Playa del Carmen, Mexico has the best of many worlds, with amazing beaches, plenty of great restaurants and shops, and the nightlife many crave in the proximity of Cancun. I was recently in the area and stayed at two great and very different hotels, and had a chance to explore the area (a second time).
Situated off the path are several big box resorts, like the Banyon Tree Mayakoba, my first spot. This was a serene escape, in a lush jungle-like section of the area. It is located in a mangrove inlet with 2 other properties, and is definitely off-the-beaten-path. The expansive area is connected by boat or golf cart, or you can venture out and enjoy nature on your own two feet. We stayed in a 3 bedroom villa which was fitted with a private pool, and lovely furnishings.
My time at the Banyon Tree was utterly relaxing and healthful, with morning gym time at the fitness center or a short nature walk, followed by the best breakfast buffet I have seen. We would then head to one of the various pools, or the beach club called Sands, where we soaked in some sun and enjoyed some libations. We ended the evenings with dinners at the resorts two restaurants, Saffron (authentic Thai) and Tamarind (international cuisine). The meals were delicious and fresh (and sharable), and the drinks like the spa cocktail (cucumber martini) and margaritas were favorites of the group.
This was a truly fabulous vacation destination, with only a few things we were left wanting: wishing the private pool was heated, and missing that amazing Cancun beach view.
All in all though, the service and staff along with the overall experience were excellent and made you feel special and utterly private.