Playa Del Carmen, Mexico for Digital Nomads, Expats and Travelers

Imagine a place with sunshine year round, white sand beaches, low costs of living, incredible food, low costs of living, great nightlife, expat and nomad community, fast internet, infrastructure, and easy 6 month visas on arrival, all surrounded by some of the most incredible nature you could dream of. It's what everyone asks for, a Chiang Mai by the beach. Imagine Bali with better roads, no visas, cheap taxis, stable internet, easy access to authorized Apple stores, American big box stores, and even 2 day prime shipping through Amazon. Plus don't forget all of the amazing authentic Mexican food, tequila, mezcal and beer.

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico really may be the perfect digital nomad hotspot, especially for Americans and Canadians who want to stay in the U.S. time zone, and be within a short, direct flight from home.  With warm weather year around you could literally live an endless summer year round even in the middle of North American winter. Most countries get a 6 month visa upon arrival, which means if you just go home for 3-4 week visit once a year, you never have to make any additional visa extensions and you can still qualify for the tax breaks by living outside your home country for most of the year. That being said, Playa Del Carmen may sound like the perfect place to base yourself out of, but it also comes with downsides, in this guide, i'm going to breakdown the pros and cons, good and bad, and show you what it's really like to live here, including answering the dreaded question about safety and crime in Playa Del Carmen, Cancun and Mexico in general. Is it safe? The answer to all of this and more in this post.

Why Playa Del Carmen

The first question a lot of people will ask is why Playa and not somewhere else in Mexico that may have even lowest costs of living, better beaches, culture or is more beautiful? The answer is community, ease of access, and liveability. Aside from maybe Mexico City, which isn't anywhere near a beach and is too busy for a lot of people, Cancun is the easiest airport to fly into for most people in the world. With mostly direct, year round flights from places like Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver,  Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Philly, Phoenix, Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Florida, Madrid, Paris, Milan, London, Zurich,  Frankfurt, Brussels, and Amsterdam, getting to Cancun is super easy and not very expensive.

From CUN Airport, there are ADO Buses that take you directly from the airport to the city center of Playa Del Carmen in about an hour for $11. That's about the same amount of time it takes to get from Bangkok or Bali Airport to where you'd want to stay, and for less money and less worry about getting ripped off. Once you're here it's super easy to get plugged into the expat and digital nomad community as there are hundreds of people living here year round and events happening at least once or two a week. There are currently eight coworking spaces in the center with more opening all of the time. More on all of this later, but overall, it's the balance between ease of getting here, living here, coworking here, and being here that makes PDC the place to be for long term travelers, expats and digital nomads to homebase in.

For Americans, Canadians or anyone who works for or does business in the US time zone, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico is an amazing place to be based out of as it's in the same time zone as the east coast, EST, New York. I've been here for about a month and I'm so used to trying to schedule call times or call into my bank at weird hours that it's been such a pleasant surprise every time I remember that time zones are a non issue here. The six month free visa on arrival is also a super refreshing touch after having to deal with costly and annoying visas to Thailand, Bali, or restrictive visas to places in Europe that limit you to 3 months at a time. Plus to be honest, I've missed good Mexican food during my travels as it's the one cuisine that is never done right in other countries.

Map of Playa Del Carmen in Mexico

Nomad Summit Cancun Crew Boat Trip

Things To Do

I've always heard of Cancun as a spring break hot spot and a popular place for Americans to go for vacation, but it wasn't until a few years ago that I started hearing about the smaller beach town of Playa Del Carmen as a place for expats and digital nomads to base themselves out of. I've now had multiple friends who have lived here long term and loved it, which is why I was comfortable having the Nomad Summit here this year and why I knew it would be a place that I'd enjoy. The cool thing about living in Playa is that it's one of the few places in the world that has both a good city center as well as an accessible city beach area. That means that wherever you're living, you can walk to the beach in less than a few minutes, enjoy the sand, ocean, beachside restaurants and bars, or even get a massage while listening to the waves.

