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Trip Report Playa Del Carmen Trip report - Mahekal -July 2012

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Playa Del Carmen fits nicely into our recipe for a perfect vacation which includes small boutique resorts, beautiful beaches, fun nightlife and a variety of interesting restaurants and stores. Fifth Avenue or La Quinta is the lively main road that runs through the town. La Quinta has a variety of restaurants and nightlife to satisfy all tastes. It’s fun to eat in one of the second floor restaurants on La Quinta and watch all the activity on the avenida.

The hotel

Mahekal is a small boutique resort with unique rooms and personalized service. We had the pleasure of staying at Mahekal from 7/12/12 to 7/23/12 in room number 35 Playa which is an oceanfront room with a large palapa style roof that stands alone. We could step directly onto the beach from our front porch. It was paradise. The grounds at Mahekal are well maintained by the staff. They have tropical bushes and flowers all along the walkways. There was a croton plant that we passed on our walk to breakfast each day. They have small purple flowers that are the perfect splash of color for planting beds. Every day it was a pleasure to walk along the paths and see the foliage.

It was a wonderful splurge to stay in our beachfront room. We enjoyed falling asleep to the lullaby of the ocean every night. There was constant activity during the day since our room was so close to the beach access road but it really didn’t bother us. The bathrooms have pretty colorful Mexican sinks and tiles which are much warmer than the sterile modern steel ones that are popular now. They use Yucatan Herbal products which included an organic chocolate soap that I loved! I took two of them home. The maid left two small complementary bottles of water every day in the room. We forgot and used the tap water to brush our teeth a few times but didn’t have any problems.

Mahekal is spread out in a few sections – Caribe, Adventura and Playa. They have two restaurants called La Loma and Adentura which are open air and have high palapa roofs. When we first arrived, the La Loma restaurant was closed but it opened up half way through our stay. The Adentura Restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch. They had windows that closed on the sides in the Adentura restaurant which helped keep out the birds. They also have a Casa Club bar with ping pong and pool tables near the front entrance. Casa Club has a nightly happy hour from 5-6 PM which we only made twice. A few days we were still on the beach at that time.

Rogelio is their beach waiter and was a genuinely friendly nice person who we enjoyed talking to every day. He is an asset to the resort. We spent many days lying on the beach ordering dos mas, por favor. The majority of the staff were wonderful, friendly people.
Breakfast and either lunch or dinner are included in the room rate. We enjoyed the breakfast buffet which included fruit, yoghurt, juices, hash browns, sausage, bread items and a Mexican breakfast specialty that I think were called chilaquiles. It was a treat. In addition to the buffet we could also choose a specialty cooked item from a menu that included a variety of Mexican egg dishes, omelets, French toast or pancakes. Their huevos rancheros and the French toast were stand outs on the breakfast menu. I thought that their decaf coffee was a little too strong but my husband liked the regular coffee.

Eating dinner at the resort for the first day of our vacation is a tradition that we have. We usually take the first flight out which means that we have to get up before the crack of dawn, so we’re usually tired by dinner. They had a Mayan buffet that had a delicious pork dish on our first day. Mahekal has a Mexican Fiesta every Sunday night where they have a Mariachi band playing. We planned our vacation to include two Sundays so we could go to their fiesta twice because I love Mariarchi music. I have a few songs that routinely request which include Guantanamara, Mexico Lindo and Pavido Navido.

Mahekal has outside tables near the pool that have a great view of the ocean and are perfect for lunch. I loved their ceviche and their nachos with a side of pico de gallo. Rogelio will also deliver lunch to your beach chairs if you choose. The two times that we ate lunch at the resort we needed to notify the front desk before we ate that we were switching out dinner for lunch for billing purposes.

The front desk area has a large palapa ceiling with long peanut shaped hanging lights. They have a lending library, an excursion desk and a computer station along with free wifi in the lobby. The front desk worker gave us a friendly reception at check in.

On the beach we saw a local man selling a type of beef patty/empanada. He had an aquarium on his head and yelled out “Kibbis, Kibbis” which we thought sounded like “Seebidge, Seebidge”. I guess my hearing is going! We were so curious that we bought two on our last day and they were great. They reminded me of Jamaican beef patties with pickled onions on top. He asked if I wanted pollo or carne. I chose carne which is beef. We both liked them and probably would have bought them for lunch again if we would have tasted them earlier than on our last full day.

