Probably the most confusing part of figuring out our journey through Mexico was getting around Playa del Carmen on public transit. Especially since we had never really used public transportation anywhere until we started travelling! There are a number of different options for getting around, so it took a bit to figure out which one was best suited to us. Turns out, as with much of everything in life, variety is the way to go!
The colectivo system can be intimidating for newcomers, the taxi system can be unfair, and the ADO buses seem great, but they appear to be an expensive option. But I’m here to break it all down for you, and take away the mystery! By the time you’re done reading, you should be confident in navigating public transit, and have no problem getting around Playa del Carmen!
Getting around Playa del Carmen
The colectivo system is our favourite suggestion for getting around Playa del Carmen. A Colectivo is usually a van, sometimes an old bus, that has been converted for public transport. There are no conventional seats, instead wood benches have been installed around the perimeter of the back. Patrons are able to sit on the benches (if there is still room), or stand in the center void. It is not uncommon to see 25 or more people crammed into the back of the van, with 2 people sitting up front with the driver, and children sitting on laps. If you have an aversion to physical contact, the Colectivo probably isn’t for you! But if you want cheap transportation, and don’t mind being close to people you don’t know for a short time, this is a method we highly recommend!
Taking the Colectivo in Playa del Carmen
A colectivo ride generally costs $6 pesos a ride, though sometimes it’s $7 or $9. Children are usually half of that. There’s really no rule on when to pay, though most seem to hand it to the driver as soon as they step on. One of the more contrasting points we noticed, as compared to American/Canadian life, was the willingness of riders to pass their fare hand to hand from the back to front, and the trusting driver not even knowing who it came from.
Each van has the beginning and end points, plus a couple well known stops of the route marked on their front window. You can always ask the driver if he will be going near where you need to go. Knowing a bit of Spanish is good in this case, but most drivers do know a bit of English- enough to answer yes or no if you give them a location.
In Playa del Carmen, the main queue for colectivos is on Av 25, between Juarez and Calle 2. This is the beginning and end of all routes. If in doubt, go here to look for the right bus. Other than this queue you can catch a bus anywhere along any main road in Playa. Stand on the sidewalk, watch for a bus with your neighbourhood on the windshield, and stick our arm out. If he doesn’t stop, the bus was full and just wait for the next one.
When on the van, keep an eye out for your stop- if you don’t know the area, it’s a good idea to carry a cell phone with GPS so you can track your location- and don’t hesitate to call out when you need to get off. A simple ‘Aqui, por favor’ (here, please) will do!
Tip: If you’re not sure which bus to take, spend a few minutes watching buses pass and looking at the names on the windshield. Look up their location on your GPS to see which one is near your neighbourhood. Colectivos stay on pretty main roads, so using your GPS and the signs on the windshields you should be able to figure out which bus to get onto.
There is also a colectivo that runs between these cities.
They are $36-$40mx each leg, vs the $66mx to take the ADO, so they are a great option. These buses are much more comfortable than the colectivos that stay in town, as they are just 15 passenger vans with normal seats.
The queue for these vans in Playa del Carmen is on
Calle 2, between Ave 15 & 20. There are a few different companies that offer this route, and all will give you basically the same thing, so it’s up to you which one you choose. The one we take to Cancun is on the corner of Calle 2 & Ave 20, and the one to Tulum is lined up on the side of the Calle 2.
These ones are very straight forward. There are men calling their routes as you are walking down that street. Let him know where you are going, and he’ll tell you the price. Pay and find a seat. These ones won’t leave until they’re full, but they fill up quickly. We try to get a seat in the first row behind the driver, because it’s the closest to the air conditioning. These vans get HOT!
The bus that goes to Cancun will stop at Puerto Morelos or any of the hotels on the way, IF YOU TELL YOUR DRIVER. He won’t stop otherwise.
The bus that goes to Tulum will stop at the cenotes Azul, Cristalino & Eden, Akumal and Tulum Ruins. IF YOU TELL YOUR DRIVER. Again, he won’t stop otherwise. You can tell him this as you’re boarding, and he’ll likely remember. But you still want to watch to make sure.
The ADO (Ah-Day-Oh) bus is a very popular mode of transportation here in Mexico. It is a line of luxury coach buses, similar to Greyhound in the US.. though much nicer! Each bus has air conditioning, TVs playing movies, and plug ins for your electronics.
