playa del carmen
|Friday, February 27|
My flight departed about twenty minutes late--at 7:20 AM. This year, I paid $272 dollars for a ticket on Champion Air, purchased through MLT Vacations with a ten percent discount. I had an aisle seat, so I didn't get to see Cancun's striking coastal view as we descended into Cancun at 11:10 AM. Customs/immigrations went quickly, and thirty minutes later I walked outside, finally able to embrace the warm air and sunshine on my face.
Barb's plane wasn't arriving until 2:30 PM, so the plan was for me to forge on over to Isla Mujeres and search for a hotel. Neither of us had been to Isla Mujeres, before. From the charter terminal, I hopped on the shuttle over to the main terminal. It runs every few minutes, and was right there when I walked outside.
I went to the Riviera Bus stand to purchase my ticket to Cancun and the ticket agent told me the bus was leaving in five minutes. Riviera has a new bus service that runs directly from the airport to Cancun. It's great. The cost is only $1.50, and you can buy tickets and catch it at the same place as the Playa del Carmen bus. Thirty minutes later, I arrived at the bus station in downtown Cancun. I proceeded outside, and got into a taxi for a ten-minute ride to the Puerto Juarez Ferry Pier.
Taxi fare is $3.50, so I gave him a five, and walked over to the pier, to see the ferry just pulling away. Finally I had time to get into a bathroom and change out of my winter tights and boots. I walked over to the ticket booth and purchased a round-trip ticket for $7.50, bought a beverage at the store, and walked over to the dock. There is a large deck with tables and chairs overlooking the clear, blue water.
The ferries depart about every thirty minutes. There is a restroom and they sell chilled beverages onboard. I chose a seat on the outdoor, upper deck. The 20-minute ride was windy, and the brisk ocean air felt exhilarating against my skin. Away from shore, the sea is a deep shade of navy, broken by slices of green and aqua colors so brightly reflected each hue seems to glow beneath an afternoon sun.
As we neared Isla Mujeres, my heart beat a bit faster with anticipation. Photographs depicted a charming and quaint island embraced by Caribbean Sea. I was a bit nervous. We had checked a few hotels online, and all of them were already booked full. Babs had told me to check out the Hotel Gomar. It looked very close to the ferry pier on a map. As the ferry pulled up to the pier, I could see Hotel Gomar just across the street.
They had vacancies, rooms with two doubles, for $40 dollars a night. The desk clerk brought me up a flight of stairs onto a spacious, wrap-around balcony, and a view of the island spanning several directions. I asked if she had any rooms higher up, and we climbed a few more flights to a corner room and beautiful view of the island and shore.
The room was very simple, small-but clean, and I paid her for two nights. After freshening up, I grabbed my camera and set out to explore downtown.
Everything awash in pastel and brightly colored paints, Isla held more charm than I had imagined. I shot a whole roll of film in about an hour. I walked over to the beach--gorgeous, yet not too crowded. Then I headed back to the pier to meet Babs, hoping she wasn't lost trying to get to the ferry.
I took a seat at the oceanside bar to enjoy a frozen Pina Colada, turned around and saw Barb just getting off the ferry. She got lucky and her seatmates on the plane were also going to Isla and offered her a ride in their taxi. Babs introduced me to Chris, Carol and "Mom and Dad" and we agreed to meet them over at Chi-Chi and Charlie's Beach Bar for drinks.
After dropping Bab's luggage off at the hotel, we took a stroll around downtown and the beach, and then headed over to meet Bab's new friends. Chris wanted us to drink a shot of tequila with him. Babs told Chris she doesn't drink shots and I told him I don't drink tequila. Next thing I knew, I had a shot of tequila in front of me. Chris's rationale was that Babs said she didn't drink shots. I said I didn't drink tequila. Chris explained this was no Cuervo, it was good tequila and I'd like it. OK, then! Somehow another half shot also appeared. I drank the half shot of Don Julio. Babs drank whole shot of Hornitos, and it only took us an hour to drink 'em up. We are pretty hardcore.
