Hola! Just arrived back home from our 8 day honeymoon at an all inclusive Riu resort in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, and we had the absolute best time of our lives! Upon packing and planning for our trip I was at a complete loss on how to start to prepare for this trip especially since this was my very first time outside of the country and definitely my first time at an all inclusive resort! Being a person who likes to be prepared (usually over prepared) I wanted to be sure I had anything I may have wanted or needed on this trip all the while not over packing our carry-on suitcases. I had to do a lot of research and reading through blogs upon blogs and lists upon lists to find all the information I needed and wanted for our trip. Since it was such a pain, I really wanted to compile all of the information I collected, along with all the reminders in my iPhone during the trip so I could provide the very best information for future travelers and so my next time is a breeze. Don’t forget to click on the links to see the items I purchased from Amazon for our trip!
Let’s start with the initial planning for your trip to Mexico! Deciding on the location you want to visit in Mexico is first and foremost and should be determined by your vacation style. Writing a list of items you are looking for in a vacation is a great place to start. I knew I wanted a quiet beach city with shopping and beautiful beaches because I envisioned a relaxing day on white beaches and fun outdoor activities. I know we also wanted to deter from anything too busy or crowded by 20 somethings in party mode. My wife has stayed in many cities in Mexico for various events and vacations as she grew up so she had a bit of insight about what city would be best to stay. We considered Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Playa Del Carmen, and Cabo San Lucas. We found that Cancun was a bit too modern and busy with its sky rise hotels and endless spring breakers. Puerto Vallarta was not as much the beach city vibe we were looking for and Cabo didn’t have enough of the outdoor activities we wanted to do.
We decided to stay in Playa Del Carmen which is in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. Playa Del Carmen is a beautiful beach city on the caribbean sea with beautiful hacienda style hotels, a quaint 3 miles of walking road for shopping and restaurants, and quiet white sandy beaches all just two hours outside of Cancun. We found a perfect hotel near to where most of the main hotels and tourists stay in a private beach community called, Playacar that was walking distance to shopping, and about a block away from private beaches.
Season is also a BIG consideration when planning your trip. High season in the caribbean is mid December to mid April. This comes right after the rainy season and provides the best possible weather. As this is their “Winter” the weather is a mild 73 to 80 degrees and can have the occasional spurts of rainy days. (If you find that the weather says it will rain on the days you are going, don’t fret! The rain in the caribbean is completely different, it can be quite refreshing on a humid day, is not cold and damp feeling, usually only lasts for about 15 minutes at a time, and the sun will still be shining!)
We decided to go in mid January and the first day we were there it rained on and off but we still enjoyed it because we visited Chichen Itza that day. It was wonderful because the sun wasn’t beaming directly on us all day as we walked around, and the humidity and mosquitos were at a low. If you decide to go during their low season (late April to November) the weather is a bit more harsh. The humidity can be up to 95-100% which is just about unbearable, the heat can get up to the 100s in the summer, and mosquitos are just everywhere. You can get a better price on hotels here and there if you plan your week’s weather very well during the low season, but it can be a crap shoot.
After much research we ultimately decided on an all inclusive resort because the ones we found had great private access to the beach. Many of restaurants either inside the non-inclusive resorts or close by to those hotels would have gotten pretty expensive for a decent 3 meals a day. Having an all inclusive package also meant all you can drink alcoholic or non alcoholic drinks, all you can eat food, and free nightly entertainment! To us, this was MORE than worth the difference in cost for the non-inclusive hotels.
We ended up at the Clubhouse Riu Tequila, because it was about a block from the beach, had private beach entrance and seating, and of course the nightly entertainment. It boasts the “friendliest staff in Playacar” on Trip Advisor and I can definitely attest to that statement! The staff went above and beyond to make sure all the guests were having the best time, offering a nightly show, multiple buffets and restaurants, day activities and games inside and outside of the resort, a night-club within the hotel, and the list goes on! Not to mention the hotel itself was gorgeous! Take a look…
The next time we come, we wouldn’t dream of staying anywhere else but a Riu. There are about 4 Riu Resorts to choose from within Playa Del Carmen, all being inside of Playacar. All of them have great reviews, but some are more expensive than others depending on what you’re looking for. There are two bordering the one we stayed at and were about $50-100 USD more per day because they had direct beach access, (meaning you can walk out the backdoor of the resort and onto the beach) a little more upscale decor for some and others had a club atmosphere at the beach, also the staff will bring you drinks to your seat at the beach. To us, saving that money, and walking the half a block to the beach was completely worth it. Our resort had a tram that takes you to and from the beach, they had private beach seating, and a buffet for lunch and drinks about 15 steps from the seating at the beach. What more could you need?!
