The first time we came to Playa Del Carmen (Jan. 1999), it was sort of by accident. It was our first time in Mexico, so we went the safe route and stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Cozumel. We spent the first 3 days feeling like there had to be more to Mexico than what we were seeing (and tasting). At dinner on the third night, we met a couple who told us about this great day they had just had, and it was only a short $2 ferry ride away in a town called Playa Del Carmen. First thing the following morning, we were on the ferry heading to what would turn out to be our favorite Yucatan destination. Once Bill saw that the beaches were topless and that he could get an ice cold beer delivered to him for $1.20, we never looked back. We spent the remainder of that trip taking the first ferry out of Cozumel and the last ferry back. We had found our paradise!
We returned to Playa many times after that first trip and always stayed in small, out of the way hotels. Our favorite - where we stayed several times - was a small B&B about a half block from the beach. Our room was enormous and had a beautiful wrap around deck with hammocks where we would spend our siestas. Most times, we were the only people staying there, so it was very peaceful. If memory serves me, we paid about $36 per night! When Henry was a baby, we stayed in a small hotel a bit further away which was about $60 per night. It was a clean, simple place with incredible service so it met our needs. Today, we moved to another small hotel (Aventura Mexicana) a few blocks from the beach. We have a basic room right off of the tropical courtyard and pool - we are very comfortable and the kids are in heaven!
So much of Playa Del Carmen has changed, and I am still deciding whether I think the changes are good or not. There were no large hotels in the Playa of our past, and the beaches were dotted with small, authentic Mexican hotels divided by yards and yards of sandy beach and palm trees. It was charming. Walking the beach now (which is much wider due to imported resort sand), the open vistas and serene settings have been replaced with tightly built large hotels and all-inclusive resorts. At times, it is difficult to see where one ends and another begins. It doesn't seem right. Streets that I would never have ventured down before (mostly because they were more like sandy paths to nowhere) are now bustling night club districts. The first few times we came here, Playa only had one night club! I guess like all beautiful destinations, with tourism comes commercialism.
We have, however, been pleased to discover that some of our favorite spots are still around and thriving - though a few are in different locations. Walking to the beach today, Bill recognized "La Vagabunda," the restaurant where we ate breakfast every morning on our last trip. It was the one restaurant in all of Playa that had a high chair (one). However, the Mayans apparently never met a toddler as active as Henry and the highchair did not have a strap, so we spent many meals chasing him down the middle of the street after he would climb out and escape. We finally got smart one day, though, and stuck a piece of rope we found on the beach in the back of our stroller so we could tie Henry into the highchair. The Locals, as well as the European tourists, may have given us a lot of dirty looks, but we thought we were brilliant! The gravel floors and rickety tables at La Vagabunda have been replaced with brick tiles and solid wood, but it is still a special part of our history and we will eat there again on this visit. This evening, as we sat enjoying our 2 for 1 cocktails and appetizers in the Mayan restaurant in our hotel, we realized that we had also been here before! We ate dinner in the restaurant with a family we met in our last hotel and remembered the courtyard setting. Back then, it was not connected to our current hotel (they were 2 separate facilities), but it felt familiar all the same. Later in the week, we hope to revisit The Tequila Barrel (where Bill would sample local elixirs while waiting for me to get ready for dinner) and The Beer Bucket - a cool, upper level hang out with a great view of the action.
Right now, it feels really good to be back in Playa Del Carmen, and I don't think it is only because I was so ready to leave Caye Caulker. It is beautiful here. The biggest challenge I am currently facing is trying to remember that I am NOT on vacation . . . I am NOT on vacation . . .