Though Cancún remains the go-to spot on the Riviera Maya for after-dark action, this Yucatán resort town serves up low-key drinking dens and a thriving social scene.
With a sugar-white beach, swaying palms and access to the turquoise Caribbean Sea, Playa del Carmen is one of the top places to stay on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Next to neighboring Cancún, it feels more low key – free of high-rise hotels and big spring break tour parties. But there’s a sizzling social scene – with clusters of clubs and myriad bars staying open until late, many of them located on the beach or on 12th Street – Playa’s main nightlife strip.
Zenzi is Playa’s most popular place for beach cocktails – served all day and most of the night right on loungers perched on the powdery white sand. Not your pace? Head to the patio bar to sip along to Ibiza chill-out sounds. In the late afternoons, things get livelier as local bands plug-in and play salsa, rock and reggae. When night falls, DJs take-over and Zenzi becomes a pumping nightclub.
That soccer or baseball game on TV, ice-cold beers, bar food and a huge choice of tequilas and mescals. You’ll find them at Tequila Barrel – Playa’s most popular sports bar. The choice of channels is the best in town; with US and European sports shown in an air-conditioned lounge. Happy hours include cut-price buckets of beer with nachos or similar snacks, bar staff do incredible juggling and cocktail-mixing tricks and there are dance shows and DJs when the sports are done.
At the heart of 12th Street – Playa’s party central, Abolengo is a lounge bar with food by day and a riotous people-packed party spot by night (with all-you-can-drink deals). Walls are hung with giant backlit posters of famous Mexicans – from Porfirio Diaz to Salma Hayek – and the bar pays homage to an old-school cantina with bottles stacked beneath an art deco mirror wall. Arrive before 10pm to grab one of the high top tables or lounge sofas.
Looking for craft beers rather than cocktails? Head to Clube de Cerveza (the Beer Club) on lively 5th Avenue. There are some 100 different beers on offer here – split between house brews and guest bottles. Sixty percent are Mexican whilst the rest of the menu shows beers by nationality (with little flags next to bottles or draught kegs). Drinks are served in a fan-cooled lounge room and a big al fresco patio. And unlike many places in Playa, the music is quiet enough for conversation.
Most bars in Playa are bold and brash – selling alcohol by quantity rather than quality. Not Tequila Town. This low-key bar and boutique has no flashing lights or bar tricks, but it does have the best choice of fine tequilas and mezcals in town; all of them for sale by the bottle or the glass and all available for tasting. The bar itself is a tiny, modest wooden affair and most of the drinkers sip rather than gulp – with the gravity of whisky connoisseurs.
With a palapa awning, great Mexican bar food and a laid-back feel, the Roof feels like a Playa beach bar from the days when the town was an off-trail hipster haunt. But it’s in the thick of the party scene – perched over 5th Avenue a short stroll from the beach. The cocktails are as good as any you’ll find elsewhere at twice the price; especially the margaritas – served big and icy and made with quality tequilas.
With brightly-painted tiling, black-and-whites of Benito Juarez and Porfirio Diaz on the walls and Mexican music, this boutiquey bar in the Fives hotel is the closest thing you’ll find in Playa to a Mexico City cantina, though sadly without old men playing dominoes. As in any good cantina, there’s a great range of tequilas, mezcals and botanas (appetizers), alongside hipster options like agave and turmeric cocktails. After-hours, guests can head upstairs to the hotel’s roof bar with a sea view.
Looking for somewhere to stay? Book into one of the top resorts in Playa del Carmen, or opt instead for one of the best hotels for every traveler. Don’t miss the top things to see and do, including the most beautiful beaches. Make sure you try the top restaurants in Playa del Carmen, too.