FLIGHT & DEPARTURE
Your choice of airlines and flight times are really up to your best judgement and what works best for you, but there is just one tip I can give you about your departing flight from Mexico.
Flight Tip: Keep in mind how far away the airport is located from your hotel once you decide on where you are staying. We made a HUGE mistake of booking an early flight home of 8am to save a few bucks and did not take into consideration how early we would have to wake to pack and travel to the airport. Because of our early flight, being 2 hours away and needing to arrive about one and a half to two hours before flight departure, we left our hotel at 4am. This was the one thing I wish I could have taken back when booking our trip. Not only was waking up at 3am to pack awful, but booking a shuttle at that time and waiting around in the airport when nothing is open for breakfast really made us grouchy. If you only take one thing away from this post, book a departing flight of noon to 2pm (depending on your location to the airport). This will allow you enough time to check out of your room at noon and book a shuttle or taxi at a reasonable hour.
Getting from the airport to your hotel is not as tricky as it seems and you do have a few options at different prices.
- SHUTTLES: There are various transportation shuttles lined up outside the airport ready to go. There are two ways to take a shuttle; private or shared. A private shuttle is going to take just your group, be it 2 people or 8 (max per shuttle) and charge you little bit of a higher rate than shared. A shared shuttle will queue you in a line and wait for a total of 8 passengers all usually going to generally the same area or hotels. You save a bit of money going with a shared shuttle but keep in mind that you might have a wait a while to 8 people to queue up with you. We arrived early, at 8am, and waited about an hour for enough people to queue up to use a shared shuttle.
- TAXIS: You can call or hail a taxi which is always going to be private (just you and your group) if they are available at the airport. A taxi can take a max of 4 people unless you specify that you need a van or larger vehicle. After reading a few blogs about transportation I was prepared to hail a cab at the airport and haggle a good price to drive us to our hotel, however during the hour we waited at the hotel there was not a single taxi that pulled up to the airport. The taxi drivers are going to cost more money, but you can usually haggle to a certain extent and from what I have heard the taxis from the Cancun airport to Playa Del Carmen can cost about $50 to $65 USD one way. Taxi Tip: Don’t pay for two ways with a taxi driver up front, even if they give you a phone number to contact them on your departure, most of the time they won’t answer their phone or show up at the discussed time and you’re out that return ride money. Instead, if you like your driver, ask them for a phone number to call them for the return ride that way you can call them to see their availability for your return flight on that day.
- PRIVATE CARS: I’ve read about private transportation cars such as Cancun Private Transfers or Entertainment Plus which are supposed to be reliable companies. We looked them up online before going but ultimately found there was not much difference in a shared or private shuttle at the airport from Super 8.
Our transportation choice: We decided to pay up front for a shared shuttle to our hotel and a private shuttle on our return. We paid 550 pesos there ($32) and 650 pesos ($40) back. The Super 8 shuttle service at the airport was very reliable, friendly, and punctual. We would highly recommend it not only for the money you save but service. Transportation around town: Getting around during your stay is primarily walking or the use of taxis unless you purchase a private car package. We found the most affordable option when we didn’t want to walk, was a taxi. We used the taxi only 2 times during our stay. The taxis were used to get back to our hotel after a long day of shopping and walking on Quinta Avenida. The taxi ride from the shopping area to our hotel was $7 USD.
Now on to the good stuff! Packing for an all inclusive resort in the Caribbean is not a whole lot different than packing for any other resort in the Caribbean minus a few small details. You’ll be able to benefit from this packing list no matter where you plan to stay in Mexico. We each brought a carry-on suitcase for clothing and accessories and a large leather laptop tote as our personal items for the use of electronics and small items. This list fit into my carry-on and personal tote alone. The Caribbean weather can sometimes be unpredictable, so I recommend every single item (or a variation of it) on the packing list.