The good thing about Playa Del Carmen compared to most beach or island spots is that even though the majority of the highlights will still be sun and water based, there's still plenty to do if you want to stay out of it or if it's raining out. There are big malls, indoor restaurants and coffee shops, and nice apartments which means even when it's raining out, you have an escape unlike places like Bali or Koh Phangan. Aside from all the benefits of being a beach town, being a medium sized city, that also means you have access to things like movie theaters, shopping malls, Authorized Apple stores and giant super markets including Aki, Mega, and even Walmart. There are a ton of great restaurants, bars, beach clubs, and watersports such as a Beach Volleyball, Stand Up Paddle Boarding, Kite Surfing, Snorkeling and Scuba Diving both in Playa itself and nearby in Cozumel. Within a 60 minute journey you have the party zone of Cancun, the beach hippie resorts of Tulum, the crystal clear waters of Cozumel, and an incredible variety of Cenotes.

A day trip away is also one of the new 7 wonders of the world, Chichen Itza, a world famous Mayan Pyramid. Some of my favorite things I've done so far during my trip here has included snorkeling with turtles in Akumal, scuba diving in Cozumel, and visiting the cenotes. Ik kil was my favorite Cenote for swimming and cliff jumping, until I discovered Cenote Zapote in Puerto Morelos during a day trip with KayTours.  Kukulkan and Taj Mahal was my favorite for scuba diving so far. Little brother was a bit boring, and I really hated my experience diving in El Pit, especially since my guide dropped us down straight to 37 meters (121ft) in a pitch black hole, which I wouldn't recomend to anyone. So if you're only doing one day of diving, I'd ask your guide if you can do Kukulkan then Taj Mahal on the same day and just pay extra for each cenote entrance. Dos Ojos is the most famous one in Playa, but mostly because it's good for snorkeling and easy for beginners so I skipped it, but if I were to do another day of diving here before I leave, it'll definitely be with the bull sharks which come between November and February and are a great experience to dive with.

Here are some videos and photos of the things I did during this trip that I really loved.

Scuba Diving in Cenote Kukulkan

Where to Stay in PDC

I had a bit of a hard time trying to figure out where in Playa I wanted to stay and what the best neighborhood in Playa Del Carmen was until I actually got here. Most of the info I read online suggested staying on or near the busy touristy street of 5th ave, but I'm glad I didn't do that as it'd be annoying, loud, and would have prevented me from shopping at and eating at local places just a bit further out. It's a bit hard to tell the scale of the city as the numbering system is a bit confusing before you get here. If you're staying at 30th and 4th, how close are you to 38th and 5th as an example? It turns out, that's the exact opposite side of the city as the order you say the street names and whether it's an avenue or a street matter a lot.

To make it super simple, the center of Playa Del Carmen is a grid. Starting at the Beach, the next street running parallel (the same) as the beach is 5th ave, then it skips to 10th, then 15th, 20th, 25th, 30th, 35th, 40th, and so on. Most of the time you can tell someone is referring to an avenue parallel to the street if the number is a five or a ten as for whatever reason they skip the other numbers. The other streets, the ones the cut up and down and go either towards or away from the beach generall start with 2nd street, 4th, 8th, 10th, 12th, 14th, 16th, and so on all the way to 38th or so before you leave the center. These are written as calle, which means street in Spanish. My current Airbnb (Get $50 off new accounts), shown with the house icon on the map below is located at 30th ave and 4th street. When telling a taxi or anyone where you live, make sure you say the avenue number first, then the street name. So for my address, instead of saying, "avenida treinta con calle cuatro" I just say "treinta con cuatro" and the drivers always know. Also note that it's "con/with" for whatever reason, instead of saying 30th and 4th.

For distance scale when looking at the map below, I'm an 8 minute walk to Evolve Gym on the other side of the freeway (there's an underpass so it's easy to cross), a 9 minute walk to Selina Coworking, a 12 minute walk to Nest Coworking and a 20 minute walk to Evolve Gym on 5th ave. and a 26 minute walk to Bunker.

For me personally, the area I live in is absolutely perfect for me. I'm an easy walk to the Evolve gym on 50th, on 30th street where there is a ton of super authentic local restaurants, and just a few blocks from Ave Benito Juárez (between 1st and 2nd street) where all of the best food truck style vendors are as well as my favorite taco restaurant called El Nero is. That's also the same street where the ferry to Cozumel goes to and is actually a really cool place at night to see street performers. I'm also less than 10 minute walk to Selina where I cowork from, the beach, and most of the bars, restaurants and cafes that we tend to go to or where meetups happen. If I lived on or closer to the beach, 5th ave, or even 10th, I would probably just stay in that area as it's way nicer, has a ton of restaurants, and would never have the need go up into or even pass through the local neighborhoods, which would be a shame as I'd miss out on both the experience as well as the food. If you're a family or really want to be out of the center and drive in, you can also stay in the gated community of Playacar.

