Playa Del Carmen, México

Playa del Carmen is located in the Riviera Maya area on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, and is around 60 km away from Cancun and Tulum.

We read that Playa, (as locals call it), it’s the fastest growing city in Latin America, what is by itself a big no no. As you already know, I don’t do package holidays, and don’t normally choose places that don’t have anything to offer rather than tourist traps around every other corner. Plus I’m not into shopping or night clubs at all. So you are probably asking ‘why on earth have you decided to go there?’

Well that’s a good question, with a pretty easy answer, we just decided to pop in for a day because we had time in hands and had visit all the places we wanted, so we thought, well we are going to see what is all the fuss about…

As you can conclude for everything I just said my expectations were very very low, so the good point was I couldn’t really get despoiled.. and I didn’t, not even surprised 🙂 unfortunately..

To reach playa, we took a colectivo (45pesos) from Tulum, which is very frequent route. Collectivos can get a bit cramped sometimes but are a great way to move around.

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During the day we walked around, went to some art galleries, found some murals, street sculptures and luckily stumble into a wonderful Mexican performance ‘Los voladores de Papantla’.

The 5th Avenue (Quinta Avenida) is apparently the place to see and be seen. It is a very touristic place, packed with trinket shops and overpriced fancy restaurants… but who needs fancy? Leaving behind Playa’s tourist trail, is the only way to go off the beaten path and find the real Mexican flavors, and avoid paying inflated tourist prices. Ask for local restaurants and you won’t regret it.

We also explored the beaches that are easily accessible by foot.

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I can’t say that we add a bad day, far from that,  was an enjoyable day out, but not more than that.

There is a big difference between travelers and tourists. Playa is undoubtedly a top tourist destination with big resorts, fancy restaurants and a busy nightlife. But the question is just one … can Playa offer want you are looking for? if yes go for it, if not choose a different place.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Laguna Kaan Luum, an oasis in the jungle

Has you know Tulum is famous for its Beaches, Ruins and Cenotes, but there is more than meets the eye. In this region is possible and easy to go off the beaten track, and avoid crowded, noisy, and expensive places.One of those place is just 8km south of Tulum, a lake called Laguna Kaan Luum.Unfortunately is not the easiest place to reach if you don’t have your own tranpost, but it’s possible. You need to catch a colectivo from Tulum in direction to Felipe Carrillo but not many collectivo’s head south so you need to be patient an wait.The colectivo will go past the main entrance and you can walk from there 500 meters through the jungle to a little shack where you by the ticket/bracelet (50$Mexican pesos).

As we always do, we went early in the morning and the place was practically empty. The area is totally undeveloped, with just a thatched hut, and a wooden jetty leading into the water.

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There is no beach or grassy area to lay on so plan on putting your stuff on the dock and jumping in, because can be a bit muddy around.

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There is one dock that jets out in to the lagoon’s beautiful greeny turquoise coloured water where you can see small fishes swimming around.

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The other wooden walkway  leads to a palapa building. That’s the only place with a good the seat down, relax and have a picnic, If you plan to stay longer you need to bring your own food and drinks.DSC01022

In the center of the lake there is a darker area, that is a deep cenote, off limits for swimmers. The cenote is 85 meters (262ft) deep. You can tell the color contrast between the center of the lagoon and the sides. If you are a scuba diver you are allowed to go in the cenote area, and it’s 150 pesos. The lake itself  is surrounded on all sides by jungle and mangroves, and the water is fairly clear with a slight green turquoise color.

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We spent a few hours, jumping, swimming and having fun in the water, that is knee to shoulder depth.

 

 

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Around 12:00 the place started to receive more people, and for what some locals told us this is a very popular place during weekends. So if you prefer a more relaxed and quiet atmosphere try to visit the lake during the week.

It’s harder to get a colectivo back toward Tulum, but you have always the option of hitch-hiking.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

 

Xcacel Sanctuary, a piece of paradise in Mexico

Xcacel is a stunning turtle sanctuary and also home to an amazing cenote with nothing else nearby just nature.

From Tulum we caught the collectivo that goes in direction to Playa Del Carmen and left in Xcacel (30$ Mexican pesos). To enter and visit the park they ask only for a donation.

