A March 2004 trip
to Playa del Carmen by quirine
Quote: The Mayan Riviera is a wonderful place to enjoy the Caribbean, but also to learn about the Mayan culture. Hike through the jungle, visit the ruins, snorkel in the lagoons, and eat like a king! All for less than most Caribbean destinations!
When hanging out in the Mayan Riviera, be sure to get in some sunbathing and swimming, sample some Mexican food, drink a few margaritas, and enjoy the nightlife. But don't forget to leave the resort and see some of the beautiful sites. Tulum, Coba, and Muyil are three ruins in the area that offer a quick look into the life and history of Mayan culture. Snorkeling off the coast of Cozumel should not be missed. Snorkeling in the many cenotes or lagoons, and even caves, is exclusive to this area, and is much calmer than ocean snorkeling. There are numerous ecoparks, including Xel-ha and the Sian Ka'an Biosphere.
A little further south Puerto Aventuras, mainly a marina, offers enough to warrant a visit. Don't let the gate scare you, the public is welcome. The marina has dolphins that are actually there for people to swim with. There are tourist shops, a few cute restaurants and plenty of walkways to enjoy the views of the marina and surrounding condo. If you're into fishing, this place had plenty of boats offering fishing tours.
Akumal has lots of houses/condos on a beautiful beach (snorkeling tours here are supposed to be good) a few restaurants and a road that leads to the beautiful Yalku lagoon.
There are a few cenotes just south of Puerto Aventuras, on the right/jungle side, with Cenote Azul being the nicest. It's a small fee to use the cenote and it's an excellent local sinkhole for swimming or snorkeling.
Tipping is required and recommended. Bring a lot of singles so that you can tip people who carry your bags or your maid, gas station attendants, etc.
There are many scuba diving shops all over Playa del Carmen. All of the towns offer scuba excursions, so you won't have a problem finding equipment. You can also buy your own snorkeling gear if you want to go to more off-the-beaten-path locations like Yalku Lagoon. While you're there, also consider buying biodegradable suntan lotion by Sunlife (for the environment—Playa del Carmen's reef is quickly dying) and some boat shoes for walking around.
If you have a medical emergency, call this doctor, he helped me out when I got stung by a jellyfish:Buceo Medico MexicanoS. De R. L. De C.V.Playa Del CarmenAv. 10 329 Col. Xaman-HaDr. Jose Eduardo Rovirosa Rivero(984) 803 1215Mobile: (984) 804-7839Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gas stations are located near the highway on Ave de constituyentes and ave juarez. The main bus station is on 5th avenue and ave Juarez.
For a running track, b-ball court and tennis court, go to the public sports park on 10th ave between calle 30 and calle 34.
At the Cancun airport, the most standard way to get to your destination is by collectivo (white van). It's about 18 bucks to Playa Del Carmen and 15USD going back to the airport. It's better to arrange something with your hotel, rent a car (the best option if you can drive stick). If you rent a car, you can drive up and down the main highway 507 that leads you to the many sites with ease and convenience. Taxis are much more expensive, and are better served taking you around town rather than all the way to Playa del carmen.
The 5th ave bus station has very nice buses that can take you to the airport, to tulum, xel-ha, xcaret and many other popular destinations.
If you don't rent a car at the airport, there are plenty of agencies on 5th ave that can accomodate you. I paid around 60 bucks for one day but sometimes they offer 3 days for the price of 2. Cheap car options are VW bugs (no A/C) and nissan sentras (quite common).
Hotel | "Playa Inn Xaman-Ha"
The prices range from $1,000 to $2,000 a week for one-, two-, or three-bedroom condos. The condos are standard, with comfortably sized bedrooms; clean, fully-tiled bathrooms; a large kitchen and living room; and a patio overlooking the courtyard and the ocean. By standard I mean that all beds in this region are hard; I don't think there is any escaping that. Also, everything is tiled in every place you go, and you get a water bottle since the tap water is not drinkable. The kitchen is stocked with salt, sugar, utensils, plates, and a working stove and fridge. It has everything you need to spend a nice vacation in Mexico.
