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Our trip to Mexico: Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Tulum & Xcaret

If you follow me on Instagram (@laura_peruchi) and Snapchat (lauraperuchiny), you probably saw that last week I was in Mexico. We went to Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, an area known worldwide – remember Cancun? We planned the trip for February in order to escape the winter in New York. Even that winter in New York continues to surprise by being so mild, but who would complain spending 6 days off on the beach, right? Well, I’ll tell you that, we didn’t plan the things we would do on this trip and we made some mistakes. We traveled to enjoy but the area has a lot of nice things to be seen. We did many things during our time there – we stayed from Tuesday to Sunday, a total of 5 nights.

I know many people who travel to this region of Mexico chooses to stay in Cancun, the most famous and trendy destination. However, Playa del Carmen had its advantages for us for the logistics: we were much closer to several recommended places in the area. To give you an idea, Cancun is located about 60 km from Playa del Carmen.

The hotel we stayed in was the Petit Lafitte. Not luxurious as many of the resorts in the are, but it met our expectations.  Large room with balcony and Wi-Fi and the structure includes a pool, beach in front of the hotel with chairs, and two meals: breakfast and dinner. The fact that they include daily meals was a very positive point since Petit Lafitte is not in central Playa – but the 6 km, that is, we were somewhat “isolated”.

From New York to Cancun, it’s about a 4 hours flight, and, when we arrive there, we use Super Shuttle service – I already used several times in New York and also in Miami. They offer shared vans that make the trip airport/hotel and vice versa. It was about 1200 pesos for two people, round trip. It was very good because we were the first to leave the van (and we only shared the van with one other person). The trip took about 40 minutes. An addendum: the local currency is the Mexican peso, and although almost all places accept dollars, the currency in pesos was always more advantageous. Do not worry about the exchange: in the center of Playa there are several places to change money – and their prices were more advantageous than those at the airport! As we wake up super early on Tuesday (the day we arrived), we had lunch and rest a little and, at the end of the day, we walked on the beach.

On Wednesday, we went to the famous island of Cozumel! We got a taxi to go to the place where the ferry leaves, in Playa del Carmen (this trip from Petit Lafitte – Playa del Carmen always was 220 pesos) in the late morning. There are three companies that make the trip to Cozumel (Ultramar, Mexico Waterjets, and Transcaribe) and we went with Ultramar. The amount per person for the round trip is 326 pesos but the tip is: buy just one way, so you have more time to enjoy the island without worrying about being back because of your ticket. The place from where the boats leave is like a large square and to reach booth companies, you will go through many, many Mexicans approaching you and trying to offer you tickets – plus push car rental and tours.

The journey takes about 35 minutes and you should be aware the boat can make you feel seasick. The structure includes a bar, air conditioning, bathrooms, and even live music. Boats leave every 30 minutes – sometimes with 1-hour intervals. And what to do in Cozumel? Well, the island is huge and the emphasis is on some ecological parks and snorkel practice, to observe coral reefs. You can explore the place by renting a car or a bike or taking a taxi (there are shared and private services). We rented a car for checking around the island, but honestly? I would not do it again. The east side of the island is wilderness with rough seas and huge waves. There are some restaurants at intervals of kilometers and that’s all. Of course, it is beautiful, but in my opinion, it’s better to stay longer on the west side. It’s the most hectic, full of restaurants, hotels and where the beaches and places to snorkel are located. The most famous are Money-bat, Skyreef, and Palancar.

When you arrive in Cozumel, you will be approached by several Mexican trying to offer you a car or motorcycle. Seriously, the offer is wide! My tip? Do online research before – which we didn’t – and always try low the price. We rented a jeep for $55 (was $60). We negotiate with two Mexicans, but the whole process made me very uncomfortable. We pay for them there in the Ferry station and they gave us a paper (it was no receipt or note) to go to the company, called Shark, which was a 5 minute walk away. I found it all very confusing. The good thing was we rented snorkel equipment for $ 6 (mask and swimfin) – at the beaches, this price is usually double. Our jeep was awful: my seat belt did not fit ( the use on the island is not required, but is a matter of security, right?), the support to hold up the hands at the door broke and the company delivered the car without water in the radiator. I believe it is worth to rent a car only if you are in a group – if it is for a couple, for example, it is worth taking a taxi. We explored a little bit and stopped at SkyReef to practice snorkel. We rent more equipment for $12 (if you can not swim, like me, there are vests). You can rent a locker – for $5, and also towels. Very nice experience! We ended up having lunch there in the restaurant itself – which only accepts cash. We took the ferry from 18.30 back to Playa del Carmen.