Feel free to click on the images in the list to check out what I personally purchased from Amazon for our trip.
- (2) SANDALS: One for the pool or beach that you don’t mind getting scratched or dirty and one for dinner, or a night out.
- WALKING SHOES: Definitely needed for a day out walking or a trip to Tulum or Chichen Itza. Wear these on the plane.
- WATER SHOES!: We own water shoes, but forgot to bring ours so we ended up buying a pair there. If you plan on visiting any of the water parks, cenotes, or plan on walking around on any tide pools, you’ll want a pair! We ended up paying $30 USD each, when the ones we found at home cost about $7 USD a pair.
- (3) DRESSES: I brought two maxis (1 dressy & 1 casual) and 1 short summer dress.
- (2) SHORTS: I brought one denim, and one dressy.
- (3) TANK TOPS
- (1-2) COTTON TEES
- (1) JEANS: A lightweight or stretchy pair. Wear these on the plane.
- (1-2) CARDIGANS: or a light weight button up or pull over. Wear one on the plane.
- UNDERGARMENTS: Any undergarments you’ll need, such as socks, bras, PJs, undies, undershirts etc for the amount of days you’ll stay. Just keep in mind that you’ll be wearing a bathing suit primarily and you’ll only need your socks and walking shoes a few days at most.
- (2) BEACH COVER UPS: Not a single restaurant or bar will let you in with a bathing suit alone so you’ll need something to wear over your bathing suit from the pool or beach. I brought two basic cover-ups that looked like oversized tee shirts and used only one at the pool for one day. I ended up feeling more comfortable in my short summer dress eating around strangers than a see-through teeshirt so I wish I had left the cover ups at home and brought another short dress in place of it. The cover up is entirely up to your preference whether you choose basic bathing suit coverups or bring an extra summer dress or two, you’ll just need something basic to cover up in.
- (2) BATHING SUITS: I brought two and did ok because we spaced out our beach and pool days with days of activities in between. That being said, if you plan on being at the pool or beach pretty much everyday I would bring 3 so you have a dry one to alternate with.
- SCARF: This is optional but I found that it was nice to have at the beach to cover up my hips while we walked, or to wear over my face or hair while laying out.
TOILETRIES & EXTRAS
- BUG REPELLENT: I cannot emphasize enough that this will be one of the very most important items not to forget! The mosquitos and other little bugs are vicious and you’re going to need it no matter what time of year you are there. We brought a 4 pack of repellent bracelets that worked great for the first few days but ended up not being enough. I would recommend bringing an environment friendly bug repellent oil along with a few bracelets. Mexican natives are really big on keeping the sea and rivers clean so make sure whatever you are putting on and dipping into the water is bio-degradable.
- SUNSCREEN: Just as important as the repellent, don’t forget the sunscreen! The caribbean sun is harsh no matter how tan you already are. I’ve seen some really tan women and men in pure agony because they forgot to put sunscreen on. I didn’t think you could burn over a tan, but it is possible! We brought six 2oz containers of spf 30-50 for the both of us and used almost all of it. One tip to think about; Having to lather on cream in humidity is a pain in the rear! I would advise bringing a spray-on biodegradable spf.
- (2) HATS: Definitely a helpful thing to pack if you are fair skinned or have thin hair. There is nothing worse than a flaking and burned scalp. I am fair with freckles so I brought two. I had a cute little fedora for walking around in and a nice big floppy hat for the beach and pool. I wore the fedora on the plane and packed my floppy within the clothes in my bag. The trick to packing a floppy hat is to fold a few pieces of clothing then lay your hat down like you would place it on your head then build more folded or rolled clothes around it and this will keep it from losing its shape.
- (2) SUNGLASSES: I recommend a couple cheap pairs because you’re bound to lose to break a pair, and I’m sure you’d hate for that pair to be your lovely Michael Kors. I brought two cheap swap-meet pairs and I did end up breaking one so I was glad they were cheap and that I had a back up. The vendors do sell glasses and hats all over, so if you break or lose a pair it isn’t the end of the world. You can find a cheap replacement for about $6-15 USD.
