Winter in Oklahoma can be long and brutal. So we were thrilled to land a TrustedHousesitters assignment in Playa del Carmen, Mexico this past February. It was a last-minute trip in the middle of a super busy month, but the siren song of a tropical getaway was too tempting to pass up.
This trip was a weird one for us logistically. We both had to work, so we flew at odd hours and didn’t do quite as much “travel” stuff while we were there as we’d have preferred. But the warm sun and plentiful tacos were good for our winter weary souls.
Playa del Carmen is known for all-inclusive resorts, but in this post we hope to show you what Playa del Carmen is like without the all-inclusive option. This is a long one, so grab a taco or a shot of tequila and read on!
Pit Stop in Cancun
We flew into Cancun on a Wednesday night and arrived well past midnight. We spent the first night in a hotel there before making our way to Playa del Carmen the next day. Getting a rental car in Mexico at one in the morning and then driving to our seemingly deserted hotel was an interesting experience. But we made it work and crashed for a quick rest before waking up to paradise.
I am NOT a morning person. But I knew beach time would be limited on this trip. So after a few short hours of sleep I went down to catch that vitamin sea. We stayed at the Emporio Cancun because it was cheap, on the beach and not all-inclusive (since we wouldn’t have been there long enough to get our money’s worth).
This probably isn’t a hotel we’d stay at for a long trip, but it got the job done for a one-nighter. Beach access was easy, the breakfast buffet was decent and it was conveniently located right next to the Museo Maya de Cancun. After an early breakfast, we were able to swing through the museum. It was cheap to enter, and the grounds are expansive. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to see even a fraction of it. I’d definitely go back next time I’m in the area!
We were able to get a late checkout at our hotel and worked in the room until the last possible minute. Then, we headed to Fred’s House nearby for lunch and free WiFi to wrap up the workday. Although we picked the restaurant based on its location and WiFi, it turned out to be delicious.
We shared the ceviche, a Caesar salad and some coconut shrimp. Service was great, we had an amazing view, and the WiFi was fast. We had such a great experience, in fact, that we went back to Fred’s on our way back to the airport at the end of the trip.
Cancun to Playa del Carmen
To get to Playa del Carmen, you can fly into Cancun or Cozumel. Cozumel is a bit closer, but we were able to get dirt cheap flights into Cancun so it was a no-brainer. From there, it’s an easy hour-long drive to Playa. We hit the road after our work day was over to meet up with the couple we were housesitting for (fun fact: they moved to Playa from Oklahoma!) and their cat Marley, our new friend for the next four days.
I have to say, as far as accommodations go, this was one of the nicest places we’ve landed with TrustedHousesitters. The condo is actually in a huge resort that is mostly rented out on Airbnb and Booking.com. The property features two huge pools, two golf courses and a private beach with bar and restaurant. We were in heaven!
Bring on the Mezcal (and wine!)
Our first full day in Playa was crazy busy with work. Although we’d planned to venture out for a quick lunch, we ended up working straight through the day. It seems like my work is always busier when I travel than when I’m at home, but it’s hard to complain while paradise adjacent.
When it was finally quitting time, we were more than ready for a drink. Is there a better place for cocktails than Mexico? I think not.
Our first foray into the Playa del Carmen food and drink scene was Las Hijas de la Tostada for mezcal and dinner. We tried the loaded carne asada fries and a huge serving of shrimp aguachile. Aguachile is a common dish in this part of Mexico, similar to ceviche but with the addition of chile peppers. Definitely a must-try in Playa!
After dinner, we walked around Playa del Carmen’s bustling 5th Avenue, a tourist street lined with souvenir shops, bars and restaurants. Eventually we stumbled upon a little wine shop, Off the Vine, for an impromptu Mexican wine tasting.
Mark my words, Mexican wine will see a significant rise in popularity over the next few years. The service was so nice that we ended up going back later in the trip for tapas and a glass of wine.
Brunch at La Cueva del Chango
We were up bright and early the next morning to make the most of our first full, non-work day in Playa. We’d heard and read a lot of great things about La Cueva del Chango, so we had to check it out.
The restaurant is surrounded by lush foliage for a truly tropical vibe. The food was also outstanding. We quickly understood why this place has such a glowing reputation. I had a plate of crepes de nopales (cactus) and Tom went with the classic chilaquiles. Both dishes were delicious and made for the perfect start to the day before we headed out to the beach.
As I mentioned earlier in the post, the condo development had a private beach that was a part of the community where we were staying. It also had a small pool, restaurant, and bar to keep us hydrated. The perfect little slice of heaven during our stay.
The main beaches of Playa del Carmen are located right off the Fifth Avenue area. These beaches were a little more crowded but certainly no less easy on the eyes. We loved walking along the beachfront here and making the occasional pit stop into a place for a quick drink or bite.
Dinner at Axiote
One of our most memorable meals was at Axiote, which features elevated Mexican cuisine from all over the country. The service was great and our waiter even humored us as we tried to use our limited Spanish to place our order. They also had a few Mexican wines to choose from and we chose a crisp rosé to pair with our dishes.
We started with the shrimp from Campeche, which came in a broth of coconut milk, lemon and avocado, topped with a combination of diced and flaked coconut. The broth was in rich and flavorful and had the perfect amount of crunch from the coconut bits.
Next, we had the lobster from Cozumel that came with Guajillo aquachile and potato tacos. This dish was nothing like how we had envisioned it – we thought it was all in taco form – but this was a pleasant surprise. The tacos and lobster soaked up the spicy sauce for a really unique experience.
We ended the meal with the grilled squash mole that came with zucchini and roasted corn. This was a solid dish but we would have preferred the mole to have a little more complexity and depth of flavor to it.
Waffles at Madrez Cafe
After seeing some pictures of the waffle options online, Tom (Mr. WafflesnWhiskey) couldn’t resist a stop to Madrez Cafe. This small eatery is located just a block from the beach and is a popular breakfast spot.
It’s also across the street from the Frida Kahlo Museum, so it was the perfect pit stop before checking that out. Tom loved his waffle that came with a fried egg, spinach, avocado, and a chipotle crema.
Museo Frida Kahlo
Besides hitting up the beaches and the Museu de Maya in Cancun, touring the Frida Kahlo museum was the only tourist attraction we visited. (Well, besides a day pretending to be cool in Tulum.) This colorful tribute to the famous Mexican artist is a quick see. To be honest, it’s a pretty weird museum in that they don’t have any of Kahlo’s art on site. But if you want to learn more about her history and have some time to kill, it’s worth a stop.
Pro tip: If you eat breakfast across the street at Madrez Cafe, you get a discount at the museum.
Tacos at El Fogon
We’d heard that El Fogon was the place to go for tacos in Playa. We made it a priority to stop by before we ended our trip. The tacos did not disappoint.
We loaded up on tacos al pastor and alambro con pollo y queso (grilled chicken with peppers, onions, and cheese). The al pastor was phenomenal and everything we were hoping for with our street tacos. The meat was extremely tender and accompanied by just enough pineapple to sweeten up each bite. We also really enjoyed the cheap drinks, complimentary pickled cactus and onions, and the trio of spicy salsas.
We really enjoyed this quick trip to Playa del Carmen, marking another area of Mexico off of our bucket list. Plus, we loved being able to experience the city like locals with free luxury accommodation through TrustedHousesitters. If you’re considering a trip to Playa, I would definitely recommend foregoing the all-inclusive option so you can see more of what this little slice of paradise truly has to offer.
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