The manager of this complex is very nice and will do whatever she can to accommodate you. They offer spa services, laundry, and bike rentals. Every room has menus and booklets on what to do in the area.
The courtyard includes a lush garden and a beautiful winding pool with a bridge. Another nice thing about it is that there is shade - something you'll notice is hard to find in Playa. Around the fif5th day or so, I took advantage of it! My pale skin can only handle so much! If you're not into small hotels or big resorts, this might be the place for you.
Here are pictures and contact info:
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 14, 2005
Playa Inn Xaman Ha
PLAYACAR FASE 1
Playa Del Carmen, Mexico 77710
Hotel | "Luna Blue Hotel"
Upon arrival, the front desk checked us in and helped us to our room in no time. The room was musty, however the a/c quickly relieved that issue. By the time we came back from lunch it had cleared up. The room itself was spacious with a nice-sized bed, two nightstands, a dresser, hanging space, a safe, fridge and water cooler. The bathroom was great with better than expected water pressure (we were on the first floor). Each room comes with a little patio and furniture facing the jungle-like courtyard with a soothing sounding waterfall. Please note that while they have Wi-Fi, you must be outside to use it... bring bugspray!
After checking in we put our $20 deposit for 2 beach towels and got coupons for a palapa and beach chair at Mamitas Beach Club. I would suggest snagging a palapa early (before 10:30am) in case they run out, this happened to us once and we went during the low season (November). The beach club is 5 minutes away and has a small pool, a fine bathroom and a great restaurant. Drawbacks include, lots of people and thumping house/dance music. You might want to hit the roofdeck at Luna Blue if you want some quiet.
The best part about staying at the Luna Blue, was their ability to give us 5-star treatment. I got some strange rash on my chest and they immediately got me to a doctor around the corner. Another time we wanted to rent a car for the day. They made one call and a rental car was brought to us with contracts. I highly recommend staying here if you're looking to save on a room, but would like to be around people who are actually looking out for you. The wedding crowd that I went with all stayed at Gran Porto Real and they were treated like crap by their staff. I gambled on a standard no-frills room and ended up much happier.
I LOVE the area that this hotel is located in. It's farther north and the shops are much cheaper and the restaurants are cool as well. I loved that this area wasn't quite so busy and touristy. Did I mention there is a sports facility only a few blocks away with tennis courts and a running track free of charge to the public?
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 13, 2007
Calle 26 Norte
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
+52 (984) 873 0990
Restaurant | "Yaxche"
The restaurant opens onto the street and also has a great outdoor area. This is a very romantic and pretty restaurant. The service is excellent, and they are very kind. The drinks are phenomenal, margaritas and the general offerings, but they also have great virgin fruit smoothies. I love the Massewal soup, which is basically a really fresh chicken tortilla soup. Dinner includes dishes like: Kinich or sun-kissed chicken (tender grilled chicken with a light orange sauce) and Pibil (chicken in banana leaves--kind of like a tamale).
Don't be afraid of adventuring here. Although the food will be exotic and new, it's not overbearing at all. It's a nice departure from the common taco or quesadilla.www.mayacuisine.com UPDATE 2007: The backyard area has been expanded to look like a real Mayan temple. I took a whole group of people here and they absolutely loved it. They were staying at an all-inclusive and admitted it was worth it to pay for one night out in order to eat at Yaxche. Everyone enjoyed their meals and the wonderful service. Please do yourself a favor and experience Mayan cuisine while in this amazing part of Mexico.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 17, 2004
Yaxche Maya Cuisine
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
+52 984 873 2502
Restaurant | "La Parrilla"
When seated, you'll notice many items to choose from on the menu, including fajitas, tacos, enchiladas, guacamole, etc. Order the guacamole and they'll come to your table and make it right there for you. The food is delicious... I've eaten there many times and you can't go wrong with any of the traditional offerings. As most restaurants in this area, it is not uncommon to see a waiter come to a table and make shrimp and tequila dishes or flambés with flames shooting up into the air.
