So you want to visit Playa del Carmen on a budget?
Although Mexico is a great budget destination, in reality, the Riviera Maya can get super expensive as it attracts so many international visitors.
But never fear.
I’ve been based on and off in Playa del Carmen for almost 2 years now, and if there is one thing I know how to do here is live the high life, on a budget.
Special Thanks to Claire Summers for this guest post. To read more about her adventures in Mexico and Beyond be sure to check her out at Claire's Itchy Feet.
Top Tips For Saving Money in Playa del Carmen
1. Avoid eating/ shopping/ drinking on the Quinta
This should be a bit of a no brainer really. If you want to avoid paying the inflated tourist prices in Playa del Carmen, then you need to avoid the super touristy restaurants on the Quinta (5th Avenue).
Top tip, if they greet you in English and give you an English menu with the prices in USD, then this is a restaurant just for tourists.
If you want somewhere that is still a bit touristy without the hefty price tag, walk to the more local end of 5th Avenue. From about Calle 30 onwards you will find nice places to eat at a more reasonable cost. Or even better just walk one Avenue up to 10 and eat there.
If you want somewhere a little more ‘authentic’ then check out these recommendations here or one of my Playa del Carmen budget eats recommendations below.
To give you an idea, if I were to order a single taco in a restaurant I’m likely to pay about $50 pesos at a restaurant on 5th. If you were to get one from a local place it will normally cost less than half that price.
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2. Learn some basic Spanish
You may wonder why this is here on ways to save money list.
Well, it’s simple. If you can speak Spanish, you will pay less for many things. Seriously.
You don’t even need to speak good Spanish. But if you don’t even try, expect to have an instant ‘tourist tax’ added on to everything from taxi fares to gift shopping.
Learning some key phrases will help you gain the favor of locals and I promise you it will help you save some $$.
3. Choose your taxi carefully
If you want to save money while in Playa del Carmen then you are going to need to be wary of the Taxistas!
Rule number 1, do not get in a taxi parked on the Quinta. These taxis are just for the tourists, seriously.
If I even try to get in one speaking Spanish they kick me out and tell me they aren’t for locals haha.
You want to know why? Because they are going to charge you (the tourist) at least double the price they are going to charge me.
You will always pay at least 10 pesos more for a parked taxi, this is normal, but for short rides within the central area cost around $35-40 pesos. If you take a “tourist taxi” you will be charged $120 pesos for the same journey.
If you are doing this each day it is going to quickly add up. So do yourself a favor and walk up to 10 or 15 and flag a taxi down.
Tell them where you are going and then ask the price before you get in.
Heres how to ask in Spanish:
Hola amigo, voy a (location). Cuanto es?
Hello friend, I’m going to (location) how much is it?
If you want to sound local throw in a ‘que onda’ (it's the Mexican version of what’s up).
Hola amigo, que onda? voy a (location). Cuanto es?
If you think it’s too much just suck your teeth and say ‘ay ay ay es muy caro no?!’ This basically translates as that expensive. Be friendly, polite and smile, it will get you far in not getting ripped off by taxi drivers!
4. Ladies night in Playa Del Carmen
Ok ok, I know this is pretty sexist. I actually found it really annoying at first because, ya know, equality and all that.
But when it’s the end of the month and you want to go out but your bank account says no, so long as you have boobs you can drink for free, pretty much every night of the week.
The Ladies Night list updated regularly. But here is the current list of bars us girls can drink for free at each night:
Albolengo – 10pm-1.30am
It Ganesha 9-11pm
Lobo de Mar 7pm-1am
Reef 28 7-9pm
Be Playa 7-11pm
Lobo de Mar 7pm-1am
The Palm 8-11pm
Billy Gin 7pm-12am
Lobo de Mar 7pm-1am
Hostel 3B 5-8pm
Lobo de Mar 7pm-1am
5. Don’t scrimp on tours
I’m all for saving money on tours, but if you do book on one, be sure to ask plenty of questions and make sure everything is included.
I would strongly advise against booking a tour through your hotel or an agent on 5th Avenue. They will often do anything to sell you the tour and there are either almost always extras they will charge you later, or the tour is just crappy and a total waste of money.