My suggestion is to figure out where you'll be spending most of your days, which gym and/or coworking space you want to join, and stay within a 10 minute walk of there. Both The Gym, and Evolve on 5th are nicer gyms in a better neighborhood, but they're also almost twice the price of the branch next to the highway. That area has also been gentrified so there are lots of newer luxury apartments towards that side of 18th (Constituyentes) all the way up to around 38th street. It's your choice as there are pros and cons to both but personally I'd much rather live closer to 2nd than to 38th as even though both are acceptable places to live, I've found that very seldom do I ever need to go to that end of the center while people who live there either skip a lot of meetups and activities or end up needing to make their way to this side at least a few times a week.

Playa Del Carmen Neighborhood Map
Playa Del Carmen Neighborhood Map (Centro)

Apartments and Gyms

If the Jersey Shore had Gym, Tan, Laundry, digital nomads are always looking for places to stay, gyms to work out of, and coworking spaces to get things done at. Before coming to Playa Del Carmen, doing a quick look on Google Maps, it looked like there would be a ton of gyms and places to work out. But in reality, 99% of us will only go to either Evolve or The Gym as those are the only normal western style gyms in the center. If you're into Muay Thai, Pole Dancing or CrossFit, there are a few more choices, but as far as normal gyms, those are you two choices with Evolve having a 5th ave, nicer but more expensive location, as well as the one I go to near the freeway that's cheaper.

Finding apartments in Playa Del Carmen is actually relatively simple and abundant. They're not as cheap as places in Thailand, but will still be half the price of what you'd pay in the US, especially for being this close to the beach. I'm currently paying $530 a month for a basic 1 bedroom, 1 bath apartment with a separate kitchen and living room, located in the center at 30th ave and 4th street. While I have friends who pay $1,200 a month for a similar sized apartment in a super luxury apartment in a building also in the center with multiple pools, a rooftop, gym and receptionist. But prices can be a bit lower if you're paying for 6-12 month contracts instead of month to month like I'm paying through Airbnb. My place would cost anywhere between $400-$450 a month if I booked it for a year instead, but since i'm only here for a month, it's easier to go through Airbnb. (get $52 in Airbnb credit with new accounts)

Some people try to save even more money by living outside of the center, which you can get a place for $300 a month. I wouldn't recomend it though as it'll be a hassle to get into town everyday, taxis will be annoying, expensive, sometimes hard to get, and your quality of life will suffer as you'll often skip meetups or going out because it's too much of a hassle. It's also less safe, and can end up costing the same in transport as if you were to have just lived in a smaller place in the center instead. To find local places long term for the best price, simply show up, stay in a hotel for a few nights, and walk around the neighborhood you want to live in and look for for rent signs, or try looking through online classifieds like Andale. I've seen dozens of places for rent just on my walk to the gym everyday. You can also book through Airbnb, or searching for "Monthly Rentals Playa Del Carmen" and looking through various sites, but in my experience those places are always more expensive.

My Airbnb in Playa with 40% off monthly

My friends rooftop pool at "The City"

Coworking and Networking

A big reason why digital nomads are coming to Playa Del Carmen and staying here long term is for the community. There a strong expat community living here with between five to ten thousand people in the facebook groups including Mexpats Club, Expats and Locals, and Expats PDC groups. There's also the Digital Nomads Tribe Playa Del Carmen group as well as another more popular one that's not very active as it doesn't allow meetups, links, or events to be posted and is overly censored overall. The above linked groups are all decently active and surprisingly welcoming and positive compared to the expat groups you'll find in Thailand and other countries. My best guess on why that is has to do with the type of people Thailand attracts vs. Mexico. My guess on why is that even though life in Mexico is relatively easy, you still need to be realistic and can't get away with going around and being a douche to people, even online without repercussions, while in Thailand you unfortunately in most cases can.

The digital nomads I've met here have also been a bit different. There are less people just starting out and more people with jobs based in the US working remotely or with businesses that are already established. Part of the reason could be that the costs of living are a bit higher here which makes it hard for people just to show up and figure things out. It's easy for someone living in Playa to freelance or work remotely since we're in the same time zone as the Florida. While in Chiang Mai, it's easy to just show up and figure things out since it's cheaper and more newbie friendly.

