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Mexico – Playa del Carmen

I’ve been told. And I’ve been warned: “Cancun and Playa del Carmen are not your Mexico you would want to know,” a Mexican friend said.

I went to PlayaCar, anyway. And she was right!

I planned to stay there for three nights but I was turned off by the place. I cancelled my third night stay at The Yak Hostel and went back to Riviera Maya Grand Serines Beach Resort to do / explore other places nearby.

Playa del Carmen is, perhaps, one of Mexico’s successful tourist traps. The only Mexicans you’d see on the playa (beach) are the ones working in the restaurants, bars, resorts and vendors. The rest are vacationers, retirees, travelers and Spring breakers!

Playa del Carmen in Yucatan, Mexico.

Playa del Carmen in Yucatan, Mexico.

On the first three hours I was there, I didn’t like it already. It’s like a European beach city in a wrong continent. I sat on an empty space under a coconut tree with my feet buried in the sand and with other backpackers or travelers who can’t afford to be sitting in the beach chairs owned by businesses without ordering something that’s priced in USD. I talked to three of these travelers and we had common disappointments about how Playa del Carmen lost it’s Mexican appeal.

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Playa del Carmen in Yucatan, Mexico.

The beach side
The beach side is infested with hundreds of bikini-clad mujeres (ladies/women) sunbathing on the powdery, ivory-colored sand while most men are gulping their tequilas or beers and retirees sip their margaritas, showing off their bronze tans. There were many small motorized fishing boats anchored on the shore that makes swimming uninviting. There is a part on the shore where it’s filled with sandbags to block the waves from further damage it would create—to wash the sand away. Going swimming in the morning is a great idea when the beach side business establishments are still closed. The beach is yours to own. And yes, sunrise is marvelous! At night, the beach area is almost dead (maybe, it’s the cool sea breeze), as if the crowd that flocked there during the day left Playa del Carmen all at once.
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Playa del Carmen in Yucatan, Mexico.

The bar district
Two walkable blocks west of the beach is a hedonist’s paradise. The main street is alive with tour hawkers, some mariachis, boutiques, souvenir shops, open-concept bars and restaurants. During the day, this strip can be quiet and most businesses aren’t open until 10 am.  Breakfast is hard to find: either tourists are still sleeping from an overnight revelry or they’re having breakfast at their hotel. Walking here before 10 a.m., feels like you are a rare human specie in a deserted, quite place. However, one thing that I really like about this bar strip is the lack of outrageous, vulgar whores around. No, thanks. I wasn’t looking for one. LOL. Unlike in cities I’ve been to— Bangkok, Shanghai, Phuket, Pattaya, Tokyo, Hongkong where I was stopped by pimps to ask if I wanted a sexy lady, a hunk, and a beautiful ladyboy, Playa del Carmen seems to be discreet. In my stroll along the beach and in bar street, nobody asked me if I wanted a puta. Or maybe, poverty was written all over my face that they didn’t bother me. No pimps! No whores! Yay! LOL….
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Playa del Carmen in Yucatan, Mexico.

Animals in captivity
On my very first day, while walking on the bus street, I saw a 3 and 6-month old tigers being hawked to tourists for a picture to the tune of $20. You can pet them by feeding them on your lap with a bottle of milk. Then, when the shutter is clicked, the caretakers would grab the milk away and led them to a post where they were tied up. They were very very playful but couldn’t move because the leash was too short. There were also iguanas, monkeys and another animal I didn’t recognize. My heart bled watching them suffer in captivity. Every time I attempted to take a picture few meters away from them, the humans (the owners) would block them from my sight or move them quickly.
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Playa del Carmen in Yucatan, Mexico.

Prices in USD
There were no beggars in places frequented by the foreigners. No pushy vendors and hawkers. However, goods are ridiculously-priced and they’re in U.S. Dollars! For weird reason that I don’t understand, some vendors would confuse you by calling Mexican Peso as USD. Once I ate in a restaurant and I was shocked by the prices written in the menu: a glass of margarita was $150; an order of burrito was $120; and a bottle of water was $10! My two big eyes were out in a broad daylight and I tried to calm myself by studying the menu from top to bottom if there’s a sentence / line that said, “Prices are in Mexican “Dollars” or Peso” but there was none.
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Playa del Carmen in Yucatan, Mexico.

When the waitress came later, here’s our conversation, verbatim:
Waitress: You English or Spanish, senor?
Me: (Confused but I got what she meant—it’s not the first time I was asked like that). I speak Spanish un poco, so English would be  great!
Waitress: You ready to order, Senor?
Me: Yeah, but can I ask you something before I order?
Waitress: What?
Me: These prices are in USD or Mexican Peso?
Waitress: Oh, it’s Mexican dollars.
Me: You mean, Mexican Peso, right?
Waitress: Yes, Mexican Peso.
Me: Why do you write the prices in $?
Waitress: (Smiled) I don’t know.
Me: So, you sure it’s Mexican Peso?
Waitress: Yes.
Me: Ok, now, I’m ready to order.
And oh, ATMs that dispense USD only are ubiquitous. What kind of foreign country that uses USD outside of US territory? That’s ridiculous and blatant betrayal to your national identity!  🙁
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Playa del Carmen in Yucatan, Mexico.

PLAYA DEL CARMEN FOR BACKPACKERS
In my two and a half days of staying there, here’s what I learned to save money. I can’t say much but here’s hoping that future travelers will be warned of.
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Playa del Carmen in Yucatan, Mexico.

Where to stay: 
The Yak Hostel. I love this hostel. It’s clean and the room where I stayed was well-ventilated. There were eight comfortable beds in a room with lockers enough to place your whole backpack. We had a bathroom in our room and our own veranda, too! The building’s 4th floor has a patio, good for watching stars at night or just plain chillin’. The hostel’s yard is, perhaps, the backpacker’s favorite area to meet other travelers. Aside from tables and chairs scattered outdoor, they have hammocks for a weary visitor. The yard is shaded by trees, thus, a good place to take a siesta in the afternoon. They tend to be full in high season, so, booking online is recommended.
Where to Eat: 
Eat on 15th Avenue. There are small restaurants where Mexicans eat: you’ll be served real Mexican breakfast or food without burning too much cash.
Where to buy groceries: There’s a lone 7-Eleven on the Main street. Buy your stuff there like water, soap, snacks, toothpaste, etc… They are way cheaper than other grocery stores around.
Where to stay on the beach:
If you like the crowd, stay on the center part of the beach strip. But, here, you can still find an empty space where you can sunbathe or even just burying your feet in the sand. Don’t forget to bring your own towel and sun lotion. If you don’t like a crowded beach area, then, go north. I heard that if you go further than that, there’s a nude beach. I never checked it out though. 😉
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Playa del Carmen in Yucatan, Mexico.

Coco Bongo
This entertainment place is revered as the best in the world! It’s a show and disco extravaganza! It will put vegas to shame so to speak. It’s heralded as the ultimate show on earth where real good impersonations of Lady Gaga, Madonna and Freddie Mercury is at its best! The dancing, the singing and the acrobatic parts are awesome and the performers will really keep you on the edge. For the entire show, you’ll be fired up. Don’t go if you hate noisy and elbow-to-elbow crowd. Be there an hour before it starts as the queue would be long. Your $60, (yeah that doesn’t come cheap and it’s in USD, too!) includes entrance fee, drinks and show. As New York Times would say about Coco Bongo, “You have to experience to believe it!”
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Playa del Carmen in Yucatan, Mexico.

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Travel Guide for MEXICO
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