a busy street in Playa Del Carmen named 5th avenue, most popular street in the city / scams in Playa del Carmen

9 Scams In Playa Del Carmen to Avoid

Playa Del Carmen is one of the most popular destinations along Mexico’s famous Riviera Maya, and because of that, scams in Playa Del Carmen are common.

The town is surrounded by its popular 5th Avenue street, where countless restaurants, bars, shops, and nightclubs are found. Walking down the street any day of the week, especially at night, you’ll see waves of tourists exploring it.

Playa Del Carmen thrives on its tourism, and scammers are aware of the many tourists coming and leaving the beach town every day and are here to take advantage of it.

Here’s a list of scams in Playa Del Carmen you should watch out for when visiting. If you’ve never been to Mexico before, I’d like to mention that the locals are very friendly and hospitable.

But at the end of the day, generally speaking, popular tourist places you’ll visit in the world are bound to have scammers looking to take advantage of tourists!

Playa Del Carmen famous waterfront area features the well-known mermaid statue

Airport Transfer Scam

As soon as you arrive at Cancun International Airport and looking to get to Playa Del Carmen, you’ll run into airport transfer scams.

Airport transfer scams are very similar to the taxi overcharging scams. The only difference is you’ll most likely be scammed for more because it’s a 1-hour drive from Cancun Airport to Playa Del Carmen.

You’ll be approached by countless minibus drivers, taxis, and private car services asking you if you need a ride to your hotel. While it may be convenient just to pick up your luggage and go, understand that many drivers will overcharge you for your trip to Playa del Carmen.

An airport transfer from Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen costs between 1,100 and 1,300 Mexican pesos ($80-$90 US). But there are cheaper ways to get to Playa Del Carmen from Cancun Airport.

I’ve visited this region of Mexico many times and have many friends who live there. I’ve heard of some ridiculous prices offered to leave Cancun Airport and go to Playa Del Carmen, and some drivers will propose $200+ US!

Cancun International Airport is one of the busiest airports in North America, and scammers are well aware of how many tourists are arriving and trying to get to towns along the Riviera Maya.

If you’re curious if Uber operates in this part of Mexico, it does, but Ubers aren’t allowed to enter Cancun Airport. Besides that, it’s unsafe to take Uber in this region of Mexico because of the cartel’s control of taxis. You’re safe taking a taxi here, but not an Uber.

How To Avoid: Book private airport transportation in advance. Take the ADO Bus or an airport shuttle.

calm waters with a sunset beginning in the distance at Playa Del Carmen main beach

Taxi Scams

When it comes to scams in Playa Del Carmen, the taxi overcharge scam stands out as the most frequently encountered. Visitors to Playa Del Carmen often face this scam, where taxi drivers quote high prices for short distances.

As you ask a taxi driver how much it costs to get back to your hotel or elsewhere, the driver will confidently suggest a high price, like $35+ US for a short distance.

If this happens, keep walking. Most taxi trips in Playa Del Carmen cost around $10-$25 US, depending on where you’re going.

Playa del Carmen is very walkable, and you can visit the town without having to use a taxi. I’ve stayed for months at a time without having to use a taxi once.

When looking to leave town and go to Tulum or Cancun, I always use the ADO Bus.

Walking down 5th Avenue, you’ll constantly be asked if you need a taxi; drivers are everywhere, eager for customers. Also, be prepared to negotiate with taxi drivers to get a trip of fair value!

How To Avoid: Know your prices! Most taxi rides in Playa Del Carmen should cost around $10-$20 US, which is 170-344 Mexican Pesos.

two taxis driving on the busy streets in Mexico

5th Avenue Touters/Salesman

When you visit Playa Del Carmen, you’ll find yourself walking down 5th Avenue daily, sometimes numerous times in one day.

Besides all its bars, restaurants, and shops, 5th Avenue Street is also famous for its touters, scammy salesman, and more.

Beware of any self-proclaimed tour guides offering to show you around town; they’re just trying to make money from you.

You’ll most likely be offered illicit goods many times while walking down 5th Avenue. Don’t engage; drugs are illegal, and those selling them can put you in harm’s way.

For the most part, the salesman on 5th Avenue tends to be the furthest thing from honest. Most shops don’t have any price tags on items, and that’s usually a clear indicator you’ll be overcharged for what you’re buying. Stick with the shops that have clear-cost signage.

