In January 2010, after one of the colder Minnesota winters, Cale and I decided to take a warm trip on a budget. We were researching Mexico, and particularly the Yucatan peninsula, but wanted to go somewhere a little different than the usual Cancun trip travelers tend to choose. Looking a little more South, we discovered Playa del Carmen. Playa is a city with a similar beach feel, however is a bit more laid back and subdued. We noticed many European travelers and a generally calm environment.
(Beach across from our resort)
The hotel we chose was Riu Tequila, which is part of the Riu chain of hotels. We chose this based on our budget, and it turned out to be a pretty good choice for a basic all-inclusive. We were also able to use the dining and pool options at the nearby Riu Yacatan and Riu Playacar. If you are looking for a fancier option however, the chain also offers a ‘Palace’ style hotel, with upgraded restaurants and service. A money saving feature that factored into our budget was that this resort was across the road from the beach. If you don’t mind a 1/2 mile walk to get to the ocean, you can save at least $300-500/person depending on the time of year. This hotel is located on a strip of other chain all inclusive hotels that are all next to each other on a couple mile stretch of beach. During this trip we discovered that we prefer more of a regular hotel or rental atmosphere where we are free to get out for a meal. However, this was a very well-rated option, and we still had a great time relaxing on the beach, eating at the buffet and specialty restaurants, and seeing the evening shows they produce.
(sushi buffet at the Asian restaurant)
(One of the themed shows – spooky carnival night)
Some highlights and tips of Playa del Carmen:
- DO go into the downtown area and check out the local shops and restaurants. This was a 25 minute walk from our resort area, or a $5 cab ride. DO consider getting a massage at one of the advertised salons along the main street. We chose to book an hour long couples massage, and it cost $40/each. Plan to make a reservation for later on in the week, as they book up fast. DO refresh yourself with a smoothie from Smoogus, which is located in a tiny stand on 5th Ave and makes great drinks.
(chips and guac at a downtown restaurant)
- DO make sure you take some sort of excursion to go snorkeling. Resorts offer all sorts of trips that tend to be overpriced, but we went indie with Google’s help, and booked a half day with Mexico Blue Dream. This was the highlight of our trip! We met at the dive shop downtown and the guide took us snorkeling to Yal-Ku Lagoon in Akumal. This is a MUST DO! We saw all kinds of fish, a couple of barracudas, a giant sting ray, and sea turtles. If we return to Playa, we plan to stay at a condo rental in Akumal, as you can rent your own snorkel gear and jump into the ocean as you please. TIP: If you take this trip, have the guide start on the ocean side. It was a long day, and by the time we got out of the lagoon and into the ocean, we were all too tired to stay long and see the really unique ocean life.
- DO pay attention to the money exchange rate, and try to get the most for your dollar. We saw the peso exchange rate change on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis. DON’T be afraid to bargain here for goods and services. The shop owners expect it, and you can get great deals.
- DO be careful of the water, and stick to bottled. Cale managed to get sick for a day despite only consuming resort food and water.
Some other attractions we heard a lot about:
- DO take a day trip out to Tulum, and make sure it includes some time at Chichen Itza, one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.
- If you would like a more organized trip, try an all day activity park such as Xel-Ha or Xplor.
There is lots to see and do in this part of Mexico. Hope you enjoy!!