You will most likely arrive at Cancun international airport, which is only about 45 minutes from Playa del Carmen. Playa has a small airport that mainly has service to Cozumel and some ruins, like Chichén Itzá and Palenque. There's also an international airport in Cozumel, from which it's easy to get to Playa del Carmen.
Customs in Mexico is a roll of the dice. Or more accurately, a push of the button. You will be asked to press a button connected to a little traffic light that will tell your future; green light, and you just walk through, or red light and your bags are inspected. Odds of getting a red light are about one in seven, based upon our experience. You probably have more to be concerned about going back to your home country with a bag full of Cuban cigars and too many bottles of tequila. Obviously there are more security checks everywhere these days.
Exiting customs, you will face a mass of people ready to help you out, amigo. Normally the guys with the hand carts try to confuse you into using their service by calling out different destination names until one catches your attention.
Grab a taxi to the dock, el muelle, for about 10 dollars. Ferries to Playa leave every hour on the hour, except at 11am and 1pm. The ferry ride is about 15 dollars and will take you about 30 minutes. By the dock in Playa, there are tricycle guys that can take your luggage to your hotel, or to the taxi stand by the bus station.
It used to be either expensive or tricky to get from Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen, but those days are behind us. There are now four easy options how to get to Playa:
For larger groups, or those who simply don't want to be bothered with waiting around for a bus, taxi, or shuttle, Playa.info's private transfer service is an excellent choice. Our driver will wait for you outside the arrival terminal, holding a sign with your name on it. The private, air-conditioned van will take you directly to your hotel, with no annoying stops at other people's hotels to put more time between you and the beach. Our service is based in Playa del Carmen, which means that our drivers will know where to go, whether it's a hotel, villa or condo, which may not be the case with a Cancun based driver. The driver can even make a pit stop for cold beer for your ride, if you want (for you, of course, not him!).
Grab an authorized airport taxi. It's a 45 minute ride to Playa del Carmen. A union controls who can carry tourists from the airport and what they charge. Taxis originating in Playa del Carmen are not actually authorized to take people to Playa, but you may end up with a driver that doesn't find his way around Playa very well. The ride to Playa del Carmen will cost you around 65 usd.
A colectivo is (usually) a van that will take up to 10 people. They don't leave at any specific time, but you will have to wait until it's full enough to justify the trip. You may have to make stops at other resorts and hotels along the way, which can easily double the time it will take you to get to Playa del Carmen. To take one of these authorized taxis, go to any of the TTC kiosks located around the terminal and buy a ticket, or just step out of the arrival hall and you will get many offers. The price usually works out to about 18 usd per person.
Mexican bus company Riviera operates a direct bus service between Cancun airport and Playa del Carmen. Tickets are 65 pesos (about 7 usd) each way, either way. It leaves from outside the main arrival hall at the airport. Just before you exit the terminal, there is a Riviera counter where you buy the ticket. In Playa del Carmen the bus works out of the main bus terminal on 5th Avenue and Juarez.
This is the bus schedule (subject to change on short or no notice):
Cancun airport - Playa
10:30, 11:45, 12:45, 13:45, 14:45, 15:45, 16:45, 17:45, 18:45, 19:45, 20:45
8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00, 17:00, 18.15
Note: It's a good idea to have a plan for your transfer before you get here, so you don't get confused by the sometimes chaotic greeting at Cancun airport. People will come up to you and say 'Playa del Carmen?' and try to help you with your bags, in order to get you on their colectivo, taxi or whatever. If you don't want their help, just say no and keep walking. You don't have to respond to everyone out of politeness.
Once you arrive to the bus terminal in Playa, there are plenty of taxis to take you to your final destination. If your hotel is walking distance, but you don't want to lug your bags in the heat, grab a guy with a triciclo, a tricycle. He can get you and your luggage to where you want to go.
We keep our taxi rate sheet up-to-date, so be sure to know the going rate and pay no more. Tipping of taxi drivers is not required or expected, but if a driver is particularly friendly or helpful, it's a nice gesture.
Heading back to the airport is very easy. If you have booked your return transfer through Playa.info, our van will pick you up at your hotel at the time stated in your confirmation, and you have nothing to worry about. You can also take the Riviera direct bus for 65 pesos (schedule above) or take a taxi. Check out the taxi rate sheet for prices. If you call one to pick you up at your hotel, there's an additional fee. You will not save any time by spending your last night in Cancun. The airport is located about 30 minutes from the town of Cancun and 45 minutes from Playa del Carmen.
Currently, American citizens can enter Mexico with only a birth certificate and a photo id. By December 31, 2006, Americans arriving into Mexico by air or sea will be required to have a valid passport. We strongly suggest that you bring your passport to avoid any potential hassles with immigration. Also bear in mind that your passport doesn't only make traveling easier, it is also the best way to prove your nationality. Mexico, like many other countries, requires that your passport have at least 6 valid months left on it when you arrive. Most nationalities do not need to apply for a Mexican visa ahead of time, but some do, so check this in your home country before you leave.
Upon your arrival you will be asked to fill in a departure card, which also serves as your visa. Make sure to keep this paper with your travel documents, as you will be asked to show it when you leave. If you fail to produce it, you will be fined. If you fall in love with Playa, and want to stay longer than planned, like we did, you can extend your visa with a 15 usd prorroga from the Immigration office in Playa, located on the top floor of Plaza Antigua near the entrance of Playacar. You may be asked to show cash or credit cards to prove you have the means to support yourself, and they will ask to see your departing airline ticket. This is best accomplished from 9am to noon, Monday through Saturday. The immigration office has made great strides in improving its efficiency. The current administration is fair and helpful, and the management speaks English. You have to pay the fee in a bank, then return for approval.