Returning to Our Happy Place in Playa del Carmen

The last time we visited Playa Del Carmen was in 2020 when I was rehabbing my broken leg, after the first surgery. My injury prevented us from doing a lot of things and really exploring the town and the surrounding area. 

This time our visit is 8 weeks after my knee replacement. But I can unequivocally say, I’m much more capable of exploring on foot than I was before. I’ve been walking without assistance for four weeks, let’s get those steps in.

Why Did We Return

There are lots of reasons to return to a place multiple times: family, friends, climate, and ambiance, I’m sure you have your own reasons. In general, we think there are so many places to see that there isn’t time to return to the same place. But for me, Playa del Carmen has always had the right feel for relaxing and I’m drawn to comfort after surgery. So, as we were planning our 2023 travel, sometime in Playa after my knee surgery was definitely in order.

While we don’t have family here and we haven’t been here long enough for friends, Playa is close enough to the US should we have to return quickly. It is also close enough to the US for visits with our “Go With Less” friends. We even ran into some Canadian friends we met when we were here in 2020, how cool is that?

Why Is It Our Happy Place

For me, the ocean is essential to my well-being. Playa del Carmen is on the Caribbean side of Mexico, where the water is warm. We like the white sand and water that is comfortable for swimming and diving. We had one of the best dive experiences in Cozumel a few years ago.

In our experience, we have always found the people of Mexico to be friendly and helpful, even if things work on “island time.” Mexicans are known to have a much better work-life balance than other cultures, which means they don’t work all the time. If you try to be in a hurry here, you’ll just get frustrated, another drive for relaxation. It isn’t Jamaica, but “Don’t worry, be happy” really fits this place.

While we have been to beachy places all over the world, Mexico is one of the easiest and least expensive places to relax. Together, Mike and I have been to the Riviera Maya more than five times in the last 10 years. We also sampled the Pacific side of Mexico more than five times. We just like the combination of access from the US, the price, the climate, the people, and the walkability of Playa. No car is required to have an interesting and varied experience here.

The Climate

I like it warm to hot, 80 degrees or better. Playa has that and since we were planning for April, we figured the humidity wouldn’t be too high. All of me feels better in the heat and in Playa, I’m able to take a lot less ibuprofen for my arthritis than in places that are below 80.

When I get off a plane and feel the humidity and see palm trees, my brain goes into vacation mode. I had never visited anyplace tropical until my first solo trip after I graduated from college when I went to a number of islands in the Caribbean. There are at least five different times in the past when I distinctly remember the feeling of peace that I experienced when I got off a plane in a tropical place.

Most of my early trips were to Mexico. I didn’t go back to the Caribbean much until I met Mike. The first trip Mike and I ever took together was to a dive resort on a little island in the Bahamas. We got off the plane on this old airstrip with the heat and the palm trees that always make me smile. That particular island was so remote that the airport terminal was a little, mostly outdoor lean-to.

Palm Trees in My Happy Place

I am a sucker for palm trees. They have always represented peace and relaxation in my mind. More than 25 years ago, I went to San Francisco to buy a $900 Pigmy Date Palm for my backyard in Los Altos just to get the vacation feeling. (That was before you could get them at Home Depot for about $50.) In my mind, a relaxing vacation has to include the sound of the breeze rustling the palm fronds.

As I sit here writing this article, listening to the breeze through the palm trees, and looking at the beach, I just want to lay down and melt into the environment. You know how some people go to a spa for that feeling, I come to Mexico.

Where We Stay

Playa is one of the few communities where there are lots of “affordable” accommodations within a 10-minute walk of the beach. When we were here in 2020 we stayed in a condo in a place we thought was a good location for restaurants, entertainment, and the beach. Since we were staying more than a week we wanted a condo vs. a hotel. After looking at a bunch of places on Airbnb, VRBO,, and a few other private sites, we decided to stay in the same complex that we did in 2020.

Last time we had a two-bedroom on the ground floor that was a bit of a fishbowl. We didn’t want that again and we only needed a one bedroom for us. Luckily I found some places, but it was really expensive. We decided to go for it anyway because things were getting booked up in April. After we got here, we learned that two weeks in April, around Easter and vacation weeks in Mexico, was why everything was booked up.

Via 38

This year’s apartment was a little funky with two interior sliding glass doors that are too difficult to explain. We never really figured out why they designed a one-bedroom that way but it has a nice balcony overlooking the pool. Rooftop pools are all the rage here because real estate here is a limited resource. But I like in-ground pools and only the older properties have this type of pool.

We also had issues with the air conditioner and they came in a bunch of times to fix it and then told us nothing was wrong with it. The final insult was that the elevator stopped working. I will say my knee is rehabbing faster than the last time, but stairs are still difficult both up and down, so no elevator was very upsetting. All this said I don’t think any of this is unusual for Mexico. Because we could, we decided to move to another condo for the last week and a half of our visit. More about that in a future article.

What We Are Doing on this Visit

Since I’m still rehabbing my knee, I found a really nice physical therapist within walking distance from our condo. I scheduled visits twice a week as soon as we arrived. We also went to the dentist to have our teeth cleaned and repair a chip in my front tooth. I think he did a really nice job of using composite to fill in the missing part of my tooth.

Otherwise, we have checked out a number of restaurants, shopping spots, and legal services. Because I’m more mobile this time, we were able to walk the entire Sunday flea market but there wasn’t much we would want to buy. Mike wants to go back again to check out the food stalls but he likes street food more than I do.

We are mostly just hanging out and enjoying our downtime before we head to Europe again.

What’s your happy place?

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