- TUMBLER CUPS: All inclusive resorts do provide drinks all day everyday but the cups are thin plastic and really small. If you want to have an iced drink like a pina colada, iced tea, or even beer that puppy is going to melt in 15 seconds flat outdoors.Not to mention with their size you’ll be hoofing it back and forth from the bar all day. We brought our own 24oz tumblers and SO glad we did. Not only did it keep our drinks cold, but we only had to refill once while on the beach for the day. The staff absolutely does not mind filling up your cups from home so don’t worry about bringing your own cup up to the bar.
- BEACH BAG: You’ll need one that is big enough and sturdy enough to carry a couple beach towels, books and magazines, sunscreen and sunglasses, etc. without letting any sand in.
- MEDICINE: I highly advise these medicines from home even if you don’t think that you’ll need them. The comforted feeling of having your own medicines that you know by name and not having to shell out $20 at the stores will give you peace of mind, especially if Montezuma’s Revenge creeps up on you!
-Tums or Pepto Bismal
-Aloe Vera Gel
-Benadryl or allergy medication.
-Tylenol or IBProfin
-Multi Vitamin or something with Vitamin C in case of diarrhea.
- COSMETICS: Ladies, don’t bring your entire make up kit. I know you want to look your best, but save the room. I am a makeup buff myself and love my smash box but with the heat and humidity and that newly acquired tan you’re not going to need or want all of it. Here is what I brought:
-Mascara & Eyeliner
-Brow tint and brush
-Tinted lip balm
-Nail Polish & Remover (touch ups after the beach and fun to do at the pool)
- BATHROOM ITEMS: Bring your normal hygiene items with these recommendations in mind:
-Don’t overload on shampoo because the resorts have it.
-Don’t forget your razor if you’re there more than a few days.
-Hair spray and sea salt spray will be your best friend.
-You can find a few nice travel sets at a Dollar Tree or 99 cent store that are perfect for beauty items.
-Use a travel squeeze bottle or empty hand sanitizer to fill up with toothpaste instead of bringing an entire tube.
INSIDE MY TOTE
- FIRST AID KIT: Simple small box with items like bandaids, burn cream, antibiotic cream, and gauze.
- POWER BANK: My main source for taking pictures was on my iPhone so having this for the day trips to Chichen Itza or Tulum was helpful to power up our devices so I could keep taking pictures. The power bank I purchased (picture below) will charge your iPhone fully 4 times before needing to re-charge.
- CELL, CHARGER, & WATER COVER: The water cover is necessary if you’re going to take pictures with your cell phone at the beach or water parks. Its essentially a zip lock pouch that keeps the water out of your cell phone so you can romp around and not worry about water damage. There are vendors ALL over selling these pouches for $20-30 USD a pop, but I found this one online for $10 bucks and it works so well!
- GO PRO HERO: (or action camera) We brought this mainly for Xcaret to take under water pictures but we used our iPhones for the rest of the trip.
- TRAVEL PILLOW & SLEEPING MASK
- READING MATERIAL: I brought a book, a few magazines and an adult coloring book. These items are nice to have for the flight but also fun for the lazy pools days.
- PASSPORT: Don’t forget your passport! You’ll also probably want to have a nice cover for it so it doesn’t get ruined. I bought this nice wallet before the trip that is so slim it fits just about anywhere. I actually use it as a regular wallet now!
OTHER PACKING TIPS:
- Purchase a couple packing cubes to consolidate your clothing. This will help tremendously with fitting everything into your carry on luggage.
- Purchase a few of those electronic reusable twist ties to help control your electronic cords inside your bags. They are way more sturdy than garbage bag twist ties and you can keep using them again and again.
- If you want to take home any liquid items such as tequila or hot sauce as souvenirs from Mexico be prepared to bring an extra bag with you to “check” on the plane ride back.
ITEMS TO LEAVE BEHIND!
- Laptop (Use your smart phone or tablet, wifi sucks in the hotels anyway)
- Umbrellas (The resorts have them)
- Apple Watches or Smart Watches (It won’t work away from the hotel and you wouldn’t want to lose it. Bring a cheap water proof watch if you need a one)
- Expensive Jewelry or Sunglasses (I even left my wedding ring at home, it would be devastating to lose something in the water.)
- Entire Make-Up kits
- Suits or Overly dressy attire
- Dressy Shoes or Heels (Everyone is wearing sandals, even in the night clubs.)
