The penultimate stop on my trip through Mexico was the fabulous beach town of Playa del Carmen. Here’s a run-down of what I did during the five days I spent there.
I arrived in Playa in the early afternoon after a quick one-hour bus ride from Tulum. I had gotten very little sleep the two previous nights (Tulum nightlife is too much fun!), so I was not in the mood to exert myself too much that day. After eating, wandering the streets a little, and taking a few pictures of the beach, I went back to my hostel and took a nice long nap.
I woke up from my nap to a message from an Argentinian girl I had met in Tulum a couple nights earlier, asking if I wanted to go to Cozumel with her the next morning. I said yes, and we agreed to meet at her hostel at 8:30 a.m.
The next day, we met at the agreed-upon time and walked to the ferry terminal together to take the 9:00 ferry. (It leaves every hour on the hour.) The official price for the ferry at the ticket desk was 200 pesos one-way, but we managed to find a travel agent who sold us each a round-trip ticket for 300 pesos.
We disembarked in Cozumel after the 45-minute ferry ride, and set to work looking for a place to rent bicycles. After asking around a bit, we realized we weren’t going to find a place that would rent a bike to us for less than 200 pesos each, so we gave up that plan. Then we happened to run into an older British couple who were looking for the closest beach, and decided to share a taxi with them.
Between the four of us, we paid 300 pesos to take the taxi to Playa Palancar, a beach on the southwestern side of the island. I wasn’t super impressed with this beach. It’s not very wide, so there’s not a lot of space to lay out a towel. And if you go in the water, you have to wade through a nasty mass of seaweed close to the shore before you get to the nice, seaweed-free, swimmable water.
The Argentinian girl and I spent a short time at Playa Palancar, then took a taxi for 100 pesos to another beach, Playa Paraiso. This beach was better than the first one. We spent most of the day here, swimming and lying on the sand. The Argentinian girl brought her snorkel and saw lots of cool fish in the water. (She even told me that she found both Nemo and Dory).
Later in the afternoon we decided to walk south along the beach, and we discovered that it got even better the further we walked. Not only are the southern beaches much more spacious, but they were mostly deserted when we were there.
Shortly after 5:30 p.m. we left the beach and took a taxi back to the ferry terminal for 220 pesos. We started running as soon as we got out of the taxi, but we missed the 6:00 ferry by a minute or two. While waiting for the next ferry (at 7:00) we wandered through the city streets a little. It was a really nice place for an evening stroll, especially with the Christmas decorations that were up.
There was a cruise ship sitting in Cozumel’s port, all lit up and glittering on the horizon. It was just begging to be the backdrop for a little photoshoot.
After our photoshoot with the cruise ship, we walked back to the ferry terminal and caught the 7:00 ferry. We arrived back in Playa at 7:45. I had been planning to go out that night, but since we got back so late I decided instead to just grab some dinner, figure out what I was going to do the next day, and then head to bed.
The next day I decided to visit two nearby cenotes: Cenote Azul and Cenote Jardin del Eden. In the morning I walked to the spot where the colectivos leave, on Calle 2 at Avenida 15. On the street there was a line-up of people being shuffled into colectivos. I’m used to having to wait for a long time for a colectivo to fill up with passengers and leave, but there was no waiting this time. The colectivos were filling up as quickly as people could hop into them. Within a few minutes after I had left my hostel, I was on the road to the cenotes.
After less than a 30-minute ride, I got out of the van at the entrance to Cenote Azul and paid the driver 35 pesos. At the Cenote Azul ticket desk, I paid the entrance fee of 100 pesos and walked the short distance to the cenote.
Cenote Azul turned out to be one of my favourite cenotes of my trip. It was open, spacious, and impossibly gorgeous. Look at this crystal-clear green water:
I spent about an hour walking around and taking photos of Cenote Azul, then continued on to Cenote Jardin del Eden. The entrances to the two cenotes are just a few metres apart from each other. At the Jardin del Eden ticket desk, I was shocked to find out that the entrance fee was 200 pesos, making it the most expensive cenote I have visited. However, since I was already there and had nothing else to do that day, I figured I might as well pay for it.
