Gay Playa del Carmen – A Top Gay Travel Destination in Mexico
A day trip to Chichén Itzá, one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, is hands down the highlight of any trip to the Yucutan peninsula. Chichén Itzá means mouth of the water hole or cenote of the Itzá tribe. The main temple in this once thriving city is the star attraction. Built for prayer and worship, it is also the best representation of the Mayan calendar. With 91 steps on each of the four sides plus the very top, the number of steps adds up to the 365 days in the year. Incredibly, twice a year on the equinox of March 21, the time to plant, and September 22, the time to harvest, the shadow of the serpent or snake can be seen on the temple. The snake was important to the Mayans as it represents life and fertility. Hire a car, catch the luxury ADO bus, or organize a tour for this DO NOT MISS experience!
Overview – An increasingly popular gay travel and retirement destination, Playa del Carmen, or simply Playa as it’s known locally, attracts LGBT+ from around the world with its stunning beaches and incredible gay nightlife. Playa also hosts Arena, Mexico’s biggest gay and lesbian dance music festival, in February. It’s a hugely popular time to come to Playa as is the growing Playa Pride in June.
Top 10 Things to Do in Playa del Carmen
Hit the beach -Head straight to Mamitas Beach Club to hire loungers and an umbrella or layout your own towel just north of Mamitas on the stretch of sand most popular with the LGBT community.
Stroll Fifth Avenue -Take a walk down the most famous street in Playa. This pedestrian only zone is lined with shops, restaurants, bars, and of course, colorful street performers of all kinds.
Party at a rooftop pool -Check the Facebook or Insta pages of Reina Roja Hotel or The Palm at Playa for weekly gay pool party deets. For the best rooftop pool in Playa, we love the Fives Downtown.
Discover restaurant row -Find your way down to Calle 38 which has a mini restaurant row. Two of our favorites on this super cute street serving Mexican specialties are La Cueva del Chango and Trujillos Cantina.
See Cirque du Soleil's Joya -Sip Champagne while enjoying dinner and a spectacular performance at Cirque du Soleil's first culinary and show experience and their first residency in Mexico!
Watch sunrise at Parque Los Fundadores -Snap photos of the sunrise next to the beautiful sculptures by the beach. Next to this park you will also find the colorful Playa Del Carmen sign as well as the ferry to Cozumel.
Find Heaven on Earth -Take the hourly ferry to Cozumel and snorkel the second reef system in the world before playing with stingrays at El Cielo or Heaven sandbar which is only accessible by boat.
Relax at Cenote Spa -Treat yourself to the Cenote Spa at the Grand Hyatt which is one of the best spas on the Riviera Maya. The highlight of this spa is the namesake cenote with a beautiful pool and open roof.
Go to real cenote -No trip to the Yucutan is complete without a visit to one of the 6,000+ cenotes dotting the peninsula. A cenote is a natural sinkhole resulting from the collapse of the limestone bedrock.
Visit Chichen Itza -It's worth repeating from above, the highlight of any trip to the Riviera Maya is Chichén Itzá, one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. We were in complete awe!
When to go – The insane heat and humidity begin to subside in late November when high season begins lasting through April. During this period, the weather is at its best! Extremely popular times to be in Playa are for New Year and the Arena Gay Festival to be held in February of this year.
Getting here – Playa Del Carmen is located on the coast of the gorgeous Mexican Caribbean Sea about 30 miles south of Cancun International Airport (airport code: CUN). On arrival, transit options to Playa include renting a car, organizing an authorized taxi or taking the ADO bus. The taxi option is about 1200 pesos or just under $60 USD for the 45-minute to an hour trip. Also, just outside of the airport exit you will find the red ADO buses and ticket counter. The ADO bus costs around $10 USD and is by far the best way to get to Playa given how expensive taxis are in the Riviera Maya. You may want to book online ahead of time as they are extremely popular and can book up fast!
Where to stay – For gay-friendly hotels, the Grand Hyatt Playa or the Fives Downtown are our top picks for location and amenities. The Thompson is also a solid option with a fantastic rooftop pool. It’s also one of the host hotels for the Arena gay festival. We have been following progress on a few gay boutique hotels in Playa (and Tulum!), but for Playa, it’s coming soon!
For the ultimate in luxury, we are huge fans of the Rosewood Mayakoba just a few minutes north or Playa. We stayed here for our honeymoon last year in an overwater villa and loved the amazing welcome cocktails on private boat ride to your room! It’s a splurge for sure but very romantic and memorable for sure.
Where to eat and drink – Our favorite restaurant in town was Trattoria Del Centro. They have the best pizzas in Playa. They also have amazing homemade bread, salads, pastas, and cocktails. The experience is complete with live music most nights. Arrive early as there are no reservations and it’s quite popular.
For the best Mexican restaurants, there’s a mini restaurant row on Calle 38 with two standouts. First, La Cueva del Chango serves up probably the best chilaquiles we’ve ever had in a jungle like setting. We also love Trujillos Cantina for amazing cocktails and food. The central bar here is also simply gorgeous.
Now for the best of the rest. We love a ‘go to’ breakfast spot that is pet-friendly and all around perfection. In Playa, Bajo Cafe/Peace & Bowl fits the bill. They have excellent coffee and amazing smoothie bowls in a relaxed setting. You’ll also find lots of digital nomads in this spot.
For a super local lunch, try Ferron’s Jerk Chicken. You may want to hop a cab or order delivery, but it is walkable from Centro. It’s no frills but everything is delicious.
If you have a sweet tooth after all of these delicious meals, head over to Playa Helado for the best ice cream in Playa! Our favorite flavor was the red wine. The comfy pet-friendly seating out front makes for great people watching as well!