Babs had Quesadillas at Chi-Chi and Charlies, then we headed back for more sightseeing downtown. We sat at a streetside table at Rolandi's where I enjoyed a light, thin-crust pizza topped with tomato, cheese, asparagus, ham, mushrooms, black olives and oregano.
Our next stop was Jax for beers and a band. My nightcap was a crepe. Drenched in warm, sweet chocolate and smooth, rich ice cream, at a French coffee shop next to Jax. Babs had chilled, refreshing water. She's will-powered when it comes to indulging in rich, decadent desserts.
They say Isla is quiet and laid-back, and even on a Friday night, it was pretty quiet. Nice, but quiet. We were a bit tired from all of our travels, so we headed back to the room and were tucked away by 11:45 PM.
"On to Playa del Carmen"
Saturday, February 28|
And by 6 AM, we were pretty much wide awake. I got up and tried to find an open coffee shop, but couldn't so I got my fix at a mini-mart. We took a long, morning stroll along a paved, shoreline walkway.
Back downtown, we sipped coffee on a patio decorated with wrought-iron tables and chairs, every open space filled by oversized planters of potted foliage and flowers. Babs got Huevos Rancheros. She didn't really care for them.
She enjoyed Pina Coladas from Chi-Chi and Charlies, though. We kicked back in the beach chairs, and basked in the warmth of the sun and the sounds of gentle waves drifting in over sand.
The plan was to spend another night on Isla Mujeres and head down to Playa del Carmen early Sunday morning. On the beach, though, we decided to head on down to Playa early. Isla is just lovely, and I would go back in a heartbeat...but we figured we had seen a lot, and if we just went down to Playa we would have all day there on Sunday, instead of traveling around. We said goodbye to Chris, Carol, "Mom" and "Dad" who were over at Chi-Chi and Charlies.
The lady at the hotel desk gave us a puzzled look when we turned in the key. I hope she didn't take offense to our early departure.
We took the ferry back to Puerto Juarez. A taxi back to the downtown Cancun. Then the bus to Playa which cost about $3.50.
Immediately I saw lots of changes in Playa del Carmen since last year. They are working on the pedestrian walkway on 5th Avenue, so that was all torn up, but did not create any kind of problems. It just looks nicer when it's bricked, and will look great when they are done. We headed straight down the block to Sergio's, where I stayed last year. I noticed Sergio also had a money exchange booth, now. Sergio showed us a double room, but he didn't have any of the balcony rooms this time, so we passed on Sergio's.
We walked over to Hotel Bananas Cabanas. A room with two double beds, A/C, fan and a balcony overlooking the coutyard was $65 dollars a night. A room with two single beds, no A/C, a ceiling fan and a balcony overlooking 5th Avenue and Calle 6 was $45 dollars a night. We took that room, which was small and clean. Unlike Sergio's, no alarm clock or television.
We walked up 5th Avenue to Constituyentes, just seeing what's changed, what's new, what's gone. Playa is always changing. I was quite surprised the Beer Bucket was gone, but later noticed it had just relocated off of 5th Avenue.
Walking along, I saw many new money exchange booths and found out you can no longer exchange money at the bank. Be aware, as I exchanged money at two different booths, and both times I was shorted a few pesos. So, count the money out carefully. The first time she watched me count the money twice. When I looked up at her she asked me for twenty pesos and then handed me fifty, pretending that she needed my pesos to make change. Although, she had given me the twenty pesos to begin with. The second time, I counted the money twice, looked up at the cashier, and she looked back at me, then just reached over and gave me the rest of my pesos without saying anything.
We heard music and saw a mob of people ahead and walked straight into a festive street parade. We had failed to notice banners on every street announcing it was Playa's Carnaval Celebration week. We walked up to Constituyentes where I thought I'd stop by Kickass Shrimp and ***in' Burger's to see if my name was still on the wall (they used to hand guests markers to sign their walls). Kickass Shrimp has disappeared. Darn. I liked that place.
We headed back down 5th and went to one my favorites, the always lovely, always cool, rooftop bar at the Deseo Hotel. Continuing our walk, we explored the various shops then stopped at Bourbon Street Bar on 5th Avenue to catch the blues band.
