If you want all-night superclubs and poolside parties, go to Ibiza. If you want candy-coated ravers sporting tutus and suspiciously enlarged pupils, go to Ultra Miami.
But if your sophisticated palate prefers tropical temperatures, low-key beach bashes, and DJs that haven’t quite hit the mainstream, come to BPM.
BPM is not a ‘festival’ in the traditional sense of the word. You won’t find the fashion sense of Glastonbury, the unique culture of Burning Man, or the celeb spotting of Cannes. What you will find is a 10-day, SXSW-style takeover and a lineup of more than 350 international acts on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera.
With white sand beaches on one side, ancient ruins on the other, and a dizzying array of notable DJs in between, BPM has become one of the world’s premiere destinations for dance music aficionados. Here’s our guide to BPM festival.
Behind The Beach Beats
Since it launched in 2008, BPM has grown from 5,000 attendees to more than 55,000. Some have compared it to Miami’s industry-focused Winter Music Conference, but fans and performers alike say BPM is an experience all its own.
Co-founders Phil Pulitano and Craig Pettigrew began toying with the idea of throwing their own Ibiza-style festival a decade ago. They knew exactly what they wanted: something beautiful and affordable. Ibiza and Miami both earned As in the scenery category, but Ibiza was an expensive flight and Miami, where tables at clubs cost hundreds of dollars a night, was also a pricey prospect.
“BPM may be growing faster than an old man’s ear hairs, but the vibe is nothing like its commerical cousins (and that’s a good thing).”
They settled on Playa del Carmen, where expenses were reasonable and the beachfront views were impossible to beat. The first BPM was planned in seven months as a festival and conference. Pulitano and Pettigrew are the first to admit it was too much, too soon. For year two, they dropped the conference element and honed in on the music.
It was a winning strategy. BPM has grown exponentially over the years to become a major event in the world’s dance music calendar. Guests flock to Playa’s pristine shores for intimate artist showcases and label parties, for a chance to hear new music before anyone else, and for the opportunity to see rising stars before they get their big breaks.
Unspoken Underground Ethos
BPM may be growing faster than an old man’s ear hairs, but the vibe is nothing like its commerical cousins (and that’s a good thing).
This isn’t a “see and be seen” kind of event. This is about simplicity, about stripping back the unnecessary trappings and getting back to basics. The draw isn’t the scene. There’s only one thing that really matters – damn good music – and with a jam-packed roster of hundreds of DJs from around the world, BPM has it in spades.
Playa del Carmen isn’t massive. It isn’t trendy. It’s not a place to get your photo taken for a website’s festival style roundup. It’s an event for enthusiasts and industry insiders, for people who aren’t interested in radio-friendly pop masquerading as dance music, for people who prefer an intimate concert experience over confetti cannons and pyrotechnics.
If you’re expecting a raging club scene, rage on elsewhere. But if you want to get up-close-and-personal with the best in underground house and techno, pack your bags and hop a plane to Playa.
What You Need To Know
Let’s get down to business. If you’re going to survive 10 days of non-stop partying, you need to plan ahead. Here’s our guide to BPM festival, what you should know before you go.
BPM takes place in January. Check the website for tickets starting in August and September of the previous year. You’ll also find updated line-ups of artists and venues, so you can plan your party-hopping early.
Festival passes are available for a triple-digit fee. Guests with wristbands can bounce from party to party (most are within walking distance) with ease. It’s not cheap, but it’s the best option for first-time BPM’ers who are looking to experience as much as possible with minimal fuss.
Tickets for individual events can also be purchased online or at the door (if the party hasn’t sold out). Experienced festival goers may prefer this option, as they know exactly which events they want to attend.
Travel & Transport
The main gateway for Playa del Carmen is the Cancun International Airport (CUN). Cabs and buses are available for the 56-km trip from Cancun to Playa.
Once you’re in town, transportation is easy. Much of BPM’s festivities can be reached on foot. The town’s bustling main drag (La Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue) is pedestrian-only. If you’re staying farther from the centre of the action, or are attending a party outside of Playa del Carmen, taxis are your best bet. Just make sure to confirm the fare before crawling into the back seat.
For sightseeing, the cheapest option is a shared van or colectivo. These run between Playa del Carmen and popular tourist destinations for a few dollars. Brush up on your Spanish first.
The hub of BPM activity is Calle 12 and the beach where several popular clubs are located. Events run as far north as Calle 28 and as far south as Calle 6. As long as you’re lodged between those points, and east of 30th Avenue, you’ll be within walking distance of most festival venues.
Housing options range from pricer hotels to more economical AirBnB digs. Choose whatever suits your budget and living standards.
Pro Tip for Guide to BPM festival #1: don’t share a hotel room with a couple who spends the whole trip fighting. Personal experience says that’s not the ideal way to enjoy your time in Playa.
Keep it simple. This is not the place for wellies, shutter shades, flower crowns, or glow sticks. There’s no cult of festival fashion at BPM.
After several days of straight partying, no one looks their best (and any designer duds you misguidedly donned will be ruined). Wear whatever it takes to keep you comfortable on the dancefloor for as long as humanly possible. And pack something for the beach. That’s all you need to survive BPM in style.
Food & Drink
Drink prices are nothing out of the ordinary, but food can be found for cheap. Local taquerias offer eats at bargain prices, while tourist-oriented restaurants serve more upscale, but still affordable, fare.
Pro Tip for Guide to BPM festival #2: avoid shrimp if you don’t want to spend a night on the bathroom floor of the aforementioned miserably shared hotel room.
So many DJs, so little time. With a party happening 24/7, where are your 10 days in Playa best spent?
Blue Parrot is the area’s largest and oldest club. Other popular spots include Tabu, Coco Maya, and the beach bars Mamita’s and Kool Beach. For a more intimate experience, try Fusion Beach Club. In addition to the regular roster of events, unofficial events and parties pop up in Playa and the surrounding area. Be on the lookout for surprise events occurring outside the official party circuit.
The one thing you can’t miss is a trip to Blue Venado. Located 30 minutes outside of Playa del Carmen and accessible only by a jarring ride down a dirt road, this is the crown jewel of BPM venues. A colossal cabana-style stage empties onto a softly sloping beach, where guests revel until the wee hours and then some.
Pro Tip for Guide to BPM festival #3: spend at least one morning at Blue Venado watching the sun rise over the Caribbean. Bonus points if it’s New Year’s Day. It’s as unforgettable as anything can be with copious amounts of alcohol coursing through your system.