Looking Back at Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen beach
The quiet beaches of Playa del Carmen.

It’s been two years since I was busy planning my American wedding and (even more importantly) our honeymoon to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. I was completely new to travel blogging at the time, so apart from a couple of posts, I largely ignored our time in Mexico on this blog.

But as our two year anniversary is just around the corner, I thought it would be the perfect time to share some of my favorite photos, foods, and experiences from our honeymoon in Mexico. We had a fantastic trip, and would recommend this itinerary to anyone who wants a mix of relaxation, sightseeing, and (of course) fantastic food!

Traveling to Mexico on holiday had always been a temptation, as friends and family often headed down to Cancún for spring break or a winter getaway. But I’d always opted for Europe, and the only time I spent a spring break abroad I went to El Salvador, a gorgeous country where there wasn’t a tourist in sight.

After doing lots of research, Ale and I decided that basing ourselves in Playa del Carmen would allow for a the type of trip we were looking for– a mix of honeymoon relaxation and local flavors. While certainly a touristy city, Playa del Carmen isn’t anything like the isolated, tourist filled hotel strip of Cancún, or the extremely remote resorts of the rest of the Riviera Maya. We’d have a mix of the tourist streets, the local markets, a gorgeous beach, and plenty of options for exploring the region.

Lauren in Playa del Carmen
Walking the runway in Playa del Carmen.
Music on Playa del Carmen
A sunset serenade while dining on the beach.

The Hotel

We spent nine nights at La Tortuga Hotel and Spa, a small boutique hotel that doesn’t allow children. It was an extremely peaceful place, with a small pool for cooling off, and plenty of lounge chairs and in-pool seats to relax on. The bartender at their adjoining restaurant made some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had (the spicy margarita and creamy piña colada were to die for) and enormous breakfasts that are made to order were also a part of the package. Located a ten minute walk from the beach, some may prefer beachfront, but I would stay there again in an instant!

La Tortuga Hotel and Spa Playa del Carmen
Our welcome to La Tortuga.
Towel swans.
Every day we had a different animal to greet us!
La Tortuga pool
The pool was made up of several mini pools, all connected by little bridges.
La Tortuga bungalow
Our room was on the third floor and was actually made up of the main room, a balcony and an upstairs private roof and jacuzzi!

The Food

As it was our first time to Mexico we barely bothered with fancy dinners while there, preferring instead to go where the locals go. For the most part, this was a great way of eating, although sometimes our stomachs didn’t agree!

Chilaquiles
Ale’s favorite breakfast at the hotel were their chilaquiles, freshly fried tortilla chips covered with sunny side up eggs and a red chili sauce.
Best Tacos Playa del Carmen
The best tacos in Playa del Carmen were found at El Fogon taquería. Still dreaming about them…
El Fogon Playa del Carmen
Another favorite dish at El Fogon was the “Plato Norteño”. Steak, crumbled sausage, a baked potato, queso fresco, grilled onions and more!
ceviche
Ceviche was a popular snack throughout the week. We ordered different versions from all the beachside bars.
Mexican Market
We visited the food market in Valladolid where we ate lunch from this little stand.
Valladolid market mexico
Cochinita pibil with pickled onions, lime and avocado.
Fresh salsa in Mexico
Fresh salsas were a start to most meals.
Mexican Food in Valladolid
A mixed plate with chicken, banana, avocado, onions and rice.
Mexican dishes
Some of the other typical foods (I forget their names) but everything was delicious!
Aztec coffee
We did fall for one very delicious tourist trap, the “Mayan Coffee” but it’s price tag (about $10) was worth it for the fun fire show, and it was filled with liquor, more like a cocktail.

The Day Trips

Ek Balam

We wanted to see the ruins while in the area, so we took a day trip to Ek Balam and Chichen Itza. We arrived to Ek Balam early, and didn’t have to share the grounds with anyone. We were even able to hike up one of the temples, which was worth it, although scary! On our way there we drove through some local villages, which were picturesque and surprisingly simple.

Riviera Maya typical homes
Local homes in near Ek Balam ruins.
Ruins Ek Balam
Ale hiking up the temple at Ek Balam.
Ek Balam Mexico
I made it to the top of Ek Balam for a quick picture before slowly heading back down.

Chichen Itza

Being in the Riviera Maya and not seeing Chichen Itza is simply inexcusable. The ruins are incredible, and despite the occasional feeling of a tourist trap at the vendor’s booths, they are well worth a visit.

Chichen Itza
Ale and his hat posing with the most impressive pyramid I’ve ever seen!
Chichen Itza art
Chichen Itza was filled with artisan goods, but it was tricky to trust that what they were selling was the real deal.

Tulum

My favorite ruins were definitely found at Tulum. A striking contrast between ancient civilization and the Caribbean Sea, Tulum was simply paradise.

Tulum
The gorgeous walkway through the Tulum ruins.
Beach at Tulum
A coved beach at Tulum. I could have spent all day there!
Tulum park
Another great view of the ruins.
Lizard in Tulum
This lizard probably doesn’t even realize how good he has it!

Akumal

To swim with giant sea turtles you should definitely check out Akumal, a short trip away from Playa del Carmen. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I can’t wait to do it again one day. Luckily, our guide snapped this photo so we’d never forget the beauty of these creatures.

sea turtle
A beautiful sea turtle that passed right before our eyes.

Cenote

Okay, so cenote is not a place. A cenote is actually a sinkhole that has filled with water over the years. I don’t remember exactly where the cenote we visited was located, but it was an interesting experience.

Warning, if you are claustrophobic, snorkeling in a cenote is probably not for you!

I didn’t mind it, but Ale (who also has some breathing problems) nearly died. You know the stalactites that take thousands of years to form and that you are never supposed to touch? Well, when you are gasping for air that’s what you grab onto. Poor Ale!

Some really bad (but funny) pictures of us!

Snorkeling in a cenote
Our first time snorkeling, could we look more awkward?
Lauren snorkeling
That’s me! Mesmerized by a tiny fish.
Ale snorkeling
Ale is all smiles after nearly choking to death.

In addition to these trips, we also spent an incredible day on Isla de Mujeres, but I have enough pictures for a whole other post! Overall, Playa del Carmen was a great little town that made the perfect base for exploring the region. We will definitely be back one day soon!

Have you ever been to Mexico? Would you visit Playa del Carmen or would you prefer somewhere less touristy?

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