We ended our evening at the Blue Parrot. No big changes there, except they have paved a good part of the area that surrounds the bar where the tables are. I kind of liked them better in the sand, but do recall seeing many a person topple over in their chairs from the shifting sand.
We caught the fire show, which is no longer just two chicas--but a whole troop of dancers and percussionists. It was really a good show. Every night, around 11 PM. They still serve late-night food, and have added more tables out on the beach.
"Beach and Nightlife"
|Sunday, February 29|
We awoke around 8 AM and headed over to grab coffee for the balcony. We go to either Cafe Sasta or Java Joes. Cafe Sasta has bigger cups, but gets busy and sometimes there is quite a wait. Java Joes has smaller cups, but serves real milk, whereas Sasta serves powdered creamer.
Unpacking, I noticed my swimsuit bottom, but had forgotten the top. Which is really not a problem in Playa. I like tops, so I went power shopping and found a cute halter for ten dollars. We hit the beach in my favorite spot between Mimi Del Mar and All Riviera Resort. I was surprised to see that Captain Daves relocated from 10th Avenue to the beach. We had a lot of fun at Captain Daves last year and I recognized the friendly bartender from the old location. A waiter stopped us and said the beach chairs were free at Captain Daves. We dig the free, so we set up camp there.
We tried their hamburgers for lunch and they were dreadful. When we got our bill, I noticed a few extra charges on it. The waiter said there was a five dollar fee for chair rental. I reminded him that he said there was no charge. He said he'd take that off the bill, but he only took 20 pesos off, which is about two dollars.
He had also added a 40 percent gratuity. We tip pretty good when we get even mediocre service, but 40 percent for that place was way too much. I brought the bill up to that bartender and said, "I have a question". He noticed the bill I was holding, interrupted me, held up his hand and said, "not my problem". I did get the bill straightened out with the waiter, but he wasn't too happy with his 15 percent tip. Which ended up being 100 percent more than he ever got from us again.
We stopped by Karen's Pizza to watch the flute band, which only plays until 6 PM, now. They have other entertainment after that.
We went to La Palapas Hemingway on 5th Avenue and Calle Corazon for dinner. I had the Mexican Plate, which was gigantic and Babs had enchiladas. We both enjoyed the meal and service. For dessert I had a Mexican Coffee, which the waiter prepares tableside with flaming tequila. It's quite a show, and very delicious with lots of whipped cream in a caramelised sugar-coated glass. Mmm-mmm good stuff, amigos. Babs had clear, cool water for dessert served in a bluish plastic bottle accompanied with a glass and ice.
Next we hit Señor Frogs, where they informed me they only have live bands on Tuesday and Saturdays, now. Well, boo. We got hit on by a drunk kid from Chicago. He was very persistant, and Mrs. Babs Robinson and I told him that our husbands were playing pool at Captain Dave's on the beach. When he realized he was not Ashton Kutcher he became upset and told us he was just going to go back to his hotel because he was wasting his time. Oh my, we felt bad and drank a Sol beer in his honor.
After more strolling and window shopping on 5th Avenue, we stopped by La Parilla for a night cap. I had a Mango Margarita, which was very nice, but rather expensive at eight dollars. Time to call it a night!
We got up early, got our coffee in and got ready for our big adventure to Chichen Itza. The bus was leaving at 8 AM, and we would have made that bus had we known it was leaving out of the other bus station in Playa. Never fear, we had Plan B. Back to the hotel to get bio-degradeable suntan lotion and swimsuits. We walked over to where the collectivos line up and were on our way to Xel Ha within minutes. The collectivo fare went up fifty cents, and is now two dollars. Still, very inexpensive transport for a 35-mile ride. The admission price at Xel Ha also went up a few dollars. It's about $50 dollars for all/inclusive-which we did not do this time, but with the new prices, you may as well just pay the A/I price. Admission was $29 dollars, two dollars for a locker (which we shared), a towel is ten dollars (quite steep to rent a towel), and you now have to pay to rent snorkel gear-which used to be included in the general admission fee. Seven dollars for the mask and snorkel (you get to keep the snorkel). More money if you want fins.
