Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Playa del Carmen holds a special place in my heart. Maybe because it was one of our first Caribbean beach vacations, maybe because it was so quaint, or maybe because the water was so calm, warm, and blue. I miss it terribly, or at least the idea of it. I would love to go back. But not yet, not until it’s safer to travel to Mexico unfortunately. I can’t express how much it breaks my heart not to return.
However, we haven’t been in many, many years and the town has changed a lot. When we visited it was just starting to become popular. It had already developed from single shacks and a few condo complexes to having a couple of mammoth all-inclusive hotels. Now the town has shopping malls, Starbucks, McDonald’s and a Walmart?!
Stay at the famous Blue Parrot
We stayed at the famous Blue Parrot that really started the entire trend of Playa del Carmen as a destination place. Our room was on the ground floor, and all rooms face their well-known long, thin, blue pool. The air was very humid, typical of the Caribbean, often with a slight breeze. Everyone constantly has a slight shimmer and glow to their skin as they experience this Caribbean climate. The hotel and most establishments keep their A/C cranking and is a welcome retreat from the outside air.
Stroll 5th Avenue
We enjoyed yummy dinners along the “happening” 5th Avenue and tested the little bit of Spanish we had taught ourselves to order our meals. We strolled along the avenue, listened to a couple of local musicians play at a streetside bar and bought their CD. At the time, 5th Avenue was the only strip of shops and restaurants, and a couple blocks off this street either direction reminded you that you were in a third world country. The scene quickly deteriorated into lonely, dusty, single-story cement-walled buildings and shacks.
Climb to Tulum
They had these fun opportunities at the nearby condo complexes. If you were willing to sit through their presentation that attempted to persuade you into purchasing a condo as a vacation rental, they would provide you with some reward. We chose a free car rental. We used that car rental to visit nearby Tulum, where ancient Mayan ruins are located directly on the crystal blue water of the Caribbean, just a short car ride south of Playa del Carmen. It was worth enduring the condo presentation to enjoy the visit to Tulum.
Snorkel with sharks
One of the most memorable experiences in Playa del Carmen was the boat trip out to the reefs to try snorkeling for the first time. It was just us and the “captain,” who probably wasn’t much older than 16 years old, when we ventured a few miles up the coast and out to the reef. My husband gets extremely sea sick and the small, covered, but open-air 18 foot boat we took out did nothing to curb his sickness. We dropped anchor and the “captain” promptly began chumming the water, and then directed us to jump in…snorkel, fins, and all.
Now remember, at this point we’ve never snorkeled before. While looking down into the water from the boat we couldn’t see anything swimming below the surface. But the first sight that met our eyes when we placed our masks in the water was mostly spectacular…all the beautiful fish and coral. But the best part that I’ll never forget was the girl-like squeal that left my husband’s lips when his mask first contacted the water and he witnessed the three sharks swimming down below which had been attracted with the chum for our “entertainment.” After some protesting by my husband, we eventually listened to our teenage guide who ensured us everything would be fine…the sharks wouldn’t eat us. As we both adjusted to this new experience, and tried not to hyperventilate from the sight below, our pubescent captain continued chumming the water…no joke. Some of it actually bounced off my head as I floated on the surface, and the fish would all vigorously attack and nibble at my head and ears.
The sharks were 6 to 8 foot nurse sharks and are notoriously docile, so no, they didn’t eat us. But those first few minutes were still some of the most uncomfortable few minutes we’ve ever experienced, and our lives were in the hands of some random stranger, in a foreign country, who we’d met not 30 minutes prior! Oh, and did I mention he was barely out of diapers?!
The next hour was amazing as we swam further from the boat and deeper down to see beautiful fish (grouper, snapper, jacks, etc.), starfish, and even a moray eel. Playa del Carmen is a great place to snorkel because the water is so clear and especially warm. We could’ve spent hours out in the water just enjoying the underwater views.
I have great memories of Playa del Carmen, or at least of what it used to be. I’d like to return one day, even with all the changes, just to see it again. So, maybe one day…