December 23, 2012

Mexico's Yucatan - A week in and around Playa del Carmen

I'll admit I was reluctant to go anywhere near Cancun. But, we were planning a trip with friends and it was easy to get to, inexpensive, and sunny. Plus, there was the promise of beaches like these...

On Isla Contoy

We decided to stay in Playa del Carmen which is halfway between Cancun and Tulum. Playa seemed to be a good middle ground- a lively town with infrastructure like car rentals, beach clubs, and grocery stores, but more intimate and low-key than Cancun. It is also well-positioned to explore the entire region.

I was aiming for middle ground in accommodations. Instead of staying at a resort we rented an apartment through Bric. Our apartment was nearly new and had views of the ocean just one block away. It was located on the north end of town which is much more charming than the more resorty-clubby southern end. There are some good hotel alternatives in Playa de Carmen - Hotel Las Palapas looked particularly nice.

View from our apartment.

One fantastic thing about the Yucatan peninsula is that there is so much to do. Beaches, snorkeling, parasailing, diving, spa, food, mayan ruins, cenotes - the list is endless and there is something for everyone. We wanted to relax, have some nature adventures, and eat good food.

Mamita's Beach Club was just down the street from our apartment. We rented a bed for the day. A whole day swimming, reading, drinking, eating and working on our tans. Touristy. Paradise.

Requisite legs/beach photo.

Ya-Kul Lagoon - We rented a palapa for the day to snorkel in these calm, protected waters. Easy, safe swimming, but too dark to see anything if overcast, so only worth a visit if it's sunny.

Our palapa at Ya-Kul lagoon.
Day trip to Isla Contoy - Suggested by our apartment rental company, this daytrip was a highlight of our trip! Contoy is an island national park 30 kilometers north of Isla Mujeres and Cancun. It was too overcast to snorkel nearby, but the beach and water at this tiny island were absolutely pristine. The crew also made us an incredible BBQ lunch. There is a great short guide to the island on Moon.

Cenotes - We chose Dos Ojos which seemed just off the grid enough. It was spectacular, thick, crystal water, and we sprang for the guided tour where we snorkeled into pitch black caves armed with flashlights. It was surely the trips' highlight!

Dos Ojos cenote.
Dos Ojos cenote.

Swimming in Dos Ojos cenote.

Tulum Ruins - The Mayan ruins themselves aren't that impressive but they are spectacularly situated perched over the ocean. We rented a car in Playa the drove to Tulum first thing in the morning to beat the crowds (and the worst of the heat).

Tulum Beaches - The beaches here were divine. White sand, less people than in Playa, and perfect for swimming.

We like food. We are not picky eaters.

Lucy's Tacos in Axumal:

El Pirada - We were told the ceviche here was great and were not disappointed.

Los Aguaschiles in Playa del Carmen - Hands down best meal. Check out my AFAR Highlight.

I really wanted to go to Hartwood in Tulum but it was only open for dinner:

Hartwood, photo via The Selby
Hartwood in Tulum, via The Selby
We also got to-go from a bustling restaurant across from the mega grocery store - twice - and took it back to our apartment to snazz up and have for breakfast and dinner.

There is so much more to do that we didn't get to, like day trips to Axumal and Valladolid and snorkeling the reefs off of Puerto Morelos. But our trip was a nice mix of relaxing, little adventures, and good food.

Yeah, I even enjoyed the "cheese". I drank pina coladas on the beach. And I picked up a Cancun Our Lady of Guadalupe key chain at the airport.

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