I’m going to try and focus on a lot of the meals we ate and give quick, simple tidbits about each. Starting in Playa Del Carmen, our first night we went to a highly-recommended spot called Yaxche, and explored the vibrate 5th Ave (“Avenida 5”) district.
Here’s the review for Paxche:
Pros: Good “authentic” Mayan food, good/spacious restaurant layout
Cons: A bit touristy, outside dining can get very sticky (this should have been obvious, but it was actually kind of deceiving upon entry)
Must Try: Duck Tacos (“Kuts Tacos”)
Know Before You Go: There are a lot of panhandlers and gimmicks in the area, so tread carefully before engaging in dialogue with any of the vendors (although – on a related note – Yaxche did have a guy taking photos of couples at their tables and came back around with your image on a tequila bottle with the date/name of restaurant… I told myself I’d pay up to $20 for a novelty item like that and ended up talking him down to 200 Pesos, so I was a happy camper even though I probably didn’t heed my own advice)
As far as Kitxen goes, we were very excited to find a spot that had local, live music. It was funny, too, that almost every other song was a cover of a catchy American tune (a nice touch that showed how much influence our music has internationally – and how much the people of the area enjoy catering to their main tourists). “Avenida 5” as a whole is a blast – tons of little shops and boutiques where you can get some great deals and practice your Spanish and negotiation skills.
I wanted to also review the dining experience at our hotel (Mahekal) – where we had a meal plan that included breakfast and dinner (which we were able to switch out for lunch each day, a highly-recommended decision in my opinion).
Here’s the review:
Pros: Good/consistent food, convenient
Cons: Limited options around the property, and menu remains largely the same every day
Must Try: Breakfast quesadillas (hand made by onsite chef if/when available)
Know Before You Go: You can dine anywhere around the property for lunch and still get the lunch menu/free meal swap (instead of eating dinner, you trade out for lunch) – just be nice to the staff and they’ll help serve you wherever you like (by the beach, by the pool, etc)
On the first two days of the trip, we opted to stay somewhere a little more modernized and relaxed – as we knew the latter part of the trip had much more exploring and charm in store. Thus, we decided to stay at Mahekal, a fairly luxurious beachfront spot which seemed to have a lot of the things we were looking for in the area (which – as I’m sure you may believe if you’ve ever searched – is actually really difficult to triangulate and arrive at an option that meets “most” of your wants/needs in the area).
Here’s the review:
Location: The location is great, as it is actually within short walking distance of the bustling Fifth Avenue shopping/dining/entertainment district in Playa Del Carmen. But it also feels like a secluded oasis, as the grounds and beach scene make it seem like this could be the only such resort for miles. A HUGE plus is that the resort is right next to an Oxo (convenience store), which is great for necessities like personal hygiene items, water, or other beverages.
Facilities: The facilities are great, and the only downside may be the volume of seaweed on the beaches (very common to the area though). The beach area has tiki huts, cabanas, and suspended day beds. The views are incredible, and can be even nicer from your own room if you have an ocean view (pictures at the end of the post).
Amenities: The amenities are great as well, as they have several pools, bars, restaurants, and a clubhouse area loaded with TV’s, ping pong, and billiards. If you consider meal plans an amenity, theirs is great and flexible – allowing you to trade out meals if you prefer to dine in town for certain meals.
Staff: The staff are very friendly and helpful. The bartenders and servers will help provide you whatever you need wherever you are throughout the property. They are also helpful with nightlife/food recommendations throughout town.
Rooms: I was very impressed with the rooms, and a nice bonus is that each room gets two hammocks to suspend from your balcony/terrace seating area.
