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2 wks in Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen - Part 2 ? Playa Del Carmen with a side trip to Puerto Morelos

2 wks in Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen - Part 2 ? Playa Del Carmen with a side trip to Puerto Morelos

Old May 24th, 2004, 09:55 AM
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2 wks in Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen - Part 2 ? Playa Del Carmen with a side trip to Puerto Morelos

We just returned from a very relaxing two weeks in Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen, Mexico, with side visits to Isla Contoy and Puerto Morelos.

We flew into Cancun and were impressed by all of the recent improvements to the airport and the reduction in the wait for immigration and customs. There is now a uniformed guard who herds the incoming people into customs (as opposed to when they used to just let you wander around wondering where to go). The only negative I found was that the person was a bit TOO short with some of the people he thought were moving too slowly.

Downstairs in customs, they have a more organized method for getting everyone through, and what used to take up to an hour or more took us only 10 or 15 minutes. They now also check your luggage to make sure it matches your claim tickets before they will let you take it.

The same craziness is still found after you clear customs, and it's best to either have transportation pre-arranged or to just run on outside through the gauntlet and get a cab (for 2 people) or a Collectivo van (for a group or if you have a lot of luggage).

We made the mistake of going to the desk one of the information people told us about and had to endure the guy who was just supposed to be getting us a van to the ferry dock at Gran Puerto try to get us to take a time share tour at Avalon while we were on Isla Mujeres. Practice saying "No, gracias" about 100 times before you ever get off the plane in Cancun, and you will be well-equipped to deal with them.

We spent our first week on Isla Mujeres, and took the new fast ferry back over to Gran Puerto in Cancun, where we negotiated a rate of $55.00 for a taxi to take us to Playa del Carmen. (There were plenty of taxis at the ferry, as there are at the airport, and they love to get the trips from Cancun to PDC, but they make more money if they get back quickly to Cancun to get more fares, so expect any trip you take in a taxi from Cancun to PDC to be a hair-raising adventure in speedy travel.)

Before you start thinking that it may be a better idea to get a car at the airport and drive to PDC, I do not recommend doing that. PDC has grown very quickly over the last few years, and there is a serious parking shortage. Plus, driving down 307 from Cancun to PDC is no problem ? wide, well-marked highway in very good repair ? but driving in Playa itself is a nightmare with taxis and scooters and produce trucks flying all over the place, closed streets, one way streets, and NO PLACE to park.

If you would like to get a car and go sightseeing, wait for a couple of days till you get your bearings. Better yet, go on a tour on one of the buses. They leave from town, are big and fancy and have A/C and usually a cooler on board filled with icy bottled water, sodas and beer.

We stayed at Playa Maya again. On the beach, clean and quiet and very reasonably priced. Close to everything and perfectly located just off 5th at 8th. Small but nice pool, good restaurant with a small bar, and extremely friendly and helpful employees. They have beach chairs and umbrellas, and there is good beach service with snacks and drinks. (They are very attentive, so you do not have to wait long for your libations.) The sweet older fellow who does the chairs and umbrellas had our chairs set up every day within just a couple of minutes of our hitting the sand. He learned where we liked to sit, and would start putting them out as soon as he could see us coming down the steps.

Another nice feature we enjoyed at the hotel is that we could have a wine bucket on a stand delivered to us chairside ? we liked the Concha y Toro chardonnay - and we could get a cheese plate and enjoy it under our umbrella in the shade on the beach ? fun.

We found the rooms on the 3rd floor to be much quieter than those on the first floor. We had to move after four nights as we decided to extend our stay, and the 3rd floor room we moved to had much less hall noise. We had stayed on the 2nd floor last year and had no problem.

For meals, there are a lot of new places to sample. For breakfast, we enjoyed Hot! (very good omelettes), 100% Natural ? my favorite! They make a yogurt that they bring with your bread for dipping that is scrumptious. Playa Maya has good breakfasts also ? dh likes the Huevos Mexicana. (Mexican scrambled eggs with peppers ? not spicy ? with black beans ? very good with eggs!)

