Getting to Playa del Carmen

Photo of me sitting on the edge of the dock, looking into the water.

¡Buenos días! En el blog de hoy, voy a hablar sobre mi viaje a Playa del Carmen en la región de Quintana Roo en México. Translation: Good Morning! In today’s blog, I’m going to talk about my trip to Playa del Carmen in the Quintana Roo region of Mexico. I’d been to Mexico countless times as a child and again as a party-seeking collegiate spring breaker, but never as a full-grown adult. To up the ante, it was my (our) honeymoon and we were going to check one item off my bucket list – spend a glorious week at an all-inclusive resort. Oh what a magical time!

The planning for our April 2018 adventure started back in October of 2017. The best time to book international trips for me always seem to happen at the six-month mark. With Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and final exams back-to-back in the following months, the typical warm-weather crowd is simply not focused on planning. This is where the deals to Mexico happen. A little research told me the busiest time for travel to Mexico happens in the winter months (November – January) for families and spring break (late February to the end of March) for college students. By all means, avoid these times! I went as a college student many years back and let me tell you- if you have kids do NOT. I repeat, do NOT bring your kids to Mexico during these times, unless you want little Johnny and baby Suzie mimicking the gyrations and binge-drinking behaviors of scantily-clad, loose-lipped, genital displaying, no shame feeling, temporary residents. Your call, buddy. Outside of these months, flights and accommodations are some of the most affordable in terms of international destinations in the world. For our direct, round trip flight, week long stay at Secrets Capri, a AAA four-diamond all-inclusive resort, and insurance for two adults cost us a little less than $2,500. Plus, Mexico pretty much stays warm all year (70-90°F) so there really is no reason to skip a visit!

“Is it safe to travel to Mexico, with all of the crazy drug cartel activity, unclean water, and tainted alcohol?”

The main airport, Cancun International (CUN) is a 30-45 minute drive away from Playa del Carmen. From the time the plane landed we had to fill out a declaration form with information about how many bags we had, where we were going, and who we were going to see. I thought it was a bit odd but whatever a country chooses to require of their visitors, so be it. The forms given to us on the plane were only available in Spanish with the English version available before we entered the customs line. This form MUST be filled out in its entirety before choosing a line. Thank you, God, for a few Spanish lessons, Google translate, and a pen.

Photograph of a customs form from Mexico in Spanish.
Hablas espanol? I understood just enough to fill out the majority of the form.

Once completed, the line moves pretty quickly and you’re off to be borderline harassed by a flood people who are cleverly disguised as members of a state board of tourism but in reality are high-pressure sales agents. At first I was caught off guard, as soon as we rounded the corner from customs a team of people wearing matching shirts asked us about our transportation to the resort and offered to show us to the ground transportation terminal. How nice! One person would take you to another and then we were offered a map of the region. Sounds good, right? Wrong! We were seated with other travelers in the area and given a map of where we were, but we were also told about “exclusive specials” for day trips and activities in the region. Upon further inspection, their shirts read something along the lines of “Board of Cultural Tourism in Mexico” with a small line of text underneath, saying “by _____ resort”. These are not members of the official tourism board of Mexico, so RUN AWAY. As politely as possible, I told them we were not interested in their shows and would like to catch our pre-arranged transportation to the resort. “Why?” the rep asked, as he kept trying to feed us information and “cut us deals.” Eventually we had to be rude and just walk away.

As we walked around we found the desk of our transportation vendor, which we booked directly from the resort’s website. Other vendors tried to compete for our business along the way to the van, but we just stayed focused on our route and confident in our decision to purchase round-trip transportation in advance. Our representative introduced us to our driver and off we went. The resorts are all located along a similar strip of land off a highway. Armed police guards with security dogs occupied the median every so often, in search of illegal activity. The driver stopped, explained where we were going, and we were let through without issues. Some other drivers were not so lucky.

The police checks brought up a lingering question people asked us before we left, “Is it safe to travel to Mexico, with all of the crazy drug cartel activity, unclean water, and tainted alcohol?” I have to admit, I didn’t expect to see armed members of the police force with a tent in the middle of the street alongside of treacherous looking speed bumps, checking visitors. I have to admit it was a bit unsettling, especially given the fact that not a month before our honeymoon the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert for Playa del Carmen, urging residents to not travel to the region given the drug cartel’s feud involving two bombs – one set off on a ferry that injured people – and the other that did not explode, causing then to pull the U.S. embassy workers from the area. Then again, a clarification was released that resorts were fine, just no ferries or driving into certain neighborhoods. Honestly the alert almost ruined our trip but, luckily we didn’t have to cancel our honeymoon. I’m thankful that part of trip planning for me involved reading the latest news of the region from different sources. There are fear mongers out there and some are even in your own family; but honestly, if we listened to every fear someone else had about where we were going or what we’re doing then we wouldn’t live life at all. We would have the courage to see amazing places and capture those beautiful places to share with others. This isn’t to say that caution should not be exercised; stay alert and aware of your surroundings at all times. Stay tuned into the news with a discerning ear/eye, look up the local newspaper online, and stay up to date on travel advisories for the area. The U.S. State Department lists travel advisories for every country, so use your resources appropriately. For me, by all means, if the State Department is out – I’m out! If they’re in – I’m in. In this case the advisory was lifted, so we entered. Spoiler alert: we were perfectly fine and felt safe at our resort. No, we did not run into the drug cartel. No, we did not drink tainted water. No the alcohol at our resort was not tainted. If anything, babe got a little bubble guts from eating almost EVERYTHING at the buffet, but that’s a different story, lol.

Needless to say, our resort was stunning and the wait staff – amazing. So amazing, I wrote about it in the Suite Life blog the other week, so I won’t repeat the info. The resort was pure heaven. We chose from seven different restaurants to dine at or we could order room service. The activities were low-key but fun. During our stay we went on a bike tour of the property, entered a rifle shooting competition (they teach you how to shoot), kayaked, and went on a private catamaran tour. Other resort activities include a dance competition, pastry night, Beatles tribute water show, volleyball, and outdoor movie night. Every evening the housekeeping staff left an itinerary for the next day’s activities, including the beach!.

Did you know Playa del Carmen is a white-sand beach? What does that even mean? Simply put, it means the sand is white. This white sand is glorious because it reflects the sun without soaking any of the warmth. Translation: we walked on the beach, barefooted, without feeling a burn. The sand was not an issue, but the seaweed was for the few people that decided to spend time at the beach. The beach felt the effects of lingering seaweed from hurricane Irma and some resort guests preferred to stick to the pool. Whatever floats your boat, I guess, but I could see their point- dried seaweed = sand fleas in some areas. It wasn’t a problem for me because the staff worked day and nights (literally) to clean it up. If anything, those complainers should focus their attention on the sun. It shines brightly and the UV rays are felt, so a little sunblock and bug spray should be applied. After the potential sabotage by the drug cartel, harassment by fake tourism board employees, and long drive, I’m happy to say the beach was incredible and the weather, resort, and people were so friendly. Don’t let anyone scare you out of a fabulous trip to Playa del Carmen!

Perspective photo of me holding a colorful beverage. The beach and cabanas are in the distance.
Me sitting on the white sand beach savoring a non-tainted alcoholic beverage with ice (made from water in Mexico).


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