By the way, the performers on 5th Avenue aren’t touters; they’re usually very friendly and don’t even ask for tips!

How To Avoid: Avoid any touters/hawkers randomly approaching you on the street. When it comes to salesmen and shops, stick to the stores with clear cost signage.

mariachi band performing for a crowd on 5th Avenue street in Playa del carmen

Restaurant Tipping Scam

The restaurant tipping scam is one you’ll commonly run into in Playa Del Carmen, and it can happen to you in two different ways.

You’ve just enjoyed a meal or perhaps a few drinks at one of the many restaurants in Playa Del Carmen, and it’s time to pay.

Assuming you’ve chosen to pay by card, the waiter approaches you with the machine to tap your card and pay. What you don’t know is the waiter has put in a high tip percentage of themselves without you knowing.

You’re on holiday, or perhaps you’ve had a few drinks, and you’re feeling a bit tipsy; you won’t think much of it and just pay your bill and leave.

Tips are common in Mexico, and when paying a bill, the machine should prompt a screen asking for a tip; if it doesn’t, it’s most likely the waiter has put in a tip on their own.

Another way this scam occurs is like this: As you’re paying your bill at the restaurant, you notice an automatic tip percentage was added to your bill. When you ask staff about it, they suggest this is a standard obligated tip percentage at the restaurant.

Usually, it’s a lie, and you’re being taken advantage of. Sometimes, some restaurants have a set percentage, but it’s rare; speak to the manager before accepting it.

Unfortunately, I’ve experienced this restaurant scam in Tulum, Cancun, and Holbox. So keep an eye out for it anywhere you visit in Mexico.

Tipping in Playa Del Carmen: If you’re unsure what to tip, the tipping standard in Playa Del Carmen is 10% – 20%

How To Avoid: When visiting a restaurant/beach club, ask if there is a tipping policy — Be careful when paying your bill with a machine; make sure the tipping section prompts, and check your bill twice!

sirloin tacos topped off with cilantro, onions and sides of hot sauces on the side and a large margarita drink at El Fogon in Playa Del Carmen

Tour Scams

There are several tour agencies offering many day trips and excursions in and around Playa del Carmen. And walking on 5th Avenue Street, you will be approached by many of them!

There are many tour scams in Playa del Carmen that happen, and you should keep an eye out for them. When visiting, you’ll most likely want to do a day trip to a cenote, Tulum, or Chichen Itza.

Walking around town, you may be told very affordable prices for tours that obviously cost more, and this is a clear indicator that this is a fake tour scam.

Also, be careful when arriving at Cancun International Airport and looking to get to Playa del Carmen; plenty of fake tours are offered here to tourists arriving.

Another one to watch out for is “cheap ferry tickets” to Cozumel. As you approach the Cozumel ferry, plenty of random salespeople offer you a ticket to board the ferry to Cozumel. They’ll suggest to you that they have the cheapest ferry ticket price. Ignore them; buy your ticket from the vendor stand there.

How To Avoid: Book your trips with Viator or GetYourGuide; both review-based reputable tour agencies operating trips in and outside Tulum.

Bill Swap Scam

Anytime you’re in a country you don’t live in for a short period of time, it takes a bit to get familiar with the local currency, the different coins, currency bills, and amounts/colors.

The 50 Mexican pesos and 500 Mexican peso bills look quite similar, but each value is very different. Because of this, it’s common for scammers to do a quick bill swap when handing you your change at a shop or restaurant.

When traveling and paying at a shop, restaurant, or taxi, it’s normal to be mentally distracted by your new surroundings, and because of this, the bill swap scam can get the best of us!

How To Avoid: Get familiar with the local currency, count your money twice before giving it to know how much you should receive back, and be alert for the bill swap scam.

Fake ATMs

Be wary and careful when looking to withdraw money from ATMs in Playa Del Carmen; around the streets, there are fake ATMs conveniently located for tourists in a hurry to get money.

Fake ATMs in Playa Del Carmen will either swallow your card or have skimming machines installed in them, and what skimming machines do is steal all your card details.

The last thing you need during your holidays is your card details stolen, leaving you without a card payment option.

Here’s a travel tip: Never travel only with one card; I always travel with at least two cards, just in case!

How To Avoid: Use ATMs only at official banks in Playa Del Carmen, Scotiabank, Santander, Banco BBVA.

person using an ATM with their card

Fake Souvenirs Scam

Mexico is famous for its culture, heritage, rich Mayan history, and, of course, tequila. This makes Mexico a popular country to purchase souvenirs to take back home.

