In a last minute effort to use up our vacation days and cap off 2015 on a high note, Dimas and I decided to take a sunny holiday in Mexico.
Usually when people book Caribbean escapes during the winter, the whole point is to flee the cold… and snicker at all the people back home fending off brutal winds and snow. With our luck, New York City was having the warmest December week it has ever had in years, a record-breaking high 50’s to 60’s. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish hail storms upon my beloved friends all the while sipping mojitos on the beach.
Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
We chose Playa Del Carmen for their cheaper all-inclusive packages and allure of a more laid-back atmosphere over their crazy party sibling up north, Cancun. The flight was short and sweet (under 4 hours!) which was a welcomed change compared to our previous journeys to Shanghai and Taipei where I could feel myself aging on the plane.
For the budget conscious travelers such as myself, there are $16/person ADO (pronounced ah deh oh) buses available right at the airport terminal to Avenida Quinta. It took a little bit more legwork but is mucho better than the shuttle vans that cost upwards of $50/person.
Tip: Book your vacations through a cash back site, such as Ebates, to get a percentage cash back every time you spend.
Sandos Playacar Resorts
The $1,600 all-inclusive package we purchased (for 2) included:
- roundtrip JetBlue flights
- five nights accommodation in a junior suite
- all meals, beverages, and premium liquor
- Select Club perks (exclusive beach, restaurants, & pool with swim-up bar)
Basically, the only extra cash we needed to spend was on gratuities, ground travel, excursions, and souvenirs. Not having to carry a wallet around or deal with any tabs truly made a huge difference in maximizing vacation mode. Needless to say, we took advantage by day drinking as much as we could and eating 11 meals a day. Totally undid all the previous months’ progress of dieting here.
Grounds: Situated on the southernmost end of the gated Playacar community, Sandos has the unique strategic location of being right next to an endless coast of undeveloped beach as far as the eye can see. The resort itself is beautiful and picturesque, perfectly manicured just as they portrayed in photos with paradise vibes. The entire property is so expansive that there is a golf cart system for guests to utilize. Free bike rentals were also available. But most importantly, FREE WIFI ayooooooo.
The walk from our suite to the beach was quite far but always a pleasant one. It was not rare to come across local wildlife like coati and agouti roaming freely – which were tame and used to close proximity with people – while the resort also had designated spaces for cats and donkeys under their care.
Accommodations: Our junior suite had two double beds, a jacuzzi (which malfunctioned one night and flooded everyfuckinwhere), and a poolside view though I wouldn’t recommend staying on the ground floor due to lack of privacy. Outlets for charging our devices were nonexistent. The bathroom lighting was inadequate and felt like a cave. However, our mini fridge was restocked daily with water, soft drinks, and beer. On every other night, they’d leave complimentary gifts for us: sparkling wine, fresh fruit, chocolate-dipped strawberries, shot glasses, and a carafe of Sandos tequila! – aka thoughtful gestures that helped outweigh all the little issues we had with the room.
Food & Drink: There were ten restaurants and several bars sprinkled throughout the resort, providing us with plenty of options for dining. That being said, you can’t really expect to be wowed by the food when it comes to affordable all-inclusives. Considering that most of the restaurants were buffet style and pushing out large volumes of the same menu every single day, the food was not bad at all. Some places (El Gaucho and Fogo de Janeiro steak house) were more noteworthy than others (Asiana “oriental cuisine”).
Fresh fruit, guac and chips, and ceviche were available at every meal of the day by the bucketful. Cocktails were mostly syrup smoothies but the alcohol was always generously poured. Whether it be mixed drinks or frappucinos, we always had a beverage in hand. Friendly bartenders would even present us with unsolicited specialty shots just because. 24 hour room service was available but the food was, at best, barely edible.
Beach: The beach is the hallmark of any tropical vacation. I am not a swimmer so for that reason alone, I rarely care for the beach. But for some reason at Sandos, we could literally walk out 50 feet from shore and the sea level would still only reach below our waists. Whaaaa?? So that was pretty awesome – coming from someone who is deathly afraid of being swept away in a tide and drowning tragically.
If the ocean is not for you, there were also plenty of activities onshore – bubble soccer, Zumba classes, “footbase” (or kickball as we call it), volleyball, etc. Unfortunately though, due to all the beach games, music, and salespeople, there was no such thing as a peaceful tanning sesh.
Entertainment: The nightly entertainment schedule was varied and surprisingly good, from the Michael Jackson tribute to the Mexican cultural dance show. Some staff would also recognize our faces and personally encourage us to participate in activities. For the 21+ night owls, La Mision nightclub was open and pumping top 40’s until 2am.
Sidenote: We did not encounter a single timeshare seller during our stay though Caribbean all-inclusives are notorious for them. Might have had to do with our baby faces.
Xel-Ha, literally “where the water is born,” is a popular aquatic park – just one of the many within the Xperiences Xcaret network of all-inclusive eco parks, archaeological sites, and adventure tours throughout the Riviera Maya region. At $109/person including admission and unlimited food/drink, it was the cheapest option out of all the parks. While it is still quite pricey, keep in mind a portion goes towards conservation efforts and promoting sustainable tourism.
Tip: Get tickets online at least two weeks early for deals and discounts.
We easily spent the entire day here as there were countless areas to explore all around the park and, of course, a lot of time was devoted to eating at the buffets. During breakfast we were visited by a cute little lone coati only to realize later that the whole park was filled with hundreds of these “mini brontosauruses” as well as large iguanas, and scarlet macaws.
After biking up the perimeter of the park, we each got an donut tube to float down the river through a canopy of intertwining branches. Nature’s own lazy river ride, if you will. We had this section all to ourselves since it was still relatively early. The water was crystal clear so that you could see all the fish and the floor right beneath you. Halfway down, the staff released a dozen macaws over the river – an incredible sight I’ll never forget!
Everything about the experience was absolutely unreal and breathtaking.
Besides the lazy river, we also ziplined, swam in a cave, and snorkeled for hours alongside stingrays and schools of fish.
P.S. I got the illest mosquito bites here.
P.P.S. To keep our phones with us while in the water, we bought waterproof pouches which proved 1000% invaluable. We wouldn’t have been able to take any of these pictures otherwise!
This was my first time doing an all-inclusive resort type vacation and I learned that I totally prefer the exploring-local-neighborhoods type a lot more. That’s not to say I didn’t have an amazing time however. Different strokes for different folks.
Until next time..! Really yearning for Southeast Asia island-hopping or a Euro trip tbh.
Hasta luego! 🌴