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Boats and a man on the beach in Playa del Carmen

A Week in Playa del Carmen: Part II

If you think spending a week in Playa del Carmen is too long, I think you’re wrong. We’ve written all about the Riviera Maya town before, and I’m sure we’ll write about it again. Because there is so much to see and do near this attractive beach town, just one hour south of Cancun.

Woman on the beach of Isla Contoy near Cancun, Mexico

I recently spent a week in Playa del Carmen for my friend’s birthday, and I could have easily stayed another week just to do all the activities we came across. And while I don’t want to bore you with the details, I do want to share some of the highlights that will hopefully prove helpful!

(Note: There had been a lot of violence reported in Cancun just before our trip to Playa del Carmen; however, I never felt unsafe walking through the town or on any of our tours. There was a relatively noticeable police presence, but it wasn’t overwhelming. And while I’d encourage you to take the sensationalized reporting with a grain of salt, always put your safety first.)

Annelise standing in front of the butterfly sculpture in Play del Carmen

Here is how I spent a week in Playa del Carmen:

DAY ONE: Get Settled In
Our group of seven all arrived in Cancun around 8AM. Since there were so many of us, we decided to hire a Super Shuttle for a round-trip fare of $120. Plus it was nice not to worry about arranging our ride back.

After about an hour, the driver let us out at the four-bedroom AirBnB we’d rented in Playacar. This is a nice gated community interwoven with the Hard Rock Hotel’s golf course. While it was a little ways from the bustling main strip, it was also a welcome reprieve. We had our own pool to lounge in privately and it was quiet at night. Of course there are a lot of options for accommodations in the area. We went with an AirBnB so we could have some privacy and still be all together. In this case the property manager was very accommodating, and provided drinking water as well as the number of a reliable, private taxi service. (Of course there are other ways to get around.)

After getting settled into our rooms, having a snack and getting groceries, we finally made our way out to dinner. We’d heard the restaurant at the Frida Kahlo Museum, but it was unfortunately closed for renovations. So we ate just across the street at Mi Pueblo. This is where my tour of shrimp tacos began. The food was good and the open air made for fun and easy people-watching.

Group of people in front of the Frida Kahlo mural in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

DAY TWO: Explore Your Surroundings
With everyone a little jet-lagged (except for me; I still woke up at 7:30), it was lunch time before we were all ready to go explore. So we walked into town and North of the pier to find a nice spot on the beach. And, although there was A LOT of seaweed on the shore this time of year, the beach was still beautiful and the water incredibly warm.

Ceviche at Patio 8 in Playa del Carmen

After a few hours, we walked a few blocks back toward Calle Quinta Avenida (5th street, a pedestrian path lined with shops, hotels, and restaurants), and went to Patio 8 for food and drinks. This place has great food and drink specials. Like most of the places we ate, its prices were comparable to American restaurants. But that didn’t keep us from sticking around for a couple of hours just eating and drinking and talking.

Marissa getting a birthday dessert at Patio 8 in Playa del Carmen

On our way home, we stopped to chat with the folks at Del Mundo Tours about snorkeling. They talked us into a multilingual excursion – our boat had French, English and Spanish-speaking groups – to Isla Contoy for about $120 USD per person. But we had to be up early, so it was straight to bed after that.

The port in Cancun where the boats leave for Isla Contoy

DAY THREE: Visit Isla Contoy & Isla Mujeres
We showed up in front of Del Mundo for pickup at 7AM (I told you it was early). They drove us to a port in Cancun, where they served breakfast and put us on a boat with about 30 other people.

Our guides, Lou Lou and Clal (who were seriously awesome), took those who wanted to go snorkeling just past the Mesoamerican Reef (the second-largest barrier reef in the world). In the span of about 45 minutes, we saw brain and fan coral, beautiful fish, and a nurse shark!

A boat on the water during a snorkeling trip near Isla Contoy

From there we stopped on the protected Island of Contoy for three hours. Here you can do more snorkeling or just float in the crystal waters until they serve a surprisingly delicious lunch. The only catch is that you’re only allowed to wear biodegradable sunscreen in order to protect the reef. And if you’re not a fan of mosquitoes, I’d suggest you skip the Island tour. The trip finished with quick, hour-long stop at Isla Mujeres before returning to Cancun and eventually Playa del Carmen.

A dock in the crystal waters off Isla Contoy, Mexico

For dinner, we had a reservation at Alux. This restaurant is a little away from town, but it’s so worth it. It’s set up in a cave that used to be part of the region’s underground river system (more on this later). They gave us a private room, let us choose our bottles of wine straight from the cellar, and even brought out a custom-made a birthday cake for us to share. As if the setting wasn’t reason enough to enjoy it!

A group in a private room at Alux restaurant in Playa del Carmen

DAY FOUR: Check Out a Beach Club
The best way to chase a birthday dinner? Birthday brunch.