For lunch, Palapa Hemingway?s has a huge menu with lots of interesting choices and is the perfect choice for the first day?s lunch if you arrive early. We ate so much we had to go back to the hotel and lie down! La Parilla is a must do for lunch or dinner. At 8:30 every night, a huge mariachi band all dressed in their finery plays for awhile in front of the restaurant. They have a delicious mixed kebab there ? yum! The people watching there is unparalled! My absolute favorite for lunch is La Tarraya. It is on the beach, and depending on the season, you might be the only non-locals. They have excellent food at reasonable prices, and the beachfront location is unbeatable. There is a new place for Sushi called Cabalova. It?s on 5th and a bit odd because it?s also kind of a sports bar. It is owned by a friendly Frenchman. We eat sushi a lot and are rather picky about it. This was GOOD sushi and very fresh. A California roll and a tuna roll were more than enough for lunch for two.

For dinner, we really enjoyed Babe?s noodle bar ? really funky and wonderful food. We both had noodle dishes that were awesome. The best dinner was at Media Luna ? I had a Pad Thai that was sensational and dh enjoyed his meal too. Our usual favorite is Casa del Agua, and we ate there twice. The décor is stunning and the service was impeccable, but the food was not quite as good as last year?s two meals. They also stuck a large service charge on the bill without telling us which was rather annoying. Once again, we had a problem with Yaxche. I love the food at Yaxche, and we?ve been quite a few times, but it seems something always happens to interfere with our dining experience. This time it was smokers at the next table on one side, and loud drunks at the next table on the other side. Sheesh! Apasianado had nice ambiance and a good live band, but the food was mediocre.

There are some amazing bars in PDC. Two super nice ones where you can go sport your tan and hang around looking fabu are Frida?s Bar and the bar at Deseo. Frida?s is way cool with the art, the great bartenders, good music and the lighted bar. Deseo has more of a South Beach feel to it, but the movies they show on the side of the hotel are addictive. We sat next to the lighted pool on the roof with a bottle of wine and lounged in their mahogany chairs watching an old Mexican movie with the pool glowing in the dark and watched people walk by on 5th two stories below. Neat. Another MUST SEE place is Alux. It?s a bar/restaurant in A CAVE!!! I cannot even begin to describe it ? it?s truly amazing. It?s about a 2 minute cab drive from the taxi stand down past 100% Natural. We got some drinks and wandered around the cave. (It?s BIG.) We found a room off the main part with a sofa and chairs and just sat there drinking in the natural beauty and the novelty of being in A CAVE! (It?s lighted and there are places to sit.) There is usually live music at Karen?s ? a very good band plays there almost every night.

For shopping, PDC now rivals Cozumel as far as places and quality of shops. (Cancun still wins the prize.) There?s a new mall with some super nice stores (some high end) and lots to choose from in all price ranges. It is up at the end of 5th above the ferry dock.

We have been to the area quite a few times, so we did not do as much sightseeing as usual since we?ve been to all the ruins and the parks, but I?ll be glad to answer any questions about what ruins or parks are best in the area.

One day, we got a taxi up to the town of Puerto Morelos because we had planned to stay there for the final two nights of our trip, but my dh was afraid he would be bored, and he was having such a blast in PDC that he wanted to visit before staying there.

PM is very cute (a little grubby, but endearingly so) and is laid back to the point of being comatose. We really enjoyed our day there, and there is a good choice of places to stay and eat. We had lunch at Pelicano?s and it was super. I would suggest PM only if you are truly looking for a place to get away from it all and don?t need much in the way of glitz and glamour. I was all for staying for a couple of days, but couldn?t talk my husband into it. (Maybe next year!) It is basically a little fishing village with a very nice reef system offshore. I wish we had gone snorkeling, but we elected to begin our tequila consumption a little earlier than usual and decided it best not to. There are boats who will take you out to the reef for $22 for 2 hours, and it is supposed to be very good snorkeling and diving there.

Any questions, just ask!
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Old May 24th, 2004, 10:22 AM
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Diana,
You are so awesome! Now I wish I was back there to try your new suggestions! Did you like Isla Contoy? We had thought about going but we ran out of time. To make you smile, at every point when we we are trying to decide our next place to eat or shop my husband asks "why here?" and I say "Diana says it's great!". Thanks for all of your great information! (=
It is very helpful! (=
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Old May 24th, 2004, 10:35 AM
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Awww, TVL, you are so sweet! quot;>

I can assure you, I've been wrong before, but I have found some really great resources to get lots of info to try to avoid disappointments.

I also forgot to mention www.playadelcarmeninfo.com and www.isla-mujeres.net

What great sites with lots of info - they were both very helpful to me.

I have gotten so much info from other vacationers when I've needed it before a trip. I like to be of help when I can.

