Here is a video montage I put together using music from Mexican band Belanova of our trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico in May 2011:
We arrive late night in Cancun airport. Here is a tip I have not read anywhere else; call your bank before you go and not only tell them you’ll be in Mexico, but ask them if they are affiliated with any branches in Mexico. My bank, Bank of America, told me they are affiliated with Santander bank and if I use those ATms id save on fees. So I find a Santander ATM right outside customs and withdraw pesos for the evening and the next day.
I had arranged for a driver to pick us up and take us to the Hotel Casa Ticul. We get to the hotel around midnight, unpack and exhausted fall asleep. (beds are SUPER comfortable)
We are awoken by the sounds of the strangest sounding birds I have ever heard in my life. We have breakfast on the Hotel Casa Ticul rooftop. Delicious desayuno! We pay a deposit to use the caja fuerte (safe) and put our passports and credit cards away. We pick up our coupons for two free chairs and a free umbrella at Mamitas Beach club and head over.
We are not prepared for the tropical heat. We have been to the keys before and Miami, but this was 100x more hot than even south Florida. It was unbearable, but we had brought SPF 80 and reapplied often, had hats and drank mucha agua.
Mamitas is beautiful, plenty of chairs available and we pick one not too close or far from the water. Playa del Carmen has the softest sand I have ever felt, and the water was cool and refreshing. I’m used to Florida ocean water which is so hot it doesn’t cool you off.
We order fried fish and totopos with guacamole. Delicious! The bathrooms were so clean as well. One thing that I really noticed was everywhere we went the bathrooms were MUCH cleaner than your average public bathroom in the United States. In fact, the cleanest bathroom I visited was at a gas station.
I was embarrassed and appalled that a large group first asked that the staff group a giant cluster of 8 chairs or so right by the water (blocking everyones view) and then proceeded to get tacos and other food and BRING IT BACK to mamitas to eat. The staff had to politely as they could tell them they can’t just bring their own food to mamitas. I can’t believe they needed to be told. Do you go to a restaurant and bring your own food? It’s amazingly tacky and entitled.
Once we had enough sun we headed back to swim in the beautiful Casa Ticul pool and then shower and change for a walk around town.
We walked around Avenida Quinta for about 5 minutes before we ran in horror from the tacky tourist mad house. The area of Avenida Quinta where Hotel Casa Ticul is located is SO beautiful and so much nicer than the rest of Avenida Quinta. We never returned to regular Avenida Quinta after that, it was horrifying.
We eventually decided to have drinks at La Bodeguita del Medio near our hotel. What a wonderful place! Cuban rum is illegal in the United States, and having a cuba libre with real sugared coke (I HATE High fructose corn syrup) and real cuban rum was like having a whole other drink. The mojitos were stellar as well.
We then headed to of course, El Fogon on 30th and 32nd I believe. Recommendations for it were spot-on. We were not even out of the cab before a super friendly waiter had sat us down at a nice table and brought us delicious fresh Jugo de Piña. I had the arrachera, which was amazing. My GF had the tacos al Pastor. We loved our meal. They also had nice clean bathrooms. Lucha Libre wa son TV and we were definitely the only turistas there. A memorable meal!
Today we are headed to Puerto Morelos to esnorkel. We have our own equipment (red tinted lenses for the mask color correct underwater so you see the true colors of everything) We have breakfast at La Cueva del Chango and loved it very much. I had chilaquiles and fresh juice. Good stuff!
The reefs were spectacular! Best reefs I have ever seen. I’ve been to the Dry Tortugas off key west before, and John Pennekampp in Key Largo, but this blew it all away. Reef as far as the eye can see! And the Mexican government protects their reefs MUCH better than the US does. The guide was always alert making sure no one swam in a way that could damage the reef.
We had dinner at Los Pelicanos, what a beautiful view. We had the fish fillet and totopos and guacamole with chiladas. Excellent!!