- Beach Towels. (The hotels will provide free fresh towels to you all day long so you aren’t going to need to waste space in your case.)
SIGHTS & ACTIVITIES
One of the 7 wonders of the world and probably the most popular tourist spot around Cancun is Chichen Itza or Xichen Itza (as you might see on tour buses). The site of Chichen Itza contains many buildings and structures of stone in various stages such as palaces, observatory, temples and markets from pre-hispanic Mayan times. We bought a tour bus package for this trip before we left for our vacation and it was probably my most favorite activity of our trip. The ruins are magical and the tour guide we had was fantastic. Not only does the tour bus pick you up from your hotel in a nice comfy charter bus with a bathroom and drive you the 3 hours there and back, but for the price of the ticket they will also feed you coffee, breakfast/lunch, lots of beer and water, and a buffet dinner in Valladolid.
The city of Valladolid is one of the oldest Mexican cities in the caribbean with a beautiful church and main square. The tour will also take you by a natural cenote near Valladolid where you can jump in and swim around, or just take lots of pictures. I would highly recommend taking a charter tour to Chichen Itza with the company, Experiencias Xcaret. Experiencias Xcaret is a well known fully insured tourist/destination company that has been in business in Yucatan for years. If you only do one activity besides hanging out at the beach, pay for a chartered tour with them, you won’t regret it! Here is their website to book any of the packages to the most tourist driven areas: click here.
Here are a few tips for visiting Chichen Itza:
- Purchase a package, unless you have a native friend or family member that can drive you and play your tour guide. The bus and tour is worth every penny after such a long day. It’s also nice to have a tour guide around to answer your questions and show you where the best places are for pictures (or to take your picture for you).
- Bring a towel from your hotel if you plan on jumping in a cenote. All of the tour buses will stop by one or another cenote as part of the package, however, sometimes the buses have towels and sometimes they don’t. (ours didn’t)
- Bring along a power bank to charge your phones or cameras. You will be out the ENTIRE day and your phone will lose power. We left out hotel at 6am and didn’t return until 10:30pm.
- Wear a hat, sunscreen, bug repellent, sunglasses, and walking shoes. And bring extra sunscreen and repellent along!
- Bring cash for souvenirs. There are tons of tents and stands with natives set up inside Chichen Itza selling handmade goods. Don’t forget to haggle the price!
- Eat a little something before you leave. The bus tours do feed you an early lunch (10-11am) with coffee as well as a buffet dinner, but we were starved by 8am since we left so early in the morning. I would grab a muffin or something to tide you over until you’re fed.
Xcaret is the other paid for activity that we decided to try out. It’s a beautiful natural water park with sea life and lazy rivers to float down. My favorite part were the rivers because you just strap on a life jacket and float away for about an hour or more down a beautiful natural lazy river. You’ll find some interesting things like blue finned fish swimming right past your legs, or parrots squawking overhead along the way! Xcaret has different areas with activities and animals such as sea turtles, a dolphin cove, and a large beautiful aviary with waterfalls. There are “paid-for” activities within the park in addition to your entry ticket which you can pay for inside the park entrance once you arrive. Those activities include things like a speed boat ride, swimming with dolphins, scuba diving, and more. They also have beaches and coves for lounging around in the sand and drinking a beer. (Don’t spend too much time at their beaches, there is plenty more to see!)
We booked the same type of “bus tour” with the same company as above, however we booked this one in the hotel the day before the trip. We found booking in the hotel does run you about $10-$30 more per ticket than booking in advance before your trip. Xcaret will be an ALL DAY event just the same as a Chichen Itza tour. You’ll be leaving around 8am or 9am and returning 9pm to 10pm on the bus, so plan your days wisely! With the tour bus you’ll also be fed a buffet style lunch or dinner within the park that includes one beer per adult.
The very best part about Xcaret is the nightly show called Xcaret Mexico Espectacular. I think the show alone is worth the price of admission. The show goes through different stages of Mexico´s History starting from the the pre-Hispanic Mayan times (that includes a fabulous game of the Mayan “Ball Game”) and reaching up to the modern days. It is an absolute gorgeous showcase of Mexican traditions and cultures. Don’t miss it! You can also upgrade your package to include a dinner during the show, that would be in addition to your buffet lunch. Check out pricing for that on Xcaret’s website: click here.
