Playa del Carmen – high heals, enormous resorts and gorgeous beaches.
Playa del Carmen and some weird things about it
We arrived in the main “ADO turistica” station, which is situated at the beginning of the pedestrian 5th Avenue. Everything around is filled with restaurants, shops and countless drunk tourists. There are less casinos in Las Vegas than ATMs here – literally every 2 meters. We decide to try and get some money. After a bit of debating how much pesos to take, we are greeted with an enormous withdrawal fee of almost 90 pesos (~4€) (the highest so far)! No way, we’ll look for a normal bank!
Important! If you don’t want to be ripped off, always use the “normal” banks (HSBC, Santander, Bankomer – in this very same order). The withdrawal fee and exchange rate are always better. The fee is around 1-2 euro per withdraw.
Important! In Playa del Carmen there are two ADO stations – turistica, which is near the tourist center and alterna, which is near the “real” town. It’s around 15 min walk between them. A taxi would rip you off with at least 100 pesos (~ 4,50€). Keep it in mind when you book accommodation and buy tickets.
Where to stay in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
We pre-booked a small room with a guy called Cesar and it’s a bit further in town, away from all of the flashy resorts and all of the tourists drinking one tequila shot after another in fancy bars. Staying in the real town is way, way better in my opinion. Also, it’s quite close to the second bus station the “ADO alterna”. I make a mental note that we need to escape this place from this station and soon!
Our host Cesar meets us on the street and shows us the room. It’s quite simple but really clean, with small yard facing the street. He is an Italian guy who moved in Playa a year ago. Denny speaks something between Spanish and Italian with him and they even seem to understand each other. With a big relief, we finally leave the heavy backpacks. It’s high time for a beer!
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Where to try some real mexican spicy aka ‘pica’
Refreshed after finishing the beers, Denny insists on finding a nice, quiet bar and have a cocktail after the long bus ride. I question the part with “quiet nice bar” from what we saw so far but off we go! The grumbling of our tummies reminds us that we haven’t eaten since this morning. Luckily on the way we pass by a really deliciously looking taco stand. Me, against the owner warning that this particular add on is very spicy, decide to put 3 drops on my taco. Mistake! Big hot mistake!!! Count to 10! 1, 2, 3… 5 hmm, I think I even like it!Can I have few more drops, please?
Important! Following the advice of a friend, I start realizing that the “Central American” spicy has nothing to do with “Asian” spicy. It doesn’t burn your stomach or spin your head. It is actually very tasty and I appreciate it with every bite. Even if you are not a big fan of spicy, like me, I definitely recommend you to try it!
In the late hours you can relax only at the beach
The mission we have in hand is quite difficult. After walking for quite some time and unable to find a bar that doesn’t have a dress code and bouncers with shiny shoes, we grab a beer from the biggest souvenir shop that I have ever seen.
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Off to the beach. The only dry place you can sit on there is in front of the resorts – on their sun beds. After a while a security guard comes to check if we have bracelets from the resort. Of course we don’t, isn’t it obvious!? Denny manages to convince him to let us stay for a little longer and finish the beers. We don’t want to stay much more – it’s not the most pleasant experience anyways. It’s windy and it’s loud from all of the establishments around. By now I hate the place.
If you don’t consider this, the beach itself is nice – long stretch of white sand and clear blue water. The main problem is that the south part is occupied by the resorts so either you need to be a guest to take advantage of the umbrellas or lay directly on the sand. I read somewhere that there is a public part but we didn’t manage to go there.
So far not a single place we were staying at was quiet and this is not an exception. The street next to the apartment is a bit loud but comparing it to the bar in Holbox, it’s like a lullaby.
Where NOT to have breakfast in Playa del Carmen
The next day is grey and rainy, just like my mood. Did I mention that I hate this place? Even being grumpy, we need to eat, so we go out for breakfast and find something acceptable across the street from the most famous club/varietie Coco Bongo. They offer cheap fried egg breakfast and nice coffee. It seems that nothing can go wrong, you might think. Well, think twice! The eggs arrive covered with something green and something red. Apparently, it’s green tomato sauce and a red one. Not exactly my taste but why should I be surprised!? Everything here is horrible, why not having a bad breakfast too!?
