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Playa del Carmen, Mexico

 Jason Douglas Lewis, Dr. Jennifer Williams Lewis


For our 2018 vacation, Jennifer and I decided on Cancun, but after some research, we decided on a slight change of plans and chose Playa del Carmen, which is 45 minutes south of Cancun, instead.

The previous year we had an amazing trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica.  While the trip and the resort were awesome, one issue was that it was kind of a hassle to get off the resort.  The resort had pretty much everything that a vacationeer would want and need, and there are many travelers who have no interest in leaving it, but we wanted to have some experiences off of the it.  The resorts are pretty much an Americanized version of the country you’re in.  

The resort in Jamaica was along the main highway, and it was highly recommended not to walk off it.  Even if you did, there wasn’t any place to go.  So leaving took some planning and you had to call a cab.  

While I was researching Cancun I saw the resort zone, and it looked like if you walked off the resort, you’d just see a row of other resorts.  There was a bus that went to the hotspots in the area, or you’d have to take a cab.  I just wasn’t interested in that.  

Then I stumbled on to the small towns of Playa del Carmen and Tulum, which I had never heard of.  Both had resorts in the heart of towns.  Playa Del Carmen is about 45 minutes from Cancun’s airport (Cancun’s resort zone is about 20 minutes from the airport).  That drive didn’t seem too bad.  Tulum is a good 90 minutes from the airport, and it was a much smaller town than Playa del Carmen, so we ruled that out and Playa del Carmen was it!

We stayed at the Royal Playa del Carmen (now named the Hilton Playa del Carmen), which is an adults-only, all-inclusive resort.  The great thing about this resort is that it was a short block off of 5th Avenue, which is the main street in the town.  The street is closed off to vehicle traffic, and it has a lot of shops, restaurants, bars, and food stands.  Some of the shops are mainstream stores that are found in the U.S., and many of them are local mom and pops.  The great thing about this location is that you could walk off the resort with ease and be right in the action.  I felt that we were able to take in more of Mexico’s culture in Playa del Carmen than if we stayed in the resort zone in Cancun.  But I will say that the resort area in Playa del Carmen is a tourist area, so it probably isn’t true Mexico, but we did get a taste of it.

We felt totally safe along 5th Avenue and on the beach.  I wouldn’t recommend leaving that area unless you have a driver.  You’ll quickly find yourself in a 3rd-world country if you wonder off.

Like the Jamaica trip from the year before, we did five days and four nights (Monday through Friday), which is pretty much three full days.  We got to the resort mid day on Monday and left late morning on Friday.  We planned on doing an excursion on each of the full days.


Cenote Jardin del Eden, Dr. Jennifer Williams Lewis

 Cenote Jardin del Eden


On Tuesday we took an excursion to one of the local cenotes, which is a natural sinkhole that is filled with fresh water.  There are several cenotes in the area.  Some you just show up to and go for a swim, and some have guided tours through underground caves.  We did Cenote Jardin del Eden, which was about a 30 minute cab ride from the resort.  For about $60 total for both of us (if I’m remembering right), we had a round trip cab ride and entry into the cenote.  The resort got us a cab driver, and he dropped us off and picked us up a couple hours later.  The tour companies are more expensive.  Usually $80-$100 per person, so we saved a lot of money doing it ourselves.  But I'm sure that the tour companies add extra value.

The cenote was a really cool experience.  If I'm remembering right, renting the snorkeling gear and life jacket was only like $10, and they had lockers there.  We went in the afternoon, but we probably should have went earlier in the day, but we were lounging around all morning at the resort.  This excursion was the only time of the trip that we had issues with using U.S. money.  Pretty much everywhere took U.S. dollars so we didn’t exchange money.  Luckily our driver had pesos and exchanged it for our U.S. dollars.  

Dr. Jennifer Williams Lewis

Snorkeling at the cenote.

Cenote Jardin del Eden

Fresh tacos at Cenote Jardin del Eden


On Wednesday we planned to do the catamaran cruise/party boat.  The year before in Jamaica, that was one of the highlights of the trip, as we did a good 30 minutes of snorkeling, and then a whole lot of drinking and dancing.  Well we kind of missed out on that in Mexico.  We didn’t book it until we got there, and a lot of the cruises were booked.  We were able to get on one, but it ended up being way more snorkeling than we wanted, and not much of a party.  

Last year’s catamaran cruise picked us up right at the beach of the resort and we sailed for about 20 minutes before we did some snorkeling.  The one in Mexico, we had to take a shuttle a good 20 minutes from the resort to go to another beach that had a lot of water activities.  So we get on the boat and it didn’t take long before we figured out that there wasn’t going to be much of a party, or drinking.  After about 10 minutes of sailing, the boat anchors and we all jumped the ocean.  At this time we saw one of the party boats sail by with the music blasting and people dancing.  Jennifer and I were staring and thinking, “Please come pick us up, we want to join the party.”  So we snorkeled for a good 45 minutes, and it was pretty cool.  Our guide had fish food to attract the fish, so they were swimming all round us.  That was pretty amazing.  After a while we were back on the boat and sailing.  Then we stopped again for a second round of snorkeling, which was another 45 or so minutes.  By the time we finished there we were pretty exhausted.  We really could have done without the second round.  Then boat goes back to the dock and we were done.  

If we had planned better, we would have been on the party boat, which would have been awesome.  Based on what we actually got, we probably would have skipped it.  If you really love snorkeling, then you’d like the excursion more than we did.  But we really wanted to party and drink.

