A good place for us to start our walk down Playa del Carmen’s 5th Avenue is Parque Fundadores – translated means Founders Park. The park’s bronze center piece stands just over 50 feet tall and celebrates the New Mayan Calendar. The park always has cultural events happening at different hours of the day. The entertainment could be a Mayan dance ritual at the foot of the statue or flying Indians from a pole high above the ground. No matter which, its worth visiting.
The park takes up approximately a square city block and is surrounded mostly by merchants selling everything from jewelry to sombreros and more. The ADO bus terminal is catty corner from the Park, along with a central taxi pick up and drop off location.
Here is where our adventure begins. We quickly duck into the flow of pedestrian traffic. You have to juggle between watching which direction the people are moving, glancing at all the shops on both sides of the street, checking out all the eateries and the occasional street show makes it a little tricky at times. This is a task that I hope you have experienced before. It will come in handy.
When you come to a place where you want to stop, you simple find an opportunity to cut across, say your apologies – lo siento (I am sorry) or disculpe (excuse me) in Spanish and move on. I am figuring this maneuver will happen a lot as we go on. The variety of shops can go from an ultra modern mall with extraordinary window displays to a thatched roof building that has hanging shirts waving in the wind (pictured above – right).
If the uniqueness of the structures don’t capture your attention, the bright contrasting colors will. And if that isn’t enough to grab you, than maybe the shop’s owner barking out his calling to you will direct you curiosity towards his goods. Be prepared for a lot of the yelping coming from many different directions. Believe me, it does get your attention.
The one thing you won’t find on Fifth Avenue is conformity. This makes the experience that much more fun. You can be in a modern ice cream parlor ordering a scoop of your favorite flavor, and ten steps later will be looking down at your feet admiring handmade necklaces and bracelets. If that’s not enough to make you smile, then look up and maybe you will be able to get a cold cut combo while waiting for your prescription to be filled. Every which way you look, you will find a shop selling or advertising something that is so far off from mainstream retail.
We got our ice cream and again began walking north. This part the of 5th Avenue has an abundance of trees that provides a canopy that protects people from the suns blaring rays. I don’t know where to begin describing the many different places to enjoy food and beverages. Lets start with the less traditional ones and go from there.
Almost every style and flavored cuisine is represented on Fifth Avenue. Playa del Carmen has a generous supply of well rounded chefs from all around the world. One example is the Euro Grill which relies on its reputation for grilled Bratwurst, Frankfurters and polish Sausages. After being on side streets for many years earning their due respect, they finally made the move to Fifth Avenue. Quite an accomplishment considering all the eateries that don’t make it for one reason or another.
The Aldea Corazon – translated means Village Heart (shown below – left), is a newer establishment that offers a true jungle like atmosphere with a small cenote submerged in the center of the restaurant. The menu, which is displayed at the entrance, offers traditional cuisines with a chefs touch. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner during the appropriate times of the day.
There is a newer generation of contemporary styled bars & grills and restaurants popping up all along Fifth Avenue’s crowded thoroughfare. One of them is Las Hijos de la Tostada – translated means “The Children of Toast”. Its a white sun visor looking building with a turquoise blue awning that looks like a bill of a cap (pictured right). Its rumored to be one of a few popular hangouts for expats wanting a place to share chit chat with one another. The menu offers a wide selection of seafood dishes, different types of sandwiches, appetizers and snacks. The bar & grill uses the same outside colors to accent its dining areas as well.
The very active Fifth Avenue also plays host to many hotels and vacation condos. Some vacationers like to be near the action. They want to step out of their room and have everything at their finger tips. This is not to mention the beach and all its bars and grills being just a block away. There are plenty of places to accommodate these fun loving and spirited people. They go from the budget minded person who spends little to no time in their room, to the more elaborate suites for those who want a bit more luxury and pampering, and everything in between. Hotel Banana sits right on Fifth and offers very nice rooms and several amenities for a very reasonable price.
If you are looking for more of a suite with resort style amenities like bars, restaurants and concierge services, then maybe a hotel like Hotel Tukan (pictured right) would be a better fit. They also offer an all-inclusive program that caters to all your food and beverage needs. They are also only steps away from 5th Avenue.
There are several open air traditional markets where multiple shops share side-by-side space along the Avenue’s strip. They would be hard to miss with all the bright colored awnings shading the merchants who display their wares along the street’s edge. Here is were we do our best negotiating when wanting to buy local crafts, jewelry or textiles. Bartering is part of their everyday business and expected. It usually ends in a win – win situation.
We then traveled a block or two down and found ourselves standing in front of a 21st century multi-level mall. We had lots of choices to shop at name brand stores with large glass doors welcoming our visit. When the posh air conditioned showrooms get boring, you can ride an escalator to the second floor mezzanine and dine in a restaurant that overlooks Fifth Avenue. The certain paradox between the two totally different traditions will eventually give way to the trending times.
As we walk along Fifth Ave., it is not just all shops and eateries. There are lighthearted displays and artistic creations that sit atop pedestals and hang from the skies. A display that I found kind of amusing was the tall tequila bottle with what appeared to be a family of mannequins hanging around it. What intrigues me even more is that after the mannequins have a shot of tequila, they can get a massage for 33 USD – according to the stand next to the inflated bottle.
Another welcoming display is the skeletal figures that sit at tables with the eatery’s food placed next to or in front of them. Is this trying to capture your attention favorably or is the food really that bad? You might want to think twice about taking a date here, unless you are both on a serious diet.
As you strolled along enjoying the sites, don’t forget to glance up every once in awhile. The trees sometimes hold some amazing bits of artwork. The decorative spheres seem to float just under the various branches like oversize seeds.
There are several peculiar forms of art that are displayed in various public locations for all to view. I found one piece quite interesting (shown below). It was made from intertwined wood and a mixture of vegetables. This inanimate, but very recognizable creature resembles a raving chicken looking ready to attack its prey. I can only imagine its wanting revenge upon the human race. Can you really blame the artist and his theme?
I have watched Fifth Avenue be recreated throughout the years of coming here to Playa del Carmen. I have witnessed it go from being a street of hard packed dirt, broken brick and pitted asphalt, to a paver laid walkway with all the modern day essentials. The new is slowly squeezing out the old and traditional. Don’t get me wrong, some of the changes were needed and have been for the better. But I can see the writing on the wall. One day in the not so distant future, Fifth Avenue will hide its precious history behind all the modern facades that erased its original roots of being a small and quaint little fishing village.
Author: Anthony Scopel
Photography: Anthony Scopel
Associate Editor: Maureen Scopel
Technical Mastering & Support: Matt Kemper
A special thank you to my wife for tolerating the heat on the day we did this assignment