Can you mix work and play? If yes, then Playa del Carmen is for you!
Thank you for reaching out and reading the blog. Glad you made it to my Youtube channel, too! I’ve been to Playa del Carmen once but I am going to visit again this April. Lucky for you, I have friends who I can ask for help and advice.
I’d like to introduce you to Cristal of Tofu Traveler. She’s been living in Playa del Carmen as a digital nomad and she’s agreed to give all her tips in this post! Cristal is an authority and a credible source on everything about Playa so ask away!
If you have any questions that weren’t answered in this post, feel free to reach out to me via Instagram!
Good luck! I’m now giving the floor to Cristal!
Playa del Carmen has an ideal balance of natural sights to explore, a lively party scene, and all the essentials that make digital nomad life a breeze. Smack bang in the middle of resort-heavy Cancun and Tulum, the jungle rave and boho capital, Playa is an interesting blend of the two.
Also known as just ‘Playa’ by the locals, this quirky beach city that I’ve called home for the last three years isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I’ve certainly grown to love it. I’ve traveled all around Mexico and while there are many places that I enjoy for a visit, Playa is to me, one of the most pleasant cities to live in.
I’ve been a digital nomad for five years and started off spending two or three months in each city I visited getting a taste for life in different corners of the world. Figuring out how to make a sustainable income while also getting a chance to explore each new destination proved to be too tough and my blog, Tofu Traveler, suffered. Settling in Mexico gave me the best of both worlds with the ability to really focus on my business while using Playa as a base to travel the world.
Playa del Carmen digital nomad: personal experience
When I decided to settle in Mexico as a digital nomad, my first choice was Oaxaca City, more in the center of Mexico. I was attracted to the culture there but in the end, wasn’t happy with the digital nomad community. I came to Playa soon after for a little holiday and although I’d been here several times over the last 12 years, I finally started to see why someone would actually want to stay here.
You’ve got a huge diversity of people, a bustling nightlife, postcard-worthy beaches, and modern amenities not usually found in such a small city.
See also: The digital nomad guide to Oaxaca
Here are some of the top reasons that I consider Playa del Carmen a great place for digital nomads:
- It’s a very walkable city and you can get from one end of downtown to the other in half an hour
- Riding bikes is also popular with some bike lanes and a city bike scheme available
If you’re in Centro Playa you’re never more than 15 minutes walk from a beach
- Easy access by air to destinations around the US, Latin America and Europe and the airport is just a 45-minute drive away
- Convenient facilities like Walmart, Costco, and Sam’s Club nearby
- Local eats are everywhere like tacos, grilled corn, empanadas, and things you haven’t heard of yet but will fall in love with
- Health nuts will be happy with lots of juice bars, salad cafes, and tons of vegan options
- It’s very close to many stunning natural attractions like cenotes and ruins and classic Mexican towns
Playa is an eclectic city going through a rapid transition. What was very recently a small fishing village nobody knew about to the south of spring break central in Cancun has developed into a fully-fledged city in its own right. Saying that, one thing you won’t find a lot of here is culture. Playa is more of a mix of Mexicans from around the country who’ve come for a better life on the sunny shores of the Caribbean.
Playa’s still figuring out its identity as a city and while there are some cultural events every so often, it definitely doesn’t compete with other less touristy areas around Mexico. The best solution for those craving a bit more of an authentic experience is to explore the surrounding areas for day trips and long weekends. There’s a lot to see within a couple of hours drive of Playa and the Yucatan Peninsula has enough to explore to keep you occupied for months.
The digital nomad scene in Playa del Carmen
What used to be an equal balance of digital nomads, retirees, and expats, has now become a booming scene for remote workers and digital nomads from all around the world. Due to the diversity of the people living here, you’ll find all sorts wandering around town and one of my favorite things about Playa is that you can find your tribe no matter what you’re looking for.
Travelers looking to be close to all the action and be part of a busy social scene tend to stick to the center where you can easily step out of your house and be at a beach, bar or restaurant within a ten-minute walk.
Families looking for a greater sense of community and safety can choose from one of the gated communities including Playacar and Mayakoba. Those keen to get more of an authentic local experience can live in areas like Colosio and Ejidal.
You might also like: How to choose your digital nomad base in Mexico
The best way to meet people here is through Facebook and WhatsApp groups. Here are a few recommendations for Playa’s best Facebook groups:
- Expats and Locals in Playa del Carmen
- Digital Nomad Crew Playa del Carmen & Tulum
- Ladies of Playa
- Mexpats Club
I’d suggest once you’ve arrived, jump on to a Facebook group, introduce yourself including your hobbies and interests and ask for any suggestions of WhatsApp groups to join. There are groups for almost everything including organizing on-the-fly meetups, volleyball lovers, and even a group to swap and sell products.