Once you're plugged in, there seems to be dinners or meetups at least every other day here in Playa, but unlike Chiang Mai where everything is posted on facebook, here people mostly tell each other through whatsapp. That means that when you first arrive, it's sometimes a bit tricky to meet people, but once you do and get added to their private whatsapp  group chats, you'll actually want to mute them as there is always something going on. The coworking space with the best community in PDC is Nest Coworking which has an actual community manager and events or meetups happening almost everyday. Personally I'm working out of the Selina Coworking space this trip as it's closer to my apartment and it's a nice, comfortable space.

Selina Playa Del Carmen Coworking

My coworking space of the month - Selina PDC

Nomad Summit at Nest Coworking Day

Getting Around Playa

Before I came I was really annoyed that there was no Uber in Playa Del Carmen. Hanging out in the facebook groups I thought people were insane for suggesting a list of whatsapp numbers to call or websites to check rates. I love cities with Uber or at least local versions, they're easy to use, bypasses the language barrier, and nothing is easier than setting a pin or inputing an address. Even getting from the airport seemed like a hassle and a rip off with taxis charging $60usd for the ride.

The good news is that even though there isn't Uber in Playa Del Carmen, it's really not needed. To and from the airport, there are big comfortable ADO buses that run every 30 minutes and don't need to be prebooked. When landing in Cancun Airport, just look for the booth and buy your ticket there.  They run all the way until 3am and start again at 8am. When arriving in Playa Del Carmen the only time you'll overpay for a taxi is when you get one at one of the 5th street stands which charges everyone 100 pesos even though the fare should be less than half of that. If you walk a block or two away and stop one on the street by hailing it down just like you would in New York or Bangkok, then the price goes down to the local prices which range from 30-40 pesos anywhere in the city center.

For me, since I live in the center, my rides at always within or between Zone 1 and Zone 2 and at furthest up to Plaza Las Americas where the mall and movie theater is. I always just give 35-40 pesos depending on how much change I have on me, never asking for the price, and it's never been an issue. After midnight or when it's raining, I'll give 40-50 pesos and it's been fine as well. If you're unsure of how much the taxi price should be, check out this official taxi prices webapp and map. Don't overpay as it screws everyone else including locals. But since I live in the center and everything is within a 10-15 minute walk, I almost always just put in my airpods and walk home and it's never been an issue even at night.

But one thing that I do love about Playa Del Carmen are the Biciplaya bicycles that are located all around the center. For 420 pesos ($22) you can get an annual membership which gives you unlimited rides for up to 30 minutes at a time. That means you can take a bike to a shop, park it, meet some friends or buy whatever you need, then grab another one ten minutes later on your way to your next stop. I ride one 3-4 times a day on my way to the coworking space, back home, then to meet friends for dinner and back. They have stands every 2-3 blocks in the center and I've never had issues getting one. The only downside is that they stop working at 11pm, which means you can take one to the bar, but you'll have to walk or take a taxi on your way home afterwards. Still, they are super cool and highly recommended, especially since Playa is relatively flat and is actually really easy to ride a bike around safely.

A Biciplaya Station at 38th and the Beach!

Biciplaya bike locations in PDC

Where to Eat

The only food that I truly miss when I'm traveling the world is Mexican food and outside of a few states in the US, mainly California, Mexico food everywhere else in the world sucks. I've had incredible Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, American, Italian, Greek, French, Thai, German, and Middle Eastern food, in other countries and even when it's not the best, it's usually still decent. However, even though I keep trying Mexican places wherever I go in the world because someone says it's authentic and it has 5 stars on Tripadvisor, it almost always sucks and is only good to those who have never had real Mexican food. Even in the foodie heaven of Chiang Mai where they've somehow figured out to make truly authentic food including sushi, ramen, burgers, bbq ribs, you name it, the best option for Mexican food is Salsa Kitchen, which isn't bad, but doesn't compare at all to food you'll find here or even California cooked by real Mexicans.

That being said, just like going to Italy every summer just to eat truly authentic Italian food, I can see myself coming to Mexico for a month every year just to indulge in Mexican food. Unfortunately, Playa Del Carmen isn't actually known to be a foodie capital and doesn't quite compare to the food in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Oaxaca or even Tijuana. But fortunately, it's still very, very good, just don't expect it to be the culinary delight you saw in the Taco Chronicles on Netflix or anything documentary worthy. Also the beer is always cold, cheap, and plentiful. My favorites are Indio and Negra Modelo, but to be honest, if you give me an ice cold Corona, Sol, XX, or Bohemia I won't say no to it either. Just keep your Tecate Light to yourself.

