playa Carmen is the most popular beach in the area, right in the middle of town. It’s known for its great surfing and fun vibe. In the old days, this beach was sometimes called “Malpais” but in fact, Playa Malpais is a few miles to the south and doesn’t have a surf spot. Located in the center of the Santa Teresa – Mal Pais area, Playa Carmen is the most crowded, and so are its waves. The street behind the beach is full of restaurants, bars, hotels, rental villas, and many houses. There are a few roads that head up into the hills, dotted with boutique hotels and rental villas from which you can walk or drive down to this beach.
This is a great spot with many great peaks out there in front of the various beach accesses. Barrels aren’t uncommon, but this depends on the spot, so it’s worth the time to search up and down the beach as conditions change, because you may find an epic sweet spot.
How to find it
The beach starts right where the road comes down the hill from Cobano. Just keep going straight and you’ll find a parking area in front of a beachfront pizza place. The northern-most beach access for Playa Carmen is at Casa Zen and Plaza Royal, approximately half a mile to the north.
Restaurants: There are two beachfront restaurants on Playa Carmen. The best is Habanero’s, in the norther part. This restaurant is part of the Playa Cielo hotel and I highly recommend it. The other is the pizza place at the southern end, where most people park.
Hotels: A great option is Casa Azul, which is next to the pizzeria. Just make sure that Cocoloco, a beachfront nightclub next door, isn’t going to be booming their music until all hours of the early morning. North of that is Casa Zen and still farther is Ranchos Itauna. Casa Zen isn’t pure beachfront, but it’s a great place, with yoga and great Thai food, for a very affordable price. The other two are beachfront. A more expensive option is Playa Cielo, which is really awesome, but difficult to book it because it’s so popular.
Other: On the main road behind Playa Carmen are two banks (BNCR and BCR) with cash machines that accept most bank and credit cards. There’s also a pharmacy, and a great ice cream (Italian gelato) which is a favorite destination. You’ll also find several surf shops with board rentals, etc.
Be warned, entire families of thieves seem to hang out right on the beach here at Playa Carmen and they will steal your stuff while you’re in the water, so don’t bring anything. They’ll even steal your flipflops! Costa Rica is rife with this kind of thing, but this particular spot is particular bad. A general rule of thumb is that the more people on the beach, the more thieves too.
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