Starting the New Year in Playa del Carmen
Location: Playa del Carmen
Every year I tell myself that I’m not going to spend the start of another New Year in NYC braving the bitterly cold Northeast temperatures and I vow every time that ‘ this year will be different’! Thankfully 2016 was finally that time; when my girlfriend Kirsten of Aviators and a Camera and I got an offer to spend the first several days of 2016 in Playa Del Carmen in Mexico, we both jumped at the opportunity.
The decision to go was easy for me, especially since i’ve never been to Mexico and the timing was perfect since I was dreaming of swimming in the beautiful Cents scattered across the beautiful Quintana Roo area. Of course I always look forward to going to to new places, especially when it’s out of the country and I can enjoy a few days offline to immerse myself in beautiful turquoise colored sea, and enjoy days filled with a sun soaked beach.
How to get there:
Kirsten and I flew from New York’s JFK airport and eventually made a short connection before we landed at Cancun International Airport (CUN). Of course it’s possible to find direct flights from NYC to Cancun, but because our airfare was pre-booked for us, we didn’t have much of a choice. For better or for worse, Cancun has a reputation for being a tourist trap so I was happy to know that we didn’t stay there for any portion of our trip.
Where to stay:
Kirsten and I stayed at the fabulous (emphasis on fabulous) Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso, located roughly thirty minutes south of the airport. The property was incredibly well maintained, with a very friendly staff who all welcomed us very warmly upon our arrival. Our room had a great balcony with an ocean front view and even came with our very own butler who was more than willing to get us anything that our hearts desired (to a certain extent of course!). The hotel is all-inclusive, so no need to continually break out that credit card to pay for anything. Thankfully the hotel is also adults only – and don’t get me wrong, I generally don’t have an issue with children – but just made for a relaxing beach experience even more so. Needless to say I’d go back to this wonderful hotel in a heartbeat.
What to do:
Cenotes, Cenotes, Cenotes! They were by far the number one thing that initially attracted me to want to go to Playa del Carmen. From the pictures I saw online, they were so beautiful ad tantalizing and I would daydream finding myself swimming in the crystal blue waters of these magnificent natural creations. Thankfully, I finally had my chance to experience them myself. We visited several Cenotes during our trip – Cenote Jaguar, Two Eyes Cenote and Cenote Nicte Ha in Dos Ojos. The latter we visited by ourselves and the first two arranged by a tour group via the team who coordinated our visit to Mexico. While a tour group is convenient, I’d probably never choose to do a tour again. They may require that you wear a fluorescent lifejacket at all times and obviously you’ll have the group of people on your tour to deal which doesn’t make for a great photo session or to take things at your own speed. Regardless, Cenotes are an incredible experience and it was easy to see why they were so important to the Maya people. If we had more time, I definitely would have also visited Ik Kil Cenote and Gran Cenote.
One can’t visit the area without exploring the ancient Mayan Ruins in Tulum and Cobá. While we didn’t have time to visit the ones in Tulum, we spent some time wandering around Cobá which was a site of many important events to the Mayan people in 600-900 AD. It was estimated that during its peak it had some 50k inhabitants and to this day the main attraction is the Ancient Pyramid which is open to the public to climb its 130 steps up to the top of the site. My only complaint was with the amount of tourists it made a bit of a treacherous climb up & back down even more so.
Definitely allow yourself some time to walk around downtown Playa del Carmen and I’d suggest renting a bike to explore Tulum. Some of the hotels will allow you rent them by day, otherwise there are local tourist shops will rent them as well.