But of course we're here for the food, and while it may not be the best in all of Mexico, it's good, still very good and one of my favorite things is the variety of Mexican food here as well as the menu of the day deals. Usually for between 50-70 pesos ($2.35-$3.66) you can have a soup, main course, tortillas, chips, salsa, and a drink at most restaurants during lunch or even for dinner. My favorite menu of the day restaurant has to be either Restaurante Fiesta Maya (food pictured below) as they have the best fresh fruit drinks which are amazingly included in the price or the La Veracruzana Cocina Economica across the street from Antojitos that is so local it's not even listed on google maps but is worth finding as they have the best selection and is super authentic.

Everything is 50 pesos and comes with a drink

Menu of the Day: Chicken Fajitas

Pork Chop with Ranchero Sauce

Best Tacos in Playa

I've eaten literally hundreds of tacos throughout the city by going to the top recommended spots by locals, expats, reviews as well as exploring on my own. They're pretty much all been good as tacos in Mexico are generally pretty good. But they haven't been as soul inducing like the ones I've seen in Mexico City or had in Tijuana like Taqueria Franc or even at super authentic taquerias in California such as Tacos El Gordo where they grill green onions and tortillas in the meat drippings until they're soaked, soft and chewy on in the inside but a bit crunchy and crispy on the outside.

Here in Playa, food seems to be something you eat, not something to indulge or go home dreaming about. That being said, on my hunt to find the best tacos in Playa Del Carmen, I sampled all of the taco trucks and stands near Juarez and 15th and they were all pretty good. I tried out Taqueria Billy The Kid, Ay Taco, Acá Los Tacos, Bait Lajam Tacos Árabes and a bunch of other street tacos and stalls that I don't remember the names to. They were all decent and you'll enjoy them. But I was looking for the best and was recommended El Fogón which is a super popular place and was probably excellent at some point as they have a great variety and everything I love including the grilled onions. Taquerias El Ñero has the best tacos in Playa Del Carmen. With 13 types of meat, including my favorite, Suadero, which is similar to a fatty thin cut of brisket. The best tasting tacos in nearby Tulum has to go to Taqueria Los Chachalacos which has locations Cancun as well. Make sure you try both their Al Pastor as well as their bacon and onion tacos while you're there. 

The other great thing about tacos in Mexico is the variety, not just of the different meats, but also styles. If you like Al Pastor, you need to try Taco Árabe which is the first version what the Lebanese made when they first came over, which eventually turned the Shawarma into Al Pastor today. Then we have tacos de guisado which are filled with anything from scrambled eggs to various types of stewed meat. There are a few in Playa itself, but the best would have to be El Arbolito which is on the way to the cenotes and worth the stopover. Last but not least is the super juicy and delicious Birria Tacos y Consome which is a unique taco dipped in beef broth and pan fried until crispy, almost like a hard shelled taco. It's a must try and the flan there is excellent as well. Actually, all the tacos mentioned above are a must try, and with tacos ranging from 15-20 pesos on average, they're less than a dollar each, so why not have them everyday. 

Various Tacos at El Nero

Tacos de guisado at El Arbolito

Tacos Al Pastor at Los Chachalacos
At Birria Tacos y Consome

Other Great Food

Basically, food in Mexico is great. It's everywhere, it's cheap and it's delicious. My favorite take out spot would have to be El Pechugón Rosticerías which sells half or whole roast chickens with potatoes and other sides, half a chicken is enough for me to have two meals even if I'm starving. Another great take home option are the delicious 20 peso chicken tamales dotted around the city, including at the corner of 45th and Juanez as well as near the Alterna Ado station at 20th and 12th.  

Then we have fantastic gourmet burgers and craft beer at Mu Burger House. Juicy delicious bacon wrapped shrimp at Buzo's and great seafood, especially during the monday specials at Mariskinky. If you want to grab a decent burrito and a beer on the beach with a great view, check out Fusion Bar, just be warned that everything on the beach will be 2x the price as it would be even on the toursity 5th avenue, which is already double the price of what you'll find elsewhere in the city. If you find yourself in the mood for some fresh vegetables, do yourself a favor and make a custom salad at Green and Fit, just make sure you ask for avocado when you order as it really makes the salad. You can get it with parmesan cheese and garlic oil to really give it a punch. Also a place definitely worth visiting, not really for the food but the fact that everything is 21 pesos including the drinks is Cerveceria Chapultepec which has three locations in Playa, including two right on 5th ave where everything else around it is 4x the price. For $1.09 a piece you can have your choice of food and drinks including their house red ale which is actually really good.

