From Day Of The Dead to Tequila in Playa

Our stay in Playa del Carmen during November and December was filled with celebrations, visitors, tequila, beach massages, touring ruins, and of course, food. We had to make some adjustments because of our initial mobility challenges but by the end of November, things were looking up.

Dia de Los Muertos

We happen to arrive just a day or two before Dia de Los Muertos (Day of The Dead). Some readers may know the term Halloween is derived from All Hallows’ Eve, where November 1st is All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Day. Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico is a celebration and remembrance of one’s ancestors and it covers November 1st and 2nd. Disney put out a fun treatment of the celebration in the film Coco, in case you are interested.

Playa del Carmen put on a small parade of locals dressed up in colorful and skeleton-ish costumes. It was fun to see everyone joyfully marching down 5th Avenue, the main pedestrian route in town. Fun fact: the uniquely Mexican and ubiquitous skeleton depiction, La Catrina, stemmed from a political cartoon in the early 1900s. The cartoonist was poking fun at the President’s wife while trying to avoid direct commentary and possible jail time.

Thanksgiving Dinner

We enjoyed having visitors over Thanksgiving. While Thanksgiving isn’t a special day in Mexico, several of the restaurants accommodate American expats and holiday travelers with a traditional Thanksgiving spread. But Diana wanted to cook for our of town visitors, and she did a great job as usual.

Turkey, even though it is native to Mexico, is quite expensive here. So, she chose to go with beer-can chicken and it came out perfect. With a little sleuthing, I was even able to track down fresh fruit for Diana’s homemade zinfandel cranberry sauce, always a favorite. Dressing was more of a challenge. It may take a couple of iterations to figure out how best to work with what’s available in the Riviera Maya.

One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor!

We don’t treat our time in Playa as being on vacation. If we did, our livers wouldn’t last very long. In fact, we rarely treat our travel time as a vacation. Traveling and exploring is our lifestyle and it needs to be sustainable.

For reasons we understand, however, folks typically ARE on vacation when they come to visit us here (or anywhere, really). This time, one of our visitors hit the ground running. The couple had picked up 2 bottles of Don Julio Tequila duty-free at the exit of the airport. After a few shots, more visitors arrived, which meant more shots. By the time we got to dinner, things had slowed way down. Way down. Like, comatose. Much to my surprise, our visitor popped up like a daisy first thing in the morning. It’s a gift, I guess.

Jazz Concert

Later that weekend, Playa del Carmen had two nights of free Jazz Fest on the beach next to the ferry pier. We hopped down there one night and enjoyed the tunes with many of our neighbors. It was pretty cool to see everyone getting out and grooving to the beat. I’m looking forward to next year, perhaps with beach chairs to make the experience more comfortable.

Massages and Beach Club

One of the things we love about our place in Playa is the private beach club across the street from our condo complex. In addition to always being able to get a shady, beachfront lounger, the bar there has good drinks and food available with discounts for us owners and our family and friends. The discount extends to the massages offered on-site. We can get a good, 1 hour massage for under $35 and then lounge on the beach or poolside.  It doesn’t suck.

Tulum and Cenote with Kayaking

We don’t typically do much in the way of tourist things when we are by ourselves here. We are usually busy with everyday life things and we figure we can enjoy such activities when we have visitors in town. This time around, we chose an excursion to the ruins at Tulum and a visit to a cenote.

The town and beaches of Tulum have become tourist hot spots these days. Many social media influencers have pumped up the area, which has driven lodging and activities there to be quite expensive. The original draw of the area is a fair-sized Mayan fortress ruin right on the ocean. We thought it would be cool to explore it again since it has been probably 8-9 years since we had.

Our driver dropped us off a quarter of a mile from the entrance to the ruins. That was as close as he got. He told us we should be able to get a guide for our group of 6 for $60 and he pointed at a hut for us to get more info. At the hut, they wanted $25 each, which included entrance to the park and a skip-the-line promise. We would still have to walk to the entrance.

I balked at the price and it wasn’t too hard to figure out how to get in. The line wasn’t much to skip anyway. Once inside, there were a handful of guides standing around, armed with mobile credit card readers and ready to take our group around for $60. Done. The takeaway here, my friends, is there are many folks in tourist spots ready to charge you extra for essentially no service. Don’t take the first offer you get.

After an hour or so walking around under the hot and humid sun at the ruins, our group cried uncle and we made our way back to our driver for some cold drinks he had stashed. The next stop was a cenote to cool off.

Cenotes are limestone pits and caverns, leached out by erosion over time. They are everywhere in this area. Some are dry, but there are still a lot around that are filled with water and have sustained inhabitants for centuries. Some are considered sacred.

Enterprising locals have opened many to tourists for a refreshing dip. We stopped by one after our Tulum excursion. After a spot of lunch, we enjoyed swimming and kayaking around a handful of cenotes located on the property. We recommend a visit to cool off in this oasis unique to the area.

Restaurants, New and Old

Of course, we also managed to get out for dining. We had a mix of some old favorites, described in Navigating Good Eats And The Playa Del Carmen Taxi Cartel like La Perla Pixan (aka La Carboneria) and El Fogon. We also found a couple of new, noteworthy spots nearby. 500 GRAMOS is an Italian steakhouse on 5th Ave that has a nice selection of cuts at reasonable prices (say $35 for an 8oz filet with sides and a nice peppercorn sauce). They usually have some smooth live music as well.

The most surprising find was India Jones, a great new place a little further down 5th from us. And I do mean great. First, since we were still not very ambulatory, we got takeout. Next, we joined a group dinner of expats and had a feast. Finally, we went back with a visitor to share our great find. The food is consistently top-notch, as good as any Indian fare I have had elsewhere, and better than most. As strange as it sounds, we definitely recommend a meal there as part of your Mayan Riviera vacation. You won’t regret it.

One final stop we made was to get some rolled ice cream. Making it was an interesting process to watch. Basically, you can pick your base, like cream or soy milk or almond milk and add some flavoring. The vendor then pours the mixture onto a cold metal plate, causing the the product to freeze like ice cream. The vendor then collects the product and cuts it to break up the ice crystals and finally forms the product into rolls. It seemed pretty labor intensive, but it was fun to watch and a bit of a novelty.

What local celebrations have you enjoyed during your travels?

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