After paying and receiving my wristband, I walked down the rather long but absolutely lovely path to the cenote. I honestly felt like I was in a fairy tale while walking down this path.
After a few minutes, Cenote Jardin del Eden appeared before me. It was certainly beautiful and impressive, but personally I preferred Cenote Azul. I’m really not sure why Jardin del Eden is twice as expensive as Azul, and I don’t think it’s worth the price they charge. If you only visit one of these two, I would recommend Cenote Azul. Don’t get me wrong — Cenote Jardin del Eden is still a beauty! But why don’t I let you judge for yourself:
After a quick swim in Cenote Jardin del Eden, I dried myself off and walked back to the highway. I crossed the road and stood waiting for another colectivo to carry me back to Playa. After only about one minute, a van came and picked me up, and I was on my way back to town.
The following day I decided to hit the beach. The beach in central Playa isn’t that great (there’s barely any space on the sand to lay out a towel) so I walked 45 minutes north to Punta Esmeralda. The beach here is so much nicer than the one in downtown Playa.
The coolest thing about Punta Esmeralda is the cenote located right on the beach, with its crystal-clear water flowing straight into the ocean.
My original plan for the day was to find a spot to lay out my towel, go for a quick dip in the sea, then spend the day lying lazily on the sand. However, the beach in this part of town was so nice that it was just begging to be explored further, so I kept walking along the shoreline, keeping the water on my right. I kept telling myself that if I didn’t stop and find a place to lay out my towel soon, I wasn’t going to have any time for lazing on the beach. But I couldn’t bring myself to stop walking, since the scenery was so beautiful and each section of the beach was so different from the one before it. I ended up walking about two kilometres along the shore, bare feet in the water, before deciding to turn around and head back.
When I got back to Punta Esmeralda, I finally took the quick swim that I had been meaning to take. The water was so cool and refreshing, and the ocean floor as I waded in was smooth and sandy with hardly any rocks. Best of all, there was no seaweed! (I was very happy about that last point, after my unpleasant experience at the beach in Tulum.)
I had spent so much time walking along the beach that I didn’t have any time to lie down on the sand after I came out of the water. So I dried myself off, put my dress back on, and started walking back to my hostel.
I walked to and from Punta Esmeralda by way of 5th Avenue, which is Playa’s main pedestrian street. It’s lined with restaurants, boutique stores, artisans, and people selling tours. It was quite entertaining to stroll down this street and take everything in.
What’s more, as you get closer to Punta Esmeralda, you’ll see that 5th Avenue and the streets branching off it are lined with tons of incredible street art.
On my last day in Playa del Carmen, I paid a visit to Akumal Bay, which is located about halfway between Playa and Tulum. Akumal is famous for being home to sea turtles that you can swim and snorkel with. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a single sea turtle during my visit, but I still had a nice day at the beach there.
To get to Akumal, I once again walked to the colectivo station on Calle 2 at Avenida 15 and climbed into a van headed for Tulum. The drive to Akumal took about 30 minutes and cost 40 pesos. When my driver dropped me off, I had to cross the highway and then walk down a path for a few minutes before reaching the entrance to the beach. There I had to pay an entrance fee of 100 pesos to access the beach.
The beach in Akumal is nothing spectacular, but it is nice.
Even though I didn’t see any sea turtles in the water, I did see tons of fish. That is, I only saw one particular kind of fish, but I saw a lot of them. They were white in colour and quite sizeable, probably more than half a foot long and three or four inches tall. The water was so clear that I didn’t need a snorkel to see them. They were swimming all around me, so close that I easily could have reached out and touched them. In fact, a couple of times I even felt one of them hit me with its tail as it swam by. It was pretty cool. I’ve never seen so many fish while swimming in the ocean.
Overall, Playa del Carmen was cool and I had a good time there. Since it’s so close to Tulum, most of the places you will visit on day trips from Playa are the same places that you can easily visit from Tulum. I preferred the vibe in Tulum more than the vibe in Playa (it’s more chill and less touristy), but both places have their charms.
The next and final stop on my Mexico trip is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world: the one-and-only white-sand beach paradise of Cancun!