Thanksgiving in the US was coming up….. People are excited to spend time with their families and friends again with vaccinations onboard while simultaneously freaking out about spending time with family and friends again and the ever-present impending turkey shortage. My kids were headed down to California with their dad and I had recently found out that my rental house had been sold and was going to be torn down in the not-so-distant future. Stress levels were not what I would call low at that point in time. It just so happened that my guy was conferencing and remote working down in sunny Mexico for the month, so it made perfect sense for my sunshine deprived, overloaded self to head down South for the holiday.
I had made this same holiday trip a few years ago, spending American Thanksgiving in Mexico with a Canadian and found people were really thrown by this. Questions included- “Are you going to make a turkey?”, “Will you eat turkey tacos?”, “Are you going to be able to watch football??” “What about your kids???” Answers included- NO. NO. Are you kidding? And of course, I always miss my kiddos on holidays apart but they are loved and I know I need a vacation! Once we set up some dates, tickets were Seattle were purchased and off I went.
Playa del Carmen is a popular destination but isn’t a direct flight type of trip. Fortunately, there are direct flights from Seattle to Cancun. This flight does cross a large portion of the midwest US and the Gulf of Mexico, so I would highly recommend a window seat if you can swing it. My flight was on a clear day and seeing the contours of the mountain ranges and the clouds over the ocean was a sight to see. I do zone out to movies and books on longer flights but taking in the scenery below and appreciating the fact that we are able to actually FLY is something to feel.
Now when you get to Cancun International, be ready for some airport chaos that you just need to find your zen to get through because it is something you don’t find in the US. I haven’t traveled internationally much so I know there are much crazier places, but I do have to do some deep breathing when I navigate this place. Everyone is friendly though and I followed my fellow US passengers and it all worked out. Outside of the airport can be equally overwhelming but if you have a plan prior to arrival it helps. I did the bus last visit and it got me where I needed to go safely. This time my guy set me up with a reputable driver who was able to find me and get me there much quicker. My Spanish skills are not top notch, so the fact that the driver spoke English was a huge bonus. After roughly 10 hours of travel, I finally arrived in Playa del Carmen!
Where we stayed….
There are plenty of large hotels and resorts in this area, however we stayed a bit off the beaten path of 5th Ave, in a hotel/condo location- IT Hotel Playa. The room was modern and clean. No views to speak of but we did have functional AC. There were 2 rooftop pools, a restaurant and bar. I was very happy spending many hours by the little pool reading and drinking. No complaints whatsoever about the accommodations outside of not having a private balcony and a view from the room, but that is only if I really want to be a princess 😉
What we ate….
There are so many really great restaurants with plenty of international diversity in Playa del Carmen. Though we did have plenty of local Mexican food (you really can’t get enough ceviche, can you??), we also enjoyed cuisine from Argentina, Italy, a steakhouse, and believe it or not, a Nordic fusion place. There is a lot to choose from. Our stomachs did pretty well overall, but I must admit that by the end of the week there was ample time needed to address some unrest that settled in digestively.
Here are a few of the places we had a great time at (in no particular order)…..
El Doctocito- Ceviche and Micheladas. The portions are enormous and even though you think there is no way you can finish what is in front of you, before you know it, it’s gone. The setting is casual and lively. Sometimes, if you time it right, there is a DJ playing. We preferred the older location but the new additional one did the trick.
Trujillo Cantina de Sleva– I had a delicious mackerel dish and cocktails were creative and tasty.
Amate 38– This place had great ambiance under the trees and was on a quieter section off 5th Ave closer to where we were staying. The steak and seafood were great.
500 Gramos Grill- Steaks. That is what to get here. …. A ginormous streak was devoured here. There were other great looking options, but we went with the specialty. The location was also nice with outdoor seating on the same little street off 5th Ave by Trujillo.
Las Olas- This was the nicest restaurant that we went to and it was really great. We had to do a little sweet talking to get into the resort compound and get a table without reservations but it was worth it. The service was fantastic and so was the food. It was nice to get away from the craziness of 5th Ave and enjoy a meal without being hit up to buy roses or bracelets.
Mucho Gusto- This Argentinian restaurant is worth checking out for the food and ambiance. My guy has been a frequent flier here for many years and it consistently has great grilled meats, chimichurri and baked provolone. Service was just ok, but really, that is the norm all around town.
Nordic- This was a surprise to find. The yelp ratings were good so we gave it a go. I tried the octopus and it was good. I can’t say that I loved it but the quality of the food was good and it was creative.
Salento– We enjoyed maybe one of our best meals here of pizza. We ended up coming back one more time during our trip for more Italian food. It was lively and had outdoor seating so it was a nice change of pace from the typical Mexican fare.
Off the Vine- Here is a great little wine bar with tapas by our hotel. It was fun to sit and watch people both inside and outside the restaurant. We ended up chatting up a couple that offered to let us use their RV in the States to tour around…I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a genuine offer but memorable nonetheless.
IT Hotel Playa Restaurant- We had a few breakfasts and drinks in the downstairs restaurant that were reliably good and the service wasn’t terrible. Winning! They had live music in the evening and seeing as how it was Jazz Fest we were able to experience some lovely entertainment with our drinks right before rolling back up to the room.
What we did….
When I spend time in Mexico, I don’t typically have a list of things that I “need” to do or see. It’s usually just a time to break from the routine, get some warmth on my body and relax. This was exactly what happened. COVID had hampered much travel over the past year and it felt so good to move into a different culture, walk around, people watch and feel somewhat normal again. I spent plenty of time at our little rooftop pool and our biggest decisions usually revolved around where we were going to eat or drink next. I typically like to stay active, whether I am at home or on vacation, but I will admit that Mexico has a way of sucking the motivation out of me (thanks to the heat and countless Micheladas!).
We did venture out one evening and had a night at the Coco Bogo and let me tell you, that was quite the experience. First off, it was a bold move in the times of COVID, with very tight quarters, optional masks and lots of people making poor decisions fuelled by cheap drinks. We came out unscathed and it was a fun time. Bachelorette parties, flying trapeze acts and some sort of wind machine that would “surprise” whomever was up dancing on the platform were just some of the things to witness at this bumping night club.
Other fun things to do are: spend a day at one of the multitude of Beach Clubs such as Martina’s & Mamita’s, take a tour of the cenotes (this is super fun, we did it a previous year), take a day cruise out to Cozumel out to snorkel or dive, or shopping at the ample number of shops on 5th Ave.
Visiting Playa del Carmen always serves a nice break from reality and an opportunity to loosen up a bit. It is very touristy and there is a vacation vibe everywhere you go. The sunny weather was a much-needed change from the endless Seattle gray and darkness. I appreciate the go with the flow attitude, but I do welcome the amenities of home (particularly clean water and good plumbing). If you are willing to go the extra distance to get down to Playa, rather than doing the standard Cancun trip, I would highly recommend it!