The reason this place is so busy is that it is what most tourists want or expect to see in Mexico, including the mariachis dressed to the nines playing the only three Mexican songs you could possibly recognize. There is part of me that gets annoyed at the stereotypes, but at least it's not TGIF (which IS on 5th Avenue by the way), and the people who work there seem to be very happy.
So enjoy yourselves and the music, but don't forget to tip the musicians if they come by!!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 14, 2005
5th Avenue and 8th Street
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
+52 (984) 873-0687
Restaurant | "Limones"
I ordered the steak au Roquefort, which was good for the area but certainly not better than what you'll find in Europe or at finer restaurants in the States. For dessert we ordered some sort of banana flambé concoction simply for the photo op. The waiter did a whole show of fire for us; it was really great to see.
The service was tremendous, and I think you'll find this to be a very romantic restaurant with a lot of great international dishes.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
+52 (984) 873-0848
Restaurant | "Babe's Noodle Bar"
I ordered a mango margarita the size of my head that was a bit weak but also ridiculously cheap. The food is eclectic and a nice change from eating Mexican all week. As an appetizer we ordered the mixed rolls which included a standard spring roll with peanut sauce, a Vietnamese paper roll with veggies and plum sauce and a crab roll with cream cheese and peach sauce. It was pretty darn delectable.
As an entrée, I opted for pad Thai and my boyfriend got the spicy green curry. They definitely have their own take on pan-Asian cooking, like including a slice of bread with a noodle dish, but it was very good and a fun time as well.
For those picky eaters, they also offer salami sandwiches and Caesar salads and such. If I'm in Playa del Carmen, I'm definitely hitting Babe's at least once during the week.
Playa Deal Card: 30% off
Babe's Noodle and Bar
Calle 10 Between 5th and 10 Avenue
Playa del Carmen, Mexico 77710
+52 984 80 41998
The food here was good and the service was very friendly. There was also a big magazine rack in case you want to hang out for a while and read. In the morning this area is also shaded, allowing my pale skin to tolerate sitting outside and enjoying playa slowly coming to life as people head to work or to the beach for a perfect spot in the sand. I wouldn't walk far for this place as it's pretty standard, but if you're staying north of Avenida de Constituyuentes, it's worth the pitstop.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 13, 2007
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Restaurant | "La Vagabunda"
They offer mainly breakfast items such as eggs, toast, granola, yogurt, fruit, pancakes and French toast. Also on the menu is fresh fruit juices and smoothies. They open as early as 7am and stay open for lunch. Again, this is not a restaurant I would walk 10 blocks to go eat at, but if you're staying in the area and like to eat breakfast, this is a really nice open-air restaurant with a relaxing atmosphere. The morning provides shade allowing you to sit outside without the blazing sun attacking you at 9am.
Playa Deal Card: 20%
Playa del Carmen, Mexico 77710
Get away from the tourists—or at least try to. Drive to Akumal and take a left after the entrance. Drive a mile or 2 down the road passing houses and a restaurant. At the end, you'll see a small sign pointing left to Yalku Lagoon. There’s a dirt parking lot where a few guys working there charge people to enter the lagoon area. They are supernice and actually helped us when we stupidly locked our keys in the trunk. I really love those Mayans... they're amazing!
Try to arrive there early in the day or later in the afternoon to avoid the tour groups. Bring your own snorkel gear, towel, and lunch, and you'll be set to go.
The calm lagoon invites you in the water, even if just to swim. And for a few dollars, this whole park is open to you all day. There are many little areas with benches and stairs leading into the water—find your own nook, and you'll be in paradise. There are bathrooms, but no place to eat. You'll have to drive a few miles back to Akumal for that.
