Location: Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Living in a tropical paradise, working from the beach in shorts and flip-flops, laptop balanced on your knee, mojito in hand. These are the images the pop into most peoples heads when they think about working remotely. Of course, that perfect scenario isn't always the case. I visited Playa del Carmen after 3 months of working from mainly urban environments to get a taste of the tropical digital nomad lifestyle. Having been here for 3 weeks the thought that crosses my mind is; "why haven't I been doing this all along?"
Read on to find why you need to make plenty of room for beach towns in your itinerary, and if Playa del Carmen sounds like your type of place!
Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen for Digital Nomads
Let's keep this simple - when looking for accommodation in Playa del Carmen, look for something as close the beach as your budget will allow - it's why you're hear after all right? There is no end of accommodation options here from budget hostels to luxury hotels, and everything in between such as 'best of both worlds' AirBnBs.
La Avenida Quinta is the main strip where all the action happens and runs a block away from the shore. The Selina here is a good shout for a hostel party atmosphere, or if it's booked there are many others nearby. For the more unique properties and the best deals, check out AirBnB.
Where to Work Remotely in Playa del Carmen
I had all I needed in my AirBnB to set up my remote office. There was tonnes of room, air conditioning, and, because I was starting at 8am in the morning, it allowed me to maximize the important 'time-in-bed' metric.
I did my research on local coworking spaces as well though, and 2 stood out as the best, most central options for digital nomads.
In what has becoming a running theme in these posts, the local Selina offers coworking and is centrally located. I swear I'm not getting paid by those guys, but by now I could probably make a pretty good claim.
Nest is another good-looking option, with lots of activities going on and again, centrally located. I sau it 'looks like a good option', because I didn't actually use either of these for the reasons mentioned above. If you're staying for less than a month they can be pretty expensive for the average, budget-conscious digital nomad - especially if you're already paying for an AirBnb that can double as a workspace.
More to the point, this is a beach town, and like any good beach town it has a beach - which is a pretty idyllic work location. Check out Zenzi and Keel for 2 beachfront bar/restaurants for great unobstructed views across to Cozumel as well as crucial facilities such as WiFi, food and drinks and a proper chair and table (because ergonomics is important).
What To Do in Playa del Carmen for Fun
This is a town where the fun excursions will come to you - just walk down Avenida Quinta to see all the options available. There are lots of outdoor activities on land, sea and air for the adventurous. I'm not going to list everything, but here are some highlights that stand out as 'must-do's'.
The show at Coco Bongo is lots of fun, and well worth the ~$100 price tag. Quick tip: shell out a little more for a table - you'll get way more out of the show this way.
The big draw on the Yucatan peninsula, in terms of historical interest at least, is the ancient Maya city of Chichen Itza. As always, you will get the most out of it with a great tour guide - I booked this trip with Tripadvisor and the guide was great. The benefit is that it's an early morning trip so you get to see the site before the throngs of tourists descend in the blistering heat of midday. Word of advice; it's easier to do this trip from Cancun - so if you plan to spend a few days there too, do the the trip then. In fact, spending a few days in Cancun is well worth it if all-inclusive hotels and high-end nightclubs are your vibe.
In addition to the many adventure parks, trips to Tulum and the island of Cozumel will satisfy your thirst for the great outdoors. Cozumel, with ferries leaving from Playa del Carment every hour, makes for a particularly great day trip.
Eating and Drinking
In addition to Zenzi and Keel, where the food is decent and the views spectacular, here are some good restaurant options in Playa del Carmen. It's not exactly a foodie hotspot, but you won't go wrong with these options:
Yum by George for modern Thai-Indian fusion. They have a great menu for both breakfast and dinner, and if you struggle to decide between Thai and Indian - why not go for a little of both? Bonus points for the staff here who are extremely welcoming.
When there's constantly good weather it seems easier to eat healthily on a consistent basis. Clorofila is a vegan restaurant that combines great taste with the feel good, do good factor of sustainability.
Finally for a cool, easy going little coffee / brunch spot check out the nearby Choux Choux Cafe!
What Else to Know?
There is a gigantic Walmart here, and while I'm not generally an advocate, if you're here for a while and staying close by it is super handy for grocery shopping.
There is a pretty big sargassum (seaweed) problem here right now. While the authorities take steps to combat it, it does ruin many of the beaches in Playa. If this is a big deal for you, I suggest keeping an eye on the trends in the run up to the weeks you intend to visit.
And with that, my stint in Latin America as a digital nomad comes to a close. Over the last 5 months I have seen some of the greatest sites that the subcontinent has to offer from the natural beauty of the Iguazu Falls and Rio, to ancient treasures of the Inca, Aztec and Mayan people to modern wonders such as the Panama Canal and urban renewal in Medellin.
While my Spanish is still infantile at best, I know I'll be returning to this part of the world as there is still so much more to see, to do, and to learn.