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The park is amazingly beautiful and very clean,  and if you go early in the morning is tranquil and very peaceful, away from Playa del Carmen or Tulum’s noise.

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We went first to the cenote (X’cacelito), that is the most popular part of the park while was still empty, and was so so good, we spent hours in the water amazed with it’s beauty.

The Cenote is connected to the beach by a well kept sand road surrounded by jungle.
Later on we went for a walk through the path in the jungle parallel to the beach till the end of the park and walked back thought the beach.

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The north end doesn’t have sand just rocks, and it’s always calmer and good for snorkeling.

We didn’t spend much time on the beach, because there’s little shade, if you can take an umbrella with you 🙂 The sand is white and the water has different shades of blue, but since 2014 Mexico is facing  problems with excessive seaweed (sargassum) washing ashore. For these reason the beach doesn’t have the ‘idilic Caribbean look’.

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The park was full of signs alerting for turtle nests, from April to October, the turtles make their journey to nest along the Xcacel beach, please respect the signs.

Because the turtles lay their eggs down in this beach nobody is allowed to build resorts, hotels, palapas,  restaurants or something like that in this place.

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turtle nests signs

While time passes more people arrives and some tour vans, but it’s still a very quiet place by local standards.

Later in the day we decided to go to the cenote again, but there was a big queue to go in. So try to go as early as possible and straight away to the cenote.

Bring your own beverages and food, be mindful of others, and pick up your trash in the end 🙂 they have some great shaded picnic area next to the beach, enroute to the Cenote.

We returned to Tulum by colectivo.  The park closes at 5pm.

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photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Cobá in Mexico

Cobá is an ancient Mayan city 44 km northwest of Tulum, and surprisingly bigger than the famous Chichen Itza.

Cobá is located in Mexico‘s Yucatan Peninsula, near TulumValladolid and Playa del Carmen, making it the perfect place to explore on a day trip from any of these places.

From Tulum there’s one bus to Cobá at ADOS (9:30 – 70MX$) it takes around 1 hour and is direct.

When we arrived this place took me by surprise, I wasn’t expecting such an amazing and beautiful place, and for the fist time paths with shadows. Walking around was very pleasant. The place wasn’t crowded at all and we had most of the ruin set just for us. The emblematic Nohoch-Mul Pyramid with it’s 42-meters was the only place with some people, but still nothing extraordinary.

We paid 65 pesos admission fee and then we began exploring the ruins by foot, but that is up to you, you can choose to walk, hire a bici-taxi, or rent a bicycle. I just love to walk and this place is just amazing for that, imagine quiet paths through the peaceful, relaxed and natural environment of a surrounding jungle, and you are there. When you are walking you can absorve more details, I could see mounds of rocks covered in vegetation, which were unexcavated ruins.

Only a small portion of Coba has been excavated and many of the structures remain hidden in the jungle.

If time is short I recommend renting a bike or bike taxi, as it is a much faster way to get around and see all of the structures, (regular bicycles- 45 pesos; two-person bicycle taxis – 190 pesos).

The Nohoch-Mul Pyramid is the tallest in Yucatan and unlike many other ruins in the peninsula this one can be climbed 😊 and it really deserves the effort, the views are spectacular and breath taking. From the top, you can see the surrounding jungle landscape and lush green tree-tops.  I could see the village of Coba and both lagoons, its importante to take a minute here to admire the incredible views of the natural beauty around you.

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There’s a thick rope in the middle of the stairs for safety, but climbing down the pyramid, it’s more difficult than going up, so be careful. The stone steps were slippery from erosion and from people climbing them over the years.

There’s only one first class bus back from Cobá at 3:10, and 2 second class after that.

You can also rent a bicycle at the entrance (~50MX$) to visit the 3 nearby underground cenotes not further that 8km. Cenotes are underground sinkholes filled with fresh water, found all over the Yucatan. The closest ones are the Choo-Ha with crystal blue water and stalagmites hanging from the ceiling. The Tamcach-Ha is an underground cavern and the las one is called Multun-Ha. The entrance fee for each cenote is 55 pesos ($3 USD).