It's so relaxing to swim in a lagoon because the water is calm and you don't have to worry about seeing anything remotely dangerous. You'll see all sorts of tropical fish and swim by huge rocks. It's kind of like swimming in a huge aquarium. If you're lucky, you might even see a sea turtle!
The closer you get to the ocean, the less clear the water gets and the less you'll see. I like to go close to the beginning of the lagoon, where the fresh water meets with the salt water, because you can get out and jump right in at any time. It's more convenient than ocean snorkeling. I have found, however, that if you have an underwater camera, you'd be better off taking photos in the ocean. The mix of waters in the lagoon causes a lot of blurriness.
Don't forget to wear a T-shirt so that you don't sunburn, and buy biodegradable suntan lotion so you don't hurt the ecosystem.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 17, 2004
Yal Ku Lagoon
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Attraction | "Coba"
If you have a bit of time in Mexico, I would highly recommend this day trip. Also, because of all the wonderful little towns you drive through to get to Coba, you get to see how people really live. We met a partially blind man who was carving hanging monkeys. He was living in a shack with his wife and children. They were extremely kind, although a bit shy, and actually said they knew someone from Brooklyn. Small world!
Make sure to drive slowly, the road to Coba has tarantula crossing and many potholes. You'll also pass a cenote here and there if you desire to snorkel. If you're planning on buying true Mayan art, do it while driving down this road. You'll avoid the tourist traps and find some really interesting items.
When you arrive near Coba, you'll find a few little shops selling tourist items, drinks, and soda. You might want to eat in Tulum before you get here, or bring your lunch. Also near the parking area is a HUGE lagoon that you should stay away from. There are crocodiles in there, so stick to dry land!
We got to Coba around 3pm, and most people had already left to get back before dark. We paid a modest entry fee and entered the ruins. We avoided the men who wanted to take us on a tour and immediately started to walk around. Because there was no one around, I really felt relaxed and got an idea of how it was like to have lived like a Mayan. There was a ball court where teams would play against each other. The winners would be sacrificed to the gods, which is considered a great honor.
The ruins aren't in perfect shape, and a lot is yet to be uncovered ( only 6% or so has been excavated, believe it or not). But it's so breathtaking to climb that pyramid and pop your head out of the jungle. There is a rope hanging off the pyramid that helps you get up or down. It's pretty steep, so you'll find yourself going down on your bum or climbing down using the rope.
Apparently there is a road near the main pyramid that leads all the way to Chichen Itza. This is how the Mayans traded with each other. All of this is still covered by jungle.
Although harmless, do know that you will see tarantulas scuttling across the paths. This is the jungle. Also, there are a lot of mosquitoes.
Coba Mayan Ruins
Attraction | "Xel-Ha Snorkeling"
When you arrive, simply purchase your tickets at the entryway. If you take the all-inclusive package ($50), you'll get a free snorkel, lunch, towel, locker rental, and flipper rental. The basic entrance fee is around $20 (make sure you have snorkelling equipment).
Walk through the main gates and purchase the biodegradable suntan lotion. It's better for the ecosystem. Wear a T-shirt while snorkeling to protect your back if you opt against the life vest they offer. Keep walking, and you'll pass a pool with dolphins on your left. You can reserve a spot to swim with them. I don't do it, since I hear it's not really all that good for the dolphins...
On your right will be Hammock Island—a place to rest in the shade if you get a bit tired. Pass the restaurants, and you'll see the enormous lagoon and the ocean. There's a bar and three restaurants, offering everything from an elaborate Mexican meal to a hamburger and fries. Walk towards the ocean, and you'll see a little jungle, a plant nursery, and maybe an iguana. Once there, you'll notice the rocky beach and the natural pool. Make sure to wear boat shoes out here, or you'll cut up your feet.
Walk along the lagoon, and you'll notice little pockets of seclusion on the water. Every so often, there's a path to the lagoon, two beach chairs, and a little dock to get in and out of the water. You can stay there and hang out for some privacy, but I recommend walking all the way up to the bus that takes you up the river. It's a 2-minute ride, and you can take a rusty bike if you don't have the patience to wait. Once there, you'll see a stand where you can borrow a tube or a life vest for going down the calm river. You can also put your things in a bag, which they later bring to end of the line (right by the restaurants). Put important things in a locker by the base of the river first (a few bucks, plus a deposit).