We walked down the beach one day from Mahekal towards downtown Playa. This is something that we like to do on vacation for exercise and to familiarize ourselves with the area. It was nice to see some of the other resorts up close. I recognized many of them from my research before the trip. After our beach walk I came to the conclusion that the beach at Mahekal and its next door neighbor Las Palapas have the the best beach in the area. It’s a wide beach which we love. Some people don’t like that local people put their towels and chairs on the beach in front of the hotel’s palapas, but it didn’t bother us. The hotel staff said that the children just got out of school for the summer so that’s probably why there were so many locals on the beach.

I had been considering staying in the downtown area and looked extensively at Playa Maya, Alahambra and Playa Palms. The beach chairs are much more crowded at these resorts. The water actually looked brown in the area in front of Playa Palms. They also had many more boats in the water which obstructed the view. We made the right choice with Mahekal.

to be continued...

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    Thanks for the report. I recommend the Mahekal a lot even though we have not stayed there. I much prefer a full all inclusive, TV's in the room and closer to 5th Avenue. How far was the walk from the hotel to 5th Avenue?

    We have stayed at Playa Palms. I don't recommend as they do not have a restaurant/bar on site and there are boats tied up on the beach. Not a good place to swim. Other than that, the hotel is decent and the location to 5th Avenue is perfect. We had a very hard time finding places that served breakfast, which was annoying. I much preferred the food at the Royal Playa del Carmen and the Gran Porto Real over what we found on 5th Avenue.

    Looking forward to the remainder of your report.

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    Hi KVR. It was about a block and a half to the corner of 5th Avenue and 38th Street. We took a taxi down to about 2nd Steet and walked all the way back one day. We had lunch downtown and walked/shopped on our way back. It wasn't a difficult walk but it wasn't too expensive to get a taxi downtown so we did that for our dinners.

    Mahekal was more rustic than the places we usually stay, but that is part of their charm. It would have been nice to have a phone at times. The lack of a phone in the room just made us walk to the front desk if we had a question or a problem. I think my husband missed the TV more than I did. We just spent more time on our front porch enjoying the beautiful view.

    I'm still working on the rest of the report that includes shopping, restaurants and activities.

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    Shopping

    La Quinta is the main avenue in Playa. La Quinta has a lively atmosphere with shops that sell typical souvenirs but you can also find some unique items. I had so much fun walking up and down La Quinta shopping and buying way too many things. I bought a gorgeous purse made from small coconut shells that have a swirly design on them. We also bought T-shirts, Christmas ornaments, chocolate and some Mexican vanilla.

    My parent’s birthdays are in late July and I wanted to buy their birthday presents in Mexico. I found a store close to Mahekal that sells homemade leather items. We bought a leather purse for my Mom and a wallet for both my Dad and my husband. I found a cheaper leather purse for me in one of the bigger stores but it’s already getting worn. I’ve had an ongoing fascination with small wooden colorful carved bobblehead animals that are sold at several islands we’ve visited. I have a whole zoo of them at my desk at work. This time I bought a bunny rabbit and a small fish.

    There is a great store on Fourth Street, across from Carboncitos restaurant, which sells jellyfish lights. The jellyfish lights are made from round hallowed out inedible gourds that are decorated with multicolored stained glass and symbolic etching. I couldn’t resist buying one. Ours has iguanas and stars on it. They remind us of items made from Calabash in Grenada. The store packed up tour light and I put it in my checked luggage but unfortunately it got a small crack in it on the way home. It’s still usable but I wish we would have carried it on the plane ride home which we didn’t do because of my next unique purchase.

    Packing too much is a common malady for the females in my family. My aunt and my mother started it and I am carrying on the tradition, literally this time. I didn’t pack the kitchen sink, but I did bring home a bathroom sink. I also couldn’t resist buying a beautiful colorful mosaic Mexican sink bowl. We’ve had these in several of our hotel rooms over the years and I always commented to my husband how much I liked them. I saw them in a few of the Playa stores and when I found one that would work well in our house I had to get it. When I called home to my Mom, I told her that we bought a sink. She said, “You bought what?” I told her again, “We bought a sink. She laughed and said, “Okay. What’s a sink?” She thought I was talking about some type of Mexican item. This peaked her curiosity and she actually came along with my Dad to the airport to pick us up after our 10:30 PM arrival. My poor husband had to pack the sink in his carry-on bag. He said it wasn’t too heavy since it was a small one. I’m happy to report that the sink made it home safely with no chips.

