The Unexpected Pleasures of Playa del Carmen

Our scouting mission of Mexico’s Riviera Maya continues today as IL readers Kirsten and Mark hunt for their ideal home in Mexico.

This couple started their journey with IL as readers just like you, spent a stint living in Malaysia after attending one of our conferences, and are now in the process of moving to Mexico—once they find the right spot.

In this report they’re out and about in Playa del Carmen discovering the unexpected pleasures to be found in this vibrant beach town.

The Unexpected Pleasures of Playa del Carmen

By Kirsten Raccuia

This morning in Playa del Carmen I woke up happy.

I opened the shades and saw blue skies and fluffy clouds between the green trees.

I’m always happy when the sun is shining. Or there is salt in the air from the nearby sea. Or the vibe of a place is exhilarating. It feels like I’m on vacation every day, only this is “normal” life as an expat.

Click to Play. Playa del Carmen is packed with options for everything, including your morning coffee. From familiar places like Starbucks, to independent coffee shops like Marley Coffee, which has a reputation for some of the best coffee in town.

In 24 hours since arriving in Playa del Carmen, I’ve had a lot of small, unexpected pleasures…

Pleasures you don’t get in my hometown of Chicago, or in most big cities in the States…

Things like a blue sky and the smell of salty air. They aren’t monumental. But they are little things that makes me happy. Those little things add up. There’s a cumulative effect that makes life so much better.

The vibrancy of the people, of the food, of Playa del Carmen.

There is color everywhere. From the brightly painted houses and flamboyant murals to the restaurants painted vivid colors. I think it would be impossible to be a wallflower here. The sheer buzz of the streets, even the quieter ones, feel full of life even when no one is on them. The streets speak for themselves.

Click to Play. Kirsten and Mark head to Playa’s 5th Avenue to see how the weekday vibe compares to the weekend.

Major small pleasure.

Here’s that photo we talk about in the video of Mark and the lady rolling cigars.

Mark making friends on Playa’s 5th Avenue, which stays busy and exciting even on weekday afternoons.

We went to a tiny grocery store called DAC and found an Asian food aisle with the same kind of soy sauce we used to buy in Penang, Malaysia. I’m talking real deal soy sauce, and after eight years in Penang, we know the good stuff. But finding that sauce in the middle of Playa del Carmen?

You guessed it. Another small pleasure.

For my partner Mark, it’s the music.

The energy.

That it’s still a little rough around the edges and not perfect.

That you can find people from all walks of life. From the hippies who have been here for 30 years to the new hippie wannabes walking barefoot around town. There is a level of sophistication here, but there are also raucous corner bars full of colorful characters. That is what makes it feel real here.

And one of our all-time favorite small pleasures are the mariachis.

They seem to show up out of nowhere.

Click to Play. Mariachis are a common sight in Playa de Carmen. You never know when you’ll turn a corner and be greeted with their joyful music.

One minute we are walking down the street and the next, a lineup of eight men in far too tight white suits erupt into song. We don’t understand what they’re singing but it doesn’t matter. Men in tight suits who have had a lot of beers in their time, singing well at the top of their lungs, while strumming out tunes on their violins, guitars, and trumpets? Yes please.

It’s all these little things that bring us joy daily.

Little, unexpected things. Things you might not realize you’re missing from life as you take part in the “rat race”. It’s only when you’re in a place like Playa del Carmen, when you have time to step back, to think and take notice, you realize this is life. This is really living.

Editor’s Note: Tomorrow, Kirsten and Mark get wet as they check out some of the best rooftop pools in Playa.  At International Living, we’re all about enjoying these “rich man” luxuries without having to pay the rich man’s price tag. We want to help you live your life like it’s a permanent vacation. And we’ve got a whole host of ways to help you do that, right here.

We’re in constant contact with Mark and Kirsten through WhatsApp. Have you got questions you’d like them to answer? Send them to us right here at [email protected] and we’ll aim to publish their response. Or maybe you have your own experience in Playa, Tulum, or somewhere else on this stretch of coast that you’d like to share.

Drop us a line and you could see it appear right here in your Daily Postcards.


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