On Thursday, we decided to go to Tulum to see the Mayan ruins. To get there, we rent a car from Target Company, which was our hotel partner. They brought the vehicle to us and the rate was $ 65. First of all, it is noteworthy how easy to drive in the region. We were unable to use Google Maps because our smartphones were not working  – but we followed the signs and we were ok.  We arrived in the area of ​​the ruins in 45 minutes. Admission is 69 pesos. Now, be smart with guides that come up to your car to give information. They offered us some options on how to explore the park: one for ourselves, another with a guide, and another with a boat ride. Then, when we mentioned we were going to have lunch, they suggested the restaurant across from the information kiosk, giving a ticket for free margaritas. There are more restaurants… so, don’t trust the guides. We were fools and the food was awful! Starting at the ruins, the region is very easy to be exploited and provides a beautiful view of the beach, with access to it and a lot of people bathing. Fair enough, since it was very hot! Remember to bring a hat, wear comfortable clothing, and drink plenty of water. The tour in the archaeological park will not take more than an hour. Then, we took the car and went to Playa Maya, because we ended up buying the package including a boat trip to see the ruins of the sea and practicing snorkel. Sincerely? I was a little sorry for spending 400 pesos on it. The tour lasted less than promised and promise to take us to another beach was not met.  We should have just stayed with the ticket to the archaeological park and then go to the beach. Living and learning.

Even tired, our day did not end with the return to the hotel. We had tickets to Coco Bongo. Everyone told us we should go, it is a nightclub famous for its performances. Coco Bongo has a location in both Cancun and Playa – and now in Punta Cana. We went to the Playa location. Tickets include an open bar until 3:30 am – beers, margaritas, pina Coladas … I found the organization very good and the staff very dedicated and prepared. The highlight of the place is the performances – for me, a mixture of Vegas, Broadway, and Circo de Soleil! Hahahaha. The only thing I didn’t like was the camera that looks for pretty girls and focuses on the butt and legs to display on the screen. I confess that I was annoyed.

On Friday, hungover, we prefer to spend the day at the hotel, resting. And this was the right decision because the weather was not so good. At night, we decided to go to a restaurant in Playa del Carmen, a suggestion from one taxi driver. The restaurant is called El Fogón and there is more than one location in Playa del Carmen. The atmosphere is super simple, but the food is very tasty and the portions are very well-served. We had the Taco Loco which is one of the most famous plates, and another dish. Then, we walked down Quinta Avenida, a busy city street where is located the Quinta Alegria mall. The place is nice and has brands like Forever 21, Levi’s, and Nike.

On Saturday, last day of the trip – since our flight back was Sunday – was went to Xcaret. Xcaret is one of several ecological and activities parks in the Riviera Maya region. It was one of the coolest experiences we had. The place is huge and you can spend a whole day there. There are several routes, sights, and activities to explore, all this in the middle of a lot of nature. There are a butterfly garden, aviary, aquarium, dolphins, sharks, and turtles. In addition, the highlight is the underground river, which runs through the park. You swim – more than 600 meters of clear water, with stretches that pass in caves. Indescribable. There is also an area with natural pools and a musical performance to close the day. The problem, in my opinion, is the price: very expensive. Xcaret Plus package, which includes life vest, snorkel equipment, locker for valuables, lunch, and drinks costs  129. The basic package costs $ 99 (but then you have to rent everything and still pay for the food, not worth it!). The problem in Xcaret is that there are many other cool activities such as swimming with dolphins and sharks and boat ride but they are all paid separately. For me, it was a nice experience – but I still think it’s expensive. Another thing: If you decide to go to the park, get a waterproof case for your phone. There are automatic cameras in the park, but the photos are sold for $ 20 each (printed) or  $89 (pen drive with all). Jeez!

That’s it. Maybe one day we come back to visit other places like Cancun and Isla Mujeres. Before ending, I must say I was very pleased with the service we had in most places: Mexicans are very friendly, smiling and helpful.

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