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Uncovering the best family holidays

Mexico

The In's & Out's of Playa Del Carmen

Leaving Cancun

One day in Cancun was enough. We were so pleased to exit Cancun and make our way 45 minutes South to Playa Del Carmen. They say Cancun is full of Americans, Playa Del Carmen or Playa is filled with Europeans. Whoever they are, they are right.

Sometimes I don’t know if I should learn Spanish or Italian… or Canadian?

We were originally going to catch a bus, but the kids fell asleep on the way home from Wet n Wild so we picked up our bags and stayed in the taxi for the ride to Playa. The taxi driver was fast; the car was called Gran Turino.

Our apartment

The agent was waiting at our apartment and helped us with our things. Elizabeth was an absolute goldmine. We had been put in contact with her via word of mouth and email. We gave her a budget of $1200 for the 3 weeks and she found us a beauty!

A mere 4 blocks from the supermarket, 3 blocks from the beach and a few blocks to the famous 5th Avenue. It was a 2 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom condo with balcony, living room, cable and internet.

The home was furnished very modern and elegant. There were a couple simple things missing that we had been spoilt with in Penang, such as toilet paper and cooking oil, laundry powder and tea towels, but nothing we couldn’t buy ourselves. Although cleaning products seems like a pretty basic necessity in a vacation rental, I can’t imagine the one week renters would be buying that stuff.

You can check out all the photos to our new apartment here. It included a beautiful pool, with a perfect kids section. Often at the pool we meet Canadians and Italians. I highly recommend you contacting Elizabeth on your next visit, she is fabulous. 

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Supermarkets

A few blocks near us is a Mega Supermarket. It’s big and sells motorcycles, just what you always needed in a supermarket. A $1.50 taxi ride away is Walmart, it’s more Western and has less focus on the groceries section and more on clothes and toys and such. Neither supermarkets sell battery chargers in case you were wondering and Walmart was the only place that sold round flat batteries. Batteries are expensive so bring your own. Unfortunately our kids Leap Frogs pens were running out of juice and they were really desperate to have them working again.

Near the house were several late opening OXXO’s which are like 7-11’s. We also had plenty of restaurants to choose from and, thank goodness, a place that fixes iPhones.

Supermarket prices seem to be quite high, however you can grab a huge bottle of water (big tub ones) for less than $3. They also sell very handy items like motorcycles and, of course, straight off the shelf - guns.

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Playgrounds

There doesn't seem to be a lot of playgrounds. We found one near us, which was run down and quite frankly dangerous. We micro-managed the kids until we just had to get them off of the equipment. The slide was cracked and close to tearing in two, the swings were rusted through and the cubby house wood was rotted and pieces falling off everywhere.

We did find one playground that was in better shape. The morning we met the Barefoot Nomads for our day at Akumal. We started at a playground near the Colectivo bus rank.

A harsh site with gravel for flooring, no rails on the high ship plank and zero shade. A kids dream, a parents nightmare. 

McDonalds & Burger King also have amazing indoor playgrounds. I guess indoor ones excel more because the sun here is hot, hot, hot.

The beach

The Caribbean is a beautiful ocean. Crystal aqua waters and white fine sand. A few blocks from our house is a strip where the waves are big. There are restaurants all along the beach offering sun lounges for a small price and a promise to buy food and drink. We usually just sit on the ground and make sandcastles.

One morning we had breakfast at Kool on the beach. It cost $20 for a buffet and the view was priceless.

Our first day we made friends with a beautiful Italian lady. She spoke a sprinkling of English and I spoke a small amount of Italian, but we managed to communicate. Her little boy loved building sandcastles with Mia. We met her again the following day.

Further down the beach past the pier is perhaps the posh section of Playa. Gorgeous hotels line the beach where surely only the wealthy are staying. A little inlet of water was perfect for my kids to play and we knew this would be a popular spot for us. There were no waves and the water was a perfect depth for them.

I ventured further down the beach one time and spotted a wedding going on. I also spotted gstring bikinis. :)

5th Avenue

Our original walk on 5th avenue near our house was nice. Not busy, some good restaurants. One evening as we had ventured further down the beach and we were walking back up the road we realised 5th Avenue went a lot further. It happened to be a Saturday night and the place was pumping.

Mexican music groups, hundreds of restaurants (all much higher price then our local ones near our house), boutiques, very cheap silver, gift stores and hotels.

