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Old 05-20-2016   #31 (permalink)
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Loving all your pictures. Great TR!
Can't wait for the rest.

One of these days, we will venture to Xcalak and Mahahual. Hopefully sooner, rather than later.
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Old 05-20-2016   #32 (permalink)
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Thanks everyone for your patience! It's been a busy few weeks since we've been back, complete with a new niece born, post-trip illness (influenza...which I'm still dealing with the respiratory issues), year-end at my work (which was extra busy since I spent a week post-trip in bed), and just overall getting back into the swing of the "real world", so that's why it's taken so long to post the rest of our trip report...so thank you for waiting and continuing to read.

Anyhoo, I think I left off back in Xcalak. Scott spent the best part of every day snorkelling on Margo's Reef right outside our front door basically. While he was smart enough to wear a long-sleeve swim shirt and apply loads of sunblock he didn't cover his legs so after a few hours of swimming about the backs of his legs got a tad toasty

Here's some photos of his adventures (I have to live vicariously through them since I can't really snorkel...er, swim, lol):




My, that's a big eye staring back




Squid




Attempting to spear the lion fish















Ok, so back to that lion fish. On that particular day, Scott, along with Lesley, the ladies from the Leaky Palapa, and two of their friends visiting from Calderitas, spent a couple of hours circling the reef. Scott can actually take the credit for spotting the first lion fish which they all took off after and were able to spear fairly quickly (in case you didn't know, lion fish are a very invasive species that are wreaking havoc all over the Caribbean as they have no natural predators, so it's important to kill what you can as they can reproduce super quickly). They subsequently saw one other lion fish but were unable to get it before it hid away deep inside the coral.



Back on shore, one of the Leaky Palapa ladies (Marla, I believe), prepared some lion fish ceviche as she was trained in how to handle it properly. It was quite good, and I'm happy they were able to do their small part to control the invasive species without just throwing it in the garbage.



At the same time as we were eating our ceviche, a local truck rumbled down the beach road selling fresh tamales: ones stuffed with chicken, others stuffed with just the sweet corn mixture. So a bunch were bought (I believe they were all of 13 pesos maybe) and shared along with our ceviche. It was a great snack to be sure.





(Stay tuned, more to come)...
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Old 05-20-2016   #33 (permalink)
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One evening we decided we wanted to eat at Costa de Cocos which was a few kilometers back down the beach road. By the time we got ready it was dark and that makes driving that road all the more "fun", haha.
We shared the chicken wings as an appetizer and they were good & crispy and came with a dipping sauce I believe (yes, we had chicken wings in Mexico...it was a nice change from chips & salsa).

For our main course, hubby ordered a House Special Pizza with shrimp, mango, tomato & mushrooms (lobster season was closed, sadly, but is supposed to be great on the house special pizza). It was good, though nothing spectacular (perhaps the lobster pizza would've been better?) It was very large, however, and could easily be shared by 2 or 3 people, so we had to take most of it to go. I ordered the special of the night which was Coconut Fish Filet with rice & vegetables. It was pretty good as well, and I'd order it again.

Hubby also tried their house-made craft beer (Tarpon) and enjoyed it, while I had a well-made Cosmopolitan. Service was good and food came out fairly quickly, so no complaints at all about that.


The cosmo was actually pretty good...perhaps the best I've had in Mexico


Coconut fish filet


House Special Pizza (sorry for the poor lighting...it was dimly lit inside and I was using my cell phone)

On another evening, since the Leaky Palapa was closed while we were in town the girls were gracious enough to bring us their handmade huitlacoche (corn fungus) & squash blossom raviolis with fresh basil from their garden so we could cook up in our own kitchen in a brown butter sauce (definitely a perk that Lesley is friends with Linda & Marla). They were sooooo good, so I can only imagine how good it is when cooked in their kitchen by a proper chef. We also cooked up some shrimps in garlic butter and brought them down to the evening happy hour to share with the other guests over some margo-ritas.