Happy travels!
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Old May 24th, 2004, 01:19 PM
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Thanks so much, Diana! It's almost like being there, reading all your interesting details! Thanks for the restaurant reccomendations!
Really appreciate it and enjoyed reading it!
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Old May 31st, 2004, 11:48 PM
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Hi, I will be in Cancun mid June and I was wondering if you liked Isla Contoy. My friends and I were thinking about going there but I read somewhere that it is mostly for bird watching, is this true? What else is there to do?

Thanks,
Angelica
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Old Jun 1st, 2004, 04:02 AM
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We LOVED Isla Contoy, but I would think that would only be the case for people who would really enjoy spending time on a beautiful beach with no jetski's or noise and touring the little nature museum.

I think anyone who needs to be "entertained" would not enjoy it, or people who need to have lots of activity, but it was idyllic for us.

If you think you would like to go there, but not spend all day, find one of the tours that only stays on the island for an hour or two.

It was stunning!
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Old Jun 2nd, 2004, 11:29 AM
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Diana,

You truely are amazing with all the info and insight you provide. I trust your advice and have a few questions for you of where to stay. We are flying into Cancun next spring break (March 16th thru 26th) and so far have decided to stay on Cozumel for a week from the 19th to the 26th. We found a beautiful condo (thanks to the help of a fellow trip advisor poster on Cozumel) just north of town, on the water with great snorkeling.

I am thinking of staying three nights (16th thru 19th) in the PDC area so that it will be easier to do the day trips from that side. We have two kids whose ages will be 11 & 12 who tend to get seasick so I don't want to overdue it with ferry rides back and forth which would happen if we opted to saty in the condo on Cozumel for the entire time. The places the kids would thoroughly enjoy would be Xcaret, and Xel-ha, we will also visit Tulum - we need to see at least one Mayan ruin. We don't even land in Cancun until almost 5:00pm in the evening the first night and after 12 hours of traveling and dealing with a time difference we will probably just have two full days on the mainland. That being said I'm thinking I should stay somewhere that is convenient for these trips. I remember seeing that Xcaret had it's own hotel, normally I wouldn't think this to be a great option but maybe the convience overrides it. I would like to be at these parks when they first open, it sounds like it's a good initial way to avoid massive lines at the first part of the day.

Normally our idea of a vacation is being on a beautiful beach with great views and have a quiant little town like PDC to visit and try out all the restaurants (however if I was to ask the kids they would probably prefer an AL for all the action and probably limitless amount of french fries to be had). Since it will be spring break I'm thinking the quaintness of PDC may be lost in the crowds.

Where do you recommend to stay for convience and comfort? I was looking at Fisherman's Village and those other condos (Xa-mah?)but since we may not spend to much time at the condo to even enjoy the beach maybe I should look at a property that's more convienent to the daytrips. What do you think of the property that is hooked up to Xcaret? Do you have any recommendations? Originally I thought we should rent a car (feels as if you have more control over your timetable)but after reading your post I am having second thoughts.

I look foward to your thought and advice. Thanks, Mariann

P.S. - Also, what do you think of these two daytrips? They seem great for kids.

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Old Jun 2nd, 2004, 03:33 PM
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Thank you SO much Mariann! What a sweet thing to say. quot;)

I think day trips to Xel Ha and Xcaret are good ideas for kids the ages you have, and Tulum is an excellent choice for the ruins because it is easy to get to, set on a stunning stretch of beach with magnificent views, and it is small enough that you can see pretty much all of it without anyone getting bored. (I usually recommend it as a "starter ruin.")

You may also want to check out San Gervasio on Cozumel while you are there if you are really into ruins. It is small, but quite interesting. Make sure to take advantage of one of the guides who will take you through for a small fee.

Playa del Carmen is a good base to go to the places you are thinking of. BUT, PDC is not the small quaint Mexican town it used to be. It is growing very quickly and rivals Coz for shopping and dining.

I do also recommend that you get to any park or ruin you choose as early in the day as possible - especially for Tulum. It gets very hot there and can also get crowded - which takes away from the experience.

There are bus tours you can take to all of these places, BUT be very careful which one you choose. Some of them leave very early in the morning but spend a lot of time driving around picking up people from their hotels and very little time at the attraction.

I think I would suggest PDC for three nights and either renting a car - it's very safe and the road is wide and in excellent repair - or selecting bus tours that go where you want, when you want.

I think the hotel at Xcaret is pretty remote from other things to see and do.

