What makes a great digital nomad hub?
If you look at the most popular places for remote workers, it seems like the most important qualifications are fast internet and nice weather. After all, Bali, Chiang Mai, and Medellin are basically the Holy Trinity of digital nomad locations.
Another top choice for nomads is Playa del Carmen, Mexico. We recently spent a month and a half living as Playa del Carmen digital nomads. Read on for a detailed look at our nomad stint in PDC.
Why Playa del Carmen?
We’ve been living the digital nomad life for the past few years. Ever since we started teaching English online, we’ve been traveling and working all over Latin America.
Our first nomad hub was Puerto Vallarta. We only meant to spend a month there and ended up staying for seven. The next year, we came back for another six. Here we are in year three for another 6-month stay making plans for a 4th in 2020. Yeah, I guess you can say we love living here!
We’re only “low season” people here, though. We don’t bother with the competitive high season from November to April and choose to travel at that time instead. In the past few years, we’ve tried a few other digital nomad hot spots, such as Medellin, Lima, Antigua, and La Fortuna.
When it comes to digital nomad hubs in Mexico, one name that always comes up first is Playa del Carmen.
This small city just south of Cancun is well-known for its beaches and nightlife.
Among digital nomads, Playa is also known for its fast internet and a wide choice of cafes and co-working spaces.
After going home for the holidays and seeing Phish in New York City for New Year’s Eve, we needed a new digital nomad destination to start off 2019.
Flights were super cheap and direct to Cancun and the Phish Riviera Maya event was the next month. It became clear to us that the universe was pointing us towards Playa del Carmen!
Previously, we had only spent two nights in Playa on our way to the Mayan Holidaze festival back in 2012. We stayed in a super loud hostel and didn’t get a great first impression of the town.
We’re all about second chances, though!
Finding Accommodation in Playa del Carmen
One problem with our idea to live as digital nomads in Playa del Carmen is that we waited a bit too long to pull the trigger. We had to weigh our options and think about what we really wanted to do. Sometimes it’s hard putting all the pieces together and it can be intimidating having so many options!
When we left PV, Rachel flew down to Medellin for the 7in7 conference and I flew back to the US to follow bands around. We met up in Florida for the Hulaween Festival and then traveled to Vegas for the Phish Halloween run.
As such, we didn’t start seriously looking for accommodation until November.
Trying to find short-term accommodations in a popular beach town in January is tough enough as it is. It’s even harder when you have a longer-than-average list of necessities as a digital nomad English teacher.
One of my strategies when seeking out digital nomad pads is using Airbnb to search and trying to book directly. It’s not always easy, but it’s worked out for us several times.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Airbnb. I’ve just paid enough to them in service fees already and I would rather speak with hosts directly for stays of a month or more.
If you’re planning to be a Playa del Carmen digital nomad, you can join a few Facebook groups to help you find accommodation:
- Digital Nomads Playa del Carmen
- Expats in Playa del Carmen
- Real Estate for Expats in Playa del Carmen
Those who are new to Airbnb can save quite a bit of money on their first booking by signing up through our link. Of course, you can always just book a hotel or hostel for a few nights to a week and go see some places in person. Selina is definitely the best bet for digital nomads, but there are plenty of other great options:
Our Digital Nomad Pad
I eventually found a place that looked pretty awesome for us, but it was going to be over $1,500 on Airbnb.
Thankfully it wasn’t too hard to find their website, which allowed me to save $300 on rent by paying them directly.
We stayed at a place called Lilas del Mar in a nicely furnished 1-bedroom apartment. It’s on Calle 44 and 10th Avenue, which is just a few blocks from the beach. The popular 5th Avenue is nearby, but this is a quiet section of the often wild pedestrian street.
The owners and the staff are super friendly and always eager to help. When we were having connectivity issues, they quickly put in a new router for us. I was able to set up my classroom in the bedroom using the table from the patio, while Rachel posted up in the kitchen.
Considering we booked the place pretty last minute and we got a solid price break on it, I’d say we did OK.
It was really comfortable and well-furnished. We had a nice smart TV, international cable, fast WiFi, and a fully stocked kitchen. This made it easy to jump straight into our digital nomad routine.
That being said, we both agreed that it was a bit pricey.
I know I sound ridiculous complaining about a fully-furnished apartment near the beach for just over $1,000 a month. However, after looking at a few other places there and always seeing posts in the Facebook groups, I know it’s possible to find a place for much less.
At the end of the day, our place was just fine for what we needed it to be. When some friends decided to come to visit, we were easily able to extend our stay by two weeks. This allowed us to show our friends around and check out just in time for the Phish Riviera Maya shows and continue from there on our digital nomad journey.