That evening we swam in the pool at the hotel again and changed for dinner at La Bodeguita del Medio. The live salsa music was so nice. The orange chicken they serve there was AMAZING. I had seconds. We danced some salsa for just one song (it is far too hot to do much more than that) and got cigars to smoke at the hotel balcony. (montecristos). We were only disappointed that their Cafe Cubano is served without sugar. It seems you can only get the authentic stuff that is brewed with sugar in South Florida.
We wake up SUPER early with the birds to head to Tulum. We listened to all the advice online to get there before the crowds and the sun. Great advice. We saw so many birds, humming birds were beautiful. We got great photos and footage of Tulum and the beach was beautiful.
We then took a cab to Playa Paraiso. I have mixed feelings about this place. Everyone raves about it, but the beach is so segregated. Playa paraiso is full of white american tourists being charged an arm and a leg for food, and then a few feet over poor local Mexicans are using the beach. It felt… wrong. The beach was pretty yes, but all the beach-front bars and what not had giant CLOSED BY ORDER OF THE GOVERNMENT signs. Anyone know why?
We saw so much poverty around Playa del Carmen and the rivieria maya in general, and can’t imagine what locals must think of the privileged tourists who run and hide behind the giant walls of their all inclusive resort never to emerge except in giant bus convoys. It really made me appreciate living in a wealthy country like the US and appreciate all I have.
Anyway, after that we headed to Akumal via cab to see the tortugas. We didn’t have to swim long before finding several. They had interesting symbiotic fish attached to the underside of their shells. I loved that part of the trip, it was beautiful to see them in the wild munching on sea grass.
We got ice cream at a little cafe near the water. It was attended by an American girl who spoke maybe 3 words in Spanish. It really blows my mind that people would move to mexico to work & not learn spanish? Someone asked her directions to the bathroom and she had no clue how to tell them in spanish.
I visited Greece not too long ago and I made it a point to learn as much greek as I could. It really helped and the locals appreciated it. It’s not that difficult to learn basics in another language and I can’t understand that people don’t bother to learn. Anyway…
The ice cream was REALLY good and the view outside the cafe unparalleled.
We head home and swim in the hotel pool again before heading to the Mega on 30th to get cookies and other goodies to take home for friends. We LOOOOVED the goat milk caramel and loved the Mexican pastries.
We then went to a tiny bar called Sala Rosa. Really really cool place. Its somewhere between a lounge and a dive bar. The bartender told us a lot about Playa Del Carmen and made really great pina coladas and sangria. Great art all over the place too.
Then we took a chance on a new place that we had a good instinct about, El Facon. Really, really, really good. Highly recommended.
We then went home the next day. Believe it or not, the best Gucamole we had on our whole trip in my opinion was at Margaritaville in the Cancun airport. I was shocked! I was expecting it to be awful, but its made by your table with local Avocados. Give it a try if you have time at the airport.
It was short but sweet!
Some observations I made
- The Mexican people are some of the most polite and wonderful people I have ever met. I at no time felt unsafe.
- I am also confused by why many people say Playa is expensive? 55 peso mixed drinks, 25 peso beers, & dinner for two rarely exceeding $40US is not pricey to me. 35 peso cab rides, 15 peso agua frescas. The hotel mini bar charged $1US for bottled water & $1.50US for gatorade. It was all super reasonable. Maybe because I am in the DC area where paying $10 for a mixed drink is typical my view is skewed, but I was amazed by how affordable everything was.
- The heat is dangerous! People need to be super prepared and plan their day around the intense sun and heat.
- The tackiness of Avenida Quinta is not emphasized enough. Its horrible. The only nice part of it is the far northern end where Hotel Casa Ticul is located.
- It seems to be a huge real estate bubble is occurring right now. I fear for the future of Playa when the bubble pops. Condos are being built with an insane fervor. I dont want Playa to end up like Dubai. Everywhere we went we saw condos for sale
- Rarely did a taxi have working seat belts. Ugh. At least they all had great air conditioning.
Links to my TripAdvisor Reviews
- Los Pelicanos – Puerto Morelos
- El Fogon – Playa Del Carmen
- Hotel Casa Ticul – Playa del Carmen
- La Bodequita del Medio
- El Facon – Playa del Carmen