Nothing can take suck the fun out of a vacation more than the headaches of preparation. Research, planning, buying in advance, reading books, etc. Some people love it, I don’t. I live off the experiences of other people, making my own vacations better by avoiding other people’s mistakes. Let this be an easy guide to one of the most beautiful places in Mexico: Playa del Carmen.
On the eastern side of Mexico, 20 miles south of Cancun, lies a small beach town called Playa del Carmen. It’s charming and quaint, but with enough tourist amenities to make it an easy vacay. We stayed HERE>>Pueblito Escondido. We rented a private condo with our own pool and balcony, 10 steps from the sandy beaches of the Caribbean Sea. Don’t bother with an “all inclusive.” You can get around on very little money and have a way more authentic experience.
Things to do (and what to wear):
1) Go fishing. Even if you don’t think you’ll enjoy fishing, you have to try it. There are fisherman lined up on the shore every morning. Show up at 8am, it’s $200us to take a boat out for 4 hours. They provide beer and the bait, the fisherman and captain will take you deep into the ocean. I caught a huge one, which we filleted and ate right afterwards. FRESH. You definitely want to be in your bikini/trunks in the event you want to jump overboard and swim with the fish. Serious.
2) Swim in caves. There are tons of cenotes (say-note-es) in Playa del Carmen, sinkholes resulting from collapsed limestone, filled with underground water. A short 200pesos taxi ride will get you to El Cristilano Cenote, a beautiful cenote, run by a quiet family who take care of this natural wonder. Swim through caves, side by side with huge fish, jump off huge rocks into depths of water if you dare. I did. This cenote is also known for those little fish that nibble at the dead skin on your feet. It’s strange but utterly amazing. Wear as little as possible, think of it as a body scrub, minus the scrubber.
3) Drink a Michelada. After having 6 of these, I’m pretty certain it’s become my favorite drink. Sort of like a bloody mary, but with beer instead of vodka. Spicy, salty, tangy mixed with your choice of cerveza. My favorite one was from Cockteleria Manigua, a seafood lovers heaven. Try the “rainbow tacos” (los tacos arcoiris) with pineapple and melted cheese. SO GOOD. Dress as if going to a BBQ.
4) Eat tacos y tortas. Living in SF I’m no stranger to good Mexican food. But being in Mexico forces you to order things you normally wouldn’t. Don’t get a burrito in Mexico. Get tacos y tortas. Some of the best food was from the smallest (dingiest) taquerias we could find. ~10pesos for a bistec de res taco (beef) and ~70pesos for a bistec de puerco torta is eating a whole meal for $5. Tacos Gomez was probably my favorite. They have adventurous meats on the menu, but also have suadero (shredded beef) and res (cubed beef) for the regular folks. They don’t speak any English so practice saying TACO. Wear elastic waistband shorts, your stomach will definitely be stretching out tonight.
5) Find a secluded beach. For 90pesos, you can ask the taxi driver to take you all the way south of Playa del Carmen, past the last resort (Hotel Iberostar Quetzal). Walk through the resort and south past the beach chairs until you hit the part of the beach that is surrounded by a jungle on the other side. A 20-minute walk will leave you with a quiet, white-sandy beach all to yourself. Bring a long loose dress so you can pose in front of the palm trees, beach side.
See you in Playa del Carmen. Adios amigos.