At the edge of the river are a few stone steps surrounded by mangroves. Dip into the cool water and feel yourself slowly moving down the river. Don't touch the mangroves; just observe the fish. Halfway down, they'll take your picture (you can buy it at the exit later). Get out here and jump off a cliff or simply rest. There are docks every so often, so don't worry about getting too tired. As you get closer to the ocean, you'll notice that the fish get REALLY big. Don't be afraid; they're well-fed by onlookers above.
Xel-Ha is filled with secret places like caves, cenotes, and the plant nursery. Just hang out and explore. It's a wonderful place to enjoy nature and relax.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Attraction | "Snorkeling in Cozumel"
The ferry can make you a bit seasick, depending on the waves and wind, but there are snacks and drinks on most ferries, and I found that going outside helped a lot! The ferries are pretty upscale, with cloth seats and televisions.
Once in Cozumel, you'll right away notice how commercial it is. There are tons of shops, hotels, and restaurants. In this regard, I much prefer Playa Del Carmen. If you're interested in snorkeling, hail a cab right off the dock. Ask to be taken to Dzul Ha Beach Club, a bit north of the famous Chankannab Park and much less crowded. We were the only ones snorkeling there that day, and it was high season. Dzul Ha had lockers and a bar where you could buy sodas and ice pops. Afterwards, we jumped into a shallow pool to wash off the salt and get dressed by the rental locker they rented us for the day. You can jump right into the water off the stone steps, and within a few yards, you feel as though you're in a HUGE aquarium.
Every place is different, and I don't know much about renting, but if you're worried about it, rent from a dive shop in Playa Del Carmen before getting there.
In the water, you'll see barracudas, those cute little captain fish, sea urchins, gorgeous angelfish, colorful and docile parrotfish, all kinds of coral, lobsters, etc. The current pushes you south, so make sure you're aware of your surroundings every so often. Start off snorkeling up the coast so that when you're tired, you can float back to where you started. The fish hang in the water, slowing swimming against the current. This is a great opportunity to take photos underwater. Unlike the estuaries and lagoons, the water is quite clear here, and you'll see a lot more critters and fish since you're essentially in the ocean. When you're done for the day, ask someone at the beach club, and they'll call a cab for you.
This is possibly the best snorkeling I've ever experienced, and I would highly recommend making the trip out here.
Cozumel: Snorkeler's Paradise
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Attraction | "Muyil Ruins"
Drive south on the 307 beyond Tulum for about 25km. The road will become narrower and less populated. Muyil will be on the left side of the road. The cost to get in is around $2 (free on Sundays), and the site is open from 8am to 5pm. There are only a few people working there, and they'll leave you alone to walk around. Note that there are no places to eat or drink at this time, but they are saying they're planning on building facilities.
When you first walk in, on the right you'll see a few small ruins with some thatched entryways. This is where the women were preparing meals. Straight ahead is the 56-foot-tall El Castillo. You cannot climb it, but you can enjoy its beauty. Keep walking and you'll see jungle and an elevated, planked walkway. The trees have huge roots sticking out of the ground, and you can barely see the sky through all the palms and plants. The signs there will lead you directly into the jungle, through to a lookout tower, and to the lagoon area. We walked only a bit into the jungle (we turned around due to time), but you can go all the way to the water, where they have boat tours.
To the left of El Castillo is a path into some forestry. The path marks the distance to other structures, including another pyramid with a temple on top. The trail makes a U-turn, and then you will pass other little structures in the area. Most of the structures are still buried under jungle, but if you look closely, you can see some here and there. The area seems small, but this site is supposed to be fairly huge, just not excavated. You'll also see some Mayan "cave" type paintings that have been preserved extremely well.
