Three Weeks in Playa del Carmen

Street art in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen, México has been my home for just over three weeks now. For those of you who don’t know, Playa is just south of Cancún and north of Tulum. It’s a very interesting city with some amazing food. There is a ton to do here, but a lot of it costs money. I am here for six months so I better make it work!

Stupid sargassum

This is my test run for renting a two-bedroom apartment. I figured that if I had a spare bedroom, people would come to visit. What I didn’t expect was the sad state of the ocean. One of the main reasons to come to the Caribbean is for the gorgeous crystal blue waters and white sandy beaches. However, right now both are brown with sargassum. It smells. It’s gross. Because of the tangle risk, it’s not safe to swim in. It sucks. Sigh.

Beach covered in sargassum
This Caribbean beach is usually gorgeous with crystal blue waters. Instead it is covered in smelly sargassum. Hope it gets better soon so I can swim.

In order to afford the extra bedroom, I rented a place with a smaller pool. I figured I would spend most of my time in the ocean, anyway. Ha! Jokes on me! I really miss the pool from Costa Rica. I picked a place in a really pleasant area of town, though. It’s in Centro, which is close to all the major grocery stores and restaurants. Which is good because I walk everywhere. It’s also far enough away from the ocean such that I can’t smell the gross sargassum. Go me!

The apartment is lovely. There are wonderful views and it is spacious with floor to ceiling windows. It has two bathrooms (so nice when guests and I have to poop at the same time!). It’s in a quiet, young-working-hipster kind of neighborhood. Hard to make friends with all these working peeps! I still spend a lot of time at the pool, but I think I would have been better off getting a smaller place with a better social area. Live and learn. Hopefully, my friends will be more willing to spend the time and money to come visit when the ocean looks nicer.


Being on the third floor of an apartment building really changes the bug population. You will always have bugs in the tropics, but I saw more mosquitos and cockroaches and red ants living on the ground floor in Costa Rica. However, on the third floor, I am missing more of the critters I like to see, such as iguanas, geckos, and fancy birds. It’s a tradeoff.

Mrs. ItchyFeet with a Tequila worm
This little guy came in a bottle of Mezcal. Yup, I ate it! It tasted like Mezcal.

I had a ton of itty-bitty ants when I first got here, but the numbers have been dropping, presumably due to lack of food. I have a trash bowl in the fridge and a trash bag in the freezer. Anything that would smell quickly (meat packaging) or the ants would get into (fruit peals, cornstarch, sugar) needs to go in the fridge or freezer. They are amazingly fast at finding spills.

Recycling may be a thing here. I’m just not sure. Just in case, I clean out all my glass containers and cans and plastic. This also keeps the bugs down! People leave recycling next to the bins in the basement, so I am just following suit. I hope whoever pulls the bins out to the street is not just tossing the recycling right into the trash. Hopes and dreams.

Playa street art of jellyfish
The street art around Playa is just amazing. I found this one hidden between two buildings on a walking path.

It’s humid

The apartment is fancy and lovely. Its designed really well for great crossbreeze, if you want it opened up. Or closed up for air conditioning. I don’t use A/C and am really enjoying the warm tropical breezes. However, the ceiling fans are metal. Who thought that was a good idea!?! Metal rusts. I have these droplets of red-rust stains 360 degrees around the room on the walls. That happened.

I monitor everything stored in a drawer or cabinet for mold. It happens so fast! I had a cotton dress tucked away that quickly required a trip to the washing machine. The humidity just sucked into the cotton, and poof, fuzzy mold was born. There are certain items of clothing that need to be hung up with some airflow. I am still getting used to this.

Sweat is for real! No need for lotion here. I constantly have items of clothing and towels drying on the drying-rack under a fan. You get back from a walk to the store or the beach and you are just drenched with sweat. Showers and pool and changes of clothes. I walk around the house naked at a lot more just to dry my bits!

Mrs. ItchyFeet with drinking water jug
I buy these big jugs of potable water at the store around the corner. They are very heavy!


As with everywhere I have ever lived, there are occasional power outages. I had a major one the other day. The entire peninsula, three entire states, went out at around 8:30am. I went and walked around town to see how everyone else was doing. It was so quiet and loads of people stepped outside as A/C was no longer working. It was wonderful walking down 5th Ave., aka La Quinta, with no thumping music blaring from the restaurants and shops. Lucky for me (and the food in the fridge), it was only out for a few hours. I later heard that the cause of the outage was that some guy working on the lines got electrocuted. He lived!

Something that I am still getting used to is when the water goes out. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s really weird when it does. This apartment has some water stored down in the basement with these funky devices that keep the lines pressurized, so I just had to watch my usage. All of us in the building conserved and made it until they repaired the line. You can’t drink the water anyway because of bacteria. I have giant refillable jugs of water for drinking. In order to make sure I never run out of potable water, I keep a total of three and swap them out as they empty.

So México does not do parking tickets here. Now you might think that means you can park anywhere for free. It does not. If you forget to pay the meter, overstay your parking pass, or park in a forbidden spot, they just boot your car. It is very entertaining to see these crazy expensive vehicles with a bright yellow boot. Apparently you can just go to the local convenence store to pay the fine and a cop will meet you at your car to remove the boot after you show them your receipt. The restricted parking signs even have a picture of a car with a little yellow boot.

Car with a parking boot
It’s pretty common to see these boots on vehicles around Playa. They are used intead of paper tickets to ensure parking fines will be paid.

How’s the healthcare?

So far, healthcare here has been great. I had a dermatology appointment that went really well. I got my teeth cleaned at a local dentist who spoke English. $50 per person. I met a guy waiting in the dentist’s office while his wife was getting a lot of work done. He said they come to Playa for dental health because it is just so much cheaper than in the States. And it is just as good.

My medications are up to date, but when I get refills, I will just head to the pharmacy and get them. No expensive doctor visits. No insurance claims. No worries. Avoid the crazy pharmacies on 5th Ave, though. It’s like The Strip in Las Vegas. Prices are higher and you don’t always know what you are getting. They have three grades of medication: medicamentos de marcas (brand-name), genéricos (generic), and similares (similar). I’ve read a few articles that it’s probably best to stay away from similares, unless you’re really desperate. Even if they will sell you three for the price of two. Pharmacies away from the tourist areas are fine to use.

I have found Playa del Carmen to be mostly safe. You always have to watch your pockets in really crowded places, and the super touristy areas. This is a city, after all. City safety rules apply. Something new to me is that stop signs don’t really require a stop. They are more like a yield. Don’t walk in front of a car thinking they will stop. They most likely will not. Danger!

Cash economy

While most places are now accepting credit cards, some still only allow cash. The exchange rate is about 1:20 USD for Mexican pesos. Two giant jugs of water costs 84 pesos. Take 84, divide by 2, and then move the decimal place one to the right. 84 pesos is around US$4.20. But who cares about water!?! A lovely bottle of Tequila costs around 200 pesos or $10. Not bad. And they make this really wonderful orange liquor here that, combined with Tequila and a splash of lime, creates a truly amazing Margarita! When in México…

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