Playa del Carmen: A Week of Beaches, Jungles and Mayan Ruins

Barcelo Stories, Mexico

For someone who does mostly independent travel – sometimes to destinations that aren’t so easy to navigate – all inclusive resorts are kind of my guilty pleasure.

I first started going to resorts on family holidays where we all wanted nothing more than to escape winter, I also spent my honeymoon at a resort in the Caribbean, and these days it’s a bit of a treat because it provides the rest and relaxation from full time travel – which I know sounds like a vacation from a vacation, but trust me, being on the road for months on end can be pretty tiring!

Then back in May, as Sam and I were wrapping up 5 months of solid travel in South America, we got asked if we wanted to work on a fun project called #BarceloStories that would involve filming and hanging out at a resort. With Sam’s love of video and my love of tropical beaches (oh, and video too), our answer was a resounding yes! You can watch the videos the creators produced if you follow the link above, but right now, I’m going to take you on a little whirlwind tour of what we got up to in Playa del Carmen, Mexico!

The ruins of Tulum

Mayan Ruins of Tulum

Beach under the ruins of Tulum, Mexico.

Visiting the Ruins of Tulum

Visiting the ruins of Tulum was really exciting because this was my first time seeing Mayan ruins, and let me tell you, when it comes to Tulum, the Mayans sure knew how to pick out their real estate. The ruins sit right on the edge of the Caribbean Sea, where the shallow shores are the perfect shade of aqua and the sand is powdery fine.

As one of the most visited sites in Mexico, so you can expect it to be busy, but now here’s a tip: if you follow the path towards the water and then turn left, you’ll be able to get your postcard perfect shot of the Temple to the God of Winds, where it looks like you’ve got the place to yourself!

Also, if you want to swim at the foot of the ruins, you can actually do so! There’s a set of stairs that leads all the way down to the water, and while we didn’t have enough time for a swim, there were plenty of people enjoying this spot.

A hidden cenote.

Jungle walk in Selvatica.

Riding ATVs on a jungle track.

 

Bungee swing at Selvatica.

Going on a jungle adventure

One of the half-day trips we took from Playa del Carmen was to Selvetica, a jungle adventure park featuring everything from ziplines and bungees, to ATVs and cenotes. Now, I am the complete opposite of a thrill-seeker, so after grumbling and declaring there was no way I was doing any of the scary activities, I ended up strapped to a bungee. Yeah.

Halfway through watching everyone else go, I thought it didn’t seem quite that high or quite that scary, so I climbed the steps up to the platform to meet my group. “I can do this,” I thought. It wasn’t until I was fully strapped in and they were starting to tighten the bungee cord that I realized, I had changed my mind and didn’t want to do it anymore, but I knew all the imploring was only going to earn me a quick shove off the platform.

So I tighten my grasp, closed my eyes, and let out a groan as that impending shove came and I swung off the platform. Bungee swings are terrifying! It basically feels like you’re free-falling until the cord finally catches your weight, and then you’re stuck swinging back and forth until you lose enough momentum. Once was enough for me.

Next up, for something a little tamer, we did an ATV excursion through a jungle circuit, which earned us all a dust-encrusted face, which was just fine because our next stop was a beautiful emerald cenote hidden from view by lush vegetation.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Dance of the Flying Men (Danza de los Voladores) in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Chapel in Playa del Carmen.

Exploring Playa del Carmen

Since the resort was right on the edge of Playa del Carmen, Sam and I took the opportunity to walk over and check out the town.

We arrived at the square just in time to see the Dance of the Flying Men (Danza de los Voladores), which was enough to give me clammy hands even though I was standing on solid ground. Basically, this group of men climb to the very top of a pole, where they sit on a square platform. What happens next is a feat of bravado; the four flyers launch off the platform with nothing but a rope around their waists, and they begin to spin upside down around the pole to the beat of a fifth man who remains on top playing a flute and drum. Umm, did I mention this pole is 150 feet high?

Playa del Carmen also has its very own Fifth Avenue and it is the place to shop. The pedestrian-only avenue is packed with bars that boast swings instead of stools, restaurants serving up Tex-Mex, and way too many souvenir shops. I picked up some tequila  and Mexican coffee as gifts, but you can find everything from sombreros to maracas.

Royal Hideaway Playacar

Pool time at the resort.

Enjoying one of the day beds at the Royal Hideaway Playacar.

Sunset in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Getting plenty of beach and pool time

I don’t know about you, but my main mission when I stay at a resort is to unwind with as much beach time and pool time as possible, and there was no shortage of that at the Royal Hideaway Playacar. The Caribbean Sea was warm yet refreshing and I was down at that beach every chance I got…even if it meant leaving my freckly man shielded from the sun in a cabana every once in a while!

And the same goes for the pool, because who does’t want to claim a poolside daybed, enjoy colourful drinks, and alternate between reading a book and cooling off with a quick dip. Sign me up!

Breakfast at the hotel.

Poolside drinks at Royal Hideaway Playacar.

Dining at Royal Hideaway Playacar.

Fruity drinks at the beach.

Tequila and mezcal tasting.

Savouring all the food and drink

One of the cool things about staying at the Royal Hideaway Playacar was that they had a lot of experiences geared at foodies. We had one morning where we learned to make a killer guacamole from scratch, and then after stuffing our faces with nachos and guac, we had a tequila and mezcal tasting.

These two distilled alcohols are considered to be ‘cousins’ because they are both made from the agave plant, however, tequila can only be made from blue agave and it has to be produced in a geographically designated area, while mezcal is made from the fermented juice of other agave species and it is produced throughout Mexico.

Going back to the food, the one evening that really stands out in my mind was the night they had a Mexican dinner and show. All the guests filled the crescent shaped dining booths in the auditorium, and on stage they had traditional dance performances from each state in Mexico; each with its own distinct costume and style. Dinner that evening was a buffet, so it was fun getting to sample authentic Mexican dishes, and not just the ‘Mexican food’ we are accustomed to in North America.

Barcelo Stories, Mexico.

And then it was time to say goodbye. Our week in Mexico flew by and I know that our time there was hardly an introduction to the country, but on the way to the airport I turned to Sam, “we need to come back to Mexico!” Our first visit was all about rest and relaxation, but next time, I want the flavours of Mexico City, the colours of Guanajuato, the ruins of Palenque, and so much more.

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