We were practically the only ones there at the time; it was so surreal to be there alone in the jungle with just my boyfriend and father. There were no sounds other than those coming from the jungle. We were rushed through because it was so late in the day, but I doubt that you'd need more than an hour and a half to get through the jungle and the ruins. This is true Mayan culture. Go here before the tourists creep down to this lovely ancient ruin!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 18, 2005
Muyil Mayan Ruins
25km South Of Tulum On The 307
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Attraction | "La Sirena"
Playa Deal Card: 10% off under 1000 pesos, 15% over 1000 pesos.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Also new to Playa is the Paseo de Playacar, a mall that connects the main street to the beautiful Playacar community. It is an outdoor mall with a path weaving around restaurants and shops. There are beautiful clothing stores, including Diesel; cigar shops; bathing suit shops; and even a lovely bead store. At night the mall gets performance artists that might include dancers, gymnasts, or even fire!
Once in Playacar, the shops fade off and you'll be in a gated community of beach houses, each with its own unique architecture. Walk along the main road leading into Playacar and you'll pass a few condo resorts, including Xaman Ha (where I stayed). On the right side of the road just past Xaman Ha is a little ruin that has been preserved. There is what looks to be a little temple with a thatched roof. Iguanas are everywhere! Also in the area is the aviary, with flamingos, parrots, toucans, etc. There are enclosed areas with tropical birds flying everywhere. Outside of these areas, we became friends with a parrot who seemed very interested in what we had to say. It was quite entertaining.
However, 5th Avenue is where all the action is, and you'll be able to spend your extra time there strolling along the main drag. It's teeming with good restaurants, and I have to say, the only one that I truly didn't enjoy was one of those local pizza places. Every other place I went was at the very least acceptable. Lunch is calmer, and they often have happy hour at this time. Many places offer 2 for 1 beers, which can cause you to become mighty tipsy if you're not careful. Otherwise, dinnertime is hopping, and the bars and clubs all prepare for the college kids to come out to party. After dinner, you might want to take in some shopping. The usual items to buy would be coconut hanging lamps with intricate carvings, silver jewelry, amber, sarongs (although not native to Mexico), tiles, mirrors and clothing. Playa also has a number of spas that have opened. Since a lot of Europeans have moved here and opened establishments, it's very easy to find cool clothing shops that have clothes from all over the world, some with a Mexican flavor. You'll be able to spend a lot of time in this area after you've had your fill of the beach.
The beach is a long, thin strip that slopes down into the water. Walk north and you’ll pass the Gran Porto Real, a pink resort with a bar and pool on the beach. Walk farther north and you’ll be north of town (the 5th Avenue area). If you walk inland here, you’ll be walking through resorts and then onto a dirt road. If you plan to walk inland, do it at or before the Gran Porto Real. There is not much to see north of that. The crowds will begin to thin out, and the beach tends to get wider here.
Walk south of the resorts towards the ferry dock and you’ll begin to notice more locals on the beach. There are also young natives in traditional clothing trying to sell you bracelets on the beach. I don’t know if you’re supposed to buy from them or not, but I assume they are gypsies. If you don’t want to buy from them, be firm and say no. At the ferry dock you will have to briefly leave the beach and walk over the dock and back down to enter the Playacar beach. If you aren’t staying here and you want to see the area, this is the best way to get in without having to deal with guards and such.
South of the resorts are some gorgeous little bungalows right on the beach. At high tide, the beach becomes so narrow, you can barely get by. Each house is different and a lot can be rented (http://www.playacarbeachproperties.com/).
Playa will never cease to grow, and I hope that they can find a way to maintain the fun but still unique atmosphere that makes it such a favorite in the Caribbean. Quainter than Cancun and livelier than the smaller towns that line the coast, Playa is truly a great place to vacation. In fact, many have decided to retire or uproot themselves to start a new life here. There are real estate businesses everywhere, and you may just find yourself browsing the listings, too.
Brooklyn, New York