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  • Writer's pictureRichard Phillips

Playin' in Playa del Carmen.

Whoa! It's been over two years since I started this blog, and a year and a half since I posted. All I can do is blame the pandemic. Isolating, quarantining (which really should have given me more time to blog) and adjusting to a new way of life threw me for a loop...for a while, apparently.

So, getting back to it, this lovely trip to Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Mexico, took place in January of 2020...literally 5 seconds before the Covid-19 pandemic shut the world down. Ugh. I went from a lovely vacation in the up-and-coming parts of Mexico to being glued to my sofa for six months in a matter of weeks. But hey, the world is turning and I am getting back to traveling...safely. Let's go back to before the word "pandemic" was in our daily vocabulary and I'll tell you all about my trip to a place you must include on your list.

Playa del Carmen is a coastal resort town in Mexico, along the Yucatán Peninsula's Riviera Maya strip of the Caribbean shoreline. It's a short drive from the Cancun airport (about an hour) and it's a safe and friendly area. It's neighbor, Tulum, is one of the most up and coming spots in the Riviera Maya and very much young, hip and unique. It also doesn't hurt to have the always fabulous Traveling Lamas as your hosts and guides. Check out The Lama List for some great travel tips and inspo.

How I got there: Well, I flew. Nothing special about this deal. My dear friends, Lauren and Alberto Lama, live the Tulum life so I was lucky enough to be invited to stay with them in their condo. I just spent a few Delta Skymiles and I was there in a jiffy. No harm, no foul. I flew into Cancun for the first time and I was surprised at how well run it was. I got my luggage quickly and had pre-ordered transportation to Playa del Carmen through a local company. It was very safe, on-time and seamless for around $100. Worth every penny.

How much it cost: I have to say, this was a cheap trip for obvious reasons. I had a free place to stay and used points to book my flight. My only expenses were food and fun, which I partook in plenty of! The area, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, is very affordable with reasonably priced restaurants, attractions and nightlife. Most people probably stay in an all-inclusive resort, which is fine, that just wasn't my story this trip. I was down in the hustle and bustle of the city and it was a great mix of fun, beauty and relaxation.

Is English widely spoken? It's Mexico, so their language is Spanish, but I did not find it difficult to communicate. I also had a native Mexican showing me around which made the process all that much easier.


So in order to feed my traveling addiction, and to get the opportunity to see my old NYC roommate and her wonderful hubby, I took off to Meh-he-co. What's better than a winter trip to the beautiful beaches of the Yucatán Peninsula's Riviera Maya? Off I go! Lauren was my roommate during my life in Manhattan. We've shared so many unbelievable stories, memories and shenanigans. I was elated to visit with her and to spend more time with her immensely talented photographer husband, Alberto. Check out his photography here. Oh! And he's a realtor for those of you looking to snag a marvelous deal on some prime Tulum property. Check that out, here.

I hopped on good ole' Delta and took advantage of my Skymiles to fly down. Like I said, arriving in Mexico (Cancun specifically) was quite easy and uneventful. An hour's ride later and I was downtown in the Lama's condo. They live in a fun condominium with an open atrium and fun rooftop pool. It was perfect for them...and me. We quickly hit the streets and they showed me around their neighborhood. The area is quickly being developed with condominiums, retail shops and entertainment. It very much reminded me of the Mexican version of Rosemary Beach, Florida. Well designed, modern architecture and hip vibes at the local social spots. The "main drag" is only a 15 minute walk from their condo where you'll find markets, food, drinks and art. Walking the "Quinta Avenida" is a Playa del Carmen must do. You are just steps from the ocean, as well as first class shopping. It is often referred to as the 5th Avenue of Playa del Carmen. You'll also get to experience the Maya Portal, a sculpture created by the artist Arturo Tavarez. Weighing in at 60 tons, the sculpture represents a new beginning for humanity since it was dedicated on 12/12/12, the date the Mayan civilization supposedly predicted the world to end. Glad they got it wrong...or did they?

We eventually had to break for dinner, which we did at an amazing local spot. The area is bustling with trendy restaurants, all well decorated with its own unique vibe. We decided on Amate 38. We enjoyed a delicious dinner, a diverse selection of cocktails and a just downright lovely environment. I was introduced for the first to mezcal, a much smokier version of tequila that goes down smoother and doesn't sting nearly as much. Rumor has it you won't get a hangover from drinking too much mezcal, but I didn't test those waters.