While our place was nice and comfy, we didn’t want to sit in there all day. Plus, we were responsible for the electricity bill so we tried to keep the A/C use to a minimum. Thankfully, there are several coworking spaces to choose from in Playa del Carmen.
Coworking at Selina
One day while perusing the Digital Nomads Playa del Carmen group, I noticed an ad that Selina was running a special half-price promotion for January.
For just 1,500 pesos (about $80) each, we signed up for a month at their nice coworking space.
This included use of the pool area and two yoga classes per week. Unfortunately, we started teaching an additional shift in the evening as our students were off for Chinese New Year. As such, we were only able to get in one yoga class there. It was a good one, though!
The coworking space at Selina Playa del Carmen is pretty solid. It’s not that big, but they cap the number of people who are using it at one time. Some days it was pretty full, but that’s not surprising during peak season in a beach town.
There are a few tables that can seat 6-8 people, and then another 12 or so desks. It’s first come, first served here, so sometimes we couldn’t score a desk. That’s because we usually didn’t arrive until later in the day after teaching, having breakfast, and hitting the gym. I didn’t mind sitting in a bean bag, though!
The coworking space at Selina also has a few private rooms for taking calls. Well, they’re really more like phone booths. You can still hear the people in there quite clearly, so they don’t really block out the sound. Most digital nomads in Playa del Carmen are using headphones while they work, anyways.
We met a few cool people during our time at Selina, but we really weren’t that focused on being social. With double teaching shifts and big plans on the horizon, we lived a pretty boring life for the most part! It was nice being able to change the scenery by going to Selina, especially on those nice sunny days when we got to sit by the pool after working for a while.
Other Coworking Spaces in Playa del Carmen
Selina is one of several coworking spaces in Playa del Carmen. Actually, BUNKER made more sense for us as it was just a few blocks away. We couldn’t say no to the half-price deal at Selina, though.
We went to check BUNKER out and it seems nice and all, but it’s too much like an office for my tastes. I know that’s kind of the point for a coworking space, but I prefer the ones that have a cool garden, rooftop terrace, or something like that.
Another popular choice is Nest, which is in a very central location. I went there to check it out one day and it looks like a great place to work. They have plenty of seating inside and a few tables in the little courtyard as well.
These are the only other coworking spaces we visited, but there are quite a few others. Cowork-In is a great choice for those staying in Playacar, while Work Zone is a better option for those on the other side of town.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t just sit at a desk all day. That’s not why I became a digital nomad! I need a break in between teaching and blogging for at least a few hours. I also need to get some exercise to balance out all those tacos and cervezas!
One of the best things about being a digital nomad in Playa del Carmen is the abundance of gyms and yoga studios. You really don’t have to travel far in this city to find one or the other.
After doing some research, we ended up going to Evolve. This gym has several locations in town, with one right on 5th Avenue and Calle 24 (click here for directions). You can pay by the day, week, month, or year here. Best of all, there’s no bullshit sign-up fee. We paid 900 pesos (about $45) each for a month.
There are some classes at Evolve, but we never came for those. We usually hit the gym late in the morning or afternoon when it was pretty empty. It has all the equipment you need for a good workout. I particularly liked the sauna. Rachel never used it, but I did all the time!
Here are some other options for staying fit as a digital nomad in Playa del Carmen:
- The Gym
- California Fitness
- The Union (boxing/Muay Thai)
- Body Masters Playa (TRX)
- Crossfit Playa del Carmen
There are plenty of yoga studios in Playa del Carmen as well. Walk along 5th Avenue for 10 minutes and you’ll probably pass a few of them. We never got to use any, but these ones come recommended:
There’s also the public park on 10th Avenue and Calle 34. It has a running track, basketball and tennis courts, and more. We never used it but it seems to be a very popular place after the sun goes down. A great option for those on a budget who prefer being outside.
What to Do in Playa del Carmen
Nobody becomes a digital nomad just to sit around a coworking space and a stuffy gym. Of course, it’s important to get work done and stay in shape, but you want to have some fun as well!
Thankfully there’s plenty to do here.
Here’s just a quick look at what there is to do in Playa:
- Hit the beach
- Go snorkeling/diving
- Rooftop pools
- Day trip to Cozumel
- Check out the awesome street art
- Mayan ruins in Tulum and Coba
- Swim in cenotes (underground swimming holes)
- Nature parks
We’ll have a detailed post full of our favorite things to do in Playa coming real soon. What’s important to know in this post is that you’ll never be bored as a Playa del Carmen digital nomad!
