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In Playa del Carmen, Akumal and Tulum we have found some great places to spend a day at the beach. These include some of the best beach clubs on Mexico's Caribbean coast.
Mamita's is the queen of Playa del Carmen's North Beach. It fronts one of Playa's finest beaches and offers a large shaded restaurant on a deck above the sand (with standard beach fare of burgers and munchies). You can also eat at tables set on the beach. There is a very small bar, but nobody drinks there. Why sit at a bar when you can have your drink sitting on the sand in front of the Caribbean Sea? They rent lounge chairs and palapa style umbrellas with food and drink service to the chairs.
Mamita's has showers, clean bathrooms, changing areas, and a kiddie pool. The "Lounge" area offers shaded double beds (some hanging swing-like from wooden structures) with loud techno music blaring throughout the day. (can you tell we are older?). Massage, dive shops and various beach activities are nearby.
The beach attracts a diverse crowd that includes many Europeans. As a result the beach has more than its fair share of Playa's famous (infamous?) topless sun bathers. In the evenings Mamita's closes down; however it hosts dances and concerts on occasion, especially in the high seasons. But the real attraction is the location. Beautiful white sand and gorgeous blue water make for a perfect place to sip that afternoon margarita and contemplate the shapes of clouds.
The Blue Parrot bar is one of Playa's oldest beachfront bars. It has gone by different names over the years (once inexplicably called the Dragon Bar with a Chinese Dragon as it's symbol!), but it has always been "The Parrot" to it's legions of fans. It has had its ups and downs, having changed owners, been filled with sand to the ceiling during Hurricane Wilma and even burned down once from a poorly aimed fire dancer's torch that landed on the palapa roof. But it has always survived and still reigns as ground zero for partying in Playa.
A standard beach club with food and drink delivered to beach front chairs during the day, the main attraction is the giant round palapa covered bar with hanging swings instead of stools. Wander up from the beach and sit yourself down at the bar still dripping wet from the ocean. And at night things really heat up. A DJ spins tunes and the dance floor fills up. Soon there is dancing on the floor, the sand, even the bar itself. The Blue Parrot's self proclaimed title of the "Sexiest Bar in Playa del Carmen" seems well deserved around midnight (or later) as the young and beautiful kick it into high gear--dancing, drinking, flirting and connecting.
El Pirata (The Pirate) is an old school beach club with a small bar featuring columpios (swings) and a staff that has been there for years. (Say Hi to Reuben who works the bar in the afternoon.). You can get a beach front lounger or tables and chairs in the sand. The menu is basic beach bar with a couple of exceptions. Good french fries and the best Azteca soup in Playa. If the weather tries to mess up your vacation with rain, go down to the El Pirata, sit beneath an umbrella and sip some warm soup.
In the evening El Pirata offers a quieter alternative to its louder more crowded neighbor, the Blue Parrot. Taped reggae music plays (feel free to dance on the miniscule boat shaped dance floor if you wish) but not so loud that you can't carry on a conversation with people at the same table. And you can take a chair down to the water's edge and let the Caribbean Sea wash over your feet as you sip some Cuban rum and watch the lights sparkle on the island of Cozumel in the distance. That's a pretty nice way to end a day.
Less a beach club and more a restaurant, the PM is still one of our favorite beach destinations. Connected to the hotel of the same name, the Playa Maya restaurant/bar sits beneath a cute palapa palm roof structure right on the beach. Sit at a table and squish the white powder sand between your toes. The setting is great, the staff helpful and courteous. Open throughout the day the Playa Maya is best known for its legendary coconut shrimp. Order a plate and one of their excellent margaritas and you have a nearly perfect Caribbean meal.
However our favorite time to visit the PM is early in the morning before the crowds awake from last night's partying and head down to the beach. We enjoy walking along the shore and stopping in for breakfast. Eggs Benedict, good coffee (maybe a Bloody Mary. Hey! You're on vacation!) while sitting outside in the ocean breeze and watching the sun come up from behind Cozumel island. Pelicans swoop low over the waves and the dive boats push out into the surf. Morning on the beach is possibly one of the best times in Playa del Carmen, and the Playa Maya is one of the best places to be in the morning.
On a beach filled with beach bars, Bad Boys stands out. From the first time you see the skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger pirate flag flying out front, you know this is something different.. Back behind the requisite lounge chairs and umbrellas is the giant palapa of a bar. The beach sand goes all the way to the bar, so walk right up in your swimsuit. Hoist yourself up on one of the ridiculously high stools (no swings in this joint!) and order a beer or a shot of tequila from one of the pretty girls working there. They have an average beach food menu, but the cheeseburgers are pretty good. Yes the bar is a little seedier than most, a little more ragged around the edges. A bit of a dive in fact. However several times a week, around 5 or 6, some of the guys at the bar suddenly wander to the back where there is a small stage fronted by a dance floor. Instruments are brought out and a Chicago blues riff splits the air. And then things start to cook. Bad Boys is where local blues players jam and people boogie. The party can go to 8 or 9, sometimes longer depending on the guys playing and the mood of the crowd. Before it gets too late, the music and the customers head over to Captain Dave's on 10th Ave near Calle 8 which is owned by the same folks. The party continues there. Bad Boys, bikinis, beer, blues and the beach. That's a party.
La Buena Vida (the Good Life) is a Caribbean Cheers. It feels like your special hangout, even if you are visiting for the first time. You know you are in the right place when you see a couple of skeletons sitting at the end of the bar--old customers who just couldn't leave. In addition to a large bar (again, swings) there are tables set in the sand on various levels overlooking the bay. On windy days you can go to the enclosed upstairs dining room. The menu is varied and better than average for a beach front bar. The drinks are generous and the music usually reggae or blues played at an agreeable level. If you feel really adventurous, climb up to one of the crow's nests perched upon poles looking out to the ocean and enjoy the view.
The crowd at the BV is nice and welcoming made up of tourists in the know and long term locals. The staff is friendly without the usual resort hustle. It is a perfect place to relax after a day of snorkeling at Yal-ku Lagoon or in Akumal Bay. Once you are there, it won't take long to feel like "everybody knows your name."
The Nuddy Beach Club has two locations: one in Playa del Carmen and one in Tulum We greatly prefer the one in Tulum. Its setting is prettier, the staff friendlier, the management more concerned and the crowds...well, it's less crowded.
The Nuddy in Tulum sits on one of the nicest beaches in the entire Mayan Riviera, possibly the whole of the Caribbean. The beach is snow white powder sand which slopes easily into turquoise blue waters. There is nothing but the water breaking on the coral reef offshore to interfere with your view of the sea.
The beach club has a very nice little bar and restaurant (the required swings at the bar and tables in the sand) which serves good food and tasty drinks. On either side of the bar are beach loungers and/or round beds large enough for you and a couple of friends. The beach is big enough that even when full of people you don't feel like a sardine. Nearby a couple of local Rastafarians will gladly take you out to the reef in their boat for a snorkeling trip.
This beach and the crowd are typical Tulum: laid back, relaxed and sensual. We asked the manager what the name "Nuddy" meant and he grinned and said "Naked, of course!" The Nuddy at El Paraiso. Naked in Paradise. "Have another rum punch, 'Mon, it's the Caribbean."