As I mentioned in my intro, Chad and I are not really “beach people.” We’d rather spend our vacations exploring cool stuff than relaxing the day away with a cold drink in hand (though evenings are good for the cold drink segment). However, for Chad’s folks’ 35th wedding anniversary, they wanted to do a family beach vacation with us to Mexico. So of course we said yes.
I believe they settled on Playa Del Carmen in the Riviera Maya upon recommendations from friends who had done some of the all-inclusive resorts down there. Now, if Chad and I aren’t beach people, we really, really, really aren’t resort people. We’d rather mingle with the locals.
So, I convinced the in-laws the most cost-effective approach would be a two-bedroom condo, and they took my advice. We stayed at a condominium complex called Natz Ti Ha. It was great. Wonderful little pool, steps from the beach, clean and cozy, full kitchen and laundry, blocks from a little corner grocery, really perfect.
Our favorite parts of Playa were the most rustic elements. Our condo was about a block from this fantastic café called LaCueva Del Chango that had great breakfasts including fresh squeezed juice. I got especially obsessed with the chaya juice. The open-air seating covered in vines had a Flinstonian vibe, a feeling I see echoed in its Trip Advisor reviews.
Also on our rustic Playa list – we visited a bar that was literally in a cave. It is called El Alux and it has a restaurant attached as well that we didn’t try. But it was great fun sipping our drinks as we explored various nooks and crannies of the cave, really very romantic and a unique place.
Finally, outside Playa, but a must-do part of any Playa Del Carmen trip, was visiting the Ek Balam ruins, not far from the more famous Chichen Itza. Because it was only partially excavated, there were far less people at this site, and visitors were still aloud to climb the pyramid (this was 5 years ago, but I’ve found several websites indicating this is still the case; Chichen Itza’s pyramid has been off limits for several years). It was really cool to see the much more isolated ruins (and get to climb them), as well as see the excavation in progress. Chichen Itza was good for a tourist trap, but Ek Balam was much, much cooler.
We were very satisfied with our Riviera Maya trip, and my in-laws went back several times without us after that, so they clearly were too. We had to seek out the adventurous off-the-beaten path parts, but doing so was very worthwhile and confirmed its appeal as a vacation destination.