About 50 minutes south of the Mexican tourist favorite of Cancún, Playa del Carmen has become a sophisticated beachside city with over 200,000 residents and millions of visitors…it has large malls, an international dining scene, box stores, and a very international community. In a city so new, everyone is from somewhere else. English is spoken everywhere.
This has happened so fast it’s mind blowing.
Playa del Carmen was once a humble fishing village. Tourists went there only to get a ferry to an island offshore. In the 1990s, development started. And the tourists began to stay. Hotels and restaurants opened up. Europeans and North Americans discovered its powder white-sand beaches, friendly vibe, and walkable streets.
My first trip to Playa del Carmen was over 15 years ago. The talk was of a Path of Progress event unlike any other. Huge development and infrastructural improvement. I knew I had to go. So, from Panama City, where I was starting to earnestly invest in overseas real estate, I took a flight to Cancún.
The Path of Progress had already taken shape around Cancún, and the deep-pocketed Mexican tourism authority, FONATUR, were still happily pouring money into their vision for this new Riviera.
It’s rare to find a state-run group with their act together. Even rarer to find one with vision, I thought. Yet FONATUR seemed the exception. As far back as the 1960s, they were scouring Mexico for the perfect location. When they settled on the Riviera Maya there was nothing there. Cancún was just a coconut plantation. Pigs roamed the dirt streets of Playa del Carmen.
But transformation came fast.
By the early 2000s this Path of Progress was well and truly rolling, moving fast down the coast toward Playa del Carmen.
When I first arrived in Playa del Carmen, I was struck first by the pristine curve of beach and charming beachfront palapas, and then by what a transformation Playa del Carmen was undergoing. Few streets were paved. Yet construction was in full swing on major resorts and condo projects. There were backpackers and hippies everywhere. But also more mainstream tourists coming for a week of sun. By and large, Playa was a mix of charming and tourist tacky.
Every time I visit, I’m struck by just how rapid development has been. In 2007, Playa del Carmen was reportedly the world’s fastest-growing city. A new city born in just three decades. Playa is truly an internationalized place…
Today, Playa is what I call an “inherently desirable destination.” The weather is pretty much perfect year-round, the beaches are stunning white-sand Caribbean, and the nightlife is superb.
It’s a city that welcomes millions of visitors each year. Europeans come in the summer months. North Americans visit over Christmas and New Year. Well-heeled Mexicans come for Easter and national holidays. You’ll hear accents from all over the world, as far afield as New Zealand and Russia.
And it’s not just vacationers driving demand. Playa has become a destination for business travelers as well as home to thousands of expats from all over the world. It’s now a thriving city drawing in entrepreneurs and international travelers from all corners.
I travel to Playa frequently, as do members of my team, and we’ve all had problems finding a decent place to stay. Playa is often at full capacity. Many hotels in Playa are fully booked for much of the year.
Demand is not slackening. The season in Playa is getting longer and longer.
Playa del Carmen has one of the hottest short-term rental markets on my global real estate beat. The rental pool is diversified, so even with a dip in numbers visiting from one destination, it still brings in plenty of eager renters from elsewhere.
This means if you have your dream home here and you are thinking of renting it, it’s a good place to do it. And it’s a place where rental potential is strong in good times and bad. And this is crucial…
During a crisis, inherently desirable, internationalized destinations not only survive the turbulence, but they can come out much stronger than they went in.
Of course, like almost everywhere around the globe right now, Playa has taken a short-term hit in this pandemic, but I expect it will be one of the first places to roar back.
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