Overall, the food in Mexico in general is very good. It's a bit of a shame that Playa Del Carmen for whatever reason lacks behind the food I had elsewhere in Mexico, including neighboring cities such as Cancun, Cozumel, and Tulum. Don't get me wrong, it's still very good, but when I think back about the best places I've eaten, it's just not at the top of the list. I think the reason for it is that Playa Del Carmen is a relatively new city compared and has less history and culture. A lot of tourists come and go and care more about having a cold beer and something to eat before or after going to the beach than they do about having something world class and memorable. So enjoy it, and crack open an ice cold Indio or a Negra Modelo, order some tacos and enjoy good food, cheap beers and else this magical beach town has to offer. Watch this video below as I show you around the streets of Playa Del Carmen and eat at some of my favorite restaurants and taco shops.

Is Mexico Dangerous? 

The number one question I get daily since I planned to come and am now in Mexico is, "isn't it dangerous?" People read and watch in the news that Mexico, including Cancun and Playa Del Carmen are known for shootings, beheadings, kidnappings and murders. It's enough to scare many people into not coming. I even got messages from random people telling me that by telling digital nomads to come to Playa Del Carmen, i'm putting all their lives in danger and to cancel the Nomad Summit Cancun conference entirely. I won't lie, it got me worried and made me really sit down and look into the situation thoroughly. I also got a lot of messages warning about the seaweed problem in Playa Del Carmen and how bad the sargassum seaweed was, and even today, months after it's completely gone, people still freak out about it and ask. The seaweed is completely gone, but the problem is, people are so scared about whatever hearsay or news media says even if it was months or years ago. 

For danger, I've gotten similar "advice" and warnings when I first went to Thailand, Ukraine, Cambodia, and even Poland. I'm not stupid and won't go somewhere where the risks are actually high just to be a pioneer or to prove a point. The first thing I do is ask people who actually live there or have been recently what it's really like. Then I look at statistics to see what my chances of danger actually are. The fact is, 114 people out of 52 million Americans who visit Mexico each year get killed, which is a .00000219% chance of happening, which is significantly lower than dying in a car accident back home. Almost all the murders that happen in Mexico are drug related, so if you get involved, and especially if you start selling drugs, even just to other tourists or friends, your chances of danger go up significantly. But other than that, it's no more dangerous than other big cities including Los Angeles, New York, Barcelona, Paris, or London.

The chances of being killed in Mexico are much less than getting in a car accident back home, and significantly less than getting in a scooter accident in Bali or Thailand. So if you're willing to ride a motorbike in Asia, get on the back of one in Indonesia, or even get in a taxi or drive on the freeway at home, then there's no reason why you shouldn't come to Playa Del Carmen. That being said, I understand why people freak out and get so emotional about even a tiny possibility of being killed while traveling here. It's the same reason why people are so scared of shark attacks. It's a scary thing to think about, it makes great news headlines and even though your chance is 1 in 11 million of it actually happening, some people would rather avoid it all together and stay out of the water. But here's the thing, I enjoy the water, I love the beach, and to me, swimming or scuba diving with these magnificent creatures is worth the .00000011% chance of being eaten by one. The same goes with coming to Mexico. Even though emotionally it's scary to think about the possibility of being kidnapped, shot, or beheaded, the upsides are fantastic and the .00000219% chance of it happening to me isn't realistic. 

The odds of me being robbed by staying back home or only in western countries is 100%. Maybe it won't happen by some gangster in a ski mask, but it happens every day that I'm back home and overpaying for costs of living, taxes, and other bs that can be avoided simply by living elsewhere. By not coming to Mexico, I would have been robbed of the experience of seeing the magic of underground Cenotes, experiencing a glimpse of ancient Mayan culture, meeting locals, and eating authentic, incredible food. So yes, there are some dangers in Mexico, and you need to watch your stuff, even in coffee shops. But the dangers that you're worried about and the news headlines just aren't everyday reality here. We talk about it in greater detail in episode 235 of the Travel Like a Boss Podcast so take a listen for the real insider scoop. But I can assure you right now that I'm not a stupid guy and I value my life. I wouldn't be here if it was a significant risk.

