Playa del Carmen
An hour south of Cancun is its slightly more sophisticated sister, Playa del Carmen. Only 15 years ago Playa was a stretch of beach ringed by a small town, palapa beach huts, and fishermen. Today she's bloomed into a thriving beach city, packed with beach bars, restaurants, trendy boutique hotels (where you won't be staying), and a solid party scene. The crowd is a hearty blend of locals, expats, men who think it's OK to wear straw fedoras at the beach (and their girlfriend counterparts), and backpackers.
Where to stay: Hostel 3B, $15/night
What to do: With so many tourists in a concentrated area, prices are higher in Playa del Carmen. Still, it's possible to take your additional $15 and have a fine day. You won't be out 'til 4am slinging back Coco Locos (as an adult you've outgrown those anyway, right?), but you won't be sitting in your 10-bed mixed dorm room all night, either.