Ok, so that's pretty much it for Xcalak...I've probably said too much. I contemplated not telling anyone about it because I don't want it to become overrun with tourists...like to keep it a secret. Honestly, it was such a great experience and we're already talking about when we can go back -- perhaps tie in a few nights in Bacalar (we didn't make it there this time), and even check out the area around Chetumal, maybe some more ruins...gawd, there's just too many neat places to explore in this region, I can't believe so many people never venture past Tulum.

Anyways, we weren't in a rush to check-out on our last day. We leisurely hung about the beach, Scott got in one more snorkel, and we said our tearful goodbyes to Lesley & Dave before hitting the road to Mahahual early afternoon.

We were booked at the Nacional Beach Club in the Piedra Malecon Bungalow. It was our most expensive accommodation of the entire trip: 1400 pesos. I romanticized about a bungalow overlooking the beach, however it wasn't nearly as nice as I'd expected, sadly.

Firstly, when we arrived for check-in, Evan was not around, and the staff seemed to not know what to do. It probably took a good 20 minutes before someone was found that could check us in.

It's a funky place, which I liked, but I think I'd choose one of the other rooms in the hotel part if we stayed there again. I knew there was no A/C, but I was hoping the breeze from the ocean would be ample...I was wrong. At least there was a ceiling fan and a floor fan, but let's just say they got a lot of use. Since it is right on the malecon, you can't really open the shutters much unless you want the pedestrians getting an eyeful.

The bungalow was very very tiny (cozy?) with a palapa roof. The bed in on a concrete platform in the very middle of the room and the "headboard" is a short wall that separates the bedroom from the bathroom...oh yeah, there was no bathroom door at all, so you better be comfortable with whomever you're staying with, In one corner, there was a small wardrobe, and in another corner there was a small desk. The bathroom was sufficient, but the lighting was very poor and cast a green hue on everything. The worst past was the shower: what is it with every single shower in Mexico not having a curtain that goes to the floor, or some sort of way to keep from flooding the entire bathroom?! There was water literally pouring across the floor, so we had to use all the towels to clean up.












View from the front patio


Piedra Malecon Bungalow


Nacional Beach Club, restaurant

We walked down the malecon in both directions, though there's not really a ton to see. It's lined with vendors hawking the same stuff. And once the cruise ships pull out, everything practically shutters...seriously.



We had a late lunch/early dinner at Nohoch Kay. We had heard so much about this place and expected a great meal. Sadly it was only average. We also heard that Jaime no longer owns/operates it -- not sure if that's true. Anyways, we ordered fish tacos and nachos (lots of things were not available), along with a michelada, a daiquiri, and a Sprite and it came to 223 pesos.



After eating, we continued to walk around, and decided to treat ourselves to some ice cream for dessert.








I LOVE coconut ice cream in Mexico







Back at the bungalow, we took a nap, and then decided to go out for dinner. By this time the cruise ships had long gone, and half the restaurants were now closed...at dinner time! We finally settled on Fernando's 100% Agave as it had good reviews. We didn't see the famous Fernando, instead being served by a young girl.





We were brought complimentary salsas with chips & bread. There was one really interesting salsa that had a chocolate base and was actually pretty good.





We were also brought a complimentary coconut tequila shot while we waited for our meals. It was quite sweet, and I wasn't a huge fan.



We shared some queso fundido with arrachera which was good -- hard to mess up melted cheese & steak, lol.



I ordered the pineapple-coconut fish filet (yes, I had the same in Xcalak) on the waitresses recommendation, but it literally tasted like wet fish that was smothered in suntan lotion. I was not a fan, sadly.



Scott had some sort of arrachera, I believe. I think he enjoyed it.



We walked along the malecon in the evening, but it was basically dead, so it was an early night back at the bungalow. The next morning we awoke early to check out the beach again, and then grabbed our complimentary breakfast at Nacional Beach. We were brought menus and told we could have anything we wanted, so I ordered chiliquilies with pork belly and Scott had some sort of scrambled eggs with chaya. The pork belly was quite salty and very dry, so I didn't enjoy it as much as I had thought, but it was ok. Scott enjoyed his breakfast. We both had fresh orange juice with chaya as well, one of our favourite drinks in Mexico.