    Playa is a very casual and very hot place in the summer. My husband packed three pairs of long pants along with the pair that he wore on the plane. In the past when we’ve gone to Barbados and Grenada he didn’t bring enough long pants but in Playa he really didn’t need them. Alux is a restaurant where you want to dress up, but for all of the other places, nice shorts and polo tops are fine.


    Restaurants

    Mahekal has dinner included in its price but that didn’t prevent us from trying other restaurants in Playa. I always look around and have a long list of restaurants that I want to try on vacation.

    Origines, which is only a block away from Mahekal, is an open air restaurant that has music most nights. We love to listen to music on vacation and we were excited to hear that they had a guitar duo playing. We had fun trying to guess the tunes since they sung them all in Spanish. We recognized a few Beatles songs and a tune from one of my salsa type exercise tapes. When we were getting ready to leave, they started playing Piano Man in Spanish. Billy Joel is my all time favorite so we stayed for the song. It was a great start to the vacation! We tried the baby shark tostada appetizer, a paella special and a squid dish. We finished with a chocolate melting dessert that was decadent.

    Carboncitos came up in my research as a favorite stop for many travelers. Their famous wheel of salsa (properly said in the “wheel of fortune” style) was fun and tasty. We both like spicy food but their red salsa was a little too caliente for us. My husband sampled a tiny bit of it but I wasn’t as brave. I enjoyed their smoky poblano, the pico gallo and their cool green avocado salsas. Carboncitos tacos al pastor were flavorful, juicy and delicious. They gave us free shots that tasted like sambuca which was much better than tequila to end the meal.

    My husband and I respectfully disagree on the tacos al pastor in Playa. I felt that the best ones hands down were served at Carboncitos, but he liked the ones at El Fogon better. I think we need to go back to Playa to resolve the issue.

    When we left Carbocitos, we saw a marimba player on the second floor of Los Rancheros as we walked by and I wanted to return to see him play. Later in the vacation we went to Los Rancheros and even though the marimba player wasn’t there, we stayed for dinner. They had a mariarchi band play for a while and they had a roaming photographer that took our picture which delighted us to no end. From all three of our Cancun vacations we have souvenir pictures of us in sombreros hanging on our vacation collage wall in our house. We are very corny and wanted to continue the tradition. A drunken customer, who I mistakenly thought worked there, stopped by our table to chat. It was odd and I tried to redirect him to leave. We had an interesting if not confusing chit chat with him. We went on the Playa crawl that night so we couldn’t take the sombrero picture with us. They had printed it out by the time we were finished dinner and agreed to hold it for us until the next day. The food at Los Rancheros paled in comparison to the other places we dined in Playa and was more expensive than all of them except Alux. I wouldn’t return to Los Rancheros unless the marimba player was there and that is only because I can’t resist live music.

    The next night we dined at La Mission downtown before picking up the picture. I really enjoyed our dining experience at La Mission. They give their customers a complementary lime soup and pico de gallo with nachos which we didn’t realize that they would do. We had ordered an appetizer of shrimp ceviche along with our two lobster meals. We were happily stuffed after our dinner and ready to walk some of it off meandering our way back on La Quinta to Mahekal while shopping and having fun.

    Alux was our big romantic dinner of the vacation. Alux is restaurant built into a cave. They have stalactites and stalagmites respectively coming down from the ceiling and up from the floor. Don’t tell me that I didn’t learn anything in high school science class!

    We typically like similar dishes when we dine out. At Alux we were both deciding between the same two choices so my husband had the cenote duck dish and I had the cacao lobster. They gave us a free spicy salsa dip with nachos and we ordered an octopus and shrimp ceviche appetizer. I hadn’t really liked ceviche before this trip but it’s now my new favorite.

    El Fogon is an affordable place to eat with local flare. They have three restaurants in Playa and we ate at the larger one near Walmart. They have two floors but we decided to stay on the first floor and listened to a gentleman serenading people with his guitar. My husband liked their tacos al pastor the best from the trip but I think he is mistaken.

