On the tourist beat, everything is worse in Playa del Carmen. The waterfront is a consumer tourist mecca, plastic through and through. Dollars trade for 5% less and prices are WAY higher, often quoted in USD. Restaurant signs cry “we have pizza!”. My hostel is kinda gross, the communal fridge and grody furniture are reminiscent of a summer I spent living in a poorly cared for frat house during college, and the staff has a mix of beach bum charm and incompetence–they don’t inspire confidence in an emergency. I was advised in advance by an Aussie fellow traveler not to urinate in public (or at least stay sober enough to attempt to bribe any security guard that catches you!) as it carries a $1000 peso fine and a night in jail.
But there is low key 90s pop music playing everywhere. People are happy. 5th Ave, a pedestrian only strip nestled immediately west of the beach, is filled to the brim with shops and posh open air restaurants where newlyweds take smiling pictures of themselves drinking bottles of Corona. Obviously beautiful hotels beckon with glimpses of calm pools, wispy drapes, shade, and relaxation. I dipped my toes in the sand at dusk, the Caribbean beach beautiful and ringed by resorts spilling onto the sand. At night, techo shakes my hostel from the rooftop bar, bass thumping like a playa lullaby to my ears.