At the turn of the century, Playa Del Carmen was one of the fastest-growing cities in Latin America and is still the fastest-growing city in Mexico. Its population doubled from 40,000 in 1990 to 80,000 in 2000 and has since tripled to over 300,000 people in 2023. Its growth spurt, due to tourism, has brought in workers from all over the country and the globe.
In 2006, the transition was obvious. Big brand stores started popping up on 5th Avenue, its main commercial drag. While just blocks away or a five-minute walk, and out of sight of the majority of tourists, workers lived in humble buildings with dirt roads, outdoor kitchens, street vendors, and eclectic bodegas and restaurants. Today these streets have been developed, becoming part of the sprawl that now extends past the highway, and have been replaced with ritzy hotels, Walmart supercenters, condos, and expensive homes.