3 days in Playa del Carmen
Just when the weather was starting to get cold, we decided to get one last hint of summer and headed to sunny Mexico. That was a pretty random move: we wanted to go somewhere far, affordable and new for the both of us. That ruled out Europe (too expensive), South-East Asia and America (already done) and Pacific (too far). We had enthusiastically opted for Mexico City only to realise that the price for flights was getting insane – we booked just one month before planned departure. The decision was tough – first world problem, really – and we racked our brains for a few days before settling on the Yucatan peninsula. We didn’t know much about the area but that it hosts many all-inclusive resorts, which we were hell-bent on avoiding. We discovered that the Riviera Maya is actually much more than an endless row of pricey resorts; it offers incredible natural sites as well as many cultural gems. We decided to stay in Playa del Carmen for three nights and Tulum for four nights.
Where to stay in Playa del Carmen?
We stayed in the BRIC hotel and spa, located only a few metres from the busy Quinta Avenida, a pedestrian strip with a lot of shops, bars and restaurants, aka the tourist centre of the town. If you decide to stay at the BRIC, which we strongly recommend, make sure you book with breakfast. It changes every day and every day was absolutely delicious. On top of that, the lovely lady who cooks it is adorable. This place is affordable, clean, well located and the staff is extremely helpful and efficient. Bonus point: the king size beds, a real sleeper’s dream.
What to do in Playa del Carmen?
Because we didn’t rent a car, we booked a tour to visit Chichen Itza and Valladolid. We got it through our hotel for 100$ each. This isn’t cheap, but it is a whole day excursion and it includes all the guided visits, transportation, breakfast, lunch and drinks during the day. We got picked up with several other visitors at 7.15am in Playa and took a first bus that drove us to the Xel-ha park, where we caught another bus to Chichen Itza. It wasn’t a short drive, about 1 hour 30 minutes, but the bus was so comfortable we didn’t really mind. As soon as we sat on the second bus, we were served with a breakfast box comprising of a ham and cheese sandwich and a small corn cake, which were both pretty good but not as nice as the breakfast in BRIC. Two hours after getting up, coffee was more than needed, and it tasted really nice for a coffee made at the back of a bus. I actually thought that coffee was always nice in Yucatan, even the one we got for 50c at 7/11, never bitter with a lovely chocolaty aftertaste. During the bus ride to Chichen, we got all the information we needed about our day, as well as an interesting cultural and historical introduction.
When we got to the site, we were divided into two groups, Spanish speakers and non-speakers, and for once I felt good about having forgotten most of my Spanish: there were only 3 other American people in our small group. Our guide, Enrique, told us all about the Mayan history and culture, and we had the opportunity to ask him all the questions we wanted since it was basically a private guided tour. We spend 3 hours in total in Chichen – 2 with Enrique, one by ourselves – and then got back into the bus to head to Valladolid. Chicken Itza is obviously very popular and was pretty crowded, but it was definitely not in the way of a nice experience – not like the time I visited the Taj Mahal during an Indian holiday, which made me develop severe symptoms of agoraphobia.
Valladolid is the most authentic Mayan town according to our guides. What stroke me upon arrival was the size of the people. I am a tiny person, and I am used to being among the smallest in a group. In Valladolid, I felt like a giant. The Mayan are very tiny, even the men are smaller than me. The city itself is pretty nice, the buildings and the streets look typically Latin-American. We visited a cenote in Valladolid for 30 minutes before – finally – getting some lunch at about 3pm. We were brought to a place that offered a buffet of Mayan/Mexican food, which was a nice way to try a lot of different stuff – did I say a lot? Evidence below:
Ceviche, chili, fish, stuffed chili, guacamole, refried beans… of course, alongside a few glasses of Corona. For dessert, we tried tapioca and some delicious coconut milk flans. Flans are one of my weaknesses and I loved this one, that was slightly more firm than the ones we get in bakeries in France, but very tasty. After this food feist, we had an hour and a half of free time so we went for a quick stroll around the city.
The bus trip back to Playa went quickly since I didn’t manage to watch more than 15 minutes of a National Geographic documentary about the Mayans that was showed on the screens and fell asleep very deeply. We got back to our hotel at about 8pm, exhausted but delighted with our trip. Apart from trips and excursions, Playa del Carmen is obviously famous for its beach, and we enjoyed lying down on our towel and reading our books or dipping in the ocean.
Where to eat in Playa del Carmen?
During our stay, we tried one of the most popular places of Playa del Carmen, the taqueria El Fogon. Unfortunately, we were not so impressed. The simple taco was nice, but we just didn’t understand what the fuss about this restaurant was all about. It’s busy, very warm, and not the best tacos I have ever had. We had a good time in La Cueva del Chango and its local food with hints of modern flavour. We absolutely loved the Indigo Beach, the restaurant of a hotel by the beach. We got our lunch there on our first day: we both got some delicious ceviches and Coronas. We loved it so much we extended our lunch with a couple of cocktails and a nap by the beach. I will never forget this place, not only for our lovely experience, but also because I left my phone on one bed when it started raining and we had to call it a day. When I realised my phone wasn’t in my bag, we were already back at our hotel and it was raining extremely heavily outside. I literally ran back, barefoot in the street, soaked like under a shower, to find out that the team had put my phone in a safe and dry place. I gave a hug to the waiter who gave it back to me, for real.
When to go to Playa del Carmen?
Late October early November is the end of the rainy season in Yucatan, but showers still happen on a regular basis and let's say they are more like an Indian monsoon that an Irish drizzle. The busy season usually starts after Thanksgiving, and lasts until August. Although we did get a few showers, we enjoyed the fact that the place wasn’t too busy, yet pleasantly animated. It was especially the case on October 31st, el Dia de los Muertos, a huge celebration in Mexico. As several locals told us, it’s a holiday – which actually lasts 3 days – where people re-connect with their lost parents and friends. They usually make a shrine and give offerings to the deads, their favourite food, alcohol or cigarets if they liked it… As it is shown at the beginning of Spectre, the bigger cities have massive parades and celebrations.
My impressions on Playa del Carmen
First of all, I couldn’t be happier to put my bathing suit back on, only two months after the end of our European summer. I thought the people were lovely, I liked the atmosphere, the town and the beach. But the one we discovered in Tulum was in a whole other league…