Day Trips, Playa del Carmen
Definitely the highlight of my vacation! This was a full day island tour from Playa del Carmen to Isla Cozumel and the fun never stopped. First we took the ferry (included in the tour price) and then hopped on a Safari truck with about 20 other passengers. Our guide, which spoke perfect English, explained Isla Cozumel's history and Mayan culture which was very interesting. Cozumel is home to the Mayan goddess Ixchel; goddess of fertility, medicine and the moon. Our first stop was Chankanaab National Park for snorkeling. The snorkeling was incredible! The fish were so friendly and the water was warm and clear. "Not bad for our fist stop," I said.
Our next stop was an ecological reserve (Punta Sur). We saw an ancient Mayan lighthouse, crocodiles in the wild, a beautiful lighthouse (Faro Celarain) and the best beach I've ever been to. The beach was secluded (this is why we needed a Safari truck), miles from nowhere, and everything was picture perfect. At the beach there was a lunch buffet with beer and soft drinks included in the price. Our next stop was the windward side of the island. Rocky, crashing waves, intense tones of blue in the water.
Lastly we strolled through Historic Downtown Cozumel, oldest town in the region. There was a nice church, clock tower, it really felt like Mexico. At 6 o'clock we boarded the ferry back to Playa del Carmen. What a beautiful day. Better than Chichen Itza and Tulum.
Things I liked about this day trip:
The scenery and activities were spectacular.
The tour was all-inclusive. Other than the US$2.00 for the Marine Park Tax and the tip we gave our guide, everything was included: ferry, island tour, snorkeling, lunch, entrances to the national parks, etc.
This was our 7th time to Playa del Carmen and we've done most of the usual daytrips, in fact we had already visited most of the stops on the Edventure Tour but Ed (kaspian) who was visiting at the same time as us was raving about the tour he had early in the week so we decided to make that our one day trip on this visit.
Don't let their confusing website dissuade you from taking this tour, I didn't want to see Tulum again and we didn't want to go ziplining so I was wondering if we would have to wait while others completed those add-ons. We didn't have to wait for anyone, we had our own guide and driver and did only those things we requested, the lagoon at Yal-Ku, the cenotes snorkel and the turtle snorkel at Akumal. You can also visit the ruins at Tulum, go ziplining, stop and have lunch and I'm betting if there's something else you really want to do that they could fit it in somewhere.
Ed was prompt in replying to our email, the van driver picked us up at the appointed time and drove us to their offices in Tulum where we picked up our gear and then headed to the Dos Ojos cenote where we snorkeled into the bat cave and around the cenote. From there we headed to the beach at Akumal where our guide took us out to show us turtles, rays and some squid. The final stop was the Yalku lagoon where our guide let us go off on our own after showing us which direction had the most fish, said we could spend as much time as we wanted here. He said it was up to us whether we wanted to stop for lunch so we declined since we were staying at an AI, it was nice to have the choice. No stops for shopping, they will take photos if you want for an extra fee, my friend got a fabulous shot with a turtle.
Great customer service, interesting stops, a really good guide named Kiki, no high pressure sales, everything I want in a tour. Lunch/beverages are not included in the price, all of the admission fees are as well as the snorkel gear and a wetsuit if you want one for the cenote (we didn't wear one and we were fine, everyone else we passed was wearing at least a 1/2 wetsuit)
I will note that everything on the tour is accessible to the general public for those wanting to visit on their own. But sometimes its nice not to have to worry about colectivos and taxis and paying admission fees. Plus a nice guide to chat with about local things, Ed also checks back with you at the end of the tour to make sure you enjoyed it. Highly recommended!
2nd visit as part of an Edventure tour December 2011
Yal-Ku is a beautiful natural lagoon near Akumal, it reminds me a lot of Xel-ha when we visited it back in the late 1980s, before it became commercialized with a large admission fee and lots of people. You can swim all the way out to the sea but we saw the most fish right near where people were getting in and feeding the fish. While I didn't see anything unusual but I did see lots and lots of fish. Yal-Ku is starting to show up on guided trips but it wasn't overly crowded.
Admission is 75 pesos for adults, more if you need to rent snorkel gear. There are lockers, a bathroom and changing room. Since our last visit they seem to have added a snack bar and a few statues along the paths. Currently it's open from 8 am-5:30 pm.
Things to bring-camera, money, towel, biodegradable sunscreen, bathing suit, extra tshirt if you are as fair skinned as me to snorkel in, snorkel gear, water/beverage. Although I swam without fins, it would have been nice to have them.
To get to Yal-Ku from Playa del Carmen, we took a colectivo to Akumal beaches (20 pesos per person each way) where there was a taxi stand, the taxi was 50 pesos there and 60 pesos coming back, always ask the fare BEFORE getting into the taxi. It's really too far to walk from the highway to Yal-Ku, folks were telling me that it was about 30 minutes on foot but I think it would be longer than that and all out in the hot sun.
