Vamos pa’ la playa

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO

Overview

  • When: 25 November – 29 November, 2020
  • Where (accommodations): Petit Lafitte hotel, Playa del Carmen
  • Transportation: JetBlue airlines flight from Boston to Cancun, MX. Rental car with Firefly.
  • Sights/attractions: Akumal Beach, Puerto Aventuras Beach, La Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos Lighthouse, Cenote Verde Lucero
  • Food/drinks: The Divot (Puerto Aventuras), Mar-Bella Fish Market (Puerto Morelos)

This mini adventure during Thanksgiving weekend was our second international trip during the pandemic. We have debated whether it’s a good idea to take a flight for a long weekend during these uncertain times, but finally decided to take a risk. As always, we made sure to take a COVID-19 test upon return, so that we do not put anyone in danger in case we were sick without symptoms. I am happy to report our results came back negative.

The idea to go to Playa del Carmen was not a spontaneous decision. I have a close friend Vilma (we studied in the same university in Lithuania), who lives in Mexico with her most adorable little daughter Mia. We have been planning to visit them for a while. When the pandemic hit, travel to Mexico was not an option, but since the situation somewhat improved and hotels reopened, we decided to use the Thanksgiving break to visit the girls and spend some time in the sun.

We were working around a 2 yr old’s nap schedule, so we did not plan too many activities, but still managed to sightsee and have some relaxing time as well. I will share our mini adventure, in case anyone is interested in a long weekend getaway in Cancun/Playa del Carmen area.

If there are direct flights from Boston, the flight is only around four hours long! Initially we had a direct flight to Cancun, but a couple of days before the trip JetBlue cancelled all direct flights for a whole week before Thanksgiving and we were forced to take a layover in Tampa, FL. Besides having to be up at 3am to make a 6am flight, it was not bad at all. The flight back to Boston was direct and took only 3.5 hours!

PETIT LAFITTE HOTEL

There are SO many accommodation options that it was an overwhelming decision to make. I am not sure how I came across Petit Lafitte, but I am forever grateful I did. Located around 40 min drive away from Cancun airport and only 15 min away from my friend’s place in Playa del Carmen, this hotel is a true gem that we can’t wait to go stay at again. Don’t get scared of a bumpy driveway leading up to hotel- it’s worth it!

It checked off all the boxes and more- kids friendly (some of the hotels in the area are adults only), right near the beach, has a pool, not a huge property overcrowded with people (key in COVID-19 times). What makes it so unique is that you can choose to stay in a standard room or get your own beach bungalow! That reminded us of French Polynesia and was the ultimate reason why we picked this place.

We stayed in #1- the first bungalow closest to the ocean and loved every minute of it. Three out of four mornings there I woke up to watch the sunrise- it comes out of the ocean literally right in front of the bungalow.

I was doing my morning workouts on the deck (with a mini workout buddy joining me on one of the mornings).

We had breakfast either on the patio right near the water or in the restaurant behind the pool (also outside). And it would be criminal to not mention that the stay includes not only breakfast, but also a four course dinner! Chef prepared different meals every night and every single one of them was AMAZING!

On Thanksgiving, they had a fire pit in the sand and a live singer entertaining the guests in the beautifully lit beachfront area. It was magical.

We spent the first afternoon relaxing, Vilma and Mia joined us for one of the days. Even though it’s not one of those massive hotels with endless entertainment, we never felt bored.

The sand is super soft, so it was perfect for playing. They have beach chairs/beds/umbrellas free to use. If you want to have lunch/drinks right at the beach- the friendly staff is there to serve you. To swim in the ocean you have to walk a few steps to the left side of the hotel- right in front is too rocky to enter. There is a pool, a swing set and a little slide for the kids. On one side of the property there is a beautiful garden and behind the gate they have some exotic birds.

There are signs about not feeding the monkeys and the staff said wild monkeys come to visit, but we tried several different times to find them with no luck. Maybe next time!

Hotel can also arrange massages, which we booked for one of the afternoons. The tables are outside (pretty much in front of our bungalow/beach) and the cost was a fraction of what we’d pay in the USA. It really is a hidden paradise.

DAY TRIPS

Hotel is conveniently located and activities are endless. We rented a car (it’s a must), so decided to explore nearby towns on the few days that we were there. Luckily the weather was great (it was pouring the day we flew home), so we got to enjoy the beach of Akumal, explore Puerto Aventuras and sightsee the charming Puerto Morelos.

AKUMAL

First we arrived at Vilma’s place in Playa del Carmen and got to meet our little travel companion Mia. It was the first time she saw us live (we’ve seen each other on video, but that is not the same) and we were super happy that she was not scared of us. We made friends in no time (maybe some new toys helped a bit 🙂 ).

