La Sirena (5 Av. at Calle 26, tel. 984/803-3422, lasirenaplayadelcarmen [at] hotmail [dot] com, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. daily) is a boutique specializing in Mexican folk art. Italian shop owner Patrizia personally selects the exceptional pieces—whimsical skeleton art, colonial statuettes of La Virgen de Guadalupe, tin-framed mirrors, bright shawls—and you’re sure to find something you can’t resist.
Caracol (5 Av. btwn Calles 6 and 8, tel. 984/803-1959, 9:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. daily) is a pricey boutique selling unique Mexican textiles. It makes a great stop, even if just to admire the spectacular fabrics—clothing, tablecloths, bedding, and decorative art—that the owner handpicks herself on buying trips throughout southern Mexico.
Jam-packed with high-end Mexican folk art, Pachamama (Calle Corazón near 5 Av., tel. 984/803-3355, 9 a.m.–11 p.m. daily) is a sure thing if you’re willing to drop a load of pesos. Skeleton art and hipster clothes from the D.F. figure prominently.
The best bookshop in the region is in nearby Puerto Morelos , and a stop there can be part of a nice day trip from Playa. In town, Mundo (Calle 1 Sur btwn 20 and 25 Av., tel. 984/879-3004, www.pequemundo.com.mx , 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Sat.) has several English-language titles, new and used. Mysteries, romances, and other beach reads abound, but a close look turns up some good novels and nonfiction books. The shop buys back its own books for 50 percent, credit or trade toward a used book—a great deal if you’re tearing through books. There’s also a small selection of regional maps.
Opening onto a leafy courtyard, Galería de Arte (5 Av. near Calle 6, no phone, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. daily) is a collection of about a dozen galleries featuring modern art paintings, sculptures, and wood carvings. Items are by no means cheap, but if you’re in the market for something special, you may find what you’re looking for here. If it’s too pricey, stop in just to enjoy the art.
For a decent selection of specialty tequilas, check out Casa Tequila (5 Av. near Calle 14 Bis, 9 a.m.–midnight daily), where in addition to fine tequila you’ll find a nice variety of silver jewelry. A small sister store is also at Quinta Avenida  at Calle 16.
For cigars, stop by Havana Cigar Co. (5 Av. btwn Calles 10 and 12, tel. 984/803-1047, 9 a.m.–11:30 p.m. daily). Cuban and Mexican puros are sold individually (US$5–15) or by the box (US$55–450).
At the southern end of Quinta Avenida, Paseo del Carmen (10 a.m.–10 p.m. daily) is a shady outdoor shopping center with high-end clothing boutiques, jewelry stores, art galleries, and restaurants. Its series of modern fountains make it an especially pleasant place to window-shop or enjoy a nice lunch after a morning at the beach.