Last week I shared with you our safe and relaxing Tulum adventures, this week I’m here to share the real deal as we unleashed upon Playa del Carmen and explored all things Mexican food and drink related…well all things possible over the span of 4 days with a baby in tow ofcourse. We stayed in Playacar which is a gated community about a 20 minute walk from the main strip.
Given that we were five adults (we had the in-laws and my dad along with us for this trip) and the Little Monkey, we chose to stay in a three bedroom condo in Vaiven and it worked out really well for us, mainly because we each had our own rooms but plenty of communal space, gorgeous pools and let’s not forget the in suite laundry! BRIC vacation rentals were awesome from the very start, we had to visit their downtown Playa del Carmen reception to collect the keys for this rental unit and also meet up with Isaac who was essentially our concierge, guide and go to guy for our trip. Anything we needed, be it dinner reservations, advice on which street to hit or to arrange a tour he was just a phone call away (did I mention that BRIC gave us a local cell phone to use?). The lack of wifi in the apartment was quite an issue for us and I would say that this was the major flaw for us. We were able to connect to the wifi when we were in the lobby or lounging by the pool near the lobby, but with a busy day and a little one around, it was difficult for us to do much research on where to eat and what to see. The Vaiven community had a shuttle which would take us downtown and we made use of this on one occasion, most days we chose to walk either because the shuttle was not working or it was outside the hours of operation ( 9 a.m to noon and 3 p.m to 6 p.m).
Where to eat
Latinos : This spot is around the corner from the Vaiven condo and if you’re looking for some delicious pizza and the best gnocchi EVER hit this place up. It’s got a lounge vibe and would be great for drinks and nibbles but we went there to celebrate my mom in law’s 60th birthday (after a hiccup in trying to get to Indigo… taxis are not reliable!) and were thrilled with everything minus the crazy owner. Though I suppose he did add to the experience. Don’t be surprised if you see the chef come down a tiny winding stair case with a grimace on her face because she’s made a simply marvelous dish and the servers aren’t ready to pick it up! You bet they had a highchair! Everywhere we ate at had one! Quel Surprise!
Indigo : What better way to relax after a day of shopping on 5th avenue than dining by the beach… Indigo has some great drink deals but I wasn’t a fan of any of them. The food on the other hand was fresh and succulent. No surprise that there’s a lot of seafood on offer. Try the smoked salmon and relax by the water as you unwind from the day. Give the dessert a chance even though you’re probably stuffed silly by then!
Bistro : Unfortunately I can’t remember the full name of this spot but I can tell you that this was the first place we ate at and it was the best! It’s on the same lane as Latinos on Paseo Xaman-ha. It’s a small spot with very friendly service. Seemed like a mom and pop spot but it might not have been. We sampled nearly every dish on offer and each one impressed us. His cheviche was yummers. Tangy, tart and divinely fresh. The special of the day was a steamed fish in a pocket and odd as it sounds… we were licking our fingers, and the foil!
La Parilla : After walking up and down 5th Avenue the names of the spots are getting a bit blurry but we popped by here one evening for drinks (grande margaritas!) and then came back the following day because a friend had suggested this spot for its fish tacos! Very rarely do we hit the same spot twice and I can tell you that a fantastic evening listening to a singer and downing margaritas can be had here. During the day they have a lady making fresh tortillas while you watch (and eat!). Talk about fresh and local…
Taqueria Arnandas : You known when a friend tells you of a hole in the wall.. without much direction? YEAH.. THAT! We found this spot and let me tell you.. you better find it too. Don’t let the cafeteria vibe push you away, seat yourself down, pull the ancient high chair and order yourself a La Gringa. Don’t blink. Huge portions and on the very cheap no one can complain about this hidden gem.
What to see
5th Avenue : Ensure you soak up all that is Playa del Carmen by parading the strip during the day and the evening. It’s quite the transformation from the shopping and hustle and bustle during the day time to the music, dancing and more shopping in the night. Most shops don’t close till 10 p.m from what we saw. You can find everything from Tequila to earrings and shop we did! I love bargaining and it definitely was a useful skill when shopping on 5th Avenue. Don’t forget that everything is by the water, so stop in for a siesta by the water or a quick dip. Many restaurants will hook you up with a lounge chair if you meet their minimum 25 pesos food and drink purchase (so easy!Just order a bucket of Cerveza!)
Cozumel A day trip is highly recommended. You don’t need a tour company for this, just walk up to ferry port and you will find many vendors offering snorkeling and diving packages. We got a good deal ( we think!) for $25 per person on a smaller boat for snorkeling. This was booked on the Playa del Carmen side and then you take the ferry to Cozumel (additional charge of about $13 per person). The place we rented from is called BeachDivers (Julio- [email protected], 044-984 745 1357) . There’s two ferry companies and they alternate hourly on their departures, so only buy a one way ticket. That way once you’re done with your day on Cozumel you can easily buy tickets for the next available ferry versus waiting for the one you bought the return tickets for. We got a chance to try out both ferries and preferred the Water Jets because they had a live band and it was a casual atmosphere. The Ultramar was packed as we were returning with the after work crowd. While they had A.C and tv for entertainment, the 45 minute ride was a bit annoying because they made me move a sleeping Little Monkey (she was on a seat in her car seat) and she started screaming bloody murder. Luckily no one said anything when we put the car seat on the aisle and the smooth rocking vibrations of the waves lulled her back to sleep. Snorkeling on Cozumel is a great experience, they had life vests for adults who needed it and they had some for little ones too but we took our own baby life vest with us and that’s what we used. The Little Monkey stayed on board with my dad while the rest of us hopped into the water for a quick peak at the fishies. We did this at three different spots over two hours and then spent two hours stuffing our faces and shopping.
Cenote : There’s many cenotes toward the Tulum end but we didn’t have time to do one when we were there. Luckily for us we found the Chaktun Cenote through a referral from the snorkeling guys. Renting a taxi for a three hour trip came up to $30 and he drove us to the cenote (about a 15 minute drive) and we got to swim in the cenote with vests and snorkeling gear for about $10. The water was freezing so the Little Monkey was not a fan but we enjoyed taking turns to swim in the caves and soak in the craziness… bats and all. This place isn’t stroller friendly but the quirky guys at the quaint make shift entrance were more than happy to keep it safe for us. This isn’t a busy spot at all and while we were in there for about 2 hours, we only saw 10 people at most.
Whatever you do enjoy every moment, don’t rush through it and soak in the culture, people and food! We lucked out because the Little Monkey was quite happy taking her afternoon naps in her stroller but we did try to get atleast one of the two naps back in the condo, just to ensure that she too had a relaxing vacation. Travelling with a toddler isn’t daunting at all, as long as you have treats, toys and books hidden for entertainment. Our main issue was that the week in Mexico is when she started walking more and crawling less, which meant she wanted to walk down 5th Avenue all by herself! Quite the challenge complete with quite a few falls and dirty hands. There’s only so much I can do to control the dirt and germs she ate!