I spent the next couple of days exploring the local scene and dining out. Lauren and Alberto showed me where locals eat and shop. That's always one of my favorite parts of visiting a new place. One of the most remarkable places we visited was Alux Restaurant. This restaurant/bar is a converted 10,000+ year old cavern that is illuminated and decorated perfectly. It really is a sight to see. If nothing else, pop in for a drink and just wander around its many nooks and crannies. The only negative comment I have about Alux, which is uncommon for me, is that they pulled some photos I took from my Instagram page and refused to give me credit for them. I wouldn't have cared one bit for them to use my photos if they had taken 3 seconds to add "@foot_and_flight" in the comments. Even after several attempts to reach out to them they refused. Sooooo I had to report them to Insta and their profile was removed. That was not my intention, but after they did it two times in a row Instagram made the call. At any rate, it is still a neat place that you should see if you're ever close by.

Photos by Alberto Lama

Being so close to some of the most recognizable Mayan ruins, we decided to go for an early morning hike and watch the sunrise with the Mayan temples, and the glorious sun, as our backdrop. The site was in Tulum about an hour or so from Playa del Carmen and to get there by sunrise we had to be on the road by 4:00 am. So we of course get pulled over by the police 10 minutes into our drive because, why wouldn't we? Luckily Alberto's savvy skills got us on our way quickly (thank God he was driving, is a local and speaks Spanish). I was still red eyed from being up so early and I am sure the police officer thought I must have been on drugs.

We arrived to a completely dark parking lot...after all it was just 5:00 am. Alberto of course had his professional photography trinkets and Lauren and I just scuttled behind him through a maze of trails, trees and places to stub your toe. I had no idea what I was surrounded by. You could make out a few shapes of structures, but nothing definite. We set up shop on a cliff overlooking the ocean and waited. It was quite chilly. January mornings in Mexico, with winds coming right off the ocean, make for goosebumps at the very least.

Shortly after 6:00 am we started to see the sun. The moment it crowned above the horizon and illuminated the landscape I was in awe. Huge rock temples, buildings and monuments were everywhere. Over 700 years old, the Mayan city of Tulum was once a seaport trading in mostly jade and turquoise. We spent a majority of the morning exploring the ruins and taking photos. One of the coolest experiences I have ever had. I highly recommend!

To see more of the ruins, click here. My photos aren't post worthy.

Once the sun was up we departed the ruins and grabbed some lunch. Alberto picked out a delicious local spot to grab some tacos. Yes, taaaaccccoooooooooooooos! We Americans love tacos, so to get the real deal from a street vendor in Mexico was just about as good as it could get. He assured me the place he chose was very clean and used filtered water, so I dove in and never looked back. Speaking of diving in, our next stop was one of the many cenotes around Tulum. A cenote is a water-filled sinkhole that naturally occurs in limestone rock when an underground cave collapses on itself and exposes the groundwater below. There are thousands of cenotes dotted around the Yucatan Peninsula and Tulum is home to some of the most popular. On this day we visited Cenote Azul. I had been to natural springs before but nothing has compared to this. The cenote is a short hike down a dirt path after you pay a small fee. There are several shallow, warm pools of water lining the walkway as you make your way to the large pool. There's really two large pools. One is more shallow that allows for you to float and stand flat footed in the water. The other pool is quite larger and deeper, with a couple of cliffs you can jump off of into the surprisingly cold water. I am sure it is much warmer in June and July, not so much in January!

I'll never forget the brilliant color of the water. It's an amazing mixture of navy and turquoise.

My final days were spent visiting rooftop pools, beaches and lazy beachfront bars. Overall I had one of the best times I've had so far in Playa del Carmen and Tulum. If I had the bling-bling I'd buy a condo in Tulum from Alberto. They are surprisingly affordable, usually furnished and in an area that has seen immense growth in the past 5 years.

I hope to return to visit my friends, and Mexico, very soon. Fingers crossed that planet Earth has returned to a semblance of normalcy in the coming months and travel will no longer be a cumbersome chore.

Stay healthy, friends, and enjoy the journey. It's never over.

Oh, check out the pic of my pup Taco Bella below. I scored her a handmade, authentic Mexican bandana and she was all about it.

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