We left our Airbnb in Tulum Sunday morning and headed up to the main highway. Our load in tow, we flagged down a van marked "Colectivo" and wedged ourselves and our baggage inside. These vans run from Tulum to Playa del Carmen 24 hours a day, and are mostly utilized by locals. As passengers indicated their stops along the way, the van let them off. It also continued to pick up people, even though at times I was unsure how they would fit on board. They always did.
The trip was around 40 miles. Colectivo rides cost the same no matter where you get off, and we took it to the end of the line at their station in Playa del Carmen. The cost: 90 pesos, or around $5, for two passengers. Our cab for the final leg of the journey was what we came to know as the typical fare for most destinations in the city, a reasonable 50 pesos or just under $3.
We headed down to gaze at Playa's beach. The seaweed that has plagued most of our trip was, indeed, still an issue. Although the water was pretty, it was also a bit smelly. Next, we strolled a bit of Playa's Fifth Avenue, which we found to be mostly a tourist trap with aggressive sellers and trinket shops sprinkled amongst chain retailers. Not really our scene. Hungry, we caved and ate at a taco restaurant here, and were rather shocked at the bill of over 500 pesos, or around $30US. Considering we had better meals for less than 100 pesos in Tulum, it felt a little like a delicious robbery.
Over the course of our week here, Aaron and I sampled a few different beach areas, and found Punta Esmeralda to be the winner. This spot on the city's northern edge was packed with locals enjoying a slightly rocky beach and a cool, clear freshwater cenote spring/sinkhole that sent a constant stream of water gushing toward the sea. I couldn't resist chowing down on an elote (Mexican style corn on the cob with mayo, cheese, and chili) for 15 pesos (85 cents) while we were there. Delicious!
We spent a much more expensive day in Cozumel, which is located just across from Playa. The ferry cost $17US per person round-trip, and we rented a scooter for $40US to enjoy some freedom and avoid paying a fortune in taxi fare. The beaches on the island's east side were beautiful, but the rough waves made it impossible to swim. The island's west side is rockier and mostly geared toward snorkeling, but the area near Chankanaab National Park had a nice little spot where you could enjoy some beach and do some snorkeling.
While we enjoyed the jaunt to Cozumel, we decided we would definitely not be heading there for a stay due to the cost. Prices were inflated and mostly stated in dollars. The vendors would then charge you at a rate of 20 pesos per dollar, while the official exchange rate is actually $17.71 pesos per dollar. This created an artificial rounding on already too-high prices, meaning we lost 13 cents for each dollar spent. I just felt a little taken advantage of at this dishonest tactic, even though I know that this type of thing is somewhat to be expected in tourist areas. I suppose most cruise ship passengers wouldn't know the difference, but that doesn't make it right.
Aaron and I really enjoyed the quiet little neighborhood on North 28th Street in which we stayed in Playa, which was comprised of older but well-kept row houses. The Airbnb where we stayed was the best run of our trip so far, as well as being the least expensive. We were near enough to the beach but also close to plenty of authentic shops and restaurants on North 30th Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood. It was lively at night but did not feel unsafe, with lots of locals out for a bite to eat and people singing or playing music for tips.
We have definitely enjoyed Playa, although admittedly not as much as Tulum. Tulum's beaches, less touristy vibe, and low cost of living have probably made it the overall winner of this trip abroad so far. We'd go back to Tulum, and I'm sure that we will in the future.
Next up, we are headed out of Mexico, which makes me a little sad. I've loved our short time here and haven't felt unsafe or threatened one single time. I think if more people from the U.S. would spend a little time in this country, we'd have a lot more love and understanding. I think if I spent a little more time here, I'd really start to get those high school Spanish skills back, but I'd also probably gain 20 pounds from all the delicious food.
Speaking of food, one other aside - vegetarians and vegans, rejoice! Mexico is your friend. I have been truly amazed at the number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants I have spotted in both Tulum and Playa del Carmen. I actually haven't eaten at any of these specialty establishments, but most of the more "mainstream" restaurants have plenty of options for us non-meat-eaters, too. A pleasant surprise!
So, where will tomorrow take us? We are headed to Cancun International Airport, from which we will fly to Miami, but after two hours in the U.S., we'll leave again - this time to Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, a French/Dutch island in the Carribbean.