Where to find gay nightlife – In terms of gay nightlife in Playa, there are two main gay bars. The most well know is Playa 69 Gay Dance Club on Fifth Avenue. The lesser known and more local but equally as fun is La Cueva.
First up is Playa 69 Gay Dance Club. We originally popped by here after dinner on our first night in town but the lovely shirtless host outside confirmed it was best for us to return at 10:45p. We followed his instructions the following night, a Friday, and were happy to score the last table by the stage. Also, it’s worth noting this gay bar is located at the back of the complex on the lower level which is probably one of the reasons the host is out front roping you in. Entrance is 100 pesos or a little under $5 USD. Just before 11p, sexy gogo dancers hit the stage followed by a number of drag queens. As with most gay bars in Mexico, buckets of beers are most popular with the crowd here.
After the show ends, the stage doubles as the dance floor and the gogo dancers put on a full show if you know what we mean before a hard stop at 1am when the club closes. There was literally no last call or wind down, so we were quite surprised when it happened! But we had an awesome night at Playa 69!
Speaking of a full show, we went to gay bar La Cueva two Saturdays in a row on arrival! Please note they just moved locations to Calle 24 Norte just above the Federal Highway. Google Maps still shows the old location so we recommend re-confirming the location and upcoming events on their Facebook page.
According to the digital flyer on their Facebook page, the club features at least a dozen performers from sexy male gogo dancers to drag queens to super hot male strippers. And they delivered!
We recommend showing up between 10:45p-11pm to get a table or reserving ahead if you plan to come later as the club is absolutely packed on the weekends. Entrance is again 100 pesos or just under $5 USD but what a bargain for that much entertainment!
The night starts off slowly with gogo dancers coming out one by one. Patrons, mostly local, order buckets of beers and bottles of liquor to their tables. Around 11p, the drag queens perform a series of numbers to liven up the crowd. Closer to midnight, the real show begins! The dancers begin their routines in costumes from the sports jock to the military man in uniform. The show was super hot and super fun!
Where to find the best gay beach or pool club – The gay section of Playa is located just north of Mamitas Beach Club. Between 2-3pm, you will see a steady stream of guys in speedos begin to arrive.
For rooftop pool clubs, our favorite is the Fives Downtown. Another popular choice is the Alessia Day Club at the Thompson Hotel. In addition, check the socials for Reina Roja Hotel and The Palm at Playa. We thought every Sungay was gay at The Palm, but it’s now switched to Thursday just in the last couple of weeks. The Palm also periodically hosts a drag brunch on Sunday at their downstairs restaurant called Irene, so again check Facebook or Insta to confirm the latest. There’s also a WhatsApp group called Playa Rainbow Squad where LGBT+ locals and visitors announce pop ups and group outings. Super helpful!
Where to go for the best day trips in and around Playa Del Carmen – In addition to a Chichen Itza tour from Playa as highlighted above, we also highly recommend a snorkel tour to El Cielo on Cozumel. You’ll see amazing marine wildlife, including starfish, turtles, sting rays, and many other colorful tropical fish.
For Tulum, you could combine the Tulum ruins by the sea with a Cenote and trip to see the turtles with this tour. It’s also super easy to take the ADO bus to Tulum for the day. You could rent a bike and head to the Tulum ruins followed by a swim at the beach or reserve at a lounger and umbrella at a fabulous beach club like Cinco, which is part gay-owned.
Banking – There are plenty of ATMs on Fifth Avenue although we would likely avoid these assuming fees are higher than a few blocks away at national and international banks like HSBC, Citibanamex, Scottiabank, and Santander, among others just a few blocks away on 10th and 30th Avenues.
For ATM withdrawals, one thing to note which we learned the hard way last year when it was implemented: there will be an option to decline the conversion on the ATM, and you’re going to want to decline this because you want your bank to process the foreign exchange. We thought this would cancel the transaction, BUT it does not and it saves you anywhere from 5-12% additional fee on top of the ATM use charge. INSANE! So definitely hit decline on that conversion at the ATM, and you’ll get the best exchange rate.
Lastly, if you travel a ton like we do, look into the Schwab checking account where they reimburse all foreign ATM fees! We’ve saved thousands in ATM fees over the years with this account.
Covid testing – To get your COVID test to return home, you will literally find dozens and dozens of options along Fifth Ave for around 500 pesos or $25 USD. We prefer Químico testing here in Playa and Tulum. It’s where the locals and expats go for bloodwork and it’s super reputable. Cost is 450 pesos just increased from 350 pesos for a rapid test. You’ll have no issues flying with their paperwork.
Fitness/Gym– To burn off those holiday calories and stay in shape while enjoying Playa, the two air conditioned gym options other than the luxury fitness center at the Grand Hyatt Playa are Evolve Fitness and The Gym. Both have day, week and month passes. Evolve also has a gym in Tulum and you can access both Evolve locations with your membership so that’s our preference balancing quality and cost.
Wine/Liquor store – By far the best and one of the largest wine and liquor stores we found in Playa was La Europea Plaza in the Quinta Alegria Shopping Center at Calle 16 Norte and 10th Ave.
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Hi! We're Two Gay Expats
Hola amigos and welcome to our gay travel blog! We are Andy and Trai, a gay couple traveling the world with PRIDE 🌈 …and our rescue dog, Pattie!
After meeting in San Francisco in 2018 and later moving to Chicago, we decided to quit our jobs in 2021, sell everything, and become Two Gay Expats!
If you’d like to follow our adventures, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel and add us on social media using the links below. We’d also love to hear from you and meet up if we’re in your city!
❤️ Andy + Trai