Having spent most of our trip exploring the inland parts of the Yucatan, it’s time for the beach! But it’s not only all-inclusives along the “Riviera Maya” (though there are many – and they all have huge walls surrounding them, lest the tourists be exposed to some actual Mexican culture)! There are fun touristy beach towns, Mayan ruins, and lots of snorkelling and cenotes (which we didn’t have time for). If you’re bored of Florida, come here instead! The water is warmer, the cities are more fun, there’s so much to do, and it’s way cheaper than the U.S. (but only few hundred miles further than Florida).
Day 5: After taking one last walk around Ek-Balam village, we said goodbye and drove to Valladolid for breakfast at Yarbuena del Sisal. Then we drove to Playa del Carmen, via Tulum so that we could avoid the toll road. Unfortunately there wasn’t much of interest to see along the road, but at least it was free. Of course, we could have stopped at Coba or Tulum, but we decided to pass on Coba and save Tulum for another day.
Playa del Carmen really impressed me. I was a little worried that it would have too much of a “spring-break” vibe or be way too touristy, but it’s one of my favourite “tourist towns.” The beach is beautiful. It’s fun to walk along “Fifth Avenue,” the pedestrian street parallel to the beach that has all the big name, expensive American brands. I wouldn’t buy anything here, but it reminded me of Waikiki Beach. There are tons of amazing restaurants, once you walk a few blocks inland. The restaurants are more expensive than those in the rest of Mexico, but not that bad (provided you don’t eat at the expensive tourist traps on Fifth Avenue). Compared to Waikiki or South Beach or another big, touristy beach town, the prices in Playa are very reasonable. Lastly, there’s so much to do nearby. We had only two days and they were at the end of the trip, so we ended up only going to Tulum. But there’s lots of snorkelling and cenotes and other activities all around.
We stayed at the Labnah Hotel ($59/night including tax – expensive, but worth it for a nice hotel right next to the beach), on Calle 6 between 5th Avenue and the beach. There’s no parking at our hotel, so I planned to park overnight at the Walmart. Instead I ended up finding a spot on Ave 20 between Calle 6 and 8, which became my go-to block to find free street parking.
We’ve been getting pretty unlucky with the weather on this trip, as it’s been cloudy every day. Twenty minutes after arriving in Playa it started raining, so we passed on going to the beach and spent our first afternoon walking around the streets. Dinner was at Nativo, which was good. Afterwards we decided to drive to the Centro Maya shopping mall to see a movie. But after getting there and spending some time walking around the mall we got tired so we decided to head back to the hotel instead.
Day 6: Today was a relatively lazy day, and the first and only day that we didn’t use our car. We spent the day walking around the town and enjoying some beach time. Breakfast (included) was at Labnah’s (higher-end) sister hotel, Sian Kaan. Breakfast was much better than I expected, with different menu choices every day. Lunch was at La Senda Vegana, a great vegan restaurant that I read about online.
For dinner we went to Kaxapa Factory, a Venezuelan restaurant. This was the best meal of the trip. When you arrive, the owner greats you at your table and explains all the menu items to you (almost everything can be made with meat or vegetarian). He then brings you samples of a bunch of different fruit beverages, all of which were amazing. We each ordered an Arepa, shared a big starter, and a big glass of Venezuelan-style Lemonade. All the food was incredibly tasty, huge portions, and cheap.
Day 7: Today was our last full day in Mexico, and our only sunny day in PdC, so it was perfect for a day trip to Tulum. We had an early breakfast and then left right away to Tulum, getting there around 9:30 (before the tour groups arrived). Tulum was magical, definitely a must-see for anyone who goes to the Yucatan. The ruins are very nice (though not nearly as grand as the ones at Chichen Itza or Ek-Balam), but they’re right next to the ocean and it makes for some amazing pictures. There’s also tons of iguanas – we probably saw at least twenty in our short time here.
After exploring the ruins we walked towards the exit and somehow missed the entrance to the small beach inside the archeological park. Instead we walked along the road to the public beach, which was perfect, a long sandy beach with calm water.
Afterwards we walked back to the archeological site to take pictures of the Tulum beach, which was smaller and crowded but very beautiful, nestled between ruins.
We drove pack to Playa del Carmen and went back to La Senda Vegana for lunch. Then to the beach for some massages! There are tons of little massage stands along the beach, advertising massages for $18-$25 USD. With barely any negotiating we were offered a 70 minute massage for 200 pesos each ($11 USD/$16 CAD), plus I gave a 50 peso tip. We’re not massage connoisseurs, but they felt amazing. For our last dinner, we went to a Thai restaurant, Po Thai – we can prepare for our upcoming trip to Thailand! The food was expensive but very good.
Day 8: Getting Pulled Over!
We had an 11:40 am flight out of Cancun airport, so after having breakfast we left for the airport a little after 9:00 am. We filled up the tank right near the airport, but then I somehow missed the turn for the airport – it wasn’t very well signed. So after driving for a while and realizing I went too far, I found a place to make a U-turn (that I think was legal, though I may have turned a little too early). I waited until the cars going the other direction had a red light, then made a quick left turn (before a truck coming the other direction got there) to go south on the highway. Although I don’t think I did anything wrong, apparently I did something illegal because I got pulled over!
I was a little worried since we were a little late for our flight, I didn’t want to pay a fine, and I really didn’t want to end up in a police station or figure out how to pay a fine. Anyways, the cop was nice, and explained to me (in Spanish) what my infraction was. Unfortunately I understood not one word, and he didn’t speak a word of English. He would ask me some questions but again I understood nothing. Eventually I understood that I committed an infraction, and I would have to give him my license and follow him to the police station, where presumably I would get my license back when I payed the fine (although I only had 200 pesos/$11 USD in my wallet). This didn’t sound so good to me, so I pretty much begged him to let me off with a warning. I told him that I had a flight departing at 11:30. And that I promise to drive very carefully. And that I loved Mexico and all the places I’ve been to. And I told him that I will tell everyone in Canada that Mexico is the best and that Mexican police are better than Canadian police (at least I think that’s what I told him – I can’t actually speak any Spanish). He laughed, and after a few minutes of me pleading he says that he has to call the station. Then he walks back to his motorcycle and starts talking into his radio. Most likely he’s telling his boss that he pulled over a Canadian who doesn’t understand anything he’s saying and doesn’t know what he’s being instructed to do. Luckily he comes back, smiles, and gives me back my license and tells me to drive carefully. I smiled and shook his hand and thanked him a thousand times, and then I was on my way! In spite of what most people think about Mexican cops, I survived without paying a bribe or going to jail!
After making it to the airport with barely enough time to make our flight, we found out that our flight is delayed two hours. Then three then four. We ended up with lots of time in the airport, which isn’t that great. It’s crowded and there’s no free wifi. AA gave us a 400 peso ($32) meal voucher, which sounded like a lot, even for airport food. Unfortunately, the food here is even more expensive than most airports north of the border. The only place we were able to afford was “Guacamole”, which is similar to Chipotle in the US.
Luckily, when I got home I filed a complaint with AA and they gave us 7500 miles each. So we ended up flying Miami to Cancun to San Antonio to Montreal for only 14,500 points each!