My advice is to do some serious research online first and check the reviews.
My first choice of tour operator here is Playa is always Kay Tours. Although they aren’t the cheapest, they are the best value for money and do both private and small group tours.
6. Always check your receipt
It is illegal for restaurants or bars in Mexico to automatically add a tip to your bill. They are allowed to add a ‘suggested tip’ or propena, but it must be clear that this is just a suggestion.
Some of the tourist places will add 10-15% without asking or making it clear and then often people don’t see it and tip again meaning you could end up paying a tip of 35%!
As a local person, I normally tip between 10-15%. If you are on vacation, though I’d suggest 15%-20%. 9 times out of 10 they will write on the receipt ‘servicio no incluido’ and if you pay by card they will ask you if you want to add it on.
It is also sadly common for some places to add on extra items to your bill, and or overcharge you. So it’s always a good idea to just double-check everything before you pay. If you see something odd speak up.
Where to Stay in Playa Del Carmen
One of the great things about Playa del Carmen compared to Cancun is that if you choose the right accommodation then you can save money by being able to walk everywhere. Plus is you skip beachfront all-inclusive you can actually find some great deals.
My favorite budget accommodations in Playa del Carmen
Here are my personal favorite mid-range budget hotels in Playa del Carmen. All of them are in a great location with plenty of amenities within walking distance. I’ve ordered them in price order from lowest to highest.
Playa Del Carmen is also home to a number of All Inclusive Resorts. And while they can be pricey some find value in having access to unlimited food, drink and activities.
My favorite budget eats in Playa del Carmen
First and foremost, if you want to eat super cheap, then take to the streets! Between 10 and 30 you will find plenty of street food options. Expect to pay 15-20 pesos for a taco and 30 – 40 pesos for a quesadilla or a torta. This is a fraction of what you will pay in the fancy restaurants on 5th and I promise it will taste so much better!
But I totally get that not everyone feels comfortable eating from a food truck and so these are the places somewhere in the middle. The prices are good, they are likely to understand English and most even have English on the menu.
Best Fish Tacos In Playa Del Carmen
My favorite place to go for Fish tacos is La Floresta. It is one of the oldest restaurants in Playa and for a meal for 2 people you are likely to pay less than $200 pesos! That’s less than $10 USD. It is a taxi ride away, but with it and if you follow my taxi advice it should cost no more than $40 pesos!
Best Tacos in Playa Del Carmen
If you don’t want to eat on the street then the best restaurant to get Tacos (go for Tacos el pastor the local favorite) then Don Sirloin is the best place. You will find lots of them spotted around the playa and although it looks like a chain, don’t let that put you off. I prefer to go to one of the ones close to 30th Ave, but the one on the 10th is good too.
Best Quesadillas in Playa Del Carmen
There is only one place to go for quesadillas and that is Las Quecas de Playa. You will find it tucked into a small market just off Ave 10 between Calle 6 and 8.
Authentic Mexican in Playa Del Carmen
If you are looking for a real taste of Mexico then head to La Perla. Now, this isn’t exactly a budget restaurant. But it’s good, it’s Mexican through and through, and the prices are fair for what you get. What I love about it is you can sample food for every region of Mexico and they always have great live music. It’s also just off 5th Avenue so if you are staying in the downtown area you can easily walk there.
Best Seafood in Playa Del Carmen
When I want to eat fresh seafood there is only once choice Chiltepin Marisquillos. It’s a pretty local place because of its location. But they also speak English and can give you an English menu. If you like octopus, order it here, it is a thing of beauty! They also do a mean Ojo Rojo if you are feeling a little delicate from too much partying!
Claire Summers is a dedicated traveler and Digital Nomad. At 34 she sold all her worldly possessions that wouldn't fit into 3 boxes and hopped on a one-way flight to Guatemala.
She started writing her blog Claire's Itchy Feet as a way to inspire other women to pack their bags and head off on their own solo adventures. With no plans to ‘settle down' anytime soon she is always looking for her next crazy adventure be it attempting to surf, hiking volcanos, or hunting for sharks.
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