Another good possibility for you is Akumal. It is closer to Tulum (and not too far from Xcaret or Xel Ha) and IS more of a quaint town on a great beach (with the great snorkeling PDC does not have.) There are lots of places to choose from to stay there. Look at locogringo.com to see what you think of the town. A nice selection of places to eat and stay in Akumal (very reasonable priced as well), and we love to whiz around town in our golf carts (fun to rent one and go flying around - bikes are easy too as the place is flat and not too much traffic). There are also some nice AI's there to pick from for activities.

Renting a car is much easier and less of a hassle in Akumal too, as there is plenty of parking, and it's much less hectic. Prices are about the same.

Let me know if you have any more questions...sounds like you are going to have a wonderful trip!
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Old Jun 2nd, 2004, 04:38 PM
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Thanks, I'll check that out. Akumal sounds like it would be a good base, particularly if we are going to spend our time around that area. I'm glad you suggested it, the travel books don't really give a lot of info on this stuff. I've learned so much more by just reading posts from this website. I think I'll skip the al's. The kids would think it was great but I like to get out and explore and take in the culture which includes restaurants. From Cozumel we can take the ferry in to explore PDC, it will be a nice option if we start to get waterlogged. I want to try that cave that you mention which is a bar, hopefully they serve appetizers and shirley temples for the kids. I love unique places.

Thanks a bunch,

Mariann
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Old Jun 2nd, 2004, 05:34 PM
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Diana....Thank you for the great info. We have been to Cancun many times in the past, but this coming Feb will be our first stay near Playa Del Carmen...we won an auction to stay at the Grand Mayan Palace about 15 mins. from Playa Del Carmen. Do you know if there are public buses that run from that area to the town? Thanks
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Old Jun 3rd, 2004, 04:20 AM
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I have never ridden the public bus myself, but I know that there is a very good and inexpensive bus system that runs all up and down highway 307. I'm sure there are regular buses on the route that you are asking about.

I know that you can just stand by 307 and the taxis will stop for you - maybe it is the same way for the bus - I'm not sure. Perhaps someone else will answer this question, or you can check with the hotel?
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Old Jun 3rd, 2004, 04:36 AM
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Diana,

Your information has been extremely helpful...thanks. ...but, I need some more if you don't mind. As you may recall, I'm planning a trip for my family's first visit to PDC. I'm trying to decide if the AI's are the way to go...or the hotel route. My family (wife and 2 kids (12 and 14)) is more on the quiet / moderately active side. l It seems like the prices for all resorts and hotels are very different depending on where you look. Can you refer me to a good room / resort booking source? As far as sightseeing / attractions...can you recommend a good source for those tours/packages as well? Thanks... Ron
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Old Jun 3rd, 2004, 12:37 PM
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Hi Diana,

Hate to bother you again, it seems that you are in great demand.

I was just going to book my two bedroom rental I found in Cozumel when I went over to my timeshare website to cancel a search I had in to make a trade. Too late, they had just confirmed me in a 1 bedroom at the Avalon Reef Resort on the Isla Mujeres for the week in March that I requested. Once a trade is made you can't cancel it so unless I try and resell it myself or give it away at an auction. I'm a little bummed since I finally settled on a place in Cozumel after a lot of research. What do you think of this place? I sort of recalled in your past posts that you like Isla Mujeres. Is the snorkeling as good or at least as close to as good as it is in Cozumel?

Thanks, your opinion is greatly valued.

Mariann
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Old Jun 3rd, 2004, 03:53 PM
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Whew! I just called the exchange company and they let me cancel the exchange and redeposit my week so now I don't feel like I have to go to Isla. Still wouldn't mind your input for future planning. Isla would be nice down the road but for our first trip to this area I think I want to start out with what sounds like the best which is Cozumel.

Thanks,

Mariann
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Old Jun 3rd, 2004, 04:09 PM
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FYI,

The Mayan Palace's website is www.mayanpalace.com , they may help you with the bus info.

We stayed at the Mayan Palace at Nuevo Vallarta. It was nice, the kids really liked the pool and the rooms were very large and clean. All the Mayan Palaces are a lot alike which includes their timeshare sales tactics. I would avoid this at all costs. They invite you to a free breakfast and tour but it's really a timeshare salespitch that will take up half of your entire day. If you haven't done so already you should check out some of the stories on www.tripadvisor.com

Other than that I think you will really enjoy the place.

Mariann
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