This cenotes  are off the beaten tourist path and are a perfect place to visit for a refreshing swim in a magical and serene place after exploring the  ruins.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Tulum Private & Public beaches

If you’re backpacking or traveling on a budget it’s probable that you’ll stay in town 3 miles from the beach… What is absolutely fine, first there’s cheaper accommodation in town, lots of shops, restaurantes, bars, supermarkets, markets, banks, pharmacies, etc. so not that bad at all, plus renting a bike is easy and cheap 🙂

Lots of places in town rent bicycles and it’s a great way to move around. Going to the beach it’s quite easy, from town you go always straight through a cycling path, till you reach a roundabout, where  the police station is located. If you head right (north) you have the public beaches plus the ruins at the end.

Bare in mind that most visitors remain on the beaches located right in front of the Tulum Ruins, so move further south and you will find some pristine beaches.

At least from my experience this side has the nicest stretch of beach in all of Tulum, because they are bigger, the water was cristal clean and the sand white, in position of the few public beaches that you can find in between the hotels in the south stretch that are tiny, difficult to find and unlucky were full of seaweed.

If you head left (south) you have 10 miles of private beaches called ‘zona hoteleira‘ (hotel zone) there are a few public beaches in between the private ones, but they are super small. To be true this area is hotel after hotel after hotel, what is actually a bit overwhelming. The beaches are ok but unfortunately there was heaps of seaweed that had just washed in a couple of days ago.

You also have the option of ‘using’ the beach of one of the hotels, some charge a fee in order to access the beach or is mandatory to have  drink or a meal at their restaurant. If you are looking for some extra-confort this ones are definitely the best option, because you can use the sun beds and umbrellas.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Tulum, Ruins and Beach

Tulum itself is nothing special, but it’s brilliantly well located, and there is plenty to see and do around.

Tulum has great places to eat and sleep. But is quite touristic and the main streets are packed with restaurants, souvenir shops, bars and cafes. Still nothing like Cancun at all, but is still a holiday destination. Plus is easily reachable from Cancun for day trippers, which keeps the place busy and the prices up.

My first recommendation is to rent a bike, so you can visit the closest sights yourself. Renting a bicycle costs around 80MX$ ($4.50). If you’re backpacking, chances are you’re staying in a hostel in town 3 miles from the hotels near the beach. Tulum is flat, and cycling is a great way to move around.

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We cycle to the Tulum Ruins (70MX$), and they truly are something special, mostly because of it’s location right next to gorgeous turquoise-blue waters. The combination of the coast line,  palm trees and ruins is just amazing. So is not much for the ruins itself, that are quite modest scale and not as beautifully designed as others but it’s location.

The two entrances to the ‘city’ (ruins)  are small tunnels cut into the wall.  The three major structures of interest here are El Castillo, The Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God.

We strolled through the ruins without a guide, but we had a guidebook to take us through the history. We went early in the morning to avoid the tours.

The two surrounded tiny beaches are amazing but just as scenery … personally a tiny crowded beach is not my cup of tea. While I don’t recommend going to the beach I do highly recommend comfortable shoes, water, hat and plenty of sun cream because there’s no shades.

To complete the day we cycled back from the ruins and visited a couple of public beaches, they were all amazing but no shadows.

2014-02-05 22.27.46 photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Adventures through the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico

Mexico was the firsts country I have visited in the American continent, and couldn’t be asking for anything better, Mexico was an amazing surprise.

The picture below shows the rota I did over the 16 days I spent there.

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✈️ Cancun    Mérida

Mérida Uxmal

Mérida  Cuzamá

Mérida Izamal

Izamal  Valladolid

Valladolid Chichén Itzá

Valladolid   Tulum

Tulum Cobá

Tulum Natural Park Aktun Chen

Tulum Kaan Luum Lagoon Kaan

Tulum Playa del Carmen

Tulum Puerto Morelos

Puerto Morelos  Cenote Verde Lucero

Puerto Morelos Cancun ✈️

* The double sided arrow ⇠⇢ means  that I went to that place just for the day *

With time, I will be posting about all those places. Meanwhile if you are traveling soon to the yucatan peninsula and you have any questions, just shout, and I will do my best to share same tips and my personal experience.

Hope you can keep reading and following my adventures 🙏 Cheers Ana xx

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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