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Bumpy Arrival in Playa del Carmen

Being in roving retirement, we can choose to live anywhere we want for any amount of time. Since Diana can’t ski and her leg is taking longer than planned to heal, we decided to spend the month of February in sunny, warm Playa del Carmen, Mexico, on the Riviera Maya, south of Cancun. So, before we arrived, we booked an Airbnb for the month.

Getting There

We were excited to be headed abroad again after a few days in Austin visiting family and friends, even if it was only next door in Mexico (see Life Gave us Limes so we are Making Margaritas). Our American Airlines flight took us through DFW and the first leg from Austin to DFW was packed. Happily, we were upgraded for the next flight to Cancun, consequently, we were in a pretty good mood when we cleared customs in Mexico.

Before we left, Diana joined a couple of Playa Del Carmen ex-pat groups on Facebook and learned of an inexpensive, trustworthy airport transfer service (Paradise Experience Tours). We were a little surprised when a small Mazda sedan pulled up for us, but the driver explained they use smaller vehicles with smaller groups to save gas. Her English was excellent, having grown up in Chicago, and we had a nice time chatting with her and getting some tips for our stay in Playa Del Carmen. We made it to our condo quickly and without issue, she even facilitated a stop at an ATM en route.

“Perhaps you are not staying here”

We are staying in Playa Del Carmen for a month, in part so we can see what it would be like to stay even longer. As such, we had chosen to go with a condo rental through AirBnB versus staying in hotels. Of course, a hotel for a month would be a strain on our budget, as well. The building we chose actually had both hotel and condo sections, which turned out to be a problem.

The elevator in our section was broken, so Diana struggled up the stairs while I muscled up the bags. Also, our room key was at the hotel reception, but no one knew it. “Perhaps you are not staying here”, they said. It took 30 minutes, several phone calls, and a bunch of running around before we were able to get the key to the condo. This exercise took a bit of the glow off arriving in Playa Del Carmen.

Small, Dark and Uncomfortable

After we dropped off our bags, we went upstairs to the rooftop bar and enjoyed the Super Bowl until Patrick Mahomes demonstrated why he was the MVP. Kudos to the Chiefs, I only wish it was not at the expense of the 49ers.

When we woke up in the morning, we came to realize the place we had chosen was not good. Our windows faced a plain white wall 6 feet away on the building next door. As a result, very little natural light got in. Further, the small pool on the roof had little seating or shade, which I need. Also, the building was several blocks away from a decent grocery store or any interesting bars or restaurants, meaning more trudging for Diana. Finally, the chairs in the room were not comfortable enough to enable a month-long visit. It would not do, but it was a national holiday, so we had to wait another day to go someplace better. Meanwhile, we scoured the web for alternatives.

Search and …

Oddly, our web search revealed several potential units in our price range that were not visible just a month before. How had they suddenly become available for immediate occupancy (we still don’t know)? We also reached out to our Airbnb host and told them we were miserable and wanted to move. They responded promptly on the day after the holiday and came over to meet with us. Fortunately, they manage many other units in Playa del Carmen and so she pitched some alternative properties.

We were inclined to work with her since she could apply some of our original payment to another place, so it wouldn’t be a total loss. The caveat was we had to leave our first condo immediately since she had someone to take it that night and it needed cleaning first. So we frantically packed our bags and left.

… Deliverance

Most of the places in town wouldn’t work because there wasn’t availability that night (we had to sleep somewhere). We gave up at one because they couldn’t locate a key for 20 minutes. We finally found a unit nearby that had much more room, better seating, a gym and a large pool with decent chairs and shade but it cost quite a bit more than we had originally paid. Thankfully, the host negotiated hard with the unit owner to bring down the price, explaining to him less money is better than no money from an empty unit. We moved in ASAP.

Making Things Right

It was obvious the unit hadn’t had a long term tenant for a while. The WiFi and AC in the master bedroom didn’t work, these two items needed to be addressed pronto. We didn’t have enough towels and blankets or coffee mugs. As I write this after a week in the condo, a couple of lamps still don’t have bulbs (they use some weird size) and the hood over the stove is completely kaput, but our current digs are so much better than the dark, depressing condo we had originally booked.

We feel pretty happy about our choice especially because we can look outside of our unit and see daylight and living things. Day time highs here in Playa del Carmen are in the 80s, lows are in the 70s. The pool crowd, mostly Canadian snowbirds, is quite gregarious and helpful. The staff will replace our 5-gallon bottle of drinking water for under $3. Best of all, within 100 feet of the unit are several restaurants, a 7-11, a patisserie with decent baguettes and a place with a great all-day happy hour margarita. Brigham Young might have picked Playa del Carmen if he had made it this far.

Takeaways

We typically respond to minor challenges with our travel mantra: It’s an Adventure! Even so, a small, dark, uncomfortable room with little area for escape isn’t anyone’s choice for how to spend a month in a beach town. When Diana’s injury has fully healed, we will have a greater ability to roll with the punches and greater flexibility in location and amenities.

When we evaluated our lodging options, we thought we had screened the pictures of the first place thoroughly. Clearly, more diligence is required, but perfection is too difficult to achieve without boots on the ground and our list of must-haves is growing. It looks like we will need to pay up for comfort and convenience for places we stay in for longer than a few days during our roving retirement.

While we are here, we are scoping out interesting condos and locations and gathering property rental information for the next time we want to visit Playa del Carmen. In other places, we may set up a short hotel stay in the future to check out long term rentals for areas we don’t know well.

What do you look for in a vacation rental?

4 Comments

  1. Mike and Diane,
    Mark and I had thought many times of staying a month in PDC, glad you’re scoping it out for us. We empathize with your dilemma, both as a host of vacation rental properties and as a guest. To booking something for an entire month and be disappointed upon arrival, it’s difficult. Especially internationally. We had rented a 2-bedroom condo in Paris for 5 weeks and there were many surprises you simply can’t know until you’re there in person. I’m glad you had a host who was agreeable and good timing in middle of February – this is their peak season – to find a good alternate! I agree with your takeaways, thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks! We appreciate your opinions in this matter because of your experience as a vacation host. We will reach out to you about Paris when the time comes.

  2. I am learning a lot from these blogs! How do you thoroughly check out things by the pictures provided? What should we be looking for that you know now that we don’t? That would certainly be a good idea to rent a couple of nights at a hotel and scout out a suitable final destination. No one would think to ask is the window open to a blank wall. I know now that I need to ask if there is an elevator and air-conditioning, which we here in the states would think that would be a given. Not so internationally! Keep the useful information coming!

    • I think the questions are different for different places. For example, here outdoor space with lounge chairs was important and we didn’t ask. In Spain, we need similar questions about air conditioning, elevator, what floor the unit is on, outdoor space, proximity to stores and public transport, and parking. I’m sure we’ll come up with more.

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