    Baremar is another restaurant close to our hotel. I was excited to try their squid ink pasta dish with shrimp and clams. There is a restaurant in New York that we like that makes squid ink pasta that is to die for and I was hoping for the same here. It was very good but it didn’t quite meet my expectations. My husband had their special of the day which was grouper and enjoyed it. We shared a delicious spicy octopus appetizer that was a stand out dish of the vacation.

    On our second to last night we ate at Kool Fish which is a small place close to the hotel. I had a shrimp dish that had a special Mayan sauce on it. The Mayan sauce would have worked better a piece of fish. I felt that the shrimp were too small to be able to properly taste the unique sauce.

    My husband has been obsessed with pistachio gelato since our 1999 trip to Italy. He had a pistachio gelato near the Trevi fountain that he contends is the best in the world. Now whenever we see a gelateria, we have to stop and try the pistachio gelato for comparison purposes. He said it was good but didn’t think it came close to the consistency or flavor of the gelato in Italy.

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    Congrats on buying a sink! I have seem them and always wanted one, but don't have a place to actually use it in my home.

    I have to agree with you regarding Los Rancheros. We didn't care for it either. We wanted to try the Alux, but was concerned about it's location. How did you get there? Taxi? How much was the fare? Something I will do for sure next trip.

    I also have a collage picture wall in our home office as well as a shelf of those tourist frames with the name of the destination on it. I'm running out of room.

    Great report. I enjoyed reminiscing. Did ya'll do any activities, excursions or tours?

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    Hi KVR. We took a taxi to and from Alux. It wasn't as far as we thought it would be. I don't remember what the cost was but it didn't shock us. When we were in Barbados the taxi prices were outrageous. It was nothing like that. It was a reasonable price and there were plenty of taxis hanging around outside to take us back to the hotel.

    The sink is being stored in our basement. It will probably take us a while to figure out how to fit it in to our half bath downstairs. We did some activities which will be the next section of the trip report. Thank you for reading.

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    When you have time, do you mind talking with me about Barbados? We are trying to go December, 2013. My email is in my profile.

    Looking forward to the rest of this report.

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    continued ...

    Activities

    Tulum

    My husband likes to see cultural sites and he wanted to go to Tulum on our 2007 Cancun vacation but we didn’t make it there. Since Playa is much closer to Tulum, I knew that we had to go on this trip. We booked with the tour counter at Mahekal and paid $130 for a private trip to Tulum with the taxi driver, Elil.

    The Tulum ruins are much smaller than Chichen Itza and it didn’t take us very long to walk around them. It was hot day and there wasn’t too much shade to be found so many people cooled off in the ocean. Tulum is set up on a cliff from a beach and many people walked down the steps into the water to swim. We opted not to bring our suits so we just walked around the ruins, took pictures and paid to have a guide explain the sites to us. Elil took us to a small restaurant in Tulum that had Pollo in its name where we ate chicken with a delicious twice baked potato with manchego cheese.

    Playacrawl

    Playacrawl is a company that arranges groups of people to go on a bar tour of 3 -4 nightclubs in downtown Playa. They handle the cover charge and alcohol is included. I read about it and thought it sounded fun. We like to dance and drink so I thought it would be a good fit.

    I had some difficulty getting the confirmation on where to meet. I think it was an e-mail miscommunication problem, so we called the representative when we were in Playa and he told us to meet him at the bar Ula Ula. We were the only ones there and he walked us to the rooftop bar at the hostel where they usually meet for the first stop on the crawl.

    We had a small but nice group of people with us. There were two younger women and a couple from Ireland in our group. Later another couple met up us. We talked with the people from Ireland and they lived in Dublin but were from a small village in County Mayo that my mom’s ancestors. It truly is a small world.

    From the rooftop bar we went to a second bar that was on a corner and had banquettes to sit on but I don’t remember the name of it. We could order whatever drinks we wanted at the first three places. The next stop was at the Blue Parrot where we saw fire dancers. This was on my list of things that I wanted to see in Playa and the show was very good but it was difficult to see through the crowd since I'm so short. The music was a lot of techno and new younger music that I wasn’t familiar with. I wish they would do a Playa Crawl for older people with older music that I know.