(stay tuned for more...)
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Old 05-20-2016   #34 (permalink)
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By this time we figured we might as well check out and hit the road to Chacchoben ruins which was about an hour away, before finally making our way back to Playa del Carmen for the rest of our trip. I had read that we might see or hear monkeys during our visit, but sadly we didn't see much wildlife, other than bugs and a few lizards. There were only three other people there, so we had it to ourselves, which was pretty awesome.













Back on the road, we headed north. The drive was very easy, with no issues. I did most of the driving on this day (I know, I'm shocked as well, lol). I will say that I was pretty sick of all the topes by the end of the drive, though...my foot was sore from so much breaking, lol.

By mid-afternoon we were starving, so we decided to stop in Tulum at El Camelo Jr. The place was packed, which is usually a good sign.



We shared a "small" shrimp ceviche (I can't imagine what a large would look like!), as well as some shrimp & fish tacos. It was pretty good and very affordable, and the service was great.







Stay tuned...up next, Playa del Carmen.
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Old 05-29-2016   #35 (permalink)
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Ok, finally getting around to finishing the report...

We finally made it to Playa mid-afternoon. We had rented a room in a condo on Airbnb located on the corner of 40th Ave and Calle 6th -- great location, only a couple of blocks to Wal-Mart, and just a few more beyond that to 5th. The owner, a sweet Canadian-Mexican expat named Nancy, was so nice -- she was rarely there the entire time, so we practically had the place to ourselves. It was only $41 CAD per night, and well worth it we thought. The only complaint was that there was quite a few stairs to get up to the condo, and then more inside...definitely a workout, lol...and she also asked that we not use the A/C for more than a few hours a day because of the cost...this became more of a problem as the week (and heat) wore on.


Bedroom was small but comfortable


View down 6th towards the ocean from the tiny balcony off the bedroom


Spiral staircase to the rooftop deck


Sitting area on the rooftop deck




The condo also came with three small dogs: 2 teeny tiny Chihuahuas & a miniature Pincer.


Small but ample kitchen


Living area

We walked as much as we could, however some days it was just too hot so we'd grab a taxi...and these ranged from 30 pesos all the way up to 100 pesos, depending on who you asked! (all within Centro, I might add!) We got the cheaper taxis the further away from 5th we were, obviously, but no one offered the same price. I wasn't about to argue over 5 or 10 pesos, but when the one guy quoted us 100 pesos from 5th to 40th I laughed in his face & walked away, up to 10th, where we caught one for 35 pesos...I was too tired to argue that night, but they are really brazen this trip...we found most of the drivers and many servers in restaurants lacking in the customer service this time around.

We decided to try as many new restaurants (to us) as we could, so one of our first stops was to Kaxapa Factory as we'd missed out the last trip (tried to go on a Monday when they were closed). The server was very friendly and fully explained the menu and brought out the complimentary shots of 4 different drinks so we could try before ordering.



We then started with a fried cheese appetizer, followed by an arepa and a cachapa (sorry, can't remember the name of anything).







It was all very good, and super affordable, and we'd absolutely go back.

Another "new" place we visited was Ula-Gula. It was super nice, and was a great evening out on 5th for us. We were seated upstairs, overlooking the street and that was perfect for people watching. There are some "interesting" people who live in or visit Playa, lol. The food was pretty good, and not too crazy expensive, though probably the most we spent that week.




Bruschetta


Caprese Salad


Pasta Carbonera


Salmon

Overall, pretty good and we'd go back for sure. I will say service here was some of the best we had the entire trip.

Another evening, we stopped by Gonzalez (located in one of the new malls on 5th) for a few drinks and caught this really cool group playing their unique twist on modern hits.



For a beach day, we finally visited Zenzi. It was nice, but service was a tad slow and they seemed to favour a few particular beautiful people in the row ahead of us.



We shared a sandwich & fries, but it was only so-so.



One place we'd also be wanting to visit since the last trip was Club de la Cerveza. Scott loves beer, so we headed here one evening and were not disappointed. Service was excellent, beers were great, and the shared meat & cheese platter was the perfect accompaniment. And he just had to try the beer with a chili pepper in it, lol.













