For most tourists, myself included, Playa del Carmen first and foremost means Quinta Avenida (fifth avenue), a long, pedestrian-only promenade that runs parallel to the beach and is lined with restaurants and shops.
Here you’ve got your pick of silver, amber (expensive but very beautiful), T-shirts, pottery, swimsuits, and more. Prices vary from relatively cheap to expensive, and bargaining is a prerequisite.
It can’t get any better than this for people-watching. Bohemian locals stroll along with kids and dogs in tow; sunburned tourists of all shapes and sizes swig margaritas at open-air watering holes or sip bubbly at the Italian wine bars; policia stand on corners chatting to taxi drivers; and wet-haired, bikini-clad sun-lovers strut back to their hotels after a day on the beach.
Within Playa, it’s definitely the place to be after-hours, and there’s a huge selection of food if you’re after dinner—from expensive Yucatenean to no-frills guacamole and cerveza.