If you haven't been there, prepare to leave cash deposits and/or photo identification all over the place. You must leave a deposit for the lockers/towels which are in one area, and another deposit for the snorkel gear which is in another area. I've never had any problems with that. I love Xel Ha, and I think it's a little steep in price, but on vacation, I'll pay it again. It's a gorgeous, and very well-maintained park with plenty to see and do.
We took a nice walk through the trails, across the floating bridge, out by the secret beach, stopped by the restaurant for a coca-cola light and then off to snorkel. I swam with hundreds of exotic, colorful fish that come right up and look you in the eye. Cool, man, very cool.
When we were walking along the trails we saw two iguanas. One was dragging the other around by the neck and Babs thought that one was dead and the other was taking it somewhere. There were some other tourists closer to the iguanas watching them. Then the big one got on the smaller one, and I asked aloud "what is he doing" thinking it was trying to kill that other iguana, or something. And this other tourist just looks at me like I'm way too naive and says, in an accent, "sex". Oh. I see. I think I'll go jump off a cliff, now.
We got on the tram and went up to the top of the river to get inner tubes.
The entrance to the river is through an area of tropical mangroves. Along the way, you can stop and jump off of the "cliff of courage" into the river. We got out of the river and hesitantly climbed the steps.
When we got to the top Babs told me her heart was just racing. Mine was, too. It's scary up there.
There was a guy on the top and he was peering over the edge of the cliff and he kept walking away, going to the edge, walking away...saying "I can't do this". So, finally I just said, "I'm just going to go, then" and ran up to the edge and jumped off without ever checking how high it looked from the edge. It was really fun, what a rush! Babs came flying off right behind me. That's cliff of courage, people.
For lunch I had Chaya Tamales, and Babs had stuffed Grouper served with Mayan rice. It was pretty good, and we had some awesome chips and salsa with lots of fresh cilantro.
We headed out to the parking lot towards Highway 307 to wait for a collectivo back to Playa. There was a collectivo waiting right inside of Xel Ha's entrance, so we got right in and were back to Playa del Carmen pretty quickly.
We spent the night doing the Tourist Shuffle up and down 5th, taking breaks at Bourbon Street and the Blue Parrot. It was a very busy and fun day!
|Tuesday, March 2|
We got up early and actually went to the correct bus station and bought our tickets to Chichen Itza. I've wanted to go every year, but always put it off, because the bus ride is four hours, each way. The fare was $30 dollars round trip. Even though the bus makes short stops in downtown Tulum, at Coba and in Vallodolid, the ride went by very quickly. The seats are comfy and recline, there are televisions every few rows, a bathroom onboard, air-conditioning and seatbelts.
It was interesting going through the different towns. I had been to the ruins in Tulum, but hadn't seen the town. It's a lot larger than I thought it was. Parts of the ride tear your heart out , peering through bus windows and watching children at play in impoverished, garbage-strewn neighborhoods.
Vendors come onboard and sell food and beverages in Tulum. There is a short break in Vallodolid, and you may get off the bus and stretch your legs and grab some food. They announce that in Spanish, however. We never checked the lavatory, but somebody came on to clean it at the various stops. I'm very impressed with Riviera Bus and their service.
The entrance fee to Chichen Itza was about eight dollars, and is free on Sunday. Chichen Itza is quite remarkable in size and I really enjoyed it much more than I thought it would.
We stopped by the restaurant at the entrance and tried burgers, again. Oh, my. I thought the ones at Captain Daves were bad. This thing was really funky. I took one bite, and discretely distributed it into my napkin. The bun was good, and I ate that along with fries, which were pretty dismal. It only dawned on me, then, that there was still a ban on US beef due to Mad Cow Disease. Mexico was the number two importer, and I'd recommend just skipping beef until the ban is lifted.