Here are my tips for a successful trip to Xcaret:
- Bring with you, NO exceptions:
- Bug repellent
- Bathing suit under your day clothing like shorts and a tank
- A change of dry clothes for the evening
- Water shoes (they cost a ton of $ and you’ll wish you had them to walk around in)
- Towel from your hotel (they also cost a ton of $ to purchase there)
- Underwater sport camera or iPhone water bag for pictures!
- Power bank!! You’ll run out of battery fast!
- Purchase a bus tour once again. It is pricier than the regular entry tickets, but again it includes travel both ways, all you can eat buffet style lunch or dinner with a beer, and a locker at Xcaret. The taxi prices to travel there would have been the same anyway.
- Eat breakfast before you leave! You’ll be hungry on the bus ride, and since they only feed you once with the bus tour ticket you’ll be thankful that you did!
- Once you arrive put your extras like your evening clothing and bags into a locker near the entrance and check out a lazy river. (Rio Azul is the best) Send things like your towel and sunglasses up the river in a bag that will be waiting there for you when you arrive.
- If you’re on a budget, skip all the extra “paid for” activities within the park. Instead check out things like the sea turtle exhibit (they are as big as a pony!) and watch a few people swim with the sharks!
- Skip all the mini day shows scattered throughout the park, because they will all be included in the big nightly show.
- Don’t miss the ACTUAL Mexican cemetery inside the park. It is a beautiful walk looking at all the artwork and memorial on the headstones.
- Don’t miss the aviary. It is an absolute GORGEOUS caged in aviary with a variety of native birds as well as parrots and macaws. There are 3 natural waterfalls within the aviary that make really good picture backdrops.
- Check out the butterfly garden – but don’t forget to spray on bug repellent before you go in. The mosquitos are CRAZY inside the garden.
- Absolutely under no circumstances, miss the night show. I can’t emphasize enough what a great show it is. You won’t be disappointed.
We did not have time (or the money) to check out Xel Ha, but we do have a friend that visited and said it was really beautiful and so much fun if you like to snorkel. They don’t have a night show like Xcaret BUT they do offer all you can eat and drink buffets that you can visit as much as you want, and all day snorkeling. It seemed like they also might be a tad more child friendly from the advertisements. Since we didn’t get a chance to check it out, there isn’t a whole lot of information I can give you, but I can tell you that you will probably have an amazing time no matter which water park you choose. Here is a link for more info on Xel Ha: click here.
Tulum is another Mayan ruin, but this particular one is settled right on the coast of the Caribbean Sea. It isn’t quite as extravagant or touristy as its counter-part Chichen Itza, but it is equally as beautiful. We didn’t get a chance to check out Tulum on our trip, but we did hear amazing things about it. Apparently you can do a combo bus tour of Xel Ha and Tulum from the same company we purchased ours through. I was told by friends and family that it is absolutely worth the trip. Click here for more info about Tulum.
Cozumel is large island known as the “safest island in Mexico” which is located just off the coast of Playa Del Carmen (you can see it from the shore), very famous for its diving and snorkeling because of the magnificent coral reefs that are only a short distance from the shore. They also have a big “Carnaval de Cozumel”, which is similar to Brazil’s Carnival celebration. Many different companies offer cruises to the island and back for day tours. There are also many different tours you can take while you’re on the island such as snorkeling tours, off-road jeep or ATV tours, scuba tours, and fishing tours just to name a few. Again since we didn’t get a chance to check the island out, there isn’t much information I can provide. What I do suggest is doing some research about the island and the activities it offers to plan your trip accordingly. Here is a link to a well known company that offers spectacular tours in Cozumel: click here.
A beautiful 3 mile walk along cobblestone streets parallel to the beach. Lots of vendors selling candies, tequila, leather goods, hats, purses, and the list goes on. Toward the center of the strip there is a nice two story mall that has a Sephora and Michael Kors along with a few other major brand retailers. Prices in the mall are significantly less than in the states but they will not haggle with you like the rest of the vendors on the street. Reserve haggling for street vendors or small stores. There are tons of restaurants and bars lining the major and side streets so popping in for a $10 bucket of beer is a wonderful pit stop.
