I have no problem with visiting the same place twice. There is always room for more exploration – the eye never sees the same thing twice in the same way. The first time I visited Mexico, I stayed in Cancun on the hotel strip with my parents at the age of 19. Extremely touristy. I got a feel of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula when we took a day trip to Xcaret, but we never ventured out much past those two locations. I am thankful for every travel experience, but as I’ve gotten older I seek more authenticity in my travels. So back to Mexico I go, for a quick baecation – this time to Playa Del Carmen. Located in the Riveria Maya, Playa Del Carmen is the laid-back, less touristy version of Cancun. Playa, as the locals would say, does have a tourist strip known as Quinta Avenida (or 5th Avenue) that runs parallel to the beach. It’s full of buzzy bars, clothing shops, souvenirs, and constant soliciting. Quinta Avenida is certainly not off-the-beaten-path but it’s pretty convenient for grabbing a bite to eat, picking up toiletries you might have left at home, or getting a skimpy swimsuit.
Instead of staying at an all-inclusive, we decided to stay in an Airbnb. For our first time ever staying in one, I was highly impressed. Firstly, the location was spot on. We were smack in the middle of tourist trap and living with the locals. One block away was Quinta Avenida, and the next block were mom and pop taco stands and OXXO (their version of 7-11). Now back to the Airbnb. Since it was our first time ever staying in an Airbnb, I was surprised yet grateful that the condo was exactly as pictured. The condo featured a huge living room with a smart TV, a balcony, full kitchen, bedroom, and huge shower. For some it might seem tiny, but after living in NYC so long, anything larger than my room is basically a mansion in my eyes. The building also had a large outdoor sitting space on the roof, a full gym, security entrance, and of course a rooftop pool. I won’t lie, it was one of the main reasons we chose this location and it did not disappoint. It felt like heaven (and a little bit of exclusivity) having this space all to ourselves. You can use my link to get $20 off your first booking.
Everywhere you turn there is an enticing taco or margarita just waiting for you to devour it. The first restaurant we dived into is called La Capri Cho A, located on Quinta Avenida. It’s a steakhouse/seafood/flambee Mexican restaurant with an extensive menu and a great 2×1 happy hour on margaritas, mojitos, and beer. The food was pretty tasty and filling for the prices, but not the most authentic. But after a long flight, it hit the spot. The next morning we hit the strip again, this time for lighter fare at 100% Natural. As you can guess, everything is 100% natural or vegan. What initially caught my eye is the ambiance. 100% Natural is in a lush enclave that makes you feel like you’re having breakfast in a rainforest. We sampled the berry pancakes with cream cheese, honey and oats parfait, and gauvaberry smoothie. The pancakes were made from whole wheat and oats. Not only was all the food amazing and fresh, the price was on point. Our total bill was $15. So it’s budget friendly and healthy – a win win. For lunch, we chilled at Inti Beach. Inti Beach is a holistic beach club that focuses on natural food, yoga, pilates, and offers massages. From pressed juices to nachos to yoga on the beach, they have it all. With a minimum consumption of 450 pesos per person (roughly $25/person), you also get complimentary access to the sun beds. Start with the fresh guacamole and margaritas. Or just go all in with vegetarian nachos. Heading there for breakfast? Try the Huevos Rancheros accompanied by a fresh smoothie. You won’t be disappointed. And for the best tacos in Playa, we discovered a hidden gem – a food truck called Taqueria el Gato and appropriately nicknamed “The Real Mexican Taco”, located on the corner of Calle 48 and Avenida 10. Cheap and no frills. Just damn. good. tacos. Add a Mexican Coca-Cola and you’ve just had the best meal in Playa for under 20 pesos. Not dollars, pesos. We started out with one taco to sample….and ended up getting three more (plus two to go).
Nothing. Absolutely nothing but enjoy the beach. Well, I initially had grand plans of visiting cenotes and the Mayan Ruins, and even having a night out on the town. But as the days rolled by I decided, I just wanted to chill. And sometimes it’s needed. Besides, it is a vacation. We did manage to make it to Tulum for a few hours on our last full day. After a mini fiasco of taking the wrong collectivo (more info on that later) and working through language barriers to get a decently priced taxi, we made it to Tulum to experience the beautiful beaches. I sure wish we had gotten there sooner. Tulum’s beach is breath taking. Perfectly clear and a bit more secluded than the beach of Playa. Unfortunately, the taxi took us to the less popping section of Tulum however we made the best of it. On my next trip to Mexico, because there will definitely be one, I do plan to be a little more adventurous and see the cenotes and ruins and maybe even take a day trip to Cozumel. There are plenty of tour guides on Quinta Avenida. Otherwise, if you plan to have a chill vacation like we did, there are plenty of beach clubs along the ocean to just sit back, relax, and watch the sunset.
Playa is a very chill area. Unless you plan on going to a nightclub, beachwear is totally acceptable to wear everywhere. I’ve really been into crochet lately so that was definitely on my must-haves to bring. And I can no longer visit any beach destination without my Sea Star Beachwear espadrilles. Made for men, women, and kids, Sea Star Beachwear is the original water friendly espadrille. They are so chic yet functional. The sole protects your feet from rocks in the water and the fabric is quick-drying. They make it so easy to go from land to sand. I also got this set from L*Space Swimwear a few months back on a great sale and saved it for this trip.
Transportation: To get to and from CUN, you can use private transportation, a taxi, or a collectivo. A collectivo is a mini bus that picks up and drops off passengers to popular locations (or pretty much wherever they want to be dropped off). It will be more time consuming but it’s certainly the least expensive option. We chose private transportation with Tucan Kin because it was hassle free. The driver awaited us at the airport and 10 minutes later we were on the road to Playa Del Carmen. The collectivo is more beneficial going from city to city, in my opinion. We took the collectivo from Playa del Carmen to Tulum. You can ask the locals where to find it, but it should be near Calle 20 and Avenida 5. Money: Lots of places accept USD, but it’s generally always better to have pesos on hand so that no one will try to rip you off. And always have a conversion app on hand so that you can exchange your money for the closest exchange rate.
Overall I would highly recommend visiting Playa Del Carmen and/or Tulum if you can. It’s a beautiful destination and you can really see the beauty of it by skipping an all inclusive. Playa Del Carmen is a serene getaway on a budget (another post on that is coming soon). Let me know if you would like more tips or leave tips for Mexico below!
Enjoy the photo diary: