Tulum + Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

This whole trip kind of happened on a whim. I was craving adventure… I was feeling in a bit of a rut, like every day was feeling the same, (do you ever get this way?!) So as I sat there at the kitchen table one night, browsing swimsuits for Spring, I fell hard on the idea of Mexico. Next website: Expedia. Called Clay in… “wanna go to mexico?” Clay: “yeah, when?” Me: “Like, in a few days?” Clay: “Sure!” Me: Click, click, click… done! ???? Mexico, here we come! From California it is an easy 5 hour flight… no biggie! Within a week we were packing our bags and hittin’ the skies! ✈️

Here is the thing with my travel itch… it comes on quick and needs to be scratched immediately. This is NOT A GOOD TRAIT to have and something I am working on. HAHA! I am trying to learn to be patient, to book things well in advance, to HAVE A PLAN for goodness sake. But it’s not in my nature. I am working on it though, swear.

This is a bit tough doing one post on a whole week excursion! So much happened and SO MUCH I want to share! Inducing 50+ photos. HAHA I hope this can be a little roadmap of sorts if you are visiting the area… things we did, saw, ate… all the good stuff!

I am breaking it up unto two sections: Playa Del Carmen or “Playa” and Tulum. See, this is what happened. Day 6 rolled around, time to go home. But I just wasn’t feeling like I had the WHOLE Mexico experience I was looking for! I wanted more! I wanted to be spending more time in Tulum when we had booked our whole trip for Playa. So we decided to extend our stay a bit, rent a new place in Tulum and spend more time.

WHAT I PACKED

Playa Del Carmen

eat:

La Fisheria – Loved this place!! It was modern, fresh, I ordered the Ahi Tuna tostada… not your traditional Mexican food, but a new take on seafood and Mexican dishes.

Micaela’s Grill – This is right on the famous 5th Ave. Traditional Mexican food, indoor/outdoor vibe. I got the enchiladas, super tasty.

Los Takos – Our first meal of the trip… had to be tacos, OF COURSE! This place was right next door to our hotel. A tiny hole in the wall, best street tacos. Best way to say “HELLO” to Mexico is by eating your weight in tacos.

Rio Brazilian Steak and Lobster House – The best homemade guac I have ever had. They made it at the table, cut the avocados, added fresh lime, tomatoes… it was unreal! Would go back 100 times just for this.

Chez Celine – This might seem strange, but (a few) of my favorite meals while on this trip (because we couldn’t stop going back) was at a French patisserie and restaurant. IT. WAS. SO. GOOD. We went here almost every morning for breakfast. Fresh juices, pastries, the best brioche French toast, avocado toast, it was SO good. And a good switch-a-roo from Mexican food.

play:

5th Avenue – This is an obvious one for Playa… if you know anything about the area, you know 5th Ave. We stayed just one block east of 5th Ave next to the water so we walked down this street everyday, browsing shops, restaurants etc. When we visited Playa Del Carmen about 6 years ago, 5th Avenue was much different. It was still a “happenin” place… lots to do and see, but it wasn’t as “corporate”. Now as you browse the shops, you’ll find places like Old Navy, American Eagle, Nike, Forever21, Starbucks… this can be a really great thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. For me, it was a little bit of a drawback considering I was wanting more of an “authentic” experience, not wanting to feel like I was walking around a mall in the United States.

BUT, that being said, there is a lot of convenience and newer construction that goes hand in hand.

There is a really great playground for kids toward the south side of 5th avenue called the Parque Los Fundadores, you’ll also find street performers and fresh fruit stands. Here is where you’ll also find a newer mall with stores like Zara and Old Navy.

Cenotes – A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. This ground water is normally very clear and SO beautiful! Most offer snorkeling and swimming… one of the most popular is Gran Cenote. This place is UNREAL.

Since we weren’t planning on doing any major snorkeling, we opted for a smaller/less touristy spot that was right next to our place in Tulum called Cenote Cristal and Cenote Escondido. I was in love with this spot! It was very well kept with picnic tables, the clearest water and a jumping platform. We had so much fun here, one of our highlights.

Xel-Ha – Offering dolphin encounters, water slides, snorkeling, boat rides and so much more, this place is a water park on steroids. It is pretty awesome! We had a lot of people recommend going but sadly, ran out of time. Definitely worth looking into!

stay:

Aldea Thai – We found this place on Airbnb, it is actually a condo that is privately owned and rented out. The place was very nice, great location, right on the beach but just a block from 5th avenue. They have a really nice pool that is kid friendly (half the pool was about 2-3 ft deep, perfect for wading kids.

But I will ALSO say there were some weird things about it I didn’t love. Our unit was near the entrance and was VERY loud at night. We blasted white noise to combat the people coming in and out at all hours on the night… (playa can be somewhat of a party town too). The beach right out front (while we were there) was super crowded so we didn’t spend hardly any time there at all. This may have just been a coincidence, but that is my real review!

Tulum

eat:

Burrito Amor – Great food, right off the main road in Tulum! This was really close to the place we stayed.

Pizzeria Manglar – A hidden gem! One of my favorite spots we just stumbled upon! It was amazing, so delicious, LOVED the outdoor/open fire vibe. MUST GO.

