According to several different sources, Playa is what the locals call Playa del Carmen, originally named Xaman-Ha [waters of the north].Playa is a bustling beach-town with a main strip running parallel to the beach. This is 5th Avenue affectionately known to the locals as “Quinta Avenida”. Along 5th there are numerous stores selling everything imaginable. There are also lots of restaurants, clubs, hotels and resorts. The beaches in Playa are great and a short walk from any hotel. Many resorts and restaurants are located right on the beach.
Playa is an international destination so you find people from all over the world vacationing in Playa. It has quite a flare to it. Also arriving daily are tourists staying along the Riviera who come to Playa to shop for the day.There are many transplanted foreigners living in Playa as well. In fact almost everybody in Playa is from some where else as Playa is a relatively new city. Lots of Italians and Swiss have set up businesses. There are of course many Americans living in Playa and Canadians. Germans love Mexico so you will meet many Germans as well.
Shopping, eating-drinking and the beach is what Playa is all about however there are many things to do outside of Playa. If its more shopping you want then take a ferry to Cozumel which has lots more stuff. The snorkeling and diving is also world-class in Cozumel too.
Mayan ruin sites are also located within a short drive from Playa. There is Tulum and Xel-Ha located further south on the coast. Inland not far away is Coba and Punta Laguna. A further drive but well worth the trip is Valladoid and the great Chichen Itza. You can either take a colectivo, tour, or rent a car to get to these locations.
Not far from Playa is the magnificent Xcaret, which will thrill both young and old.You can spend a whole day there, easy. Not far away is the fun Xel-Ha Eco Park which has excellent snorkeling.
The Mayan culture is still alive and thriving in this part of Mexico. There is also an Azteca influence, however, this is only in the commercial sense as the Aztecas are from the north of Mexico, when in Playa you are in Mayan territory. There is of course trade between all states of Mexico so goods from outside the Mayan world are present as well.
Cozumel is less than an hours ferry ride away and the snorkeling and diving there is fantastic. Cozumel also offers an alternative to shopping in Playa del Carmen. You will see much of the same stuff in Cozumel but you will also see things not sold on the mainland in Playa, Cancun or anywhere else.