The Old and The New Downtown Playa del Carmen
When we think of the Riviera Maya and Playa del Carmen, we generally think of beautiful condos overlooking the beach, or nice units only a short walk way. (One of the defining factors of the area is that properties back from the beach tend to hold high appeal and value.) As far as image goes, downtown Playa del Carmen is no exception; this is the heart of the area’s “European” atmosphere and offers the ideal walk-everywhere lifestyle in an upscale setting.
While this image is, for the most part, true, there is one little exception – the south half of downtown. Until very recently, this area saw little of the upscale development that has been appearing all around it. This is now changing, and very nice Riviera Maya condos are becoming available in this part of downtown; this also means that there are excellent opportunities appearing due to the newness of the upscale development.
To understand how these new opportunities have arisen, let’s consider the history of this part of town.
The Fishing Village
Before the area had gained any attention from the world of tourism – or any attention whatsoever – there had been a little fishing village on a beautiful, but abandoned and unknown beachfront. This village was Playa del Carmen, which was founded during the 1930s. For the first 40 years of its existence, it didn’t look like it would ever be much more than that.
The Creation of Cancun
During the 60s, the government of Mexico was seeking ways to bring more foreign investment to Mexico and have more foreigners spend their money in this country; the answer: tourism. The government decided to take a stretch of abandoned beachfront and convert into the country’s first fully planned resort city. This city, which came into existence just at the end of the decade, was Cancun, about 45 miles north of the unknown fishing village of Playa del Carmen.
As tourism to Cancun increased, tourists began to head down to see the pyramids in Tulum; the halfway point was Playa del Carmen. More significantly, Playa del Carmen had a ferry dock to the island of Cozumel where tourists would head to dive in the coral reef or visit pyramids. As the number of visitors stopping over in Playa del Carmen increase, the village grew into a small town, and shops and restaurants began to appear on Fifth Avenue, the town’s main street, running parallel to the beachfront, about a block away. This original small town is what’s now the south end of downtown.
The Beachfront and the North Half
What was originally just a stop-over along the way started becoming a destination in itself. Fifth Avenue grew and more shops, small hotels, restaurants and bars showed up. Some of the visitors began considering the possibility of buying a home or condo and living here. Of course, the beachfront became a huge favorite. However, as new, upscale condo development appeared, it was more focused just north of the existing town – in the area which is now the north half of downtown. With the arrival of many Italian & Spanish investors and expats, the north half of downtown gained a distinctly European atmosphere, which left its mark on both parts of Fifth Avenue – the original stretch in the south part of downtown, and in the new stretch in the north part. This is not to say that upscale development did not appear in the south half of downtown, but it was much slower than in the north half.
Just south of the original town, a new plan took shape. Two gated communities were developed; one was on the beachfront with nice hotels, resorts, beautiful condos and luxury homes. The other was back from the beach, centered on a professional golf course. These are Playacar Phase 1 and Phase 2. This left the original town (the south half of downtown) “sandwiched” between two very nice areas.
During the 2000’s, Playa del Carmen boomed. New gated communities appeared out along the beachfront. Nice condos appeared at a faster rate in the north part of downtown. The city grew back from the beach with modern shopping centers and new residential areas. In the south half of downtown itself, large new supermarkets appeared, like Walmart, and other stores like Office Depot.
In the very heart of all of this, there was still that little pock left of the old town. Many of the homes had been converted into local shops and stores – sometimes nicely, sometimes haphazardly. Of course, there were some nice hotels and condo complexes in this area, but these tended to be the exception rather than the rule. The fact that the area was surrounded by such nice development, so close to everything and right in the middle of this booming tourist town suggested that it was only a matter of time until this changed.
New Opportunities Downtown
Starting a couple of years ago, this is exactly what has been happening. The old homes and local shops have begun to give way to boutique hotels and nice, new condo developments. The success of the first few developments has led to more being opened. This points to an important fact for buyers; new opportunities for investment in nice real estate are becoming available in a prime location downtown Playa del Carmen. The new condo developments offer upscale units along with many amenities such as rooftop pools, spas and underground parking.
As suggested above, this area has everything to offer buyers. One of the nicest and widest parts of the beachfront is directly downtown, with many access points. Fifth Avenue, which runs between this neighborhood and the beach is never more than a couple of short blocks away. Fifth Avenue is now the heart of the Riviera Maya’s thriving tourism, with excellent shopping, nice boutiques with clothing and jewellery, quaint hotels, cigar and tequila shops, relaxing cafes, international dining and vibrant bars. Sidewalk patios line the pedestrian-only street.
Residents who buy in the south half of downtown can also walk to local fruit and vegetable markets, bakeries and gelaterias – not to mention Walmart and 3 similar large supermarkets. The same area is home to good dentists and clinics where English is spoken. All of this is within a 5-10 minute walk of most of the condos. About the only thing not within walking distance are the 2 new malls back in the newer development areas, along with their large-screen movie theaters. Chances are, residents of downtown will hardly miss this, and if they do, they would only half to take the 10 minute taxi ride out, which would cost about $3.
Prices in this area are lower than one might expect for all of this. As this transformation of the south half of downtown continues, it can hardly be expected that prices will stay this way; but this is good news for those who buy sometime soon. This means there is a good probability that values will increase.
The interesting point is that the newest opportunity in Riviera Maya condos is located in its oldest neighborhood. In all aspects, this is a good thing for the Riviera Maya as a whole, for the city of Playa del Carmen and for buyers who invest here.
TOPMexicoRealEstate.com; Mexico's Leading Network of Specialists for Finding and Purchasing Mexican Properties Safely
Thomas Lloyd, founder and president of TOPMexicoRealestate.com, is originally from Indiana, and a is a graduate of Purdue University in the Krannert School of Management. He holds a degree in management with a speciality in finances. Lloyd has several diplomas and certifications in Mexico Real Estate topics and is one of only a few professionals to hold Mexico's new degree in real estate. This degree is accompanied by a Professional Identification Number, "cedula profesional," which is issued for trained professionals such as those in the medical field, or in law. He has over 15 years of direct experience in Mexico's business