Prices for this bus line are very low, which make them an obvious choice for locals and travellers alike. We’ve taken the ADO all over Quintana Roo, and next month will be taking it 16 hours to Palenque, Chiapas!
To book an ADO bus, you can’t buy tickets online unless you have a Mexican credit card (and sometimes not even then!), so you can buy tickets from any ADO station. Depending on your route, you can either buy your tickets in advance, or buy them the day of your trip, depending on the popularity of the route. For example, the bus between Playa del Carmen and the Cancun airport leaves every 20 minutes, so rarely needs advance purchase. But the bus to Chiquila only leaves a few times a day, so you’d want to buy your tickets a few days in advance to make sure you get on the bus you want. You can check out the schedule online on their website.
- under 12 ride for half price of full fares. Sometimes your fare will be discounted, so the child’s price will not be half of that, however.
- The ADO does have room for hand luggage in the bus, and compartments underneath for larger bags. Some routes will give you a tag to be able to pick up your bag, some won’t.
- Your ticket will have a seat number on it. For trips to Puerto Morelos and Cancun the number means nothing. But for longer trips you’ll want to sit in your assigned seat.
Catching the ADO
In Playa del Carmen the bus can be caught from 2 different spots. The station on Avenida Juarez and 5th Ave is the main station. And the station on Av 25 & Calle 12 is the Alterna station. You can catch most buses from both stations, but check the online schedule to confirm. If you buy your tickets in advance, they will tell you which station you will leave from. Tickets for all routes can be bought at both stations.
You’ll want to arrive a few minutes early to catch your bus, around 15 minutes is sufficient. Look around for the signs to know where to watch for your bus. At the Alterna station, some buses pull up out front, and some are out back.
Taxis are plentiful in Playa, so they are easy to catch. You can stand on a sidewalk in almost any neighbourhood and wave your arm and catch a cab. But there are some tips to keep in mind so that you don’t fall victim to the typical tourist overcharging that is commonplace here in Mexico.
A taxi driver will gladly take you anywhere you need to go. But they’ll try to charge you as much as they think they can get away with. When we first arrived, we were getting charge $100mx for routes we eventually learned should only cost $40mx. The most important thing you can do is know the price of your route. You can find this by asking in an expat group, or checking the charts in this post.
Before getting into a taxi, ask the price to your destination. If it’s more than you know it should be, you can try to barter, or turn him down and look for the next one. Many will come back with a lower rate when they see you know what the price should be. If you catch a taxi from a ‘sitio’ ( a line of taxis waiting to drive you somewhere) the price will be higher than if you wave one down yourself.
Renting a car may seem like a simple solution to getting around Playa del Carmen, and very enticing when you see the rental prices online! But it’s a little more complicated than you’re used to in many other countries.
Those prices you might see online are deceiving. $1/day seems like a no brainer! But keep in mind that in Mexico you will be charged insurance upon pickup. This can add up to $1000mx/day onto the rental price.
Liability insurance is legally required in Mexico, and makes up about half of that daily fee. You can potentially decline the optional comprehensive insurance, and that is your call. Personally, I pay for it. In Mexico, if there is an accident and there is any dispute as to who caused it, all vehicles are impounded and all drivers can be jailed until an agreement is reached. Having this insurance enables your company to fight on your behalf and keep these things from happening. PLUS, we all know that insurance is there to protect in case something happens, so I’d rather that bill upfront than an expensive repair bill in the future! Your credit card MAY cover some of the insurance here. But you’ll want to contact them directly to find out, and be sure you have their coverage in writing when you arrive here.
Another thing to keep in mind is that driving is a little different here… Street lines and signs are mere suggestions. People cross the street everywhere, and drivers basically do what they want. So you do have to be hyper aware of your surroundings, and ensure you can pay 100% attention to the road at all times. And the volume of street bikes and bicycles gives another thing to always watch out for.
If you do choose to rent, I recommend booking ahead through Expedia (even if it’s a same-day booking), and going with Budget car rental on Calle 4 & Ave 10. I’ve used them several times, and have always had great experiences. They even saved our forgotten sunglasses for us!
So there you have it! A breakdown to getting around Playa del Carmen with public transit. I hope this helps you navigate the area!
Do you have any tips that I missed? Let me know in the comments!