Planes, Trains, and Automobiles were all necessary to get us to Mexico. Once we arrived it became more like Rickshaws, Colectivos, and Motocars. But I’ll get into that a little later…
It all started with our first Uber ride to the San Diego Amtrak Station, where we boarded a train and spent three hours riding into Los Angeles’ LAX Station (not to be confused with the airport of the same name). There we boarded a FlyAway Bus Shuttle to LAX airport itself, since my original presumption was that the train station, called LAX, was one and the same as the airport LAX. Amateur move. Anyway, we grabbed the hotel shuttle from LAX airport and settled into our hotel for the evening.
The next morning, bright and early, we shuttled back to LAX to prepare for airport security. Did you know that when you travel with kids, you often get to skip the more intensive security and simply pass through a metal detector? See, traveling with kids has its perks!
After spending our life savings on airport food, we stocked up for our almost 5 hour flight to Cancun. We flew Interjet, a Mexican airline, so the onboard movie was in Spanish, but they were nice enough to also translate all instructions and announcements into English, so that put my mind at ease.
My absolutely favorite part was the overhead televisions where we could watch the take off and landing as if we were sitting in the front of the plane! As it had been 12 years since my last flight, I was surprised and momentarily terrified at how fast we lumbered down the runway before ascending. I do not remember from my past flights the plane taking off at such incredibly high speeds! Perhaps I just blocked out those memories or technology has advanced a bit. We did get to see a lot of ocean and mountains during the flight and I am happy to report that the flight was extremely smooth.
Once we arrived at Cancun airport, we hired a shuttle driver to transport all 6 of us directly to our hotel in Playa Del Carmen, an hour ride away. (On a side note, it is extremely easy to fly into and get transportation out of Cancun Airport without speaking a lick of Spanish!)
I really enjoyed the ride into Playa Del Carmen, watching the scenery and the billboard signs in Spanish and homes and businesses dotting the landscape. This is part of the joy of international travel for me! The speed limit in Mexico is all posted in kilometers, and I decided I was better off not converting it to miles per hour, because it was way too fast for my comfort. I tried to avoid ever looking out the front window of any vehicle I was riding in until we got to Merida!
Our first hotel was the Fiesta Inn, a little bit on the north side of town, but in an excellent location, one block from the touristy but bustling Fifth Avenue and a short walk to the beach. Because Rick had to work the first week out there, we made sure we had WIFI and a swimming pool. The rooftop deck and pool blew us away, and we spent many hours hanging out either in the pool, or sitting at a shaded table or on a lounge chair, enjoying the cool breeze up there!
Like I mentioned, we were located only one block off Fifth Avenue, but we were also fortunate that a block or two in the other direction brought us more into the neighborhood were the locals live. It was there that we found much more affordable and authentic dining options, as well as local grocery stores and pharmacies, where prices were only a fraction of those in the touristy parts of Playa Del Carmen. I had a lovely, but hot, walk to a local store with my father in law, where I was absolutely giddy to shop for groceries and figure out conversions from pesos to dollars. There were even moving ramps to get you and your cart to the second level of the store. I am pretty easy to amuse, folks!
So after we shopped, we just grabbed a taxi (there were lines of taxis waiting outside the store) to get a cheap and easy ride back to our hotel. Transportation is pretty affordable in Mexico, so many locals do not need to have a car to get around. We paid $30-$40mx, about $1.50 – $2.00usd to get 10 blocks back to our hotel, with a trunk full of groceries. And quite honestly, most locals use even cheaper means of transportation, which I’ll talk about later.
Our next discovery was that in the Yucatan, and maybe all of Mexico, there are not really self service laundromats. So much for the laundry detergent I bought! Instead, you find a Lavanderia, where you drop off your bag of clothes, which are weighed and then you pay per kilo to have them wash, dry, and fold your laundry for you. It was the equivalent of about $4 for three of my standard sized loads of laundry. I must say, I can get used to this!
We learned very quickly the reason for siestas. After a few blazing hot days of sun, we began planning our outings for early mornings and early evenings, with rests and swimming during the hottest parts of the day. The sun is no joke in Mexico, as we all learned the hard way. Did you know that your lips can get sunburned? As someone who has had sunburns throughout my life, it was not until this trip that I realized that your lips can burn, and yes, swell! I walked around for 2 or 3 days looking like I had professional lip injections, luckily only on the bottom lip.
We spent our second full day with a very early morning walk to the beach, arriving about 8am. All the beaches in Mexico are public, but many oceanfront hotels and beach clubs have chairs for rent, and serve food to willing beachgoers. We rented a few chairs and umbrellas, good for the entire day, for about $200mx, which is around $10usd. That was a lifesaver, and we did not actually get sunburned on that particular day. The water was just a gorgeous shade of turquoise, and I probably could have sat there forever looking at it. The water was calm and warm, the sand was white, and it was just heavenly.
We spent our evenings finding eateries along Fifth Avenue, where menus where in both English and Spanish. I was shocked at the variety of foods available – Mexican, Yucatanian, French, Italian, American, Mediterranean. I am not ashamed to say that I had some very delicious gnoccis from an Italian restaurant in Playa Del Carmen that we visited more than once!
Fifth Avenue is a long strip of shops, restaurants, souvenir stores, and tour booths where you can even get everything from braids to tattoos to a fish pedicure. Many locals are calling to you to invite you to come into their store, but a “no, gracias” usually keeps them from further pestering you, compared to other regions where they can be a lot pushier.
The main part of town has daily shows with live performers, including the Papantla Flyers. There is a great article here that explains the significance of the dance.
Look for more about our time in Playa Del Carmen next time…