Hartwood – Get your reservation! This place is unreal. The food, ambiance, everything. It is centered around good meats, so if you are not a meat eater, maybe pass. Haha The menu is carefully curated around food that is readily available locally. They travel around looking for the best ingredients, this place is LEGIT. Most nights you do need a reservation… they have off hours so make sure you check before you go.

Matcha Mama – The cutest little coffee/smoothie/matcha stand! Go snap some photos, swing on the swings and order yourself a ridiculous acai bowl! They allll looked sooo good. I have also heard the coconut cold brew is pretty amazing is you are a coffee drinker.

Raw Love – I loved this place. It is a bit pricey but it is worth it. We got the pad Thai, which is a cold zucchini noodle salad, an acai bowl and smoothies… It is a great place to just hang out as it sits on the sand with swings, hammocks and pillowed seats. Great vibe!

Nomade – This was my number one bummer about our trip. I was SO EXCITED to see this place… it looks amazing, like a moroccan oasis with amazing food! After planning (for our last day) to get up early so we could make it there by breakfast… *a crazy feat for us haha* we arrived only to find they don’t serve breakfast to the general public, only hotel guests! I literally cried ????. We had other plans for that day and weren’t able to hang around. So just take note: arrive after 12:30 to enjoy this place! And look it up, you will want to go when you see the photos. SO BEAUTIFUL!

play:

Akumal Beach – Kid friendly, beautiful beach in between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. Off the beaten path and usually not so crowded.

Kaan Luum – A natural lagoon that seems to be “hidden” from tourists! The best time to visit is when it hasn’t rained for several days because the water will be more clear. Here you can swim, hang out, it is pretty shallow around the edges and then a deep cenote in the center. Famous for their sand that is used as an exfoliant.

La Zebra – We just stumbled upon this hotel as a beach entrance from the main hotel strip road. We were greeted by the sweetest guy who welcomed us in to their awesome cabanas where we hung out the entire day. They required a $20 food/drink purchase minimum… but we were hungry anyway so WIN! We stayed and played there all day!

Cenote Cristal + Escondido – At the very end of the main highway town in Tulum on the right. Super easy to get to, can easily push a stroller down the dirt walkway to get there. Make sure to get there before 4 pm or they will not let you in.

Playa Paraíso – One of the most crowded beaches in Tulum but so beautiful. If you have seen photos of the famous diagonal palm tree, this is where it is. It is funny, Clay and I were there 6 years ago and there was NOBODY THERE! We saw that palm tree and thought “wow! That’s so cool!” And walked right by… haha!

This time there was a line of people to take a photo there. I guess it has become pretty popular!

Mayan Ruins – We didn’t do the ruins this time around but looking back, I wish we had. We did it last time we were there and they were amazing. For some reason, it just didn’t mesh well with our schedule and we could never get up early enough! (I wanted to get out before that hot hot sun with two kiddos…) It was a bit of walking/admiring, things my kids were never super up for. haha But that being said, it is definitely doable with the kiddos! A must see if you are there.

stay:

If you followed our stories at all, you know I was a bit obsessed with our place in Tulum! It was sooo pretty, so clean, can’t say enough good things. It is not right on the hotel strip and to stay here, I feel you will need a car. To drive to the beach or to the hotel strip it is about a 20 min drive. But it is close to the main highway where all the shops/restaurants are. There are so many good places to see and eat there too without traveling into the (crowded) hotel strip every day.

If you want to be staying on the hotel strip, there are SO MANY amazing hotels to choose from. I would highly recommend booking far in advance because things book up completely. Coco Tulum, La Zebra a Colibri, Cielo Maya, Nomade are just a few incredible hotels to look into.

TIPS:

  • Most places are CASH ONLY! And a lot of the ATMS do not work. Just plan ahead and be prepared to carry pesos.
  • I had a lot of questions about what stroller we brought. We have the UppaBaby Vista stroller. It is larger but loved that we had all the space and storage while walking around. The seat is also able to be facing in or out, so we were able to put Curren and Ezra in it, whoever needed it most. HAHA If you are planning on renting a car, definitely bring a stroller… you will need it with all the walking!
  • We rented a car because for us, it was just easier. (Car seat situation can be tricky.) If you are planning on renting a car, I recommend BRINGING YOUR OWN CAR SEAT! I saw the ones they were offering and NO BUENO.
  • Just plan on your tire popping. HAHA then you won’t be so devastated when it happens. Maybe this is silly, but they spent a lot of time going over all the “spare tire info” at the rental company (because I think it happens often) and I was like, “yeah yeah…” not really listening. But I was wishing I would have listened to where all the tools were kept etc. as we sat on the side of the road with a flat tire. HAHA Don’t worry though, after about 20 minutes we were on our way! HAHA
  • If you are traveling without kids in Tulum, I would recommend getting a place on the hotel strip. It is a pretty tough place with kids because the road is not safe to be leisurely walking about. (very narrow and lots of buses and cars.) It is ideally set up for biking though! Maybe when the kids are older and Curren could be in a baby bike seat, this would be an awesome option! You can bike from restaurant to shop to beach and would make a world of difference. Everything is pretty spread out so driving from place to place/finding and paying for parking is just kind of tough. So in short: if going back (and Curren were a bit older) I would stay on the hotel strip and rent bikes… no car needed.
  • Carry bug spray!

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  1. Emily says:

    So fun!! I am the same way with the travel itch! I want to go tomorrow. I think the spontaneity is good though. You don’t have to think it through too much.

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