Tammy had wanted to go to Mexico for a very long time. It also happened to be her Birthday in July and being so close, out at this end of the world, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. We’d managed to spend her last 3 birthdays in a new country each time, with 2013 being in Rarotonga (a Pacific Island), 2014 in the USA (our holiday), and in 2015 I organized a surprise trip for her to Melbourne. Yes, we weren’t back at home in New Zealand but technically we weren’t in a ‘new’ country either so something had to be done. As soon as we started looking at resorts and discovered the ‘all inclusive’ deals, we were sold!
We settled on a resort in Playa Del Carmen called “The Reef Playacar”. We picked this resort because of what it looked like online. We didn’t want a big square block-of-a-hotel that looked like an office building. We wanted a tropical vibe. Reef Playacar came off more like a series of smaller huts nestled in the jungle under a tall canopy of greenery. It was also located directly on the beach so we’d get the best of both worlds. (And yes, it was an all inclusive package!)
We left on June 30th early in the morning and landed in Cancun at around 10.30am. We caught a shared shuttle from the airport to our resort, stopping via what seemed like every other resort, hotel, and holiday home in Playa Del Carmen. When we pulled into the one resort, the guard hut at the entrance had a large sign warning against feeding the crocodiles! To me, the worrying thing here was not the crocodiles but the fact that there were people here that needed to told NOT to feed them! Who needs to be told this? Seriously…who?!
When we arrived at our hotel we were met in the lobby by a staff member who was very friendly. He gave us a map of the resort (easy to get lost in all those trees!), and explained how the hotel worked, the various restaurants and bars they had, the pool hours etc. He then invited us to a seminar the next day for some sort of pitch the resorts try and sell their visitors on. It’s some sort of package where you’ll get a discount for booking a big trip in advance or something like that, he was struggling a little with his english but his effort was clear. He didn’t seem to understand “no” (conveniently) so we finally said we’d go and he put us down for the one ‘lots’ of people were going to the next morning at 9am (no way we were going to that – we WILL be sleeping in on our holiday). After this he gave us a brief tour of the resort and its facilities. I realized once this ended that I had absolutely no idea what was an acceptable amount to tip this man. We were now using pesos and I’d only just become to tipping in US dollars (there’s no tipping in New Zealand). So when I reached into my pocket and pulled out a high number I figured, yeah he’s going to be well chuffed with that. I gave him the old “thanks for showing us around” followed by the sly handshake whilst palming the cash, smoothly transferring the money from my hand to his. Then we strolled off to find our room, me with a sort of strut – impressed with myself at my slick move back there. It wasn’t until we stopped in at the gift shop later on that I realized the actual value of the 100 pesos I slipped the guy. That man could now afford to buy himself…….a keyring. Needless to say that not only did I stop strutting but I actively avoided that man for the rest of our time in his resort.
After checking into our room we had another wander around the resort by ourselves, exploring each of the pathways and poking our heads into all the different nooks and crannies. Then we each grabbed a cocktail at the bar (I don’t know what, we told the bartender to surprise us), and headed to the restaurant for some food. The main restaurant was a big buffet style setup with and assortment of fresh fruit and salad on one side and cooked food on the other. We had some lunch and then got changed before heading down some steps just beyond the restaurant to the beach. The rest of the day was pretty much spent on this beach alternating between relaxing on some sun loungers and dipping in the sea.
When we woke up on Friday morning we saw a note slipped under the door. It was from the hotel saying they didn’t see us at the seminar that morning (yeah no s**t) and that we mustn’t worry, they had signed us up for the next day. This was a huge relief as were were gutted we’d missed it…as you can imagine. The Friday was Tammy’s actual birthday so she had total control over what we did. We made our way down the beach towards the town of Playa Del Carmen. Here we walked down Calle Quinta Avenida (Fifth Ave) and had a mooch in all the shops. I actually had to buy a pair of trousers as we planned to go to an Italian restaurant at our resort for dinner but I didn’t think of packing any!
