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Trip Report Unexpectedly Solo in Playa del Carmen

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Hi all! This will be a quick summary of my 5 days in Playa del Carmen (3 net days).

First of all, this trip was supposed to be a milestone-birthday gift for my huband. I wound up going solo, thinking that I would be filing for divorce when I got back home. I only bring this up because I was not at my best throughout this trip and my perceptions might have been tinged by my BAD mood, even so I did not have a single bad experience.

Dates: August 26-30, 2011

Getting there:

I flew into Cancun from Miami. I took some money out the ATM in the airport at a horrible conversion rate and bought a ticket for the ADO bus (116 pesos) in the ground transporation area where the rental cars are. I could have payed $11 USD and done better than with the bank fee. Actually, I could easily have gotten away without pesos throughout the trip.

The ticket seller pointed me to the numbered bus lanes just outside the international terminal. I decided to pre-buy my return ticket also. The ADO bus leaves ~40 minutes and pretty much on schedule from what I saw. It makes a second stop by Terminal 2.

On the way from PDC to CUN the bus makes a short stop in town and then only goes to the National terminal and then one must take the free shuttle to Terminal 3, the interanational one.

It was absolutely easy and cheap to take this bus, unless one comes in at odd hours it would be silly to waste money in a cab or shuttle.

The Hotel:

I stayed in Hotel Illusion due to high recommendations from the LocoGringo website people (I used them to make this reservation). The breakfast is dismal to say the least but the rooms were perfectly clean and spacious. Bathrooms were well lit and comfortable as well.

The hot water was a bit slow to come but once it arrived there was no lack of it. The walls and doors are a bit thin and could get noisy with rowdy neighbours.

The room security might have left some to be desired as it had no deadbolt and the balcony could not be locked. However I did not feel unsafe at any point in this trip.

They have a pretty nice roof top terrace. Their location is great, close to the beach and not directly on 5ta avenida. They had coupons for Wicky's, Mamita's and Mosquito Beach clubs. I was satisfied with the hotel and would be OK staying there again.

The Beach Clubs

Day 1 - Wicky's. The lounge chair and umbrella were covered by the coupon. There were little tables to put one's stuff on. There were not that many people there. The bathrooms are a bit out of the way. The service was great and unobstrusive. Lunch where awesome shrimp tacos. This is the only club where I saw a few topless women, probably because of the low season.

They played American Rock the entiere afternoon and had a live band starting around 4:00PM. It was not bad. The electronica music from the club next door was a bit lout and competed with theirs. Wicky's was certainly the best value to service ratio. I had a few beers and with an excellent shrimp taco lunch it was ~150 pesos.

Day 2 - Mamita's. The weather was bad and it misted rain the entire day. It was not remotely close to the crowd they had in November 2006 when we were last there. Serivce was OK. They played soothing (to me!) electronica throughout the day. Their restrooms are much more comfortable than the other clubs. I had a very watery margarita and a bottle of water for the same ~150 pesos I spent at Wicky's including lunch. They only brought a little table when I ordered.

Day 3 - Mosquito Beach. They had gorgeous black beach beds with comfortable red, orange and yellow pillows with palm trees and big umbrella's in between. They played what I know as Global Chll during the day. I thought it was very pleasant. I took one look at the menu content and prices and headed directly next door to Wicky's for another plate of the fabulous shrimp tacos and the best guacamole I have EVER had. The big umbrellas were a bit difficult to move around with the sun. There is supposedly a minimum charge of $20 USD but I only spent ~$10 in water and a beer. The waiters did not mind that I barely consumed anything, i did tip as if I had.

The Eating:

Day 1 - Tarraya. I was hoping to have the seafood parrillada which had been recommened but the waiter said it was big even for two people. I ordered Calamares a la Mexicana which were not bad but nothing memerable. Please, remember I was not a happy camper. The setting is pretty cool, tables are out in the sand. It was dirt cheap.

Day 2 - Yaxché. I had been in with my husband at their old location and loved their cochinita pibil. They are now in a big, flashy place direcly on Quinta and I think that their food has suffered, again make allowances for the mood. The cochinita was good but not memorable, it was a huge plate though. It was the most expensive meal of that trip at ~$53USD and I'm not sure I would highly recommend it.

Day 3 - Breakfast at La Cueva del Chango. Had a bit of difficulty finding it because the pin on Trip Advisor is a bit off. I was really happy to find it. WOW. Maybe my mood was improving but this place was GOOD. I had huevos Moltuleños and they were delicious. Served with fried ripe plantains, corn tortillas and several sauces. Even the coffee was decent. It was a ton of food and I ate it all. Needless, to say there was no lunch for me. I wanted to go back, but I finally decided to have shrimp tacos for lunch instead. I can't remmeber exactly was the bill was but it was less than $15USD. On top of everything they have a beautiful garden setting. Highly, highly recommended.

Day 3 Dinner - Carboncito's. This day I was on a roll. First, I had the BEST sraightup Margarita EVER. I was very hungry and ordered nachos al pastor as appetizer. They were really good and a meal upon itself. I did not eat more than 30% of it and almost cancelled the entree. Boy, was I happy that I did not. I had a great Arrachera (skirt steak) with beautifully caramelized nopales (cactus) and onion shoots. There was not a crumb left on the plate. Their pepita sauce was also outstanding. It was about $18USD. This place is a good deal.

Day 4 - Carboncito's. I went back after wandering aimlessly around Quinta looking for something enticing to eat. The waiter recommended mixed fajitas (shrimp and arrachera) and they were really good. Not up to par with the previous night's steak but still good enough to order again.

The Bars:

I will go out and say it: Playa del Carmen is not for wine drinkers. It is certainly available but you will pay for it. If you like mixed drinks and beer, great deals can be had. Aside from having a beer at the beach and a Margarita once in a while, I'm a wine drinker and I was not in the mood to sit in a noisy bar either. So, being solo and not wanting idle bar conversation either, finding a place to sit down and people watch with a glass of wine was a bit of stretch.

I liked Fusion for a before and after dinner drink. Wine was 'reasonably' priced at ~$8USD per glass and they had a decent selection. They had diffrent live music every night and comfortable side bars where one can sit out of the way and watch the people and the band. I turned this place into my hangout. Could have done without the nightly Belly Dance show (my sister is a professional belly dancer so my standards are high!)
I stayed once for the Fire Show and liked it very much.

I went two times to have a glass of wine by Parrilla Sur, much more interesting people watching in Quinta Avenida. I also sat at Boston Grill, glass of house wine was $13USD. No, thank you. Back to Fusion it was.

On Being Solo:

I have a pretty good 'danger radar' and I felt perfectly safe all the time I was in PDC.

I must say that everyone was very respectful in a most welcoming way. I bet that my demeanor was not encouraging, but I was not approached in any of the places for unsolicited company. You should know what I mean. This was a good thing as I probably would have clawed their eyes out.

There were very few solo travelers in Playa, I don't know if it was because of the low season or if it just not a big solo destination. But, then again, it would not have been my choice for a solo trip either. However, now that I have done it, I would not hesitate to recommend it as a recoup place.

Bottomline, even as miserable as I was during this trip, I think that Playa del Carmen is still an excellent, budget friendly, welcoming, highly recommended destination.

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