Since moving to Playa del Carmen as an American expat, I’ve definitely had to adjust to the differences of life in a foreign country. With its picturesque beaches, Playa del Carmen may seem like paradise to most but I can assure you it still has its fair share of challenges. In this post I’m sharing 15 totally random things you may not know about living in Playa del Carmen.
The tap water is not safe to drink in Playa del Carmen. Most commonly people will purchase large bottles of water (called a garrafon) that can be bought at a local convenience store or through a water delivery service. These jugs can be placed upside down on a dispenser stand or you can use an electronic pump. Water delivery trucks like Bonafant and E-Pura will also regularly pass through neighborhoods with a loudspeaker to deliver the bottles.
2. You can't flush toilet paper.
The plumbing systems in Playa del Carmen are not equipped to flush toilet paper so you have to throw it away in a waste can next to the toilet. You will see signs in most public restrooms warning you not to flush toilet paper or sanitary items. This was probably the biggest adjustment for me coming from the US! Sometimes I still forget.
3. Milk and eggs are not refrigerated.
During my first trips to the grocery store in Playa del Carmen, I was very surprised to see that milk and eggs are not refrigerated. Milk comes in a boxed carton and is not refrigerated until after you open it. Apparently the pasteurization process is different which makes it safe not to be refrigerated. I definitely don’t like the taste of the milk to drink on its own, but it tastes okay in cereal or coffee.
4. Cash is the preferred method of payment.
Cash is typically the most preferred method of payment in Mexico. More and more places are starting to accept credit cards but you’ll definitely need cash for taxis, buses, and smaller restaurants. It’s a good idea to always keep at least a small amount of pesos on you in case of emergencies. Most shops and restaurants in Playa del Carmen will also accept USD as payment and offer a set exchange rate.
5. WhatsApp is a way of life.
WhatsApp is the most preferred method of communication in Mexico and absolutely nobody sends SMS text messages. WhatsApp is a free messaging app that runs on wifi and you can make voice and video calls as well. Many phone plans include free messaging on WhatsApp, which makes it very popular for international messaging. In addition, many businesses will advertise their Whatsapp number where you can communicate with them quickly and easily.
6. Laundry is done at the lavanderia.
Most homes in Playa del Carmen do not have washers and dryers so the majority of people take their clothes to the lavanderia (laundromat). What’s different is that you drop off your clothes and they will do everything for you – wash, dry, and fold. You can even pay extra to have your delicate items hung dry. The price is measured by the weight of your clothes and it is extremely cheap.
7. Stray dogs and cats are everywhere.
In Playa del Carmen, there is definitely an abundance of stray dogs and cats on the street. It’s not uncommon to see see stray dogs looking for food as well as cats hiding under parked cars. There are periodic campaigns that travel around Playa del Carmen to spay and neuter street dogs and cats but it is still a problem. Most of them are not aggressive and will just leave you alone.
8. Pedestrians do not have the right of way.
You definitely have to be careful when walking and getting around downtown Playa del Carmen. Even though there are crosswalks, pedestrians still do not have the right of way. Taxi drivers in Playa del Carmen can be pretty aggressive so you have to be very cautious when crossing the street.
9. Ketchup comes with delivery pizza.
I was very oddly surprised to find several packets of ketchup (catsup) that came along with my delivery pizza. It turns out that ketchup is a common dipping sauce for pizza in Mexico. I always want ranch but the restaurants are very stingy with it.
10. Mail service is close to impossible.
Mail service is extremely difficult in Playa del Carmen and can take a very long time. Not all homes have mailboxes so it can be trusted to send something to your home. Amazon delivery and online shopping is becoming more popular but the delivery can still be unreliable. It’s pretty common to have an item delivered to a local post office or Fedex delivery point where you have to go pick up your item.
11. There is no shortage of bugs and critters.
Playa del Carmen is located in the middle of the Mayan jungle so there is no shortage of bugs, ants, exotic beetles, small lizards, and even scorpions. It’s not uncommon to find these critters in and around your house or apartment building. Luckily I never had any dangerous encounters other than this giant grasshopper that greeted me outside my window.
12. The grocery stores never have the same inventory.
The grocery stores in Playa del Carmen have a much more limited selection than stores in the United States. And the inventory at the stores will change daily or often on a whim. Some produce items like strawberries, lemons, and sweet potatoes for example will be impossible to find then will just show up randomly. When this happens, it’s best to stock up!
13. Flash floods are extreme.
When it rains in Playa del Carmen, it pours. I’ve been victim to some extreme flash floods in Playa del Carmen and had to walk home in knee deep dirty rain water. The sewage system in Playa is not the best so it can take a long time for the streets to drain.
14. It's home to some exotic wildlife.
As I mentioned Playa del Carmen is basically in the jungle so it’s home to some exotic animals like jaguars and giant iguanas. You will even see jaguar crossing signs on the highway. Another very common animal is the coati, which is kind of like a raccoon. Some people think they are cute but I’ve always been terrified of them.
15. Playa del Carmen has a diverse international community.
It’s rare that you will meet someone in Playa del Carmen that was actually born there. Most locals have moved to Playa del Carmen from nearby towns or other parts of Mexico. However, there are also a large number of expats in Playa del Carmen from the U.S. and Canada, as well as Italy, France, and Argentina. It’s a really cool place to meet diverse people from all around the world.
So are you ready to live in Playa del Carmen Mexico?? These are just a few totally random tidbits that I’ve discovered since moving to Playa del Carmen. Did anything surprise you?
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