Jason Douglas Lewis, Dr. Jennifer Williams Lewis, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

On the boat during the catamaran cruise.

Cab driver sold beer!


On Thursday, we just hung around the beaches of Playa del Carmen, which was probably the best day of the trip.  We halfway had plans to take the day trip to Cozumel Island, which is about an hour away by ferry.  The ferry ride is pretty cheap.  We also thought about going to one of the eco parks, like XCaret or Xplor.  Those parks looked really cool, but they were a bit expensive.  After bouncing around ideas, it occurred to us that we really hadn’t taken advantage of Playa del Carmen, the area which we selected because of everything it had to offer.  The first two days we’d spent time leaving the area on excursions.  

Jason Douglas Lewis, Playa del Carmen, Mexico, 5th Avenue

Making friends on 5th Avenue 


So we started the day by taking a walk to Fundadores Park, which is straight down 5th Avenue.  At the seaside park there is the 50-foot high Portal Maya arched sculpture which depicts a man and woman in a swirl of water and wind.  I set my camera on a mini tripod and got a great shot of us there.  

Jason Douglas Lewis, Dr. Jennifer Williams Lewis, Playa del Carmen, Mexico, Fundadores Park, Portal Maya statue

 Fundadores Park, Portal Maya statue

Jason Douglas Lewis, Dr. Jennifer Williams Lewis, Playa del Carmen, Mexico, Fundadores Park, Portal Maya statue Dr. Jennifer Williams Lewis, Playa del Carmen, Mexico, Fundadores Park, Portal Maya statue


We started to walk back, and stopped by a cigar shop where they hand-rolled cigars on the spot.

Playa del Carmen, 5th Avenue, cigar




Playa del Carmen is known for their beach clubs.  We stopped by one at Inti Beach, where we laid out on the beach chairs.  The place had good music, food, and drinks.  We were there for at least a couple hours, and hopped in the ocean for a bit.

Dr. Jennifer Williams Lewis, Playa del Carmen, Mexico, Inti Beach

Interesting thing, Jennifer does not bring her wedding ring on trips out of the country.  She spent like $10 on the ring she's wearing here. lol

Dr. Jennifer Williams Lewis, Playa del Carmen, Inti Beach

Dr. Jennifer Williams Lewis, Playa del Carmen, Inti Beach


From there we were back on 5th Avenue, where Jennifer did some shopping.  She bought a dress and some hand-made jewelry. 

Dr. Jennifer Williams Lewis, Playa del Carmen, 5th Avenue, shopping

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We then hit up another beach club.  We stopped by Coralina Daylight Club, which was pretty cool.  The entrance was on the beach, and they had beds along the sand.  We were their when things were pretty slow, but judging from the social media posts, that is a party spot.  The DJ was still playing music when we were there, and we had a few drinks.  

Coralina Daylight Club

After eating dinner at the resort, we walked down to the clubs on 12th Street, which is a short walk down 5th Avenue.  That’s where a lot of the nightlife is.  We ended up stopping at two clubs which were playing mostly techno music.  After having a drink at both of them, we ended up at a club that played hip hop, R&B, reggae, and reggaeton.  We were there for the rest of the night and had a great time.  

We called it a night around 3 a.m. and headed back to the resort.  This was by far my favorite day, and I’d say that the other days should have been more like this one.  I’d love to go back to Playa del Carmen, and when we do, I’d plan the excursions for the morning, and then hit the beaches and 5th Avenue in the afternoon.  

Money wise we never officially converted from U.S. dollars to pesos.  Outside of the cenote, everywhere took American money.  But on 5th Avenue there were places that gave change back in pesos, so you need to have an understanding of the conversion rate.  But it was easy to figure out on the fly.  When we got change back in pesos, we just spent that at the next spot.  

Safety wise, we felt very safe on the resort and along 5th Avenue.  It’s a tourist area and there is a police presence.  Even walking back to the resort at 3 a.m. felt safe.  But if you venture away from the resorts, hotels, and 5th Avenue, you’ll quickly be reminded that you’re in a third-world country.  When we were driving to the excursions, the cab and shuttle drivers took the streets through the town.  Because I don’t know those areas, I wouldn’t walk down any of those streets.  So if you’re concerned about safety, stay near the resorts, and when you want to leave the area, the hotel staff will set up your transportation.  

As for the Royal Playa del Carmen (now the Hilton), it was a very nice resort.  Three swimming pools, buffet, and I believe five different restaurants.  They have a nightly show that’s pretty cool.  We didn’t really do any of the activities at the resort, and it wasn’t really a party spot.  For the people who wanted to spend the bulk, or all of their trip on the resort, it’s very peaceful and relaxing.  The resort has it’s own beach, which is just a few steps from the pool.  

This trip cost us $2,600 total for flight and hotel ($1,300 each).  We spent another $1,000 or so on travel expenses, activities, and other random stuff.  I brought $100 in cash for tips.  The year before in Jamaica I typically tipped $2 at a time, so this year to cut down on bills, I got $50 in $2 bills.  Jennifer thought it was weird, but it actually worked out well.

I’m happy that we picked Playa del Carmen, and I’d love to go back again.  Nothing against Cancun, but I think that we made the right choice.  Next time we go I’m thinking that we’ll do the trip to Cozumel, and maybe a trip down to Tulum.  And we’ll make sure that we get on that party boat. 


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