While I’m thinking about it, I wanted to offer some tips and tricks for trips to Mexico:
Find an Oxo (or any Pemex/pharmacia equivalent for that matter) early and often – this will save you loads on common necessities like water or beer (yes – I consider this a “necessity” in Mexico)
Bring a small, bright, portable flashlight – it can be very dark at night and if you’re trying to walk around in towns or on your hotel grounds, it can be unfamiliar and intimidating
Bugspray and Sunscreen are a “must” – pack these in your checked bag and you’ll thank me later, as sunscreen can be wildly expensive once you’re there, and bugspray is incredibly useful (remember, you’re basically in a jungle)
Most alcohol sales in convenience stores only last from 9 AM to 9 PM – so in the event you are the type that likes to have a glass of wine and hang outside after dinner back at the resort – you’ll want to make sure you grab a bottle prior to dinner
Many of the restaurants will be (or at least claim to be) cash only – so plan accordingly
Thus, cash is king in Mexico – and in most places (shops, restaurants) that can be either American dollars OR Pesos; although I do recommend getting Pesos as many places will not give you a favorable exchange rate if paying in US dollars
Local ATM’s are some of the best options to get cash, and I would avoid getting cash or exchanging to Pesos in the US prior to departure – the local ATM’s will dispense at reasonable exchange rates with minimal bank-imposed penalties/fees
Politely ask for your check (“la cuenta, por favor”) whenever you are thinking about getting ready to leave, as you will otherwise wait a long time to get it (I am guessing this has something to do with their culture where they do not want to appear to be pushing you out the door – but I don’t know that for sure)
In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I wanted to go ahead and start my series of travel reviews for my recent trip to Mexico. Thus, to start my reflection on my time in Mexico, I felt it only fitting to start with what I would probably consider to be one of the smartest and one of the dumbest decisions we made all trip: renting a car.
Truth be told, when you start to factor in how much it would otherwise cost to get shuttles to two different locations, each upwards of an hour away from prior destination (CUN airport to Playa Del Carmen, Playa Del Carmen to Tulum, Tulum to CUN airport), it really did seem much more cost effective to rent a car. While cars “start” around $20 a day, you really are paying something closer to $60-70 if you, like me, need to drive an automatic, would like to carry additional liability insurance (with no deductible) in case of damage/accident, and also require a GPS because of fear for strength/availability of cell service. There are tons of providers, and I’m not sure any one in particular would be “better” than another. In the interest of disclosure, we went with Tulum Rentals, which is actually just a shell name/site that sits on America Rental Car backbone. The experience was pleasant, and only a minor hassle.
Here are some things I wish I knew ahead of time though:
The GPS won’t be of too much use if you don’t know how addresses in foreign countries work and/or are going to locations that can’t be found in the GPS location inventory (this happened to be a bunch of our destinations)
The Yucatan coast is actually fairly easily to navigate though, as 307 is a highway that runs all the way down the coast from Cancun to Tulum (and down into Belize actually) and has good signs marking where to turn for certain landmarks (e.g. Tulum Ruins, Cenotes, etc)
Speed Limits vary often, sometimes dropping quickly from 100 kmph to 40 kmph ahead of police checkpoints (basically a police shack that doesn’t physically check every car, but usually has officers stationed at it to search any suspect traffic) – this is where I was happy to have looked ahead of time on TripAdvisor and saw a recommendation to have your passenger be the speed limit spy (and this worked very well)
One-Way Roads are not marked as clearly as they are in the states, so BE CAREFUL (side note – I was actually pulled over by a motorcycle cop and had to actually talk my way out of a ticket – but that’s a story for another time and another place I think…)
Parking can be somewhat stressful, but largely I believe that everyone has better things to do than go around ticketing/towing cars (this was the American side of me getting the better of my fear faculties I suppose); just steer clear of the obviously-marked no parking signs (a circle with a slash through the middle and the letter “E”)
You don’t’ need a rear license plate in Mexico (who knew?), but make sure that your rental car company clearly indicates they are only giving you one (front) plate
All in all, I would probably rent a car again. I was extremely nervous ahead of time, horribly stressed during some of my longer trips, but largely got comfortable with it as time went on throughout the trip. For peace of mind, though, it’s probably not THAT much more expensive to just find a reliable shuttle service and leave the driving to the locals. Cabs once you’re in towns are fairly cheap, too, as long as you’re not too far off the beaten path.
Apologies for the long layoff on content! Over the past couple of weeks, I had been pretty wrapped up at work with an offsite conference as well as trying to do as much as possible in advance of a much-anticipated week off. Hence this post…
This past week, I took the opportunity to travel to Mexico with my significant other (SO). It was a wonderful time and I want to take some space on the blog over the next few weeks to document some of the great places we went and also offer some of my own lessons learned, tips, tricks, and other notes. Prior to departing, we found ourselves struggling to find many independent blogs or articles that reviewed a lot of the places we wanted to go (searching reviews from TripAdvisor and Booking.com and the likes can be incredibly mind-numbing). So we decided to come back and document as much as we could in the hopes that one day, someone may profit from our experience. Or – if not – we could at least have the documented information to lean on when we plan our next getaway to Riviera Maya.
A couple of the awesome places we visited that I will be sharing more information about and photos from in the coming weeks: