I just got back to San Francisco from an amazing 10 day vacation in Playa del Carmen. First things first, many people remark how unsafe Mexico is. Mexico is a huge country, and there are most definitely unsafe areas, as there are just as well in the US, Europe, etc. etc. I’ve been to both Cabo and the Peninsula of Mexico (where Playa is located) almost 20 times. I’ve never felt unsafe in Playa – Playa feels like a home away from home, has great security, way more than my home city does, and even better security if you’re staying at a resort. But, to each their own. I hope people keep feeling this way so that Playa still feels like a best kept secret 🙂 Since I’ve been to Playa countless times with my family, its always fun to come back and visit the friends we’ve made along the way, while tasting our favorite local dishes all over again. And, of course, a fresh margarita… or three…everyday.
This trip, I went with my boyfriend, and it was fun to make new memories in Playa. We decided to split the trip between two different hotels to get a mix of experiences. We stayed at one non all inclusive hotel called The Palm for three days, then an outstanding luxury all inclusive, The Royal for the following six days.
Playa del Carmen: Playa itself is a bustling, lively, beautiful town located a little less than one hour from the Cancun Airport. Its main area is 5th avenue, which lies 1 block from the beach. 5th Avenue is full of shops, eateries, little hotels and, since recently, big name stores. Right next to Playa is Playacar, a gated community within walking distance to 5th ave, where many of the all inclusive resorts are located, and definitely the best spot to ride your bike or go on a morning run.
My favorite Playa Eateries:
–Catch: A gorgeous rooftop restaurant and the sister to NYC’s Catch. Unreal Sushi and short rib tacos. Their watermelon cocktail is also a must. We came here originally just for cocktails and ended up staying through a bottle of crisp white wine and a full course dinner.
–Plank: For 5 star entrees in a casual, beautiful space. Their steak & asperagus were heavenly.
–Ah Cocoa: The brownie. Simple as that. It’ll leave you scrapping your plate.
–The Thompson Beach House: Very insta-worthy breakfasts right on the beach.
–Il Holistico: Come for the beach chairs, stay for the lunch! Il Holistico has beach chairs for rent, and delicious fresh coconuts (filled with Rum if you fancy that!), but their veggie goat cheese baquette with pesto is their true stand-out. Pair it with a side of guac and you’ll be dreaming of it until your next trip back. If you go, say hi to our favorite waiter, Alfonso! 🙂
–The Palm Hotel: The hotel we stayed at for the start of our trip has a gorgeous restaurant in the front. The breakfast, especially the Chiquitas are to. die. for.
–Chango: For the farm-to-table true Mexican cuisine night. Some say Monkey’s make a visit here and there during your meal… :-0
–Romeo: A hole in the wall Italian restaurant thats chef owned and operated by an Italian transplant. You’d easily pass this place by if you weren’t on the look out for it. They have hundreds of reviews and 5 stars on Yelp. I was very mistaken thinking I could stroll up to the host and hope to be seated immediately – be ready to wait 2-3 hours for a table or come put your name on the waiting list on the way back from the beach!
Where we stayed:
As I mentioned above, we stayed at two different hotels this trip. I’ve never done that before while in Mexico, and it was fun to switch it up!
Our first hotel was The Palm which was a small boutique hotel with not so small rooms, which we LOVED. The Palm is located less than a block from the main drag, fifth avenue, and two blocks from the beach. We felt at home as soon as we arrived after a long day of travel. Greeted with a Caribbean cocktail and a comped upgrade to a corner suite room, we were immediately impressed, especially since we paid such a cheap price for this 4+ star hotel ($98/night!!!). The room was modern, yet cozy, and oh-so-spacious. My favorite perks were the gorgeous shower, large bar, and big balcony with a hammock. Some nights we took advantage of the gorgeous, hip rooftop pool/bar/hot tub, and other nights we splurged and got refreshing champagne delivered to our room after a day at the beach. Don’t even get me started on the breakfast, which to top it off, was free with our room!
The Royal was our second hotel of the trip. We stayed here for our last six nights in Playa. I’ve been to The Royal a few times, many years ago. The Royal is known to be THE all inclusive in Playa. A five star experience all around. The location is perfect, being one of the only all inclusive resorts right in the middle of town. The rooms are all-suites, and the food is five star – having 6 gourmet restaurants and a cafe. Guests also have all-access to their sister resort, the Gran Porto, which has 4 restaurants. The Royal truly goes the extra mile and offers everything and anything a guest could want all included. My favorite special things The Royal offered were pilates reformer and spin classes, full access to their world class spa, romantic turn down services, and hot tubs in all rooms. We jokingly called our room “our little Mexican home.” ….ugh, can I fly back now?!
The verdict? We loved The Palm for its modern charm, mouth watering breakfast, and big rooms. While not being at and all inclusive, you’re able to eat out for lunch/dinner each day, and explore the countless restaurants and food scene that Playa offers. As foodies, we really liked this in comparison to being “stuck” at an all inclusive which limits the places you eat/drink at since you want to get your money’s worth for the high price tag of a luxury all inclusive. We felt that we liked The Palm for dining reasons, but liked The Royal for its easy, stress-free vibe – which made everyday go a bit like this: room service coffee delivery, beach yoga, breakfast with one too many mimosas, beach, massage, dinner with one too many glasses of wine. sleep. repeat. Ahh the life! Bring me back…!
PRO TIP: You will see hundreds of beachside massage places offering 2 x $40-$50, 70 minute massages. You read that right. These places are legit. Go to them as much as possible! Don’t waste your $$$ on a $150 one at your hotel spa. Trust me on this : )