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 Yucatan 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 join an awesome tour for this DO NOT MISS experience!
Overview – An increasingly popular gay travel and retirement destination, Playa del Carmen, attracts LGBTQ+ 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 lay out your own towel just north of Mamitas on the stretch of sand most popular with the LGBTQ+ 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 -Make your way 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 Joyà -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! Click here for tickets.
Watch sunrise at Parque Los Fundadores -Enjoy 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 ferries to Cozumel.
Find Heaven on Earth -Take the hourly ferry to Cozumel and book a catamarn tour to snorkel the second largest reef system in the world before playing with stingrays at El Cielo Beach.
Relax at Cenote Spa -Treat yourself to the Cenote Spa at the Grand Hyat Playa which is one of the best spas in the Riviera Maya. The highlight of this spa is the namesake cenote with a beautiful pool and open roof.
Go to a real cenote -No trip to the Yucatan 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 weather is near perfect from December to April with day time temps in the 80’s and lower humidity. This is high season along with super high season around New Year and Easter which should be booked many months in advance! We prefer shoulder or even low season for fewer crowds even if there are periodic rain showers. Rainy season lasts from May through October. Also, the highest risk of hurricanes in the Cancun-Riviera Maya region are from September to October. On our honeymoon at the Rosewood Mayakoba in October of 2020, we experienced a Category 2 hurricane in an overwater bungalow. It was quite a memorable experience. The weather was sunny until 4pm before the hurricane hit that night and then sunny again by the following afternoon! Other popular times to be in Tulum are for the numerous music and art festivals like the Gay Arena Music Festival in Playa and Art with Me Tulum.
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 your ADO bus online ahead of time as they are extremely popular and can book up fast!
Where to stay – For gay-friendly hotels, our favorite in town is the Fives Downtown for location and amenities, including a fitness center and the best rooftop pool of the many options in Playa. The hotel is part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, so you know service and cleanliness are top notch. The hotel is also pet-friendly which we love. We've stayed here many times over the years.
In terms of room choices, you are spoiled for choice at the Fives Downtown. Options include deluxe and superior rooms, junior suites, one and two bedroom suites, and even a two bedroom penthouse suite. In other words, they have rooms for all budgets.
Another gay popular hotel that hosts many LGBTQ+ events throughout the year including drag brunch and gay pool parties is The Palm at Playa.
For the ultimate in luxury, we are huge fans of the Rosewood Mayakoba just a few minutes north of Playa. We stayed here for our honeymoon in an overwater villa and loved the amazing welcome cocktails on private boat ride to your room! It’s a splurge but very romantic and memorable for sure.
Where to eat and drink – Our favorite restaurant in town is 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.
Another of our favorite places for lunch or dinner is the Thai restaurant Yum Yum by George. Their upscale sister restaurant next door called Belamonte is also very popular with many of our neighbors in Tulum. This corner also seems to attract some of the best eye candy in Playa, so we definitely recommend requesting a table outside.
Where to find gay nightlife – In terms of gay nightlife in Playa, the most popular is the newer gay bar Provenza. The most well known was Playa 69 Gay Dance Club on Fifth Avenue, but it closed along with the lesser known and more local drag and strip club called La Cueva. We certainly hope La Cueva reopens in a new location as it was our favorite.
For the best looking crowd we've seen in the Riviera Maya, we are huge fans of Provenza. On our last visit for Día de Muertos celebrations, we met guys visiting from Chile, Panama, and of course, Mexico and the U.S. The nightly party kicks off around 10pm with a drag show and karaoke followed by a strippers and dancing. The location is also close to 5th Avenue and a short walk from all of the hotels recommended above. In terms of pricing, we like to order a bucket of 10 small beers for the best value. Total cost is 350 pesos or about $20 USD.
If you are looking for more amazing local drag interspersed with all-the-way strip shows, reserve a stage-side table at La Cueva. Please note they 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. It also looks closed from our last visit, so again check their Facebook page in case they reopen or move locations again.
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 the unofficial gay nude beach, walk about 45-minutes south of the Cozumel ferry pier and past the busy Playacar beaches to the last small beach. We're not sure it's worth it unless you value privacy, however, we enjoyed a skinny dip in one of the most beautiful parts of the beach that was shockingly sargasso free (see above) in the height of sargasso season! For group outings, check the local nudist group Naked & Proud Riviera Maya-Cancun Facebook page for more information.
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. The Palm also periodically hosts a drag brunch on Sunday at their downstairs restaurant called Irene, so again check Insta to confirm the latest.
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 national and international bank ATMs available at Cancun International Airport. We recommend getting Mexican Pesos (MXN) here on arrival. For reference, $1 US Dollar (USD) is worth just under 20 pesos (it’s recently been fluctuating between 17-20 as of the publication date of this article). In Playa, 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.
When withdrawing money from ATMs in Mexico (and now throughout the world), one thing to note (which we learned the hard way) is knowing to always decline the conversion offered by ATM to save. If you accept the conversion, you are agreeing to an additional 5-12% fee on top of the ATM use charge. That’s INSANE! Also, we initially thought declining the conversion would cancel the transaction, BUT it does not. It simply saves you the extra markup. For extra savings, look into the Schwab Checking Account that reimburses all foreign ATM fees. We’ve saved thousands in ATM fees over the years with this account!
To learn how to get the most pesos for your dollars, watch our 7 Tips to Get the Most Pesos for Your Dollars in Mexico. We’ll also cover some common scams and money mistakes to avoid, so we can save you even more money.
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.
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.
Vet/Dog boarding – If you bring your furry friend with you on vacation and require a health certificate for onward travel or doggie daycare/boarding, we highly recommend Animal House. They are conveniently located on the Highway that runs from Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen to Tulum, making them an easy stop no matter where you are staying in the Riviera Maya.
Travel Insurance – Don’t forget to add global travel medical insurance that covers you while traveling outside of your home country. We recommend Safety Wing. You can buy it even if you are already abroad. Most health coverage in the U.S. for example does not cover you in Mexico, thus it’s extremely important to protect yourself from out of pocket costs due to a medical emergency. We learned this the hard way which you can watch here. To learn more about Safety Wing, click here.
Travel Credit Card – For the best travel credit card, we recommend the Chase Sapphire Reserve. We use it to book free stays with reward points, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, primary car rental insurance, lounge access through Priority Pass, and to avoid foreign transaction fees just to name a few of this card’s incredible perks. To learn more, click here. Even though there is a hefty $550 annual fee, you get a credit of $300 for travel (i.e. airfare, uber, etc). For the remaining $250, the card easily pays for itself with free food and drinks at the complimentary airport lounges we frequent, including multiple lounges in Cancun’s domestic and international terminals. If connecting through Mexico City, the Grand Lounge Elite is our favorite lounge so far in Mexico. There’s even a tiny lounge available at Huatulco airport, the gateway to Zipolite. Also, if you don’t have global entry yet, another card benefit covers that application fee! Trai has had the card since 2017, and it’s his only credit card.
Travel Experiences – Discover authentic, unforgettable experiences and explore the world with Get Your Guide. They offer top-rated tours and activities in Tulum. We have used Get Your Guide for numerous adventures around the world.
Shop Our Travel Essentials – To keep all of your electronics charged around the world, we recommend this universal international travel power adapter. It’s also the one airline crew receive! For more of our favorite travel essentials, check out our Amazon Storefront.
Want to see more? For additional footage of our adventures in Cancun-Riviera Maya, check out our Gay Cancun and Gay Tulum Youtube videos and be sure to smash that like button and subscribe! And, of course, follow us on social media @twogayexpats on your favorite socials for more gay travel inspiration!
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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