It is a beautiful street great for people watching. And there are a lot of people to watch. Europeans are really body confident.

We had dinner here a few times and while the prices aren’t pleasant the atmosphere is.

Once night as we walked home from 5th Avenue the rain started. It went from a warm sprinkle to a delightful shower. My daughter had fallen asleep in the stroller and woke up thinking she was back in the pool.

The weather is so beautiful here that the shower was pleasant and I enjoyed walking home in the rain.

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Transport

In most parts of Playa a taxi is a standard fare of 25 pesos ($1.80AUD).

A colectivo is a form of transportation in Mexico that is quite often a mini-van. It is 35 pesos ($2.67) no matter how far you go. If you do a full journey from Playa Del Carmen to Tulum it’s 30 or if you only go 1km it’s 30. You can wave them down anywhere or head to the station.

There are also 1st class busses that can take you further distances called ADO’s. I have not much to report as I haven’t taken one yet, but when I do I will let you know. We walk a lot. With everything so close it seems silly to take a taxi no matter how cheap. We usually catch a taxi after supermarket shopping, but most of the time we are walking off all our Mexican food.

You can also hire a car super cheap. Our basic car cost $11.10 per day including taxes. If you want to get Collision damage you might as well double it. Some credit cards include collision damage, ours doesn’t – so check the fine print.

Be wary when booking cars on Cozumel and of the Mexican Ferrari... See Cozumel post.

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Food

Mexican food has got to be my favourite cuisine now. I could eat tacos every day. I am not a fan of tradition tortilla tacos, but texmex crunchy tacos or tostadas. Food can cost very differing amounts. We went to a restaurant called El Forgon the other day, which sold tacos for 10 pesos ($0.75) each. Then we went to Club Tropicana on 5th Avenue where a Mayan chicken and beef dish was 220 pesos ($16.74).

After our first week we did our sums and it was actually cheaper eating out then buying groceries. In a hot climate a lot of fresh produce is imported and the things we were use to cooking at home were costing a lot of money.

We would try and eat two meals at home and one meal out, but we decided we might need to eat two out and just have breakfast at home. As much as I enjoy no dishes and no preparation, sometimes you just want to stay home right?

You can check out all the magnificent food we have been eating in our Food Glorious Food photo journal.

Summary

Playa Del Carmen has been so much more lovely to us then Cancun. We love the vibe and the beach. We love our apartment and that we can walk to everywhere. I love that my kids have started speaking Spanish and that I am watching more Dora to learn as well.

I don’t love the tourist prices. At first I thought Mexico to America was Bali to Australia. But we are so blessed by Bali. The prices are so amazing there and Mexico is just as expensive as America in its tourist 5th Avenue.

There is no comparison really. They are both completely different, but I can tell you now what started out as a little bit of trepidation and fear has been turned to love. This place is no more dangerous then anywhere else I have been so far. We venture out at night, I wear my jewellery and we have felt safe the entire time.

Give Playa a try, you may be quite surprised.

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Here's what you have to say...

"I respond to every comment by private email. So please leave me comments, I love chatting to you" -
Posted by Kate @ 30Traveler on
Ahh the famous Elizabeth! I am so looking forward to going to Mexico... eventually, and Playa is top of my list (at least as an initial base) for ease plus a nice beach.
Posted by Bethaney on
The more I hear about your time in Playa the more I want to go! I might need to convince Lee to stick around there a bit longer. Initially I was just thinking a few weeks but I could really get used to that! How long do you think you could spend there? Is it more interesting that say KL or Penang or Bangkok where you spent time before?
Posted by karin on
Caius loves the swing. Lovely pics xx Mum xx Oma
Posted by Jennifer on
Just arrived in Playa about a week ago for a 5 week stay and reading through some blogs for ideas about things to do. Thanks for the tips about collectivos. We plan to head to Tulum for a day trip and may check them out! We also had a day taking a cooking class here - great fun! http://bit.ly/1kXaJGX Happy Travels!
Posted by Eduardo Ruiz on
I was there last week and got to meet a lot of amazing people. Had a great time. We were warned about the violence in Mexico and the drug problems but to be honest I felt very safe, even walking around at nights. I did find it a bit expensive, especially around 5th avenue (duh!) but a friend of mine recommended a facebook page called "descuento de local" and we found a lot of special offers and discounts there. somewhere for locals only but still gave us a good idea of where to go and what to do. I highly recommend it facebook.com/descuentodelocal
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