Another new to us place to visit was Salccium Class. I had read good reviews, so made a point to visit...unfortunately, we left really disappointed and I doubt I'd return.

Our server was great, however the other servers/bartenders were so rude & unprofessional, and we witnessed a couple of them having a very loud conversation/argument at the bar...so much so, it was distracting. Also, the same song played at least 4 times in a row before we finally asked the server if he could go up and change it or turn it off...he seemed embarrassed, and ran to take care of it, and that's when the "entertainment" at the bar finally stopped.

Started with a Caesar salad, which was ok, but nothing spectacular.



Hubby had some other type of salad...



I went with Croque Monseur...it was gross. I didn't even eat it all.



Hubby went with a steak that ended up smothered in gravy...it was pretty terrible...



Another new one for us was Nativo for breakfast...it was actually pretty good, and we'd go back. Super cheap, good service, good food. The large fresh juices were great -- we both had the orange with chaya.





Craving meat, we decided to try out La Vaca Gaucha. We shared an appetizer platter of various meats: sweetbreads (yes, I ate brains!), sausages, etc. along with yummy olives & cheese. Really tasty, and a meal in itself. We followed that up with huge steaks. All was great. Service was good. Price was ok.








(Stay tuned for more...)
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Old 05-29-2016   #36 (permalink)
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Now, one of our "musts" when visiting Playa is Papa Charley's (formerly Util). We were not disappointed. Started with an amazing Caprese Salad, followed by raviolis and gnocchi.







All delicious, huge servings. Great service. Affordable. Can't go wrong.


Another "must visit" for us is Cueva del Chango. The food is great. Location is neat (love the little pond with turtles). Service is usually pretty good. Prices have gone up a little bit, but not too crazy yet.








And, as always, made sure to have a few stops at Ah Cacao for some frozen chocolate concoctions and those amazing brownies...plus, that A/C in the back room was a welcome treat in itself!




We also visited Wah Wah a few times as we always do, but I will say service seemed to be lacking compared to previous visits...hoping it was just an off few days (now, it wasn't terrible, just not as good as I've experienced in the past). I didn't see JJ or Kim this trip. Food & drinks were still great, though (love the stuffed burger), and you can't beat the location, free loungers and wifi. Also, we were lucky enough to catch Mike Grabow once (with Victor). We first saw him in 2009 at Luna Blue, and every trip we make a point of seeing him. He also played me down the aisle at my wedding!







We stopped at Yan & Ten one day, but I was really disappointed with the service so we only stayed for about an hour. It took forever to get someone to take our drink order, and forget about food...I should not have to go find you to spend money...instead they hung around and chatted with each other, rather than serve guests.

Overall, we left Playa feeling like we were falling out of love with it...kinda sad, really. And this has been echoed by friends of ours who spend every winter there. We first started going there together in 2009, so while it's only been a few years, but each trip we notice huge changes. And I'm not one who's totally against change -- I'm sure a lot of the development is really good for the city & residents (including ex-pats) -- but I definitely feel like it's losing it's "charm", if that makes sense, and that's really sad. Lots of our favourite little shops have closed...high-end stores and restaurants and malls have sprung up, where we can't even afford to shop/dine anymore, lots of chain stores. Prices everywhere have gone up, customer service has gone down, it just isn't the same for us. To be honest, there's just a tad too much thumping club music, and a few too many "beautiful people" sporting their Prada & Louis Vuitton, lol...definitely getting a Cancun vibe. I'm sure we're missing a lot of Playa outside of Centro, so when we come back we have to make a conscious effort to explore more.

