For the past few months we’ve been stationed in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
We chose this destination based on a few other reviews by digital nomads, and of course also because it is blessed by beautiful weather during the winter months. Both myself and my wife work online, and we like to combine our work with travel, thus making us digital nomads. I try to write about every place we visit and jot down my thoughts on that place with regards to its suitability as a digital nomad destination. Hence here are my thoughts on Playa del Carmen.
Weather and Lifestyle
The weather is the primary reason to visit Playa del Carmen, and although November and December were abnormally wet this year, in general its as good as it gets. With the opportunity to swim in the caribbean sea every day and lots of other tourist destinations such as the cenotes and places like Chichen Itza a short drive away, its a winner. We came here to escape the winter cold back home, so close to full points on this one.
Playa del Carmen is purely a tourist destination, with one long street full of shops and hassling vendors, so it can be hard when you’re not a tourist and get constantly hassled to buy this or that thing. After some time you get used to it and learn to ignore every call while walking down the street. I kind of miss the city feeling of people at work though, it’s hard getting into the right frame of mind when everybody around is only interested in partying and going to the beach.
If you’re living close to downtown (which is a must), you can walk everywhere and there’s a very decent choice of restaurants you can try. Shopping opportunities are not the best but quite ok. If you are unfortunate enough to have trouble with electronic devices such as cameras or laptops, you’ll most likely have to get them repaired in another city (Merida is the most likely place, 3 hours away by bus).
Overall you can have a great lifestyle in Playa once you get used to the quirks of the place, I found a great daily rhythm, involving a morning of yoga and swimming, nice lunch and then afternoon working. In the evening you can go for a stroll down the 5th avenue and maybe have dinner there.
Sadly this was a big let down. Good internet connections are hard to come by, with most apartments we’ve seen having either no connection or an unreliable/slow one. With our work being entirely online-based, this was an incredibly frustrating situation. Much improvement is needed in this area, although I must say that a new provider (Cablemas) appears to have its act together and can offer decent connections. Unfortunately, their network does not cover all of Playa yet, so unless you’re living in the very center of town you won’t be able to get one of their packages.
When we first arrived there was one co-working space available. The standards were nowhere near the ones found in Europe, so it barely classified as a co-working space, but at least it was a place where you could go and get some work done with a decent (at most times) internet connection. Sadly, another co-working space opened shortly after and all the co-workers moved to the new one, forcing the old space to close down. The new co-working space was even worse than the first one, so I decided to spend my money elsewhere.
There aren’t a lot of online workers in Playa del Carmen, so apart for the lack of co-working spaces, there are also limited networking opportunities. It’s a world of a difference when compared to digital nomad hubs like Chiang Mai, for example.
Not many cafes have a good connection and among those which do, I found only one which is ideal to work from (Ah Cacao). You can go to Starbucks too if you are used to working in arctic cold. Yes, you read that right, for some reason it seems to be a policy at Starbucks to keep the air conditioning on insanely low temperatures. Probably they don’t want people hanging around too much. Mission accomplished, thank you very much but I’d rather have my coffee at Ah Cacao, where I can get free wi-fi and a service with a smile, plus get some work done.
Accommodation and Cost of Living
Finding quality accommodation turned out to be a huge problem for us, and pretty much ruined the first two months of our stay in Playa. Prices for all properties we were viewing were sky high, and the quality was sub-par for most of them. During the time we were in Playa, there was construction going on everywhere, it was really insane.
Finding a quiet place became an impossible task. We ended up renting a great newly finished place only to have construction start next door as soon as we moved in. The noise was unbearable (considering the thin walls they use) and we ended up having to move out shortly after. We were lucky to find a good apartment in a condo close to the sea, there was construction just across the street but it wasn’t as loud as having someone banging on your walls day in day out. We did have to keep our windows closed most of the time though due to the noise and dust.
The prices for good accommodation in Playa del Carmen are high, the apartment we ended up getting cost $1,500 a month and that was a discounted rate. This was way over budget but we had no option at that point, there literally were no other apartments available so we had to go for that one or go back home, which was a worse option as we had already booked other trips after Playa del Carmen, and we would have lost a lot of money. Again, when compared to places in Asia like Chiang Mai, where you can rent a luxurious apartment for $700-800 a month, Playa del Carmen does not offer much in terms of value for money.
For other daily items, prices were mostly comparable to what we are used to back home in Malta. The only cheaper things were taxis and cinema tickets.
We definitely didn’t regret staying in Playa del Carmen, we enjoyed the great weather and got soaked in the Mexican culture while improving our Spanish. I wouldn’t recommend it for digital nomad purposes though. Go to Playa for one or two weeks, spend the time on the beach or doing activities like diving or visiting historical sites, and that’s it.
It’s a tourist resort and quite a good one at that, but as a digital nomad destination, it just doesn’t cut it. You’ll find much better options heading to Asia (e.g. Thailand) or even Europe (e.g. Malta).