We booked this through our airport transfer service and had a great time. It was only $99 per person and it started at 7:30a to about 2p and it felt much longer! The trip included three ziplines, rappelling into a cenote and swimming in the cave, snorkeling in another cave, lunch (included in price), and jeep ride. It was a very reasonble price for so many activities. Everyone in my group loved the day and would definitely return. It was not advertised as much as Xel-Ha and Xcaret, but were very happy to find out about it. You can also add Tulum to the trip, but we were not really interested in that.
If you start very early from Playa you can get to Tulum early [45mins] before the MASSES of crowds. Then go on and turn left to COBA [45 mins more].
After this we went back on ourselves a bit to Tulum town [not ruins] and then slowly slowly down the spit to Punta Allen, this is a boring drive because you cannot see the sea at all, you drive along at the back entrances to beautiful beach front hotels and houses, some have cafe signs, so you stop, get a drink and go out on to the deserted beaches. GREAT. it takes ages because it is a slow road but it is worth it when you get to Punta Allen which no-one else goes to because it ia a long drive and see the fishermen and stop for a drink and be back to Playa by 8pm
I have avoided going to Xcaret (pronounced eesh car et) but I finally decided to go check it out on our 4th trip to the area since so many people recommend it. I'm glad we finally went but I wouldn't list it as one of my favorite daytrips and I wished I had gone there on my 1st trip rather than my 4th, before I had become so comfortable visiting sights on our own.
As I was pondering why I didn't like it nearly as much as other people and if I was engaging in a little self fulfilling prophecy, the best I could come up with was that it wasn't real, I could go to other places in Mexico and see REAL Mayan ruins, REAL underground rivers, REAL lagoons.
If you do go, plan on spending the entire day here, admission is $56US for adults and there is plenty to occupy your time until 6 pm when the Mexican Spectacular show starts (you can also go in for a reduced fee after 3 pm). There are also activities with an additional cost, you can also swim with dolphins, go on a guided snorkel trip, Snuba and several other activities. And the first thing you should do is check the activity board for the included shows and activities that have performance times.
Food is not included and a little expensive, I balked at the $24US price tag on the buffet but I was even less enthused about spending $10US on a hamburger. The buffet was actually pretty good and varied. You can also eat dinner at the Mexican Spectacular show for an extra $35US ($17 children).
In a nutshell, I think Xcaret is a good daytrip for families who want a safe day out with the kids and perhaps for first time visitors to the area. And if you enjoy places like DisneyWorld, then Xcaret might appeal to you.
What to bring: you can rent lockers for about $2US per day so bring what you think you need for the day if you don't want to rent it, snorkel gear, extra clothes, biodegradable sunblock, towel. They don't want you bringing in outside food but they don't check.
2007 update-I just read that Xel-ha went all inclusive, a whopping $59US, so it may not make sense to do a combined trip anymore. I know if I was spending $59US that I'd make a whole day of Xel-ha
A visit to the Mayan ruins at Tulum and the ecopark at Xel-ha is another popular daytrip from Playa del Carmen. You can visit both in one day if you get an early start, I would recommend visiting Tulum in the morning when it is cooler and less crowded and then go onto Xel-ha.
We got there by taking a colectivo (shared van) from Playa del Carmen to Tulum, caught a taxi to take us into the town of Tulum afterwards for lunch, another colectivo from Tulum to Xelha and then a colectivo from Xel-ha back to Playa del Carmen. It's slightly less convenient taking a colectivo than taking a taxi which will take you right to the entrance of Tulum but it's A LOT less expensive.
Please see my travelogue below for more photos of Xel-ha and my Tulum page for more photos of Tulum.
Take advantage of seeing another Island with the ferry being right there in town. Go to Cozumel for a day! There's lots to do & see in Cozumel. You can play & shop in San Miguel. The main town for Cozumel & where the ferry docks. There's all sorts of neat little shops, cafes & restuarants on the main drag. Or hit the back streets to see what the vendors are selling. Grab some mexican ice cream & watch the traffic go by in the town square. Cozumel also has a Hard Rock Cafe so be sure to pick up a souviner from there or maybe the Senior Frog's of Cozumel. Another option would be to play, sunbath or snorkel off of Cozumel's gorgeous white sand beach's. Or just snorkel off the docks. There's plenty of places to snorkel from and better yet you'll be able to tell all your friends that you snorkeled the Planacar Reef! Shoot, if your a diver, take the Ferry over & do a couple of dive's on the famous Planacar Reef. There are teams & teams of tropical fish & colorful coral. The Planacar Reef is famous for being one of the best dive/snorkeling spots in the carribean and attracts divers from all over the world. Visit Cozumel's ruins in the Jungle. It's a totally different environment from Tulum or Chichen Itza. Make Cozumel a day full of adventure. There's plenty of time to pack in several activities in one day & if by chance you don't get it all done, come back tomorrow. The Ferry runs from Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel every two hours beginning at 5:00 a.m. and the Ferry from Cozumel runs every two hours beginning at 4:00 a.m.. Just make sure your back on the last ferry run at 10:00 p.m. or you might be spending the night on the beach, lol. The price of the Ferry is $7.50 one way & takes about 40 minutes. Have fun!