In the meantime, I'm not sure when we will be back. We're currently looking at some new destinations: Campeche, Mexico City, Oaxaca, San Miguel de Allende...or maybe check out some different countries: Costa Rica, Panama, and Ecuador are on our radar...or possibly Europe: Croatia, Greece, Italy. So much of the world to see, so little vacation time (and money, haha).
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Old 05-30-2016   #37 (permalink)
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Sure hate that this TR is over, loved reading every word and especially loved the pictures. We haven't made vaca plans yet, can't decide where to go. Your report has helped encourage us to explore elsewhere, thanks!
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Old 05-30-2016   #38 (permalink)
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Sure hate that this TR is over, loved reading every word and especially loved the pictures. We haven't made vaca plans yet, can't decide where to go. Your report has helped encourage us to explore elsewhere, thanks!
Thanks for following along, SharonD! Get out and explore. Honestly, renting a car/driving wasn't nearly as scary as I'd anticipated and we're definitely going to do it again. It was so freeing not being on a bus schedule or paying exorbitant taxi or tour prices.
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Old 05-30-2016   #39 (permalink)
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Thanks for following along, SharonD! Get out and explore. Honestly, renting a car/driving wasn't nearly as scary as I'd anticipated and we're definitely going to do it again. It was so freeing not being on a bus schedule or paying exorbitant taxi or tour prices.
Convincing hubby is the hiccup....I would so love to venture out but he .... well... won't. I still love him, chicken that he is, lol!!

On a more truthful note, he is a sales rep and drives 5k+ miles a month, so he totally, and understandably, wants to plant his butt somewhere and relax.

Maybe one day we can connect in Mx and he will understand, lol!
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Old 05-30-2016   #40 (permalink)
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I loved reading your trip report and it was great to hear how easy it is to drive in the area. We will be in PDC for 3 months this winter so enjoyed hearing about interesting places to see. Thanks for taking the time to write and post your beautiful pictures.
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Old 05-31-2016   #41 (permalink)
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I loved reading your trip report and it was great to hear how easy it is to drive in the area. We will be in PDC for 3 months this winter so enjoyed hearing about interesting places to see. Thanks for taking the time to write and post your beautiful pictures.
Thanks for reading! It's a beautiful region to explore. In the past we've used Playa as our base and explored Valladolid & Merida as well, but we did it by bus...next time we'll do it by car!
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Old 06-02-2016   #42 (permalink)
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I have not ventured into the trip report section for a while, and I'm sure glad I stumbled upon yours. Love your observations: honest, interesting, funky/fun, and helpful. The adventurous spirit of the out-of-the-way place or restaurant really ignites my own travel bug. Thank you for sharing!
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Old 06-02-2016   #43 (permalink)
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I have not ventured into the trip report section for a while, and I'm sure glad I stumbled upon yours. Love your observations: honest, interesting, funky/fun, and helpful. The adventurous spirit of the out-of-the-way place or restaurant really ignites my own travel bug. Thank you for sharing!
Thanks for reading!
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Old 06-04-2016   #44 (permalink)
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I've enjoyed following your trip report also. When you say the condo "came with three little dogs" what did you mean? I noticed three dog dishes in one of your pictures of the kitchen. Did you have to feed the dogs? Walk them, etc?
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Old 06-04-2016   #45 (permalink)
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I've enjoyed following your trip report also. When you say the condo "came with three little dogs" what did you mean? I noticed three dog dishes in one of your pictures of the kitchen. Did you have to feed the dogs? Walk them, etc?
Thanks! haha, yes, there were three little dogs (the size of cats), however we did not need to do anything with them as the owner was also in the condo, even though we didn't see her much at all. A few nights she stayed elsewhere but she popped in & out to feed & walk the dogs, usually while we were out for the day. The dogs also had access to the rooftop deck and one of the side patios with one of those grassy pee pad thingies.

We like animals, so it wasn't an issue for us at all. They were actually very cute and we spent some time with them so they weren't too lonely. We just had to make sure they didn't get outside without leashes, or into our bedroom as she was afraid they may try to pee on our things (which they didn't), lol.

All in all, it was a great deal for under $50CAD/night. We'd originally booked another place (ironically only one street over), however a few weeks before we were set to leave that person had to cancel our reservation because they were unexpectedly called out of town (back to Canada) for family emergency, so we were left scrambling to find another rental on short notice. If you book well in advance there's actually some amazing airbnb properties in Playa that run the gamut of amenities and price ranges, so when we do come back we'll likely try another location to get a different perspective of the city.
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