Playa del Carmen Internet Speed
Playa is known for having decent internet, especially when compared to its bohemian sister city in the south, Tulum. It can’t quite compete with cities that have a fiber connection so if you need to work on large files or spend the day taking video calls, you’ll want to make sure you always have a back-up option.
A portable WiFi device is a good idea but many digital nomads in Playa seem to get along fine with using their phone connection as a Plan B if the WiFi is playing up.
SIM cards are very easy to find once you’re in Playa but a bit of pain to get right out of the airport. You can pick one up at any OXXO, Mexico’s main convenience store. One of the most popular carriers is Telcel as it has good coverage and it’s easy to top up packages. You’ll likely get phone minutes, text messages, calls, and data all bundled together with free use of social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp, an essential here in Mexico.
Cost of living in Playa del Carmen
Compared to its neighbor in the south, Tulum, Playa is fairly affordable. You can live comfortably on $1,000 per month and if you’re willing to cut a few corners, $500 is certainly doable.
Accommodation-wise, prices do vary widely. Paying month by month for your accommodation costs more than signing a lease for six months and renting directly from a local is cheaper than finding your place through vacation sites like Vrbo.
For reference, I’ve got a modern one-bedroom apartment with a rooftop pool in the center a few blocks from the beach and pay $600 per month. That includes all bills except for electricity which works out to be around $10 per month with light usage. I have a friend who pays $200 for a cute little local studio in the center and a friend who is forking out $1,400 for a lush apartment one block from the beach. You can find something to fit any budget but it might take a bit of searching first.
Food is another category that you can spend a lot or a little on. Street food like tacos and tamales cost around $1 each, while a meal at my favorite vegan restaurant is $6 with a drink. Eating out on Fifth Avenue can be fun but it usually carries a weighty price tag closer to $15.
In general, I eat out for most meals and wouldn’t expect to spend over $12 unless it was a really nice place. If you’re cooking your own meals then that will cut costs even further as produce and domestic ingredients are very affordable.
Transportation is all but unnecessary unless you live outside of the center, especially if you invest in a bike to get around. Taxis to most parts of the city are around $2 and you can get public transport for a fraction of the cost.
Mexico visa for digital nomads
One of the biggest draws for digital nomads is Mexico’s 180-day tourist card. Many travelers can arrive in Mexico without much planning and get six months with no fuss at all. Once your time runs out, you can leave the country for a couple of days and get another 6 months on your return to Mexico. Not many countries are that relaxed!
While you can technically do this over and over (and I have many times over the last few years), it’s a bit of a grey area when it comes to immigration. Several visits in a row could raise some red flags and invite additional questions about the purpose of your visit to Mexico. You do take on risk, but in my experience, if you’re doing the right thing, are prepared on entry to show a flight out, and are not bragging about living in Mexico illegally (sounds silly, but it’s happened once) then 99% of the time, you should be fine.
If you’re planning a longer stay or just want to avoid the hassle of leaving and coming back every six months, you can apply for a Mexico temporary residency visa. You can start the process at the Mexican consulate in your home country or one that’s closest to you wherever you are in the world.
Playa del Carmen wifi cafes
Playa has its fair share of cute little cafes with decent WiFi. What’s tough is finding somewhere that’s big enough that won’t mind you taking up space and that has an indoor section so you can get out of the heat of the day. All the below options are tried and tested digital nomad spots that will keep you cool, have strong WiFi, comfortable seating and good food and coffee.
One of my favorite options when you want a good strong coffee, WiFi that doesn’t mess around, and cold AC. It also helps that Marley is located in the Fives Hotel so you get to use some of the nicest facilities in town when you can’t hold it in any longer.
There are some comfy seats spread around and a good amount of outlets for such a small cafe. Plus the staff are friendly and happy for you to spend hours here as long as you buy something.
A Playa staple, Ah Cacao has a handful of locations all around the city that can work in a pinch but for a comfy spot where you can spend the whole day, the cafe on Fifth Avenue and 38th Street is my pick. There’s a quieter seating area upstairs where you’ll find others typing away at their laptop or you can do some people watching if the weather is nice outside on the terrace.
Ah Cacao is all about chocolate and coffee so you will find a consistently great cup here along with lots of sweet treats to sample. The only downside is that they don’t have a ton of savory food options.
Another staple in the Playa Del Carmen digital nomad scene, Choux Choux is a French cafe that’s worth a visit just for the food. While it can get very busy some days, the staff are more than happy for you to set up shop for a few hours. Savory and sweet options abound and you can munch on a flakey almond croissant or indulge in a full breakfast for $5-$12.