Logically this trip makes more sense from Cancun than Playa del Carmen, it took about 45 minutes to be transported via van from PDC to Cancun in order to get on the boat. But Fat Cat wasn't running due to the hurricane earlier in the year, nor were several other operators and the one that was operating was more expensive for a 1/2 day than this full day trip so we decided to do this one on the Don Diego.
Cancun's tourism was really hurting after Wilma, most of the hotels were not open when we visited in early December 2005, so there was a rather small crowd on our trip. Stops included snorkeling in the national park near Isla Mujeres, a stop in town to shop, lunch on the beach and the opportunity to kite sail on the way back.
We enjoyed our trip to Coba with Alltournative last year very much so we decided to try a different trip with them this year, the Jungle Crossing trip. We booked through our hotel for $98 per person, on their website it is $99 but you can get a 10% discount if you book in advance on the website.
I really like this company, the tours are professionally run, visit interesting places, seem to be safe and have great guides plus you get to visit Mayan villages and support the local people.
This trip started off at our resort where our excellent guide, Giovanni, picked us up in an all terrain vehicle. After stopping briefly for coffee and snacks, we headed down what could loosely be called a road and after about 15 minutes of being bounced around, we arrived at the first cenote, Heaven's Gate, where we snorkeled inside the cenote, checking out the stalactites (formed on the ceiling) and stalagmites (formed on the ground) and the entrances to the underground river system. We then walked to the 2nd cenote, Nohoch, where you get to snorkel inside the start of one of the caves. It's pretty awesome when they turn out the lights for a minute and you are surrounded by complete darkness! The water is pretty cold but they do have wetsuits if you need one.
We then stopped for an awesome lunch of mole chicken, beef tacos, and rice at the Mayan ranch and then we were back in the all terrain vehicle for a ride over to Soliman Bay where we jumped in kayaks to get out to the reef. At first I was a bit disappointed in this part as the fresh and salt water mix in the bay making visibility poor especially if you are snorkeling near someone. But then my husband spotted a sea turtle that I was able to follow for a long time, really cool to see in their natural environment.
The final stop was at their headquarters where we ended the day with a shot of tequila and then back to the resorts, the whole trip was about 8 hours.
Tulum is the only Mayan city located on the coast. The spectacular setting of the ruins overlooking the Caribbean Sea encourage tourists to flock to the site. Get there early in order to avoid the tourist hordes.
While an inscription dated 564 has been found at the site, most of the structures now visible were built in the Post-Classic Era, between about 1200 and 1450. The city remained occupied through the early years of the Spanish conquest of Yucatán, but was abandoned in by the end of the 16th century. Local Maya continued to visit the temples to burn incense and pray until the late 20th century.
A number of the buildings sport fresco murals on the interior. Small traces of paint suggest that the exterior of some buildings may have been similarly decorated. The murals show Mixtec influence.
This is an awesome daytrip to take from Playa del Carmen. It's a full day excursion starting around 7am and finishing up around 7 pm. We had a great guide, Hugo, who stayed with us for the entire day and coached us through the various activities.
The day started off with a visit to the Mayan ruins at Coba, the sight is largely unexcavated so it's not as impressive as Chichen Itza but it is still interesting to see. I'll post some more about Coba on my Coba page. Wear good shoes as you will be bicycling and climbing a large pyramid.
After visiting Coba, we drove to the Mayan village of Pac Chen, a self sufficient community of around 100 indigeneous people. The guide took us on a jungle walk pointing out some of the native flora and fauna, and then our first adventure, a trip over the Cayman cenote via zipline which you can do tandem or solo.
The next adventure is rappeling 45 feet into the jaguar cenote, an underground cenote named for the the resemblance to the jaguar coat that the light makes on the ceiling on the cave. For those not brave enough to rappel, there is the Mayan elevator, a rope that they lower you down on. I was a bit hesitant about rappeling, lacking arm strength and having a minor fear of heights, but it really was a cinch and it was cool floating around in an underwater cave.
The final stop was to canoe around the lagoon, we had hoped to see/hear some howler monkeys but all we saw were a couple of turtles.
Finally around 3 pm we had lunch, my only complaint about this tour was that there was nothing to eat in between although they did give us some water after visiting Coba. So bring a light snack.
Like most tours there are also a couple of stops for shopping but nothing high pressure. They also take several photos of you throughout the day which you have the option to buy for about $9US per photo.
We booked the tour once we got to PDC with a travel agency and paid in cash, if you book online you can save 10% and also pay by credit card.
This full day tour began with coffee (the best I had in Mexico) and pastry at their building,a jungle ride, lunch at a Mayan Village, rappel & zip-line over and into a ceynote (cave,sink-hole), a short kayake jouney, a search for monkeys, a trip into a ceynote with a swim in the cool spring fed pond and then we finished the day at Coba. Please visit my traveloque for more photos of our day with Alltournative tours. Our guide, Gonzo, was a true pleasure and made a great day even greater. Ten people per tour which makes it even a greater experience.