I'm not afraid of heights, but I think I was more nervous climbing the 91 steps to the top of El Castillo, than I was that cliff. For one thing, it's hot-deliriously hot out there. I've heard the steps are very narrow, and they are, indeed, extremely narrow. I just wanted to get to the top. Let me tell you, the top is no picnic site, either. The rounded stone had a slippery feel, even under my boots. There is an ambulance that stands nearby, just in case!
We got to the site right around noon, and took the second bus back which departed at 4:30 PM. It was enough time, that I felt I did not miss a lot. If we would have more time, though, I would have not minded exploring the site further.
Private guides are available for a reasonable fee. Babs brought along a print-out she downloaded, so we just perused that as we toured the ruins. They have refreshment areas and I got an ice cream over by the Cenote. Mexico has fabulous ice cream. Babs didn't get water. She went nuts and went for a colorful, thirst-quenching Gatorade. Live it up, girl.
"I Love Playa"
Even the bus ride back seemed to go pretty fast. After we got back to Playa we saw another parade from our balcony and then walked over to Babe's Noodles. Unfortunately, I had picked up chips and cupcakes in Vallodolid, so I wasn't hungry. Babs got Thai Noodles with pesto, chicken and garlic. I tried it and it was so light, and fresh, yet very flavorful. I definitely recommend Babes. They are always hopping busy, too
They also seemed to served an impressive amount of Mojitos-a drink with rum, sugar, mint, lime juice and club soda. Naturally, I had to try one. It was different at first, but very refreshing. And strong.
We went over to Se?or Frogs since it was "live music" night. The bartender asked us if our husbands were still playing pool at Captain Daves. Sly guy, just wasn't buying that story. I had a Caipirinha-a drink with rum, lime and sugar.
Here's a vacation tip. Brush your teeth with tap water, eat fruits and vegetables, go ahead and buy that tamale from the street vendor.
Just think moderation when it comes to the rum and sugar. Trust me.
|Wednesday, March 3|
We had met our goals of experiencing Isla Mujeres, Xel Ha and Chichen Itza-so we had a whole day to just hit the beach. After our "morning coffee on the balcony" session, of course. We marched right past that Captain Daves and on over to All Riviera Resort. We promptly forked over the fiver for our beach chairs that our waiter, Nicholas, told us about right off the bat. Lunch was so/so. Nachos el bland-o.
We relaxed, enjoyed sunshine and watched the water. It was a lovely day.
We went to dinner at one of my all-time favorites, DaGabi. Except, I didn't eat, which bummed me out, because I wanted to eat there-but had stomach cramps. Babs had garlic toast from the brick oven, and a shrimp pasta. She said it was fabulous, and I'm sure it was, because their food is always a treat.
After dinner, we went over to Om, a new, chic and trendy outdoor bar on 1st Avenue and Calle 12. It has an eclectic mix of furnishings and music. Each table has a Hookah on it. You can try a Narguille, which is tobacco, fruits, sweets and "others". I don't know what the "others" are, but this isn't Jamaica, so don't get too excited, kids.
I settled for a Pineapple Daiquiri and no Hookah. The bar top is lined with every kind of fresh, sliced fruit you can think of. I'm sure they can whip up some pretty good non-alcohol concoctions there, too.
I didn't catch the name of the newly-remodeled hotel behind Om. The bar was being constructed on my last visit. The hotel is the same place I stayed for $25 dollars a night a few years ago. By the looks of it, I'd venture to guess it is not that inexpensive, now.
Keeping our routine, we went over to Bourbon Street to watch the band. Later, we decided to check out Mambo Cafe. It looks small from the outside, and I've never bothered to check it out. A co-worker, Cory, told me it's really nice, so it was on my list of places to go to on this trip. Wow, were we surprised when we walked in. It's rather roomy, and they are pretty high-tech with their light show. Very high-energy. There was a big production on a huge screen over the stage. The screen disappeared, revealing a 12-member Latin Salsa band, providing music for a dance floor filled with talented dancers.
Mambo Cafe has Salsa dance classes every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9:30-10:30 PM. Cost is $8 dollars per class, or $12 dollars per couple.
The rest of the trip report, and others, can be found at
My Playa del Carmen Photo Gallery can be found at