We landed at Indigo Beach Club because they have a brunch buffet every day of the week from 7AM to 12PM for about $13 USD (not including drinks). Buuuuuut getting seven people to move is a bit like herding cats. So we got there for lunch instead. After food and drinks, we moved one-by-one from our table on the sand to their lounge chairs, where we continued to eat, drink, and enjoy the beach.

Group having drinks at Indigo Beach Club in Playa del Carmen

And this is where I sheepishly admit we spent ALL DAMN DAY at Indigo. There are two dangerous things right next to Indigo: a beach-front spa and a tourism kiosk. And we couldn’t resist either. The ladies in our group all got hour-long massages for about $30 USD (plus tip) at Spa Turquesa. And we went back and forth with the kiosk manager for a while before booking our adventure for the next day (ruins and more snorkeling!).

Man and woman in the pool at Indigo Beach Club in Playa del Carmen

By the late afternoon we had migrated to their pool area (for a fee). Hear me when I say their pool is AMAZING. It’s two stories and the upper level is a hot tub with an underwater glass wall that overlooks the pool AND THE OCEAN. It’s no wonder we couldn’t leave. We ordered another bucket of beers and they brought us towels and cups and we stayed long enough to have dinner, too. (Get the chicken fajitas.)

Despite spending literally eight hours there, we only spent around $100 per person on food, drinks, and pool access. Well worth it, IMHO.

Hammocks in front of Indigo Beach Club in Playa del Carmen

DAY FIVE: See the Ruins & the Turtles
Once again we woke early for an 8AM pickup. A private bus picked us up and whisked us away to the Mayan ruins in Tulum.

Mayan Ruins overlooking the ocean in Tulum, Mexico

The tour we paid for included transport, admission, and a guide. Though frankly I’m not sure it was necessary; there is signage along that way that could be equally informative. After the tour, you can relax on the beach, do some shopping, or grab a bite to eat. We ate Don Cafeto Tulum Ruinas and I had the best chilaquiles of my life for $125 pesos.

Having lunch at the Don Cafeto restaurant at the ruins in Tulum, Mexico

From there, our bus took us to the Bay of Akumal to snorkel. Akumal is so special because the sea water merges with the freshwater from the underground river, causing different varieties of sea grass to grow. If you’re thinking, “Who cares about sea grass?” I hear you. But sea turtles come in droves to eat the grasses unique to the region.

At Akumal, our snorkel guide, Alejandro, gave us gear and took us around a roped area for about an hour. In that time we saw stingray, squid, and a handful of sea turtles—some even had suckerfish clinging to their shells! And unlike our open water snorkel, the water here was calm. It was easy to float and follow the guide while still being able to see everything going on below the surface. It was relaxing and enjoyable and highly recommended.

By the time we got home, we were so tired we ordered Dominoes for dinner, watched the rain storm, and went to bed early.

A rain storm in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

DAY SIX: Take a Dip in a Cenote 
Whatever you do, do not skip the cenotes! I repeat: do not skip the cenotes!

If you don’t know what a cenote is, you’re in for a treat. Mexico’s Riviera Maya is littered with them—more than 6,000 in total—and they’re easily one of the things that make this region so special.

Jardin del Eden cenote peeking through the trees near Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Basically, there is an underground river with fresh water that flows throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. As it moves, it erodes the landscape beneath the ground and creates caves filled with freshwater. When the ceilings of these caves collapse, you’re left with beautiful open-air pools surrounded by jungle. Or ocean or ruins or what have you. Most have some kind of life, like varieties of fish, and are so worth the trip.

A view of the bathing deck from one side of Jardin del Eden cenote near Playa del Carmen

There are so many cenotes near Playa del Carmen it can be hard to choose which one is right for you, and we tossed around the idea of going to one of the more developed parks like Rio Secreto. Ultimately, we decided to hire a car to take us to Jardin del Eden. Mostly because it was close and full of the same fish that eat your skin in fancy spas. Plus, there are two other cenotes close by (Azul and Cristalino), so we could keep exploring if we wanted to.

The entrance to Jardin is $100 pesos per person, and the snorkel rental is about $25 pesos plus a deposit you get back. Although we initially weren’t going to snorkel, I’m so glad we did. It’s really amazing to see how deep the pools are from below the surface. Jardin is also nice because they have sunbathing decks, plenty of shade, and a small cafe for when hunger strikes. We only spent a couple hours swimming around before returning to meet up with the rest of the gang.

A man slacklines at Jardin del Eden cenote near Playa del Carmen, Mexico

On our way through town we passed a restaurant called Fah and eventually returned for dinner. The atmosphere was great, complete with an incredibly talented live band and a guest performer who beat-boxed like you wouldn’t believe. If you go, order the tuna tartare because it’s to-die-for. Easily my favorite meal of the trip.

A bench in the jungle overlooking the ocean near Playa del Carmen

DAY SEVEN: Kiss Paradise Goodbye 
Okay, so maybe it’s a little less than a week in Playa del Carmen. Day seven was our last day, so we didn’t have much time.