Akumal is only 30 min drive from Playa del Carmen, so we decided to make that our first stop. Before going to the beach we visited a little shopping market and looked around for local souvenirs at the super cute pink store MexicArte. The store is right near the parking area, so it’s worth a visit, especially if you are looking for some local souvenirs.

The rest of the time in Akumal was spent at the beach. After all, we are here from cold Boston, and have to soak up as much sun as we can! You need to pay $5 per person to access the beach, the ticket booth is right before the entrance.

PUERTO AVENTURAS

Lunch (and the nap time) was approaching, so we headed to Puerto Aventuras– the town between Akumal and Playa del Carmen. We parked at the secured community area with multiple restaurants, dolphinarium and access to the beach. There was no fee to enter and the parking was free as well.

Definitely a pleasant area to walk around, especially with kids!

For lunch we picked a place called The Divot and enjoyed the grilled shrimp, salad and fajitas along with Mexican beer. There even was a local artisans market nearby- it’s held every last Thursday of the month, so we got lucky to happen to be there on this day.

After a good lunch, there was beach/swim time for me and Vilma and nap time for Sean and Mia 🙂 . Everyone got what they wanted!

If I had to choose- Puerto Aventuras beach was nicer than Akumal. The built in rock walls prevent seaweed from coming onto the shore, the water was super clear and calm and sand is soft and white. Only if we had more time to relax here…

PLAYA DEL CARMEN

If there is one place you MUST visit in this beach town is La Quinta Avenida (or the 5th Avenue in English). The main street of Playa del Carmen is almost 4 miles long and goes parallel to the shore. We got there right around sunset and enjoyed the lively stroll. There are MANY restaurants, bars, shops, souvenir stands- just bring your money. Sean even got offered free tequila and weed- clearly a tall white gringo stands out as a tourist 🙂 .

We started our walk from the beautiful white chapel- Capilla de Nta Señora del Carmen and walked for as long as we could before feeling too tired.

It was a bit busy, but we were able to keep social distancing and there were no crowds as I imagine would be pre-COVID times. What I liked about this street was that you could also find art- it was not only cheap imported knick knacks for sale.

This was one full day, especially for the little one. With lots of walking/sun, car rides she handled it really well. We were impressed!

PUERTO MORELOS

On our second morning we picked up our girls again and drove the other direction along the coast. Only half an hour drive from our hotel and 40 min from Cancun Puerto Morelos is well worth a visit. Charming fisherman’s village still has the authentic feel and does not scream resort town. The biggest attraction (at least for me) was the El Faro Inclinado (the Leaning Lighthouse).

Built in 1946 it was hit by a Hurricane Beulah in 1967. The storm affected the foundation and left it crooked as it is still standing now. The new lighthouse was built behind it, but the leaning tower remains as a symbol of resilience and of course adds charm to this shore town. As you can see, it’s very photo friendly 🙂 .

We spent most of the afternoon at the beach to the right of the lighthouse. Mar-Bella Fish Market restaurant let us use their sunbeds as long as we ordered food- it was perfect, we needed lunch anyway!

We played, relaxed, swam in the ocean and simply had a great time.

Before the ride we walked around the center of town for a bit- stopped near the local vendors, checked out the simple but lovely Parroquia San Jose Obrero church and grabbed some ice cream from the shop nearby.

Of course, we had to take an obligatory photo with the Puerto Morelos sign too! These pretty girls like taking pictures for sure! 🙂 .

CENOTE VERDE LUCERO

In my opinion if you are in this area of Mexico you must visit at least one cenote. According to Wikipedia, “A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Especially associated with the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offering.”

I had been to one when I visited Mexico many years ago, but Sean had not seen one, so we decided to take a little drive and check it out. Initially we planned to go to Cenote de 7 Bocas, but after a drive on the unpaved road we ended up at the road closure, so maybe it was damaged by a recent storm and was closed. Luckily the Cenote Verde Lucero was open and we were able to see it. It costs $15 USD per person, but since we were not planning on swimming and only wanted to take a look, they allowed us to come in for 15 dollars total.

I can see how fun it would be to spend an afternoon here- people were cliff jumping, ziplining and falling into the water- it really is a great place to cool off! Some cenotes are deep underground and you can only access them via ladder. Some are in caves- it’s a really unique phenomenon that we might have to explore more on the next visit.

CONCLUSION

This was a very special trip and not our usual ‘see everything, do as much as possible’ adventure. We really enjoyed slowing down, catching up with an old (yet still very young 🙂 ) friend, playing with an adorable toddler and just taking a break from work and cold weather.

Mexico tourism is hurting badly. Everyone is making their own decisions and we are not here to promote travel or risk your health by any means, but if you are able to do so with necessary precautions, Mexico is a wonderful place to visit.

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