When we arrived back at the resort later on in the day we booked ourselves in for a couples massage at the resorts spa. As if the resort and its location wasn’t enough, this somehow added icing on the cake! It was absolute bliss. 45 Minutes later we floated back to our room with sleepy heads and happy grins on our faces to change into our dinner clothes and head to the resorts Italian restaurant. It was a pleasant meal and were we one of only 3 parties in the place. Still on cloud nine we wandered down to the beach to relax on a comfy bed with pillows and a canopy before turning in for the night.
The next morning we saw another note slipped under the door, it was the same as the day before. Tammy started to worry we’d get kicked out of the hotel because we kept ignoring these notices. I told her not to worry and said that we were already avoiding that one staff member (the guide), now all we had to do was extend this to EVERY staff member and we’d be sorted! After breakfast we were lounging poolside on one of these beach beds when a guy came over to sell us some activities offered by the resort. We decided to go on the snorkeling trip that was going to start a few hours later. Until then I snoozed on the sun bed while Tammy dabbled at the arts and crafts table near the pool, painting some pottery in bright funky colors. The actual trip was good fun. We met on the beach where a boat came and picked us all up before heading about 20 minutes along the beach front to the snorkel spot. Here we all dived out and swam around amongst all the creatures swimming around us. It was a fantastic experience, if only I had a waterproof camera! Our guide even found a huge stingray and started feeding it out of his hand. Me, I kept a safe distance. I remember the legend that was Steve Irwin and if that lover of all creatures can meet a fateful end by one then I’m more than happy to keep back from one of these.
Sunday, we spent mostly in the pool taking full advantage of the swim up bar and the all inclusiveness of our resort. We also decided to go and book another activity we had seen the day before but hadn’t bought. So after a nice relaxing day of floating in the pool we headed off to the mayan jungle for some quad biking! This was a whooooole lot of fun! Our party was about 12 and we quad biked all through the jungle, stopped off at a fresh water pool, jumping off the cliffs into it and cooling off, before heading back onto the trail. Along the way we stopped off at a zip line high up to shoot through the trees before biking off again. Then we stopped at another zip line, this time landing inside a pool at the bottom of a cenote (Sistema Sac Actun – google it, it’s amazing). Cenotes are natural pits or sinkholes that are formed when limestone bedrock collapses, exposing bodies of surface water underneath. The easiest was to describe them would be to picture a large cave filled with water at the bottom. Cenotes often reveal large connections of subterranean water bodies and are big attractions for divers who have enjoyed exploring them, some for lengths of more than 100km! Anyway, Tammy went first and I followed her in. When I reached her at the bottom I found her laughing hysterically and choking on water. Turned out she had landed in the water on an angle pulling her shorts to her knees. When she surfaced the guide at the bottom of the line looked at her extremely awkwardly and mumbled “miss…your pants are down”, at which point she lost the plot completely. We snorkeled through this cave, looking at the fish under the water and the bats above! After this we made our way to a hut where we were all give some tamales and hibiscus tea for dinner before jumping on the ATVs, heading back to our starting point and on to our resort. This night was just absolutely amazing. A perfect way to end the trip.
We headed home early Monday morning, catching another shuttle. All we had for tipping the driver was a US$20 (430 pesos – enough for 4 or 5 key rings) so we gave this over and hoped that the tipping karma Gods forgave us for our earlier indiscretion.
Early afternoon and we were back home in NYC with another country ticked off the list and more memories collected. If I had to chose a highlight of the trip I would probably go with the fact that the resort was all inclusive. It’s wonderful being able to go and get a meal from the restaurant, a bite from the snack bar, or a drink from the bar (including alcohol) whenever you please by just flashing your wristband that signifies an all inclusive pass. These passes aren’t unreasonably expensive at all and make everything so much easier! We had an amazing time in Mexico and the only downside if there was one was a little sunburn that I had managed to nab myself. Being in a foreign speaking country and surrounded by people whose first language wasn’t english for a change was quite an experience for us. We’ve rarely had to deal with any language barriers before. It provided us both with a strong admiration for people who speak more than one language and a desire for ourselves to learn another. Shortly after arriving back home in New York we actually enrolled in a beginner’s Spanish class and as I write this we are very almost finished with level 2! Unfortunately we’ll be heading off to Canada in a month or two but hopefully we can find another class over there to continue!
Anyway, that was our birthday trip to Mexico! Here are a few more snaps from the vacation!