However, the risk of getting something stolen, whether it's your backpack, phone, or otherwise is much higher than in countries like Thailand or Sri Lanka where it just doesn't happen often. One of the reasons why I left Vietnam and Mexico is the annoyance of not being able to let my guard down fully and relax. It's something that I hope will change in the future as other than the safety factor, Mexico is incredible. But aside from both the USA and Mexico legalizing drugs, I don't see how else things will change as long as there is demand on the black market. 

Listen to Episode 235 of TLAB

Overall Thoughts

It's helpful to learn a bit of basic Spanish so start with the audio course by Michel Thomas on Audible before you come, and consider taking a few classes, but even without it you can still get by using google translate without issues. 

I like Playa Del Carmen, and I love Mexican food, culture, and all of the upsides of being in the same time zone, low costs of living, warm weather, and being so close to my parents and friends back in the US. I'm glad that Playa has a good expat and digital nomad community and that Cancun airport is so well connected and that the visas are so easy.  The cenotes, scuba diving and nightlife are all incredible here as well as the people I've met, both locals and foreigners alike. Even the people in the expat facebook groups are really cool and down to earth unlike most expats I've met in other countries. I really think that Mexico and fear of coming here is like a filter that keeps out all the whiny little babies and entitled people. Life is too safe and too easy in places like Thailand which is why people find things to complain about almost daily. In Indonesia when bad things happen, people ignore it and tell themselves it was a spiritual blessing from Mother Bali and them getting their laptop and phone stolen or into a scooter accident was all part of the grand plan. 

Mexico is different, you can't be an idiot and live here or you'll get into trouble, and serious trouble. But if you have a decent head on your shoulders, hold your temper, watch your stuff and stay out of trouble, and most importantly, avoid the drugs, you'll be fine. Walking through one of the local neighborhoods just before writing this and finishing up this blog post has reminded me how much I like it here. Being able to interact with locals, eat incredible tacos for 78 cents a piece, and really be free to enough to have it all including beach life, nice restaurants, Sam's Club and Walmart, coworking spaces, movie theaters, malls, as well as local street food all for a comfortable, low cost of living really sums up life in Playa Del Carmen for me.

I don't know if I'd want to live here long term but I wouldn't blame anyone for doing so, especially if they need to be in the US time zone or want to be closer to home. For me personally, I've spent so many years living on little islands that I no longer appreciate the beach or living close to it as I should and now prefer slightly colder climates and life in places in Europe where i've been spending a lot of time lately.  I can see myself coming back to Playa Del Carmen as well as exploring more of Mexico for at least a month each year. There's really no reason not to as it's so close to home, and is a great way to fill up on some great food, have a ton of fun and get some sun in between trips visiting home. Best of all, the locals here are really welcoming of expats and really welcome both tourists as well as longer term residents. So pack a bag, grab some sunblock, and hopefully see you next year in Playa Del Carmen!

With love from Mexico,

Johnny FD

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  1. Feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments here!

  2. Pretty detailed post, I can totally agree on everything 100% Thanks for sharing!
    There is a restaurant between 5th and 10th ave on 34th nrt which is called Axiote that offers some very Mexican cuisine including dishes with Grasshoppers and ants, not that cheap but a pretty unique experience if you’re just staying in Play Car ;)
    Hit me up if you want any recommendations on your upcoming travels through Mexico!

    1. Hey An, glad you liked the post and thanks for the insights! Although you won't find me anywhere near the grasshoppers and ants!

  3. That was a very comprehensive write up Johnny. On the issue of Mexican food in other countries, I've never been to Salsa Kitchen in Chiang Mai but Miguel's is rather good. Of course your right, it's not quite as good as the places in Southern California.

    Speaking of which, Tacos El Gordo? Those were some of the worst tacos I've ever had. Maybe it was just the branch I went to.

    I've never been to Playa Del Carmen but from my experience, you can't beat street tacos in TJ or fish tacos in Ensenada.

    1. The street tacos in TJ and fish tacos in Baja are fantastic! Tacos El Gordo can be hit or miss, even at the same branch, but also depending on if you order in Spanish and what you order. Sometimes they make it extra good if they think you know what's up, but will just half ass it if they think you're a tourist.

