About 34 miles south of Cancun in the heart of the Riviera Maya rests Playa del Carmen, a once sleepy fishing village that now attracts two million tourists a year. As it has become one of the most popular destinations along the Mexican Caribbean in recent years, the city has attracted not only international visitors but also a rapidly growing expatriate community of people from countries such as Argentina, Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Russia, Canada, Uruguay, Israel, the U.S. and Brazil. The result is a bohemian town with a chic European edge that is among the most cosmopolitan in Mexico, a place where the level of services increases every year.
Playa del Carmen is just a 45-minute drive from Cancun International Airport, the 2nd-largest airport in Mexico in terms of volume, offering direct or nonstop service to destinations around the world on 55 airlines. Air travelers can use the ADO public bus system for direct nonstop service from the airport to downtown Playa in only 45 minutes, thanks to two new bridges along the route. Private bus transfers from Cancun International also are easy to organize, transporting groups quickly and conveniently to the pedestrian-friendly downtown Playa.
Hotel venues in Playa del Carmen account for 7,491 guest rooms. Two all-inclusive properties that work well for both meetings and incentives are the Melia Paradisus La Perla & La Esmeralda Playa del Carmen, which together offer 904 rooms and 25,000 square feet of meeting space in one complex, and the 507-room Royal Playa del Carmen, with 6,787 square feet of meeting space. Hotels that have no meeting space but are very popular with incentives are the 287-room Gran Porto, the 204-room Gran Coco Bay, the 98-room Magic Express, and the Mahekal, which features 121 rooms in villages of palapas.
Special event venues in Playa del Carmen include nearby Xcaret eco-park, which has a meeting department to assist with events in 14 different settings, including a theater that can fit around 6,000 people, seven restaurants, and a number of natural venues in the jungle. Events can also include swimming with dolphins, jungle walks and authentic Mayan shows. At Punta Venado, an event can begin with a ride on horseback or by ATV into the jungle, ending with dinner in the Beach Club Palapa (up to 200 people). And Casa Na-Ha, which has three houses with details such as doors and windows brought in from India and Thailand, can host a group of up to 150 indoors and 300 outdoor.
The action in Playa (as it is called by locals) centers on La Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue, a 20-block-long pedestrian walkway that runs parallel to the beach. Fifth Avenue is lined by bars, sophisticated nightclubs, a diverse selection of eateries and a shopping mall with exclusive clothing and jewelry boutiques. All public parks and shopping areas are fully equipped with free Internet, as are most restaurants, creating lots of alternative meeting spaces outside of the larger venues for small group discussions.
A stone's throw away from the activities that make the Riviera Maya so popular with meeting and incentive groups, Playa offers planners the opportunity to include explorations from horseback riding, scuba and cave diving, snorkeling, bird watching and fishing, to touring archeological sites, and joining fascinating eco-adventures into the jungle. One new animal adventure right in Playa is the nine-acre Bel Air Animal Park, a zoo with 86 exotic species that opened in early 2013.
Thanks to Playa's mix of cultures, it is possible to find a broad range of restaurants serving authentic cuisine from around the world. Casa del Agua, Yaxche and Aldea Corazon are among the top eateries to enjoy the best dishes the region has to offer. For Italian, there is DiVino; Sur Restaurant is an authentic Argentinian steak house; and Wicky's Restaurant and Beach Club specializes in steak and fresh market seafood.