    Our last stop was at a nightclub called Mandala which was too crowded for me. They had us in an upper area that was somewhat away from the large crowd on the dance floor and we had bottle service which isn't my favorite since most people like to drink different things.

    They had techno music that I just don’t like. I only recognized one song. Ironically it was We Are Young. My husband and I jokingly were singing We Are Old to the song. There was a Queen song from the 70’s that started to play but it ended up just being sampled into another techno song that I didn’t like. We felt old at Mandala and left early. Overall the Playacrawl is a great time if you like the younger techno type of music.

    Random Musing

    We were having drinks at the hotel bar one night towards the end of our stay and heard that the hotel was going to have a guitar combo that night. We were chatting in Spanish with a guy at the bar while waiting for the musicians to start. He was an interesting guy told us that he traveled all over the world and was in Playa to help his friends who were in the band.

    Earlier in the week we had seen a man walking in front of the hotel who had long hair and who was wearing a sarong. We joked that he looked like Jesus. The guy at the bar also had long hair and had a hippie vibe. Eventually one of his friends came over and he needed to go.

    A few minutes later, the band started and our friend from the bar ended up being the singer for the evening. His voice and style sounded like James Taylor. They played both Spanish and English songs. The English ones were from the sixties and seventies. They were fabulous and I wish we could have heard them again.

    Near the end of their set I noticed that they had a tip jar on the ping pong table next to them so I put a tip in it and asked if they knew a Billy Joel song. They looked in their books and couldn’t find one. He asked how long we were staying since they were coming back on Monday and would learn one before that. We were flying out the next morning so that wouldn’t work. They looked in the books and ended up playing Michelle by the Beatles. I was blown away because I didn’t think we exchanged names. I asked our singer friend if we told him our names and he said that he read my karma.

    Getting Home

    We pre arranged USA Transfers for both of our transfers and we were very satisfied with their service. The Cancun airport seemed like it changed since our last trip in 2007. It was much less chaotic this time. We were able to walk outside and easily find the company’s representative without being accosted by offers for transportation. USA transfers had a person wait with us until the minivan came. We reserved a private transport because we don’t like having to waste our precious vacation time by stopping at other resorts along the way.

    US Air in the Cancun airport has computer stations that you have to use to get your return boarding passes before going to the gate for your trip home. After we entered our information in the computer, the screen asked us if we wanted to upgrade to first class for an extra $300 for the both of us. I looked at my husband and we both thought it would be a good idea especially since we needed overhead space to put the carry-on bag with the sink.

    I was disappointed that we didn’t get a meal in first class on this leg. We also upgraded on the way to Cancun and got a nice hot breakfast then. All we were offered this time were items from a pitiful snack basket. We purposefully didn’t eat in the airport on the way back because we upgraded and thought we would have a sandwich on the plane.

    Customs had a long line and our connection was tight so we didn’t have time to buy dinner before our connecting flight. We were famished on our way home and had to stop for fast food at 11 o’clock at night. Que malo! In addition to that, two of our bags didn’t make it to our connecting plane so the airport had to deliver them the next day.


    Conclusion

    I’ve been doing research for a trip to Playa Del Carmen for a while. We’ve been to Cancun a few times but it seemed too large and crowded the last time we went. Playa was the perfect fit for us. I love practicing Spanish on vacation and was looking for a smaller and more relaxing place. Something about Playa kept calling out to me and I’m glad that we went.

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    We loved Tulum and didn't care much for Chichen Itza. Though the ruins are faboulus everything else there deters it. Would love the see Coba next time.

    Have done the bar crawl in Cancun and other places, but not Playa. Glad we didn't now. I agree with you I wouldn't care for the music.

    Thanks for such an extenive and detailed trip report. Glad you had a good time and hope other people who were "afraid" of vactioning in Mexico will read your great report and reconsider. :)

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    travelenthusiast: great report!
    KVR: we are also quite...reluctant to travelling to mexico (we have close friends who are..mexican and work for DHS, and suggested we stay away from mexico at this...time..but we did not specify the particular location to them...maybe we should check with them again on this one :) ). In addition, we'll have to check on total travel times as..travelling from Boston to playa del carmen may be too much with 3 little kids...

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