During our 6-week stay, we worked quite a lot to save money for the Phish shows in Mexico plus Envision Festival in Costa Rica. Of course, we still managed to have a good time in between all the classes and blog posts.
One night, we went to a rave in a cenote down in Tulum. After some confusion with the shuttle, we finally got a cab there with a Mexican couple at around 1 in the morning.
They had colorful lights on the cenote and a really cool stage set-up.
We don’t do a lot of EDM shows, but I always try to see DJ Sasha when I can. It’s not just because we share a name, either! I saw him and John Digweed do a late-night at Bonnaroo many years ago that blew my mind and turned me onto electronic music. Since then, I’ve seen DJ Sasha in Beijing, Bangkok, Medellin, and now Tulum!
The next weekend, we went on a day trip to the Coba ruins. It was a long drive out there, but it was well worth it.
The Coba ruins are one of the last Mayan ruins you can still climb on, and apparently, they’re going to ban it soon. We’re really happy we got to visit before they shut that down.
After climbing the ruins, we got to go on a zipline across the lake. From there, we drove to a local cenote to go for a swim.
Finally, we had a buffet dinner and a Mayan cultural show. The last part was a bit cheesy and touristy for our liking, but the whole day tour was pretty awesome. Click here to book it for yourself!
When our friends visited, we spent a day at the Xel-Ha park. It’s a massive nature and water park where you can go swimming, snorkeling, use huge water slides, and much more.
It’s also all-inclusive, so you get to hit the buffet and bar as many times as you want. We definitely got our money’s worth and had a really fun day out there.
Click here to book your trip to Xel-Ha that includes transportation.
Other than that, our days off were spent checking out some of the beach clubs and rooftop pools. When you’re a Playa del Carmen digital nomad and you work all week, it’s nice to be able to just kick back and relax on la playa.
Where to Eat and Drink in Playa del Carmen
When you’re a Playa del Carmen digital nomad, you want to save money by cooking at home but also try the local food. Thankfully it’s really easy to do a nice mix of both here. There are plenty of supermarkets in Playa, including Soriana, Mega, and yes even Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club.
We usually had breakfast at home, as we had to be up at 5:30 most of the time. Most days, we would go out to eat for lunch in between the gym and coworking space. For dinner, we did a mix of cooking at home and eating cheap local food.
Since we had a month-long membership at Selina, we didn’t go to too many cafes while we were in Playa. Also, we didn’t really partake in the nightlife too much due to our super early mornings. I’ll still list a few cafes and bars that we recommend, though!
Here are some of our favorite places to eat and drink in Playa del Carmen, broken down into a few categories. I even included a link to each place on Google Maps so you don’t have to search for it!
Final Thoughts on Being a Playa del Carmen Digital Nomad
We both have mixed thoughts on living the digital nomad life in Playa del Carmen.
On the one hand, there are plenty of pros – fast internet, lots of good places to work, tons of options for things to do, great food, and a relatively low cost of living.
One of the best things about living in Playa is how easy it is to travel to some pretty awesome places. You can catch a colectivo van and head to places like Akumal or Tulum for just a few bucks.
There are all the Mayan ruins and the cenotes in the area as well. Plus, Cancun is a great home airport to have as you can fly basically anywhere from there.
On the other hand, there were plenty of things we really didn’t like about it.
While 5th Avenue is nice in theory, it kind of sucks. It’s basically a glorified shopping mall, and it’s not even on the water. The Malecon in Puerto Vallarta is way, way better.
Plus, there are all the touts and hustlers that really make 5th Avenue unbearable.
During my 30-minute walk from home to the coworking space, I was once offered drugs nine times. And it was about 10 o’clock in the morning! I haven’t even had coffee yet, and you think I want a bag of coke?
While Playa has nice beaches, they have all been full of the gross, stinky seaweed known as sargassum. This is due to the warming of the oceans so don’t expect this problem to go away anytime soon.
We also found getting around Playa to be a pain in the ass.
Taxi drivers here refuse to use meters, so you have to haggle every single time you take one. They forced Uber out of town as well.
The local buses are of no use if you live below 30th Avenue, which is where most digital nomads want to live.
At the end of the day, we just couldn’t help but compare Playa to our beloved Puerto Vallarta.
In our humble opinion, it’s not even close. Playa is fun and all, but we would much rather be on the other coast of Mexico. I’m not saying we’ll never go back, but I don’t foresee us doing another long stint as digital nomads in Playa del Carmen.
But you should go and formulate your own opinion. Then come back and leave us a comment to say if you agree or disagree!