Here are a few things I recommend to check out while walking along:
- Fish Pedicure: also known as a fish spa, where you dip your feet in a tub of water filled with small fish called Garra Rufa. Garra Rufa are sometimes referred to as “doctor fish” because they eat away dead skin on your feet and ankles, leaving fresh skin behind. It’s a really fun way to kick your heels up and relax after a long walk on the strip. These sessions can cost anywhere from $15 to $30 for an hour. You’ll see the tubs of fish outside of the shops.
- Portal Maya Monument (Maya Gateway): Take a right on Calle 41 and down to the beachside to see the Portal Maya Monument. The Portal Maya is an iconic piece of artwork that stands over 50 feet high, built to commemorate the end of the Mayan calendar in December of 2012. It portrays a man and a woman, being pushed upwards by a spiral of wind and water, and holding hands. All around the spirals, the sculpture includes depictions of other elements important to the area including a jaguar, shells, people from the past and present, and two rings from the Mayan ball game.
- Mexican Candy & Snacks: After taking a few pictures of the beach and the monument grab a snack at one of the street vendors there on Calle 41 next to the beach. They have small hand carts with women selling chicharrones, fruit in cups with chamoy sauce drizzled on top, fresh popcorn, and various Mexican Candy. For about $3 or $4 ask for some chicharrones in a bag and a cup of mixed fruit. Be sure to ask for the chamoy sauce on top, you won’t regret it! Or try your hand at some Lucas (small cylinder of spicy and salty flavoring that you shake in your hand and lick off) or La Rosa (peanut and sugar candy circles). Then have a seat an enjoy the view of the beach. If you stick around by the monument you can catch a mayan show.
- Hair Braiding & Henna Tattoos: You will also see plenty of vendors that can braid hair or paint henna tattoos on you. I think these types of souvenirs are the most fun because they last quite a while and you’ll be able to show off your awesome vacation to your friends and family. The hair braiding starts at $10, they can do your whole head, or just a side part, or simply a few strands. The henna tattoos start at $3, but can go up depending on how much artwork you want. I didn’t want to haggle prices with these vendors because they really put in a lot of work.
- Tequila Barrel Bar & Grill: About half way through our walk we stopped here for a refresher and grabbed a bucket of beer for $10 and had some of their REALLY delicious wings. Their wings come in different flavors and come fried or baked. We ordered the fried wings with the original hot sauce on top. MY GOD, those were the best wings I’ve probably ever had, and a must have item after walking 2 miles! We also ordered a couple glasses of Michelada mix to go with our beer that were so refreshing that I’m craving one as I type this. You’ve definitely got to try a Michelada while in Mexico!
- Cuban Cigars: If you are into cigars in any capacity you should stop by one of the smoke shops and purchase a cuban cigar, because when else are you able to come upon one legally? You won’t be able to take them home with you no matter what the locals tell you about their permits or availability (unless of course your home is Cuba) but you are free to enjoy one while walking around or inside one of the many cigar bars.
- Tequila: Buy a bottle of amazing tequila to take home with you or simply take back to the hotel! The silver tequila was my favorite (in any brand) and lots of shops that are selling the larger bottles will let you taste test (just ask in advance). These also make amazing souvenirs!
- Locals & Barkers: You will find locals walking around offering variations of items especially as the day comes to a close and the sun begins to set. They will walk around and shout over to you to get you interested in many different things such as cuban cigars, jet ski rentals, charter cruises to Cozumel, etc. For small-towners it may seem pushy or overwhelming to see all this action, but don’t fret, if the calling does bother you the very best way to react is a simple “No Thanks” and a smile, and continue to walk. We ran into one or two men that offered us drugs, but a simple “No Thanks” sent them on their way. Some of the tactics that they use to lure you in are:
- calling you out by your hotel wrist band that you are forced to wear throughout your stay. They know the colors by heart and will tell you that they are from your hotel and have something “for you”.
- They shout things out like “Almost Free” and “Hola Chicas!” to get your initial attention or ask you to check out what they are selling.
- The oh so clever “Chica, you dropped this” targeting mostly females. They yell out behind you to grab your attention and show you a handkerchief or small item that of course is not yours, asking if you dropped it, then try to sell you something.
