Searching for soul in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Naked yoga, full moon parties and topless joggers — I’m on the beach in Playa del Carmen and happy to see that this beach town on Mexico’s Caribbean coast hasn’t lost its bohemian vibe. My introduction to Playa del Carmen began in the 1980s. There were no resorts or condos, just endless stretches of white sand, mangroves and mysterious underground cenotes.
Chickens ran freely across dirt streets and rooms with air conditioning were a luxury. I swam in the clear blue waters, watched brilliant sunrises and flirted with invitations from a persistent local to dance naked atop a Mayan ruin. My love affair with Playa del Carmen began.
Things have changed since those early wild days. Luxury resorts on the Yucatan Peninsula now attract about six million international tourists, the streets are paved and the cenotes tamed. Over the years, I’ve passed though Playa del Carmen on writing assignment (Westjet’s Up and Enroute) but hadn’t spent any real time there. I often wondered how much it had changed. Had it lost its soul?
On a recent assignment to cover the launch of Passion by Martin Berasategui, the Michelin-starred chef’s first restaurant in the Americas I had a chance to find out. My base was a suite at Paradisus, a luxurious resort located at the northern edge of town. Enormous in scale, its most intimate option is the Royal Service wing in La Perla, the adult-only section overlooking the beach.
Early morning I awoke at sunrise and took a taxi into town. I drifted through the streets but couldn’t connect with its growth –too many cars, billboards and construction.
I connect to a place by walking so decided to hike back to the hotel along the beach, heading north. The curve of the sand looked vaguely familiar and, as I passed beach bungalows with sarongs draped across hammocks, gawked at a pair of snake birds in the mangroves and drank a cold cerveza under a grass palapa, my spirits began to pick up.
By the time I swam in the cool waters on a deserted stretch of beach, encountered a topless jogger and chatted with a local Mexican family enjoying a Sunday swim, I had reconnected. My love affair with Playa del Carmen was renewed.
Later that night, as I watched the moon rise over the dark mangroves and sipped a chilled tequila sangria, I realized I didn’t have to dance naked or go wild to tap into Playa’s soul. It had worked its magic all by itself.
But I still might give that topless yoga a go.