Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico

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Due to Hurricane Irma our annual family holiday vacation landed us in Playa del Carmen this year. We flew into Cancun and took a private transfer ($50) one hour south to our resort, The Royal Playa del Carmen. The perfect resort if you want luxury, party and relaxation right on the beach, in the middle of the tourist strip. For most of us it was not our ideal location, and certainly not our ideal beach setting, but for one year it was a nice change. We were able to explore the town, dive into the backpacker scene a few nights, and had our price option for scuba companies- I paid about half the price I usually pay within a remote resort.

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The resort is luxurious. White columns line the entire facade. Each room is a mini suite with a hot tub in the living room, a hammock on the balcony, and 24-hour room service. The hotel has a spa on site and guests are encouraged to use the male/female only facilities- sauna, steam room, blue tiled jacuzzi. Our in-room couples massage was extra but well worth it! There are pilates and TRX classes in the mornings, followed by the typical (and fun) water aerobics in the pool. There are plenty of restaurant options, both buffet and a la carte throughout the resort. La Mediterranean for lunch (pasta made-to-order) and Marie Marie for dinner (those lamb chops!) were out two favorites. Snacks are always out, and bars are open until 1am. The nightly shows performed by incredibly talented local dancers and gymnasts were surprisingly entertaining. But the best part about this hotel is the staff- Maria at the front desk, is our go-to gal.

Our first night we went out with some of the other hotel guests. We brought them to Zenzi, a beach bar with live salsa music. The next evening we met-up with a friend of mine from NYC, who was also in Playa with her family. We ended up at Bar Ranita, a charming international-locals bar off the main road on Calle 10.

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The next day we walked around and quoted a few dive shops in town. Phantom Divers was incredibly overpriced, and we ended up going with Scuba Playa Dive Shop on Calle 10 Norte. Nick signed up for the Open Water PADI course, 1-day video, 2-days of dives. His instructor was Rafa. I signed-up for a cenote cavern dive and to also joined Nick’s last day ocean dives. I officially have a certified dive buddy!

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Dos Ojos Cenote is made up of both caverns and caves. Fresh water, technical dives. My private dive master for the day was Juan Reynaud, who freelances through Scuba Playa but owns Yucatan Cenotes Mexico in Dos Ojos. He’s French/Mexican, prefers technical dives, has been an instructor all over the world. Our first dive was Barbie Line, a cavern with an open surface, and the second dive was Bat Cave, where there was no open surface. Both dives were dark and required a flashlight for the entirely of the dive. No sea-life, just rock stagmite.

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Half-way through the week we decided to day trip. We rented a car from GoCarrito for $65. Terrible customer service but less than half the price of the bigger companies, like Hertz. We drove to the Coba ruins, an ancient Mayan city west of Tulum. We climbed to the top of the tallest pyramid and took in the breathtaking view of the untouched forest around us. Nothing but trees in sight.

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On the road back east we stopped at Grand Cenote Tulum, the largest cenote in the area. Essentially a turquoise watering hole in the caves. We checked-in, locked up our stuff, and swam through the cenote. Dave attempted to swim into one of the caves.

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We drove through the town of Tulum, which appeared to be a more rundown version of Playa del Carmen. Tulum is known for its posh boutique hotels but those are mostly located on the beach side. We attempted to drive down that way but after waiting in 15 minutes of traffic we turned around. Next time, when it’s not a holiday weekend, we want hang out at Papaya Playa. Or if we’re back in town have lunch at El Camello Jr.

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We headed north along highway 307 for 15 minutes and got off right after passing the town of Tulsayab. There were not any highway exits or signs, we just followed google maps. We ended up on a back road along the beach that took us past one private villa after another. Ten minutes of bumpy travel later the road ended at a local restaurant, our destination, Chamico’s.

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The best meal we ate on the trip. Yellow plastic tables and chairs scattered throughout bunches of palm trees located directly on the beach. The kitchen was some woks behind the outdoor beach bar. There was a coconut man next to the kitchen, and two ceviche men next to him- one juicing limes and one shelling seafood. Very local, very authentic, very delicious. For 3 of us we got the mixed ceviche with lobster ($15), guacamole ($2.50), shrimp quesadillas ($6) and CocoLoco’s, coconuts with coconut rum added. The portions were huge, the fish was fresh, and the scene was peaceful. Definitely will end up back here.

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We celebrated Christmas and NYE at the resort. Not nearly as spectacular as expected, but the special ordered bubbly made it better.

Next time in Playa del Carmen

Visit: Garden of Eden Cenote

Dive: Cozumel

Eat: Dona Paula- The Pozole Place (VERY local), Los Taracos (taco pastor), La Conchinita Food Cart, La Floresta (fish tacos)

See: Coco Bongo – just to know

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