Playa, as the locals call it, is a beach-side city located on the coast of the Caribbean Sea. You generally fly into Cancun airport then transfer to Playa, which is an hour's drive.
Playa del Carmen stretches from the beach west to highway 307 and beyond, however the tourist zone is the area along the coast. Most tourist buses pull into Playa turning off the highway at Benito Juarez Avenue and drive to the downtown bus station which is located right on 5th Avenue. The ferry docks to Cozumel are located close to the bus station as well. This is the busiest spot in all of Playa.
5th Avenue [Quinto Avenida] is the main street that runs parallel to the ocean. It's around 500 meters from the water. In between the water and 5th are hotels, Bed & Breakfasts, Inns, Rentals, Timeshares, and restaurants. It is commonly referred to as, "Playa del Carmen's Pedestrian Walkway".
Along 5th Avenue you will find numerous stores selling interesting items as well as restaurants and hotels. There are clothing stores selling the latest trends from Europe as well as Cuban Cigar and Rum stores. It is a vibrant atmosphere reminiscent of a carnival. We have seen live lions, fire breathers, giant boa constrictors and a cavalcade of characters parading down 5th.
There are also lots of bars along 5th making it a good place to party. The after hour clubs swing into action after 12:00. These clubs are located on the beach away from the majority of hotels and resorts because of the noise level.
Intersecting with 5th are streets that all lead to the beach. Along many of these streets are dive-shops, convenience stores, hotels, tour operators, Internet cafes, currency exchanges, and restaurants. All the beaches in Playa are open to the public.
Playa's beaches are nice. Along 5th, in the tourist zone the beaches are all clean white sand, not white powder. There is some coral but not much. The seaweed and other garbage is cleaned up every day. Within a short walk to almost any point on the Playa main beach is a bar/restaurant. There are also a number of snorkeling, dive and fishing boats ready to take you out.
The beaches closest to the ferry docks are the busiest and you have to walk either north or south to find seclusion. Outside the tourist zone the beaches are lined with jungle.
The restaurants along 5th are mostly Italian but there are American restaurants and Mexican restaurants that cook American style food with some Mexican dishes. Off 5th on any of the intersecting streets that head away from the beach you will start to find Mexican restaurants as well as numerous Italian cafes.