- Coco Bongo Club: A VERY fun and lively nightclub that costs an entry fee. The vendors on the street will attempt to sell you tickets and many of them are legit. We found a pair of tickets on the street for about $50 per person. Coco Bongo has lively entertainment with different types of celebrity impersonators, a jumping dance floor, and strong drinks. The club is located within the same tourist area and definitely worth the trip!
BEACH & WATER ACTIVITIES
Parasailing, Jet Skiing, Snorkeling, Scuba Diving, Fishing, Kayaking, and Paddle Boarding. With our hotel the day use of snorkel gear, kayaks, and paddle boards were free of charge with collateral left at the beach stand. Leaving an ID or room key will allow you to rent the equipment for day use, having to return them before sunset. Other activities such as Jet Skiing, Scuba Diving, or Parasailing is also available from any of the many vendors walking around offering the activities at a cost. I believe the parasailing was $60 per person, and scuba was more in the $100s. We didn’t do any of those activities but they sure do look like fun!
OTHER NOTABLE INFORMATION
- Bring cash! You’re not going to need a ton of it, but you will want some spending money in cash so that you can exchange that cash for pesos when you arrive. A lot of places will take USD as it is the unofficial currency of Mexico but everything is priced in pesos. If you decide to pay with USD throughout your trip you’re going to end up doing a LOT of math. Not all stores will give the same exchange rate, and trying to decipher dollars for pesos when the exchange rate is different for every vendor is a headache. There are exchange stores throughout Quinta Avenida and some hotels will also exchange for you. Right now the USD rate is 16.75 pesos for every US dollar. To get an even better deal you could find an exchange store or bank near you before your trip to be able to get the full current 18.01 peso per USD rate.
Lots of stores there will accept credit cards as well. Most are Visa, American Express, or MasterCard, American Express being the most popular, however they will most likely charge you in USD or your country’s currency which doesn’t give you the best deal. Having pesos on hand will ensure that you can haggle souvenir prices better, quickly pay for taxi rides without having to “do the math” and irritate your driver, and you get the best rate for your money possible. Trust me, exchange your cash! We brought about $400 USD for taxis and shuttles, souvenirs, and clubs and restaurants outside of our hotel.
- Souvenirs: Not all vendors are priced the same and most of the street vendors and smaller stores will haggle prices with you. Keep that in mind when walking from shop to shop because chances are you will find another store with a cheaper price for the same exact item or a street vendor that is willing to haggle with you. We leisurely walked while looking at lots of different stores and items and found that these souvenirs were the best:
- Playa Del Carmen shirts and tanks
- Various hot sauces
- Whole coffee beans
- Embroidered dresses, shirts, or bracelets
- Silver jewelry with obsidian or turquoise
- Mexican Vanilla
- Mexican Chocolate
- Leather goods such as sandals and purses
- Pottery or clay bowls
- Hand carved wooden items
- Lucha libre masks
- Hand woven blankets These items were the easiest to travel with. For large liquid items like Mexican Vanilla or tequila, you may have to check a piece of luggage on your way back home.
- BUT Skip these souvenirs:
- bathing suits or board shorts
- jeans or denim material items
- anything bedazzled
- sun or beach games or activities like boogie boards or corn hole.
- Bring your hotels provided towels to the beaches and water parks. If you decide to visit any of the water parks such as Xcaret or Xel Ha or even the Cenotes, bring along your hotels towels. Most of these places are going to charge you for the use of 1 rental towel or ask you to purchase one from the gift shop which can run you $30 USD or more.
- No wifi in the rooms. Be prepared and call your cellular service provider before you leave for your trip to tell them you’re headed to Mexico. You will want to adjust your plan so that you are able to make and receive calls and use your internet data if necessary. Most of the resorts will require you to pay for your wifi service in the rooms in addition to your room cost. The lobby was the only area that had free wifi service for guests but the lobby was usually always packed because of this and the wifi was incredibly slow during the day.
- Take pictures of the native animals, just don’t get TOO close. You’ll find lots of fun guys running around even in your hotel such as Iguanas, Coati, Bats, and Aguti. Be mindful that they are wild however cute they may be and they do need their personal space. Don’t threaten their habitats or try to take selfies with them. Be respectful by cleaning up after yourself and keeping a safe distance by utilizing your zoom functions on your cameras.
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