Whether you’re looking for various handcrafted relics, gold/silver, or aged mezcal and tequila, sometimes many of these items you’re browsing for are unfortunately fake.

Simple items you wouldn’t think are fake, like blankets, t-shirts, and more, are advertised as “Mexican made/or handcrafted,” but they’re actually just mass-produced and shipped in from China.

How To Avoid: Stick to the big stores when purchasing goods; there are times when sellers are selling legitimate handcrafted goods; look for tags and make that decision on your own!

two beautifully decorated colourful skulls on a table to celebrate the Day of the Dead holiday in Mexico

Timeshare Scam

The timeshare scams in Playa del Carmen aren’t popular, but they are still ones you should keep out of when visiting.

But where you’ll most likely run into it is when you’re at Cancun International Airport leaving to come to Playa del Carmen.

Here is what will happen at Cancun Airport or as you’re walking down 5th Avenue Street in Playa del Carmen. You’ll get approached by a few friendly timeshare agents, usually women.

After a bit of small talk with you about your visit to Playa del Carmen, the agents will then proceed to tell you about an “amazing timeshare opportunity” in Playa del Carmen. And to learn more, you must attend a presentation.

Timeshares are a waste of time and have been an apparent scam promoted to many globally for many years now. Don’t waste your precious holiday time.

How To Avoid: When approached by timeshare agents, politely decline any timeshares and continue to say “no gracis” as you walk away.

popular area for nightclubs, several tourist coming in and out of nightclubs in Playa del carmen

Where to Stay in Playa Del Carmen

Hilton Playa: The best All-Inclusive beachfront resort in Playa, conveniently located just a minute’s walk away from the popular 5th Avenue Street

Thompson Playa Del Carmen: Excellent location, steps from the beach in the center of town, and home to CATCH Restaurant, the best rooftop restaurant/bar in Playa!

The Reef 28 (Adults Only): In the center of town, Reef 28 is an excellent adults-only hotel, steps away from the beach and the best beach clubs in town. Staying here gives you access to their popular rooftop bar.

Mvngata Beach Hotel: A boutique hotel with large spacious rooms, exceptional rooftop, and one of the best beach clubs in town.

Che Playa Hostel & Bar: Those looking for a hostel in Playa, look no further; Che offers private rooms and dorm stays. They’ve got a great rooftop bar perfect for meeting other travelers.

Maui Hostel: A popular hostel that offers dorms and private rooms. Located steps away from the beach and 5th Ave Street.

restaurant and pool area at the Thompson in Playa Del Carmen at night

Scams In Playa Del Carmen – Final Thoughts

The fact of the matter is, unfortunately, scams in Playa Del Carmen are common, and you should keep an eye out for them when visiting.

Playa Del Carmen is one of the most popular places to visit in Mexico for vacationgoers, and scammers are very well aware of this. Scams here aren’t spoken about enough, and that’s because it’s a popular/fun beach town, and that’s primarily what’s spoken of when thinking of Playa del Carmen.

But with the town’s popularity and growth in the last many years, Playa Del Carmen continues to see a rise in scams.

All that being said, Playa del Carmen is one of my favorite places to visit in Mexico. There are plenty of excellent restaurants, the nightlife is great here, and the beaches are stunning.

Overall, I’ve always felt safe walking around town, and there’s a fair share of police and National Guard presence patrolling the streets at all times of the day.

walkway full of palm trees towards Playa Del Carmen main beach, a must visit on your Riviera Maya itinerary / Cancun to Playa Del Carmen

Is Playa del Carmen safe?

Yes, for the most part, Playa del Carmen is perfectly safe. But that doesn’t mean crime doesn’t happen from time to time here because it does.

But the government has implemented plenty of police and national guard presence patrolling the streets of Playa del Carmen through the day and night.

What is Playa del Carmen most known for?

Playa Del Carmen is a lively, fun, active beach town with plenty of restaurants, bars, taquerias, hotels, and entertainment. Best of all, it’s a very walkable place!

Can you drink the water in Playa Del Carmen?

No, you cannot. Don’t drink the tap water in Playa Del Carmen. You will get sick or have diarrhea.

How far is Playa del Carmen from the airport?

It’s around 1 hour from Cancun International Airport to Playa Del Carmen when traffic isn’t bad.

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