Almost two months in Mexico, we finally reach it’s stunning Caribbean coastline. The warm tropical climes of the Rivera Maya was a welcome escape from the cooler mountainous region of Chiapas.
Arriving into Cancun Airport, we got a bus and headed south to Playa Del Carmen (42 miles away). This is going to be the starting point of our 32 day Central America tour that we previously booked. Before the tour, we spent a week here exploring the town and it’s beautiful natural sights.
Playa Del Carmen is a developed beach city, similar to its more well known counterpart Cancun. At it’s heart is Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), a long pedestrianised street stretching the length of the centre with well known retail outlets, restaurants bars and cafes.
Despite it’s touristy facade, it didn’t feel overcrowded and has a pleasant holiday vibe – Playa Del Carmen can be enjoyed on a reasonable budget.
There are endless things to do here from scuba diving and snorkelling, visiting Mayan ruins or simply resting on the fine golden sanded beach.
One of the main attractions are the Cenotes (flooded sinkholes). In this region there are many of them and were created over time from natural erosion, the Mayans considered them as sacred places. There are some within easy reach of Playa Del Carmen, we visited; Cenote Jardín del Edén.
Allured by its blue and green crystal clear waters, we couldn’t wait to get in. Freshwater fish can be seen thriving here providing a great spectacle when we snorkelled. There are various stepped access points into the pool and if you are brave, there is a raised platform to jump into the cenote. We spent the whole day here, swimming and enjoying a picnic lunch – it was a great escape from the town. As well as snorkelling, scuba diving seems popular here. Jardín del Edén is a gateway to a flooded underworld with submerged caves and river systems.
Jardín del Edén can be easily done without a tour; we took a collectivo (mini van) for only 35 pesos (£1.40) each way and it took 30 minutes to get there. Following the signs from the main highway, we walked down a long dirt road for 15 mins until we approached some gates. This is where you pay an entry fee; 100 pesos/£4 each. There is no time limit, you can stay as long as you want until closing time at 5pm (Open daily, closed Saturdays).
We also visited the ancient Mayan city of Tulum, situated 40 miles south of Playa. It’s picturesque beachside setting, with it’s well preserved buildings makes a one of top things to see in this region. We did it without booking a tour and took a collectivio for only 40 pesos/£1.60 (each way).
On the way back to Playa, we called by Akumal – famous for it’s sea turtles which can be seen in the waters within a few metres from the shore. Due to our limited time here we didn’t spend long enough to see the turtles. The beach lined with palm trees, looked pleasant and popular with locals. Other activities within close reach of Playa Del Carmen include Cozumel island (reached by ferry crossing) and Puerto Morelos is a great spot for snorkelling/scuba diving.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at Elefante Blanco (found on Airbnb), this is a great place to stay and ideal if you don’t want to be in the touristic centre yet still within easy walking distance to everything and not far from the beach.
The property was opened in Jan 2016, and has multiple modern studio apartments ranging in various sizes. The room we booked was a very affordable; AC, WIFI and your own private kitchen and bathroom. The best feature is the rooftop, laid with sun loungers and chairs – a great place to enjoy a beer in the evening.
To get £25/$35 off your Airbnb booking, click here.
At Playa Del Carmen there are many options to eat out, with worldwide cuisine on offer. If you are on a tight budget it may not be wise to dine out regularly but there are inexpensive places. Mexican favourites like Taco’s are cheap, and there are many street vendors selling them – often seeing the locals sat around the stands. Restaurants on 5th Avenue are pretty much aimed at tourists and often pricey.
The nearest airport to Playa Del Carmen is Cancun International Airport (42 miles away). Being a popular tourist destination, there are direct flights to Cancun from Europe and the US. Once you arrive at Cancun airport there are frequent ADO buses that go to Playa Del Carmen, tickets can bought at the arrivals or baggage hall (it cost us 168MXN/£6.50 for a one way ticket). We flew directly from San Cristobal to Cancun with a local budget airline, Volaris. It is possible to do everything overland and use the buses, but if your time is short the best option is to fly.
- At Cancun Airport, you may get various people approach you offering transport or tourist advice. I would avoid any contact if possible and walk on. If you need help go to the desks inside the arrival halls, for airport to city transport the cheapest option is to take the collectivos. Another option is take the ADO bus – tickets can be bought at the ADO desk within the terminal.
- Choose self catering accommodation where possible and cook your own meals if you are on a budget. There are cheap eats if you can spot them – your accommodation host may be able to suggest some local recommendations.
- Some of the popular sights and places can be done without booking a pricey tour. Grab a collectivo (a mini van) between 20th and 2nd Avenue in the city centre. The destination is usually written on the van’s exterior. Tulum bound collectivo’s can take you to the Cenotes (Eden/Azul/Cristal) on request and as well as Akumal.
- Snorkel sets can be rented, as well as life jackets where the activity is held (for reasonable fee). We decided to buy our own snorkels from the central Walmart store where sets costs as low as 230MXN/£9 (if quality isn’t too much of an issue) This is much better value than buying along the tourist traps of 5th Avenue.
- Much of Mexico prefers cash payments (than card) and in Playa Del Carmen they accept both MXN and USD. Pay in Mexican Pesos if you can as conversion rates with USD payments can be poorer. Avoid withdrawing cash from any of the ATMs on 5th Avenue, they all charge a hefty 200MXN/£4 fee regardless of amount withdrawn. There is a HSBC bank a couple blocks from the central ADO bus station that’s much cheaper and more reliable, on Avenida Benito Juárez.
We say goodbye to wonderful Mexico, two months since arriving in Oaxaca, followed by San Cristobal and finishing in Playa Del Carmen. We experienced a slower pace of travel for the first time enabling us to absorb the culture and got a feel of living at each place. Mexico is a great country, and one of the most friendliest and safest places we have visited so far. It is often misinterpreted in the outside world and more recently on the spotlight with the US presidential elections. Forget the politics and anything that has put you off from visiting; Mexico has amazing beaches, natural sites and a rich history with ancient ruins. Not forgetting, the tasty food! It is an affordable and diverse country that deserves repeat visits – there is so much to do and see, it has been the perfect introduction to Central America for us. We will be back…
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