Navigating around the Riviera Maya — the sprawling coastal resort area south of Cancun, Mexico — can be tough to do on your own. It often requires figuring out local bus schedules or springing for a spendy excursion. It’s no wonder, then, that staying at a resort here often means, quite literally, staying at the resort. If you’re the kind of traveler who doesn’t want to be stuck in one spot, but also craves the all-inclusive amenities that you’ll find at the more isolated properties, the beach town of Playa del Carmen is a good place to have the best of both worlds — especially if you stay at the Panama Jack Resort. Here’s our review following a recent stay.
Budget Level: Upscale ($150-$300/night per person)
Lodging Type: Resort
What You Need to Know
This relatively compact resort, situated on the beach but also within the town of Playa del Carmen, delivers all the important elements that you’d expect from an all-inclusive resort. There’s a beachside pool with a palapa-shaded bar, lots of options for food and drinks throughout the day, and a comfortable rooms that offer plenty of respite from the heat. Its yellow stucco exterior makes it tough to miss amidst the clamor of downtown Playa, and the resort’s long corridors are open to the sky and divided by plantings of tropical trees, vines, and flowers. The straightforward rooms are done in seaside pastels, but you’ll see occasional grandiose flourishes — twisting columns, ornate stone pedestals, marble-accented bathrooms — all around the resort. The resort is undergoing transformation in some of its spaces; a new Mexican restaurant, for example, called Zarape, is done in vibrant pinks and greens and has an outdoor patio that provides great opportunities to people-watch. The service here is warm and the tacos and chilaquiles are served fresh.
The crowd here is made up mostly of American couples and families, and the energy is lively without feeling too rowdy.
Who Will Love It
If you’re looking for an easy but versatile getaway, it doesn’t get much simpler than this. Your meals and beverages are covered, so you can explore or head to the beach with the reassurance that your next meal — or cold bottle of Corona — is within easy reach, and without having to plan ahead or open your wallet.
Who Might Not
If you crave absolute isolation, this resort might feel a little too in the middle of things. Many rooms with a partial ocean view also overlook a street that’s busy with foot traffic and cars into the evening.
The rooftop pool feels like a perfectly peaceful secret. With an adjoining sushi bar, about a dozen loungers, and partial shade throughout the day, this on-site haven is open to all guests and never feels busy. The serene spa, which offers tequila-themed treatments, is another place to bliss out. Look for discounts and specials in slower months.
All meals and beverages (including alcohol), are included, as is room service, a stocked minibar, and a collection of activities like wine and tequila tastings as well as fitness classes. You can also borrow equipment like boogie boards, kayaks, and snorkeling gear.
Fees and Extra Costs You Should Know About
Spa treatments cost extra, as do upgraded poolside cabanas.
How to Get a Deal
Stay from October to December, when kids go back to school and the crowds quiet down. Part of this period overlaps with hurricane season, when the risk of inclement weather is higher, but bargains abound. Look to pay about $100-$150 per person, per night in this period, and $150-$220 per person, per night at busier times of the year.
In the Neighborhood
With this resort, the neighborhood is everything. Situated one block from Playa’s Fifth Avenue, stepping off the resort and into the action is easy. This iconic central drag has many personalities and is alternately edged by mirrored shopping plazas, palapa-covered tequila bars, mom-and-pop vendors hawking snacks and local crafts, and easygoing cafes. Stroll down the street in the evening for the most action, when the area is a hotspot for travelers and locals alike. Take a left when leaving the Panama Jack Resort to head south and explore Fifth Avenue’s more built-up, commercial side, or right to see its developing northern flank, which is quieter but has just as much personality.
Cancun’s airport can be reached via a 45-minute transfer, a direct shot down route 307. The hotel can arrange private transfers for you, or there are dozens of group shuttles that leave from the airport. Expect to pay about $80 USD round-trip for a group transfer, and about $100-$150 USD round-trip for a private transfer.
The Bottom Line
For a resort experience that puts you right in the center of things, this is a great choice in Playa del Carmen.