We got up early to pack and clean house before doing some last-minute souvenir shopping at the edge of town. Our shuttle came for us at noon and we went our separate ways once we got to the airport.

And just like that, my week in Playa del Carmen came to an abrupt end. If I’d had more time, I would have definitely explored more cenotes.

Need more convincing? Check out the Planet Earth coverage on the Riviera Maya’s cenotes. And tell us how you’d spend a week in Playa del Carmen!

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riviera maya best cenote

Riviera Maya Best Cenotes: Take the Plunge

Wondering which are the Riviera Maya best cenotes? It can be hard to choose because there are literally thousands of the natural caves filled with fresh water in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. These underwater sinkholes were are formed millions of years ago when limestone caves collapse, revealing underground pools.

Today, you can explore Cenotes in a number of ways. Some Cenotes are unmarked and people just stumble across them while exploring the jungle, and others, like Rio Secreto, are massively developed and include tours and meals.

Snorkeling in a Cenote is a fun and unique way to see underwater life. It would be impossible to list them all, so I’ve put together a list of the Riviera Maya Best Cenotes for families.

Most of the Cenotes have a small entrance fee, ranging from US $5 to $10 per person per day. While some do have restaurant facilities, it’s always a good idea to pack a cooler with food and drinks when you head out for the day. water shoes (as opposed to flip flops) are a very good idea for safety and comfort. Also, it’s best to bring your own snorkel gear so you don’t have to rent it on site.

When visiting the Cenotes, be sure to respect the posted signs. Most Cenotes do not allow sunscreen, creams or lotions of any kind in the water as it causes massive damage to the natural underwater ecosystem. Bugs, especially mosquitoes, can be bad around some of the Cenotes, yet most don’t allow insect repellent to be worn in the water. Again, please respect this. You can spray yourself once you exit the water.

Here are the Riviera Maya Best Cenotes:

Gran Cenote

Gran Cenote is one of the Riviera Maya Best Cenotes and simply a must-see. Located just outside of Tulum, it is well marked and easy to find. Head into Tulum town on the 307 highway and take a right at the second stop light (this is the main road to Coba). After about 2 miles you will see the Gran Cenote on your right. Here you will find changing facilities, bathrooms and a small restaurant on site.

The water here is crystal clear and you’ll find impressive stalactites under water along with fish and sea turtles.

Dos Ojos Cenote

Located across the street from the Xel-ha water park, Dos Ojos consists of two connected sinkholes with a large cavern between them (accessible only if you’re scuba diving here.) If you plan on snorkeling, enter the 2nd Cenote (the one on the right) and take an immediate left at the bottom of the stairs. Walk until you find a nice entrance point for snorkeling, one of two wooden decks with stairs.

Dos Ojos Cenote in the Riviera Maya

It does get crowded to try to get here early in the day if possible. After you’ve explored the Dos Ojos Cenote, relax in one of the hammocks on site (or bring your own) and enjoy a picnic lunch.

Ponderosa El Eden

This beautiful Cenote is located about 3km south of Puerto Aventuras. After arriving at the Ponderosa El Eden Cenote, you’ll walk on a short path that takes you to the Cenote. Be sure to bring your own cooler for food and drink as there is no restaurant on site.

Ponderosa El Eden has a large island in the center of it. Kids love climbing up the large tree in the middle of this island and jumping into the water. Enjoy unlimited visibility under the water, and a wide variety of fish, eels, turtles and plant life. It’s easy to see what makes it one of the Riviera Maya best cenotes.

Chaak Tun

Located across the 307 highway across from Playa del Carmen (at Av. Juarez). To reach Chaak Tun, head past the guard and continue about 5 km to where the bumpy dirt road begins.

Chaak Tun is best visited after 1pm, when all the large tour groups have finished their morning tours.

Included in the price of admission is a safety helmet and life jacket. Walk down a few hundred feet through a well-kept wooden walkaway to where the cave opens to a small courtyard with tall trees that rise into the jungle and with a variety of birds, singing and making different sounds. While snorkeling keep your eyes peeled for a stone replica of the famous Virgin of Guadeloupe at the bottom of the water of the Cenote.

Rio Secreto 

Rio Secreto is actually a series of Centoes connected by an underground river. Simply look for the highway signs that mark the turn off about 5km south of Playa del Carmen.

Rio Secreto Cenotes in the Riviera Maya

If you are keen to learn more about the geology of Cenotes on an organized tour, you may want to consider Rio Secreto. While this option is more pricey than the do-it-yourself options listed above (adults are US $80 and children are half price) the 3 ½ hour tour offers a bilingual guide, equipment and they even serve you lunch after! Children must be at least 4 years old to visit Rio Secreto.

Want more? Check out our Riviera Maya Family Travel Guide.

Have you been to a Cenote in the Riviera Maya? What did you think?

 

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