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Into The Blue: Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Updated: Jun 28, 2022

Don’t know exactly why it took me so long to get to this Mexico beach for a real visit, only know I’m glad I’ve been. After much deliberation on where to stay, we settled on Playa del Carmen, about 45 – 90mins South of Cancun airport, depending on the driver, construction, and how many stops the shared transfer shuttle makes. It helps to know that once you leave home, the world operates on a different clock. So it goes with Mexico.

The ride to Playa was unexpectedly busy and dusty, ranging from brake riding to zooming by slower traffic. Destination: Hilton Playa del Carmen, a much touted, up and coming all inclusive (more on that later), perched on an aquamarine shoreline, a short hop from Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), the local shopping/dining mecca. We put exploration on hold and tumbled into sun splashed lounge chairs watching waves roll in.

Playa is a highly desirable, touristic location, yet more navigable than other more crowded Cancun coastal beach areas. It’s a sweet spot, well situated for further exploration around the Yucatan Peninsula, depending on length of stay. As beach lovers in need of RnR, we just parked ourselves in a cabana the first few days, rising only to eat and take walks down the sand.

About eating… the quaint bistros and luscious restaurants of Quinta Avenida are steps away from the Hilton, Panama Jack and Grand Hyatt resorts. Here you’ll find a plethora of dining possibilities – authentic Mexican, Thai, Argentinian, seafood, all worthy of discovery. Italian populations settled here generations ago, still creating homemade pasta creations that rival Florence. Waiters will beckon you with enticing offers. Have a look, then walk around till you find the right gastronomic match.

We found supremely delicious pho and Asian fusion at Hilton’s own Asiana restaurant, so good we ate there twice.

For the action oriented, there are more activities than time to take part in a weeklong stay. Waterside options include snorkeling, catamaran cruises, deep sea fishing, scuba, jetskis. Day trips to local Mayan ruins, from Chicen Itza to Tulum and beyond, are available from nearly any spot on the peninsula. Advance bookings are a must. Don’t leave without checking out the multitude of cenotes, there are thousands of them from the coast inland to Merida, with new ones routinely poking through concrete, causing sinkholes in roads. There’s an underground network of ceaseless rivers winding their way around the Mayan peninsula.

Where else can you find swimming holes with ropes providing guidance into the semi darkness to swim with turtles and multi colored fish? Ultimately, we hired an excellent private guide (ctc: Barry Mosko, MayaCan Eco Tours on FB) to take us on a custom cenotes tour, starting in Tulum. Breathtaking! Most locations provide life vests for flotation; having swim skills provides a deeper level of enjoyment and spelunking through the underground watery caves. We were then treated to delicious seafood tacos at a local roadside stand – going with a local is the only way to go!

As for all inclusives, too many to name. Recommendations will vary for singles, couples, families, activity levels and vacation style. The Hilton is a relative newcomer, having just taken over The Royal 2 years ago, pre-pandemic. Suffice to say that as with many all inclusives, there are upcharges and urgent promotions for special dinners, top shelf alcohol, poolside cabanas. During current Covid climate, many onsite restaurants rotate operations, meaning there may limited service depending on day of the week and time of day. Upside: with well priced dining/shopping alternatives close by, Hilton offers a picturesque beach location with free beachside cabanas, enormous pool, efficient, friendly staff serving palate pleasing food. 

Cancun remains a highly accessible, desirable beach vacation, served by all major airlines, many with nonstops. Accommodating US tourists, dollars are widely – and eagerly – accepted. Pro tip: pay the extra few dollars to get direct hotel transfers and avoid stopping and dropping off fellow travelers. So worth the cost and time savings!

Next up: Costa Rica!

May your passport tell the story of your life ~ Leenie A.

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