~ Playa del Carmen, Mexico ~

by Sandi in MN    < rkemmet@aol.com >

Playa del Carmen is a gorgeous town situated about 45 minutes south of Cancun, Mexico. Caribbean waters, sugar soft white sands and a city full of Mexican flavors await you in this area. We have stayed in the area twice and found it to be a wonderful holiday destination -- not so commercialized that you feel like you are still in the States, but still a safe destination with good food, some lively entertainment and numerous excursions available to keep you busy if that is what you are looking for.

Where to Stay:

Our recommendation is the Playacar Resort Development just outside of Playa del Carmen. This area hosts many all-inclusive resorts from average to upscale. There are also condos in the area that look very inviting -- something we may venture to try during one of next visits to the area. During our two visits to PDC (March 1998 and March 1999) we stayed at the same resort, the Iberostar. Here's a lengthy description of what the Iberostar (IB*) has to offer: 

RESORT -- Iberostar Tucan side to the South and Quetzal side to the north of the resort, you enter through the lobby area of which side you have booked through. Reception, money exchange, gift shops, tour desks, concierge, and a bar for each side are located in this area. The spa and bicycles are located on the Tucan side, Mascara Disco Quetzal side. From here, if you travel along the center area you will pass the buffet restaurants, Mexican and Italian specialty restaurants, evening entertainment area with bar and billiard tables. Next is the jungle area in the center with the buildings hosting guest rooms on the outside edge of the resort property. The jungle area is complete with ducks, geese, peacocks, beautiful natural vegetation, manmade cenotes, turtles, manmade ruins and cobble stone walkways in and around the many varities of trees. We loved walking through this area and just looking -- breaks up your typical viewing of a regular style resort. There are also bird areas on the Quetzal side wit 

ROOMS -- Recommend buildings 20 - 23 on the Quetzal side and buildings 10 - 13 on the Tucan side. Buildings 20 and 10 are sea front, boasting spectacular views of the Caribbean. These buildings will be farther from reception and the main restaurants, but handy during the day if you plan on spending a lot of time at the pool or on the beach. During our second visit there we stayed in room 2027, a junior suite, which we found not to be that much different from our previous room in building 23. Each room has a Minibar (ours was fully stocked each day) and a safe -- both complimentary. All rooms have balconies or patios with table and chairs. A generous size bathroom with showers only (but very large). Satellite TV -- HBO, CNN, DISNEY, ESPN2 and some other Mexican channels. 

RESTAURANTS - Two main buffets -- Tulum (Tucan side) and Cozumel (Quetzal side), two Palapa Grills close to the beach and pool -- Uxmal (Tucan side) and La Marimba (Quetzal side). There are three specialty restaurants, but only two are advertised. La Hacienda (Mexican), La Gondola (Italian) and the new La Marimba Grill (steaks). You will receive two certificates upon check-in, one for the Italian and one for the Mexican. Reservations are made at the concierge desk between 9:00 and 11:00 A.M. Make your reservations at the beginning of your stay as they have limited seating. You can then ask about the La Marimba. We had a HUGE variety of food at night in the buffets including steak and lobster, pastas, Wellington's (beef, pork and lamb), seafood night, a fajita station, beef kabobs, GREAT soup, salad bar, French fries daily, variety of breads, numerous desserts including ice cream and on and on... Breakfast was the normal fare -- cereals, yogurt, fresh fruit, eggs cooked to order, pancakes, French toast, sweet breads and toast, a juice bar, bloody Mary's one morning and champagne another. Continental breakfast was served at the Palapa Grills each morning from 10-12. Did not try the buffets at lunch -- ate at the Palapa Grills with a salad bar, different pasta each day, hamburgers, hot-dogs, croissant sandwiches, grilled sandwiches, pizza, French fries, tostadas fresh fruit, desserts and on and on. 

BEACH -- The beach area is large, but not as flat as others in the area. There are spots to the north and south of the resort that have flat land, but directly at the sea it is quite sloped. Be sure to walk the beach in both directions -- it is incredible! During our second visit in the area we found the beach a little sloped directly at the sea edge to the south of the IB*, flatter to the north but we also encountered a samll amount of seaweed in this direction -- we understand this is due to the hurricanes that have affected the area recently. Seaweed is not a problem at the IB*, but saw some at other resorts -- the Royal Hideaway seemed to be the worst, but I just bet they will work on this as the resort is BEAUTIFUL, very classy and extremely upscale looking. 

ACTIVITIES -- A number of scheduled activities during the day for adults and children. The children's program seemed to be geared for those from 5 - 12, or at least from what we saw. They did do an excellent job with the children in these age groups. Water sports and activities plentiful for both children and adults. Exercises in the pool as well as on land - Spanish lessons, dancing lessons, brief scuba lessons in the pool, as well as a day long resort certification scuba clinic that you can only dive with them - You can also become PADI certified in three to four days (runs about $375 US), but eats up a lot of your holiday. Ceramic painting by the pool, I think everyday. They also have surf type boards with sails, kayaks, catamarans, snorkeling -- advertised as all non-motorized water sports included. You can check-out bicycles and they have a morning and I think an afternoon guided ride with the activity group. There are massage palapas by the pool for a fair price -- had one and was wonderful!.

Where to Eat:

Playa del Carmen offers a number of good restaurants. Some recommendations: 

Karen's Grill and Pizza was a fun spot with great music at night. Other restaurants in town worth trying are LaParrilla, Media Luna, Blue Parrot and Blue Lobster. Of course don't forget Senor Frogs. 

One restaurant I would advise you not to visit is LaCarmella in Plaza Antiqua. Advertised as Mexican Gourmet Cuisine, but we found it only fair and expensive for the area, though I did recently read a trip report where the couple had a wonderful meal there. We each had their seafood special at $30 USD each -- can do better than that in Minneapolis and have better food we thought (the wine was good though)!

What to Do:

Tulum *Xel-Ha *Xcaret *Chichen Itza *Horseback riding *Parasailing *Jungle tour *Cenote swimming and diving *Scuba and snorkeling Cozumel is just a short ferry ride away *Shopping in PDC

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