Playa has changed significantly since I began going there. What used to be a small fishing village is now a town fast approaching city status. Playa now includes a mall (Plaza Pelicano) featuring a movie theater, a Blockbuster, and a Papa John's Pizzeria. Most of the movies are in English unless they are for children, in which case they are dubbed.
Also new to Playa is the Paseo de Playacar, a mall that connects the main street to the beautiful Playacar community. It is an outdoor mall with a path weaving around restaurants and shops. There are beautiful clothing stores, including Diesel; cigar shops; bathing suit shops; and even a lovely bead store. At night the mall gets performance artists that might include dancers, gymnasts, or even fire!
Once in Playacar, the shops fade off and you'll be in a gated community of beach houses, each with its own unique architecture. Walk along the main road leading into Playacar and you'll pass a few condo resorts, including Xaman Ha (where I stayed). On the right side of the road just past Xaman Ha is a little ruin that has been preserved. There is what looks to be a little temple with a thatched roof. Iguanas are everywhere! Also in the area is the aviary, with flamingos, parrots, toucans, etc. There are enclosed areas with tropical birds flying everywhere. Outside of these areas, we became friends with a parrot who seemed very interested in what we had to say. It was quite entertaining.
However, 5th Avenue is where all the action is, and you'll be able to spend your extra time there strolling along the main drag. It's teeming with good restaurants, and I have to say, the only one that I truly didn't enjoy was one of those local pizza places. Every other place I went was at the very least acceptable. Lunch is calmer, and they often have happy hour at this time. Many places offer 2 for 1 beers, which can cause you to become mighty tipsy if you're not careful. Otherwise, dinnertime is hopping, and the bars and clubs all prepare for the college kids to come out to party. After dinner, you might want to take in some shopping. The usual items to buy would be coconut hanging lamps with intricate carvings, silver jewelry, amber, sarongs (although not native to Mexico), tiles, mirrors and clothing. Playa also has a number of spas that have opened. Since a lot of Europeans have moved here and opened establishments, it's very easy to find cool clothing shops that have clothes from all over the world, some with a Mexican flavor. You'll be able to spend a lot of time in this area after you've had your fill of the beach.
The beach is a long, thin strip that slopes down into the water. Walk north and you’ll pass the Gran Porto Real, a pink resort with a bar and pool on the beach. Walk farther north and you’ll be north of town (the 5th Avenue area). If you walk inland here, you’ll be walking through resorts and then onto a dirt road. If you plan to walk inland, do it at or before the Gran Porto Real. There is not much to see north of that. The crowds will begin to thin out, and the beach tends to get wider here.
Walk south of the resorts towards the ferry dock and you’ll begin to notice more locals on the beach. There are also young natives in traditional clothing trying to sell you bracelets on the beach. I don’t know if you’re supposed to buy from them or not, but I assume they are gypsies. If you don’t want to buy from them, be firm and say no. At the ferry dock you will have to briefly leave the beach and walk over the dock and back down to enter the Playacar beach. If you aren’t staying here and you want to see the area, this is the best way to get in without having to deal with guards and such.
South of the resorts are some gorgeous little bungalows right on the beach. At high tide, the beach becomes so narrow, you can barely get by. Each house is different and a lot can be rented (http://www.playacarbeachproperties.com/).
Playa will never cease to grow, and I hope that they can find a way to maintain the fun but still unique atmosphere that makes it such a favorite in the Caribbean. Quainter than Cancun and livelier than the smaller towns that line the coast, Playa is truly a great place to vacation. In fact, many have decided to retire or uproot themselves to start a new life here. There are real estate businesses everywhere, and you may just find yourself browsing the listings, too.