By Guy Britton
PLAYA DEL CARMEN — Fifth Avenue is alive at night, teeming with sound and color, filled with crowds and flavor.
By day, there’s another melody, leisurely and light, a place to stroll and warm up before cooling off on the beach.
There’s a little bit of everything here in Playa del Carmen, the beach city that’s one of Mexico’s most fun-filled, quirky, energetic destinations.
As you walk down the city’s main thoroughfare, you’re bombarded with retail stimuli, with everything from large global brands to tucked-away jewelry shops.
And then there’s the dining scene, with bustling bars, touristy cafes and seriously good Mayan eateries — and everything in between.
No, it isn’t hip Tulum, or sprawling Cancun.
This is the heart of the Riviera Maya, a raw, real city that’s somehow managed to develop in the heart of one of the hemisphere’s largest tourism destinations.
Because while Playa is still defined by its resorts (like the terrific The Royal Playa del Carmen, above), it’s a place that begs you to go beyond your room.
It’s a place where you can spend all day walking and watching, or find yourself lost at night in a quiet watering hole.
There’s a palpable energy here, one that takes in-your-face consumer culture and somehow merges it with palpable authenticity.
You’ll find global brands like Starbucks alongside sophisticated local eateries, all somehow coexisting in a city that’s fun and never full of itself (the latter something that isn’t always true of popular beach towns).
It’s also a destination that’s been constantly changing and reinventing itself, most recently with a host of chic new hotels like the Thompson Playa del Carmen and Hilton’s The Fives, boutique spots with rooftop pools, striking design and happening cocktail scenes.
You’re at once in Cancun and an old Mayan town, winding your way through modern Mexico in a single boulevard, converging on a point that’s many places at once.
And isn’t that the best place to find the getaway you’re looking for?