      I've had Miguel's in Chiang Mai as well, it's not bad, but in no way does it compare to real Mexican food in Mexico or even California.

  4. Hey Johnny, thank you for your enthusiastic energy when sharing your passion. I have looked at some of your Tbilisi stories. Don't mind me posting this here which may not be relevant to your current location.

    I can see you are moving places constantly. I am about to go to Tbilisi to stay for a few months. I wonder if you'd consider going back there for any reason at some stage or do you just keep on moving to newer territories?

    Glad to be hearing your thoughts on this.


    1. Glad you enjoy the blog and IG stories. I'll be back in Tbilisi this summer actually. I go back to places I like, but try to explore 1 or 2 new places each year as well.

  5. I'm touching down in Tbilisi on 2 Jan and might still be there in summer. We may get a chance to meet then.

    Enjoy your exploration in the meantime.

    1. Awesome! Enjoy Tbilisi! Hope to see you there in the summer.
      Checkout this post if you haven't read it already:

    2. Hey Johnny, THANK YOU.

      I could literally feel your passionate vibes when reading what you wrote about Tbilisi and the people. Appreciate your insights.

      Along the way, we all navigate through and through, evolving ourselves as we go :)

      I've been in Singapore since Aug and will be heading to the Caucasus soon.

      Enjoy Mexico. Cheers

  6. I think you'd really like Da Nang, Vietnam as it has a lot of the same that you've described - beach, mid-sized city, UNESCO site Hoi An nearby, plus the nature of mountains, river and a lake. Cost of living is actually cheaper, with rooms in a shared house, studio apartments and one-bedroom apartments running $200-$400 monthly. Local meals can start at $0.50 to $0.75 and transport across town via Grab bike (their local Uber) runs at about $0.75. For English speakers needing extra income to supplement their digital nomad career, there are plenty of jobs teaching English in language schools. Needing to be closer to home in the US is what's prompted my interest in PDC as potentially my next digital nomad spot. Your article is comprehensive and detailed and I'll definitely be referring back to it on my upcoming visit

    1. I've heard good things about Da Nang and some of my friends liked it as well. Vietnam is still a bit annoying in general with their visas, extra zeros in their money, etc, but i've heard in general Da Nang is much better than Saigon and other spots.

      Enjoy PDC when you get here! Glad you liked the article!

  7. Hey Johnny, are you living in Playa Del Carmen now ?.

    Is that your new favorite place in the west ?.

    Thanks Johnny

    Clay from Phoenix

    1. Hey Clay, I was just in Playa Del Carmen for 6 weeks this time. I like it a lot, and will come back. It's a place I would happily live if I needed to be in the US time zone or closer to home. But other than that, at least for now, it's a place I would just come for a month a year or so instead of living in full time.

  8. Hey Johnny great write up. Just landed in Playa so came in very handy. We actually met 3 years ago in Chiang Mai (friend of Ed and Louise’s).

    Worked out of Nest today but was super quiet and would love to get plugged into the local DM community more. Anything planned this weekend/days ahead?

    1. Hey Seb, I actually just left Playa and am in Los Cabos now. Join the Nest whatsapp group, there is usually something happening everyday, or you can suggest a meetup for dinner or drinks. Most events and meetups happen through private whatsapp groups of whoever is in town at the moment so it's hard to get plugged in the first few days.

      But once you're in, you're in.

    2. Awesome thanks for the head up!

  9. Whats up with ATM's and cash? Limits? Charges? Also give the deets on sim cards, where to get them, data limits and prices.

    1. It's easy. I've always taken out 5,000 pesos ($260usd) at a time without any issues using my ATM card (watch:

      SIM cards are mid priced, but not available at the airport. You'll have to go to a phone carrier shop in the center. It's $25 per month for 6GB. (Read my costs of living post here:

      I used my AT&T phone service from the USA as it reaches Mexico without any plan switching.

  10. Also any thoughts on Cancun vs Playa? I am flying in to CUN early December. I was thinking of spending some time in Cancun before trying out Playa. Is Cancun with it or too touristy?

    1. Aside from big all inclusive resorts, spring break, or the convention center, don't go to Cancun. It's great for large groups or gatherings like the Nomad Summit where we took over entire restaurants and resorts, but Playa is MUCH better for solo travelers and small groups. It's wayyy less touristy as well.


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