While they open early (which is a huge plus for us early birds), they close at 3 pm every day so keep that in mind when planning your day. The other downside is it can get downright noisy here. Buskers come in regularly and perform for tips so you wouldn’t want to be attempting a call with a full-on mariachi band singing in the background.
This is a cute new addition to the center with a solid menu, good WiFi and a great location with both a cool inside area with large shared tables and a shaded courtyard. You can grab a coffee or smoothie and a pastry as a snack or go all out with brunch options that will keep you going all day for $7-$10.
Basic Foodie is also one of my top picks for best restaurants in Playa del Carmen for vegans because you can find both savory and sweet options plus they use organic, Mexican produce without all the nasty stuff.
A local favorite, this cafe is one of a collective found in a comfortable space far off the tourist strip. It’s a smaller space so you might have to share occasionally but the friendly vibe and good eats more than makes up for any inconvenience. It feels like a cozy little neighborhood cafe where you could spend your days writing your latest novel or getting a group together to chat about business ideas.
For a more bougie option with a view, check out either of the Thompson Hotel locations downtown. One is a rooftop with stunning views over the ocean and the other is right on the beach. They’re used to digital nomads setting up for the day and do have a few shady spots where you can keep out of the sun but the downside is, spots with a plug are limited so come with a full charge just in case.
Playa del Carmen coworking spaces
Playa’s co-working spaces are spread around the downtown area with a couple located across the highway. There are savings to be had if you’re willing to travel further away so it could be worth looking into those options if you’re willing to travel 10 minutes or so by car or take a ride over on your bike.
Central and popular, Nest is known for its strong community spirit and regular networking events. There’s a lot of room to spread out with a quiet space, meeting rooms and even a hammock area when you want to have a mid-afternoon siesta. Nest’s biggest strength is its regular community activities and events for special occasions.
Shared office day passes cost about $13, and monthly passes are about $180.
Bunker is a small but popular option in the center that treats its coworkers more like a family. I always thought Bunker seemed more of a serious place to work with less socializing during the day but they make up for it once everyone clocks off. They’ve even been known to go on trips away together, which shows what a great community they have.
One of the biggest drawcards with Bunker is that you’ll get 24-hour access so if you work odd hours, this is the spot for you.
Shared office day passes cost about $13, and monthly passes are about $160.
Selina Playa del Carmen
A well-known brand in Latin America, Selina offers both co-work and co-live packages. You’ll be in a prime location right on Fifth Avenue and have access to a pool to cool down in. All the basic amenities are included like meeting rooms, phone booths and a common kitchen with a nice twist on the standard co-working space.
Shared office day passes cost about $10, and monthly passes are about $145.
How to find long-term rent in Playa del Carmen
When you’re ready to find a place to live, my top tip is to book on Vrbo for a few nights while you look at your options. Never hand over large sums of money before you’ve gotten to Playa and actually seen the property. You can post in one of the Facebook groups like Rentas y Roomies or Rentals and Sales with your requirements and have real estate agents come to you or hit the streets looking out for ‘Se Renta’ signs in neighborhoods you like and contact the property directly.
If you’re planning to stay for up to a month, your best option is to book something on Airbnb as short-term rentals are not that common here. You might also have some luck getting a sub-let through one of the expat Facebook groups but you’ll likely have to be flexible with your dates.
The best thing to do when you arrive PDC is to book a short-term accommodation and get a feel of the place first. This will also give you a chance to gather insider tips from locals. Here are some accommodation suggestions:
Best hostel in Playa del Carmen: Che Playa Hostel Bar
Hostels are the best way to make friends and most of them have decent wifi. Not all Playa del Carmen hostels are at 100% capacity so don’t be afraid of sharing rooms with other people. Plus, this is the cheapest option when have not decided to do long-term rent yet. Dorm prices at this hostel start at $12 USD per night per person.
Tip: Hostelworld is the best booking platform is you are a fan of staying in hostels!
$28 USD per night studio in Playa del Carmen
This is my favorite studio unit in Playa del Carmen as it is super close to the beach and is very affordable. This Mexican-style studio can sleep 3 people but I feel like 1 is more comfortable. It’s also surrounded by greens and has a very jungly feel – you’ll definitely love working from here!
Tip: Use Vrbo instead of Airbnb. Airbnb has lots of hidden fees!
If you fancy all-inclusive resorts…
… Playa is big on that too! Of course, not all digital nomads would spend $250 a night at an all-inclusive but some of us treat ourselves for the weekend every once in a while. The best way to book resorts and hotels is through Booking.com or Agoda. Most of the listings here have the pay at the property option.