If you love shopping, Playa del Carmen is a paradice on Earth for you
The next couple of hours are for exploring. There should be something nice here. The city is quite different than in night time – not so many people on the main pedestrian street. Restaurant workers are swiping the floors, slowly opening the restaurants and getting ready for the next crazy night. But other than this, it all still feels like a fancy place. Let me paint you a picture: imagine 2 Victoria Secret stores 500m apart and 2 big shopping malls even closer to each other. I even counted 3 Starbucks. All of this just on 5th Avenue – the hot spot in town for all tourists.
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Where is the nicest bar in Playa del Carmen
The weather is still grey, so what can we do on a rainy day in such a place? Shopping? No! Find a bar! It’s still early, so on the streets and in the bars and restaurants is quieter. We walk for a while and find our place – La Finísima Caguamería de Esquina. Great! The clock shows 13:30h.. Denny takes me by surprise and orders whiskey! Desperate times call for desperate measures. I feel it’s a bit too early for whiskey, so Mojito it is. Finally something nice – it’s just the two of us, it’s quiet and relaxing! The next order this time is two whiskeys. This continues for the next 4 hours.
The place starts to fill up with people and a band arrives. Everything feels better with whiskey, so we enjoy the atmosphere for a while. But I can’t drink anymore! We somehow must go back to the apartment! Denny thinks we should finally have lunch so we stop by a quesadilla place (quesadilla is a taco with the size of a pancake, with melted cheese on top of the meat and different sauces). I can’t go into details because I don’t remember much. For the record: Denny says they were good. It’s 7pm but it doesn’t matter. Off to bed.
Last morning! Yey! I can’t wait to leave. We pack once again and are ready for the next destination – Tulum.
Where to try some great and cheap local food near ADO alterna
Even if we want to go as soon as possible, there are still couple of hours to kill, so we decide to sit in a restaurant next to the bus station and grab some food. Unfortunately, it’s sea food place. Even Denny can’t eat sea food for breakfast. The waitress sends us to another place – a street away, which apparently is great and has what we need.
The people working there are sweet and friendly, just like most of the Mexican people. We start chatting with the waitress and suddenly she surprises us with her knowledge about Bulgarian folk music. She is a Goran Bregovic’s fan and talks with excitement about how good the singers in his orchestra are. For those of you who don’t know, they all are Bulgarian singers with exceptional voices. It’s quite spectacular.
A lemonade in Mexico is actually a limeonade with mint and crushed ice. Mmm! I have a new favorite drink! It’s not sweet at all, so Denny is not really impressed. Half of a sugar jar in her glass later, she is happy too.
Important! If you go to Playa del Carmen definitely stop by this place. Unfortunately, it’s not on Google and I don’t remember the name but it’s diagonally from the “ADO alterna” station and has a huge graffiti on the wall. The omelette is amazing and the blue tortilla is quite interesting.
It’s almost time for the bus but it’s pouring rain outside. People are hiding from the heavy tropical rain and no one is walking on the streets. But we really need to go! Time to use the rain jackets!
Important! Invest in a good rain and windproof jacket. It can gets chilly even in the dry season. Some of the most beautiful places in Central America are up in the hills or simply in windy places.
Important! Always keep the rain cover on your backpack. If it rains, and this happens quite often, your belongings will be dry. It is also a protection from robbers. Additional bonus is that it keeps your backpack clean when you travel and leave it in the dirty luggage compartments in boats, buses and planes.
How to get from Playa del Carmen to Tulum
Less than 20 meters to the station and already completely wet, we realize that we bought ADO “connect” tickets. It is a minivan, which actually is not small at all and on this particular trip is almost empty, so I recommend it. The driver, of course, is drifting, I mean – driving, as a lunatic but better than the stories that I heard with the collectivos.
Important! There are multiple options to get to Tulum. One is a collectivo from 2nd Avenue and the other is ADO bus. After my research, we realize that the ADO is the same price and it’s more reliable, also the station is closer to us, so we opt for the bus.
Even with the heavy rain, we feel excited and relieved! Finally going away from this place!
Next stop on our Lazy Road Trip Central America – Tulum, Mexico!