Read the Fine Print: Playa Del Carmen and Mahahual

It’s been a week since I landed in Mexico after randomly deciding to catch a flight down. After spending the holidays with my family I was unsure of where to go and what to do next. So I went to the internet and looked at flights! I knew I wanted the beach and somewhere down south. After discovering I had some hotel points lying around I settled on Cancun. Then, a friend suggested that it would be more fun to spend New Year’s Eve in Playa Del Carmen. So I set my travels towards Playa.

P.S. when booking a flight on a hotel’s website/using points be careful what fare you book. I had no idea I booked American Airlines basic economy (aka no carry on bag allowed). So I was stuck paying $25 to check my bag that easily fit as a carry-on. Luckily, I checked it beforehand and did not have to pay a $25 gate fee plus the $25 baggage fee. So far the theme of the trip: read the fine print.

Playa Del Carmen

How I got there

The bus system in Mexico is pretty well set up. So far I have used the same company, ADO. The buses are clean, safe, and reliable. I am not sure where they stand in terms of price compared to other companies but they have been the most recommended (and none of the prices have felt unreasonable for the distance traveled). The bus from the Cancun airport to Playa Del Carmen is about an hour and costs $190 pesos (about $10 USD). It drops you off right in the middle of 5th Avenue (aka where all the action is).

Where I stayed

Since I booked so late, I ended up staying a little further out of downtown then I would have liked. Kaban 44 Hostel is a relatively new hostel. It has a fun design to it and even a pool. I did not spend too much time here as it was New Year’s Eve. It was a great place to rest my head when I needed to and not a terrible walk to the main beach. The rooms were clean but there, unfortunately, was no hot water. Now I am house sitting for a little bit at my friend’s place. It’s a little farther out of the way but has shown me what a safe and modern town Playa is. The community is very quiet and there is a Wal-Mart just down the road. I rented a car for the day to run some errands and had no problems driving around. Although, when renting a car remember to read the fine print. I chose to rent with Fox since it was only $1.14 USD a day!!! However, once I got there I had to pay $30 USD for insurance. I needed a car and it was 7:30 am so I did not think twice. It was not until after I realized that my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card comes with full liability car rental insurance (all you have to do is pay with the card). Lesson definitely learned.

What I did

Party and sunbathe! Let’s face it, NYE is a time to celebrate and take a few days off to relax. I rang in the New Year at Mamita’s Beach Club where DJ Dannic performed that night. The next day was spent recovering and chowing down on pesto pasta at Lido’s Beach Club. Yes, there are a lot of beach clubs. The whole beach is pretty much nothing but beach clubs, tourists drinking, and children building sand castles. Since it was NYE the whole length of the beach was packed with people. The main strip off the beach is 5th Avenue. It has all the shopping and tacky restaurants you could ever want. From Rolex to Senor Frogs to Forever 21 to Guy Fieri’s- you name it, it is probably on 5th avenue. This is also where the night scene is, featuring lots of bars and clubs for your drinking and dancing pleasure.

I went down to Mahahual for a few days (see below) and then returned to Playa. When I got back I went to Blue Flag Beach, a walking distance north of playa and WAY better in my opinion. If you want to relax away from all the beach clubs this is the place to go. While you can’t order a piña colada while your toes are in the sand, it is a great place to tan and read a book.

Overall

Playa del Carmen is fun if you can tolerate lots of tourists. There are a lot of places to drink and be merry at. The beach is crowded but you can enjoy a nice cocktail and good music. You can also escape to the beaches a little North and enjoy a quiet read on the beach.

Mahahual

How I got there

This little beach town is just three and a half hours South of Playa del Carmen. There is only one bus daily from Playa to Mahahual. We, unfortunately, missed the bus directly there because someone did not wake up on time (promise it wasn’t me!). But not to worry, we were able to catch the next one to a town called Limones. From there we caught another bus. The trip ended up taking the same amount of time and was even a little less expensive!

Where I stayed

There are not many hostels in Mahahual. It pretty much is a town where cruise ships stop off for the day and every one returns to their boat at night. However, it is growing and new hotels seem to be popping up all along the main path. Mahahual is basically just one strip filled with shops, beach clubs, and places to stay right on the beach. The Bambu Hostel is located walking distance from where the bus drops off and in the center of pretty much everything. I will warn you that there is no hot water in the showers. Other than that it was a lovely place! Breakfast is included every morning from the cafe downstairs. At night you can pay $50 pesos and get a home-cooked meal. The night I was there we even had a birthday party for a 5-year-old complete with balloons and a pinata! The place is well kept and has a wonderful atmosphere.

What I did

The beach. There are options to snorkel, paddle board, kayak, and even get your PADI scuba diving certification. I, however, was a complete beach bum for 3 days. I love napping and sunbathing all day long. I have even recently taken up doodling as a past time. It’s a great way to relax and let out those creative juices. At night there is not much of a bar scene but everyone at the hostel is keen to drink a few beers. We bought the large bottles from the convenience store around the corner and enjoyed a few drinking games. My personal favorite is Kings Cup (or Ring of Fire, whatever you want to call it). Then at about 2am, we took a stroll on the beach. It was serene. The moon gleamed largely overhead while the waves gently crashed onto the empty beach.

Overall

If you don’t mind cruise tourists (which were a mix of English and Spanish speakers) and want a small town right on the beach then this is the place for you. I liked it because I could see the beach from where I ate breakfast, relaxed in a hammock next to the water, and enjoyed some chill drinks with cool people.

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19 Comments

  1. Great article, looks like you had fun! I need to see more of Mexico, I have barely seen any of it! Could use some warmth and sunshine right about now….sure beats freezing Poland! 🙂

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  2. I’m headed to Mexico for a week in March! It will be my first time in the country so I’m super excited. I’m not planning on renting a car, though so I won’t have to worry about that 🙂

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  3. Looks like you had a great time! I spent NYE relaxing with family this year. I about the new American Airlines basic economy rules 😦 Thanks for the tip on being extra careful by reading the fine print. I would have been so mad if I had to pay a $25 gate fee plus a $25 baggage fee.

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  4. Looks like you had a great time! I spent NYE relaxing with family this year. I about the new American Airlines basic economy rules 😦 Thanks for the tip on being extra careful by reading the fine print. I would have been so mad if I had to pay a $25 gate fee plus a $25 baggage fee.

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  5. What a fun way to ring in the new year! I was in Playa Del Carmen a million years ago and quite liked it, but it was quieter then. I would be interested to go back and see the changes.

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  6. Sounds like a fun trip and a great way to escape the winter! Yeah, when it comes to flights and car rental checking the fine print is important! I usually assume luggage isn’t included!!

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  7. I wish I could celebrate Christmas and New Year in Mexico but, alas, I won’t be there until March. But I’m looking forward to experiencing how Mexicans celebrate the Holy Week. 🙂 I’ll probably skip Playa del Carmen during the big holidays.

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  8. I didn’t realize AA offered those cheaper rates with no checked bags now. And wow, what a deal at that hostel especially with a meal included. You know how to travel! Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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