Even before leaving the airport in Cancun one feels that surely a good vacation is at hand. The customs people are smiling, efficient, and leave you with a feeling that they actually want you in their country. This was much appreciated given I am an American citizen, and Donald Trump has not exactly been helpful in the goodwill department when it comes to our friends to the South. This is how welcoming and forgiving the Mexican people are. They have been dealing with our childish, misbehaving tourists for years, and yet they still welcome us back with open arms. Immediately upon exiting the airport, there is an “Air Margueritaville” dispensing that famous liquid which has turned so many Americans from civilized to ugly in short order. In this case, you can even get a buzz on before you reach your hotel in Cancun or Playa Del Carmen so I guess that does make Mexico complicit in our inebriated ways.
MY STUDIO APARTMENT – $500/mo
I managed to find an inexpensive, cozy AirBnb within reach of all that Playa Del Carmen has to offer. A good supermarket, quality restaurants, and laundry service are all within a few blocks.
I have visited Cancun three times in the past as well three stays in the island of Cozumel, but I only briefly ventured over to Playa Del Carmen. At that time it had not grown into the behemoth vacation mecca at the epicenter of Riviera Maya. I was floored by my first stroll down the currently burgeoning Fifth Avenue or “La Quinta” as it is known by the locals. It is a beautiful pedestrian thoroughfare made of sturdy paving stones spanning its entire length of about a mile and a quarter. For those of you who have found parts of Mexico and Latin America a bit untidy for your tastes, this shopping and dining area is surprisingly well maintained. The incredible variety of shops are beautifully merchandised, and you often feel like you are strolling through an open-air mall in Southern California. Yes, it really is that nice. You’ll have 50 top-rate restaurants to choose from as well as a plethora of other seriously delicious low-cost alternatives. As a result, you can enjoy yourself immensely even on a tight budget. There is something for everyone here, and you will feel overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of all there is to purchase and experience so I will do my best to break it down for you. This way you can make the best decisions for your time in one of the hottest resort areas in all of Latin America which has experienced 32% financial growth in the last ten years.
Given its sprawling nature, you will find yourself faced with so many choices as to where to stay, and what type of accommodation to choose. Due to the massive number of investment properties in the area, AirBnB can be a simple way to secure a safe, stylish and comfortable place, but there are everything from amazing youth hostels that are steps from the water to five-star hotels with private beaches, spas and all of the amenities. First off, a good rule of thumb is to stay between Calle 1 and Calle 40 which run perpendicular to the ocean, and no further from the beach than Avenida 30 which like the other avenidas runs parallel to the coast. The further you move past Avenida 30, the scruffier and less safe things become. For the most part, Playa Del Carmen is very safe, but I had an unwelcome incident at a bar on 40th Avenue that should serve as a cautionary tale. More on that later.
Constituyentes Avenue is the dividing line between the Old and New Quinta. Calle 1 to the Constituyentes is the older sector that is more busy and loud at night with multiple clubs cranking out EDM on Calle 12 until all hours of the night like a Little Vegas on the Caribbean. The only thing missing is the exorbitant bottle services and crippling bar bills. So party it up to your heart’s content, and if you aren’t keen on the monotonous douche douche douche of EDM pounding your internal organs to mush, Playa actually has a number of decent Rock and Roll cover bands to be found in a few nice bars. Bar 10/10 can be found at the corner of tenth and tenth and features great rock Thu-Sun by bands that know their way around everything from Led Zeppelin to Pink Floyd. Bands go on at midnight there. “fah” is a restaurant that features live rock as well, but the bands start much earlier at 9:30 pm and go until midnight just in case you have an early dive time to make. It’s on la Quinta between Calle 8&10.
BAR EL AQUARIO – The location of unfortunate encounters.
Now back to the incident I referred to before. It was a bit disturbing, but hopefully, it will help you to avoid running into a similar situation on your own trip. I had been here for a few days and was hankering for a little rock & roll or at least some live music. Bear in mind I was living between 40th. & 45th. avenue so most of you would not be exposed to this sort of thing. A couple of blocks away from my place there was an innocuous-looking bar that had some particularly good live Latin music wafting out of its front door.
I entered a festive room packed with small tables filled with what looked like a bunch of locals out for a night of dancing with their wives. I figured I had stumbled upon an authentic club on the far periphery of glitzy gringo bars. The Cumbia music filled the club with its vibrant tones as a few couples got busy on the dance floor as the flashing red lighting bathed the place in its glow. I got myself a beverage and chatted with an employee at the bar. I was minding my own business when a short, rotund woman grabbed me the way that our president-elect might find appropriate. Evidently, the women in this place weren’t the wives of these guys, but a strangely grotesque, unidentifiable version of Mexican prostitute, and with temperaments with which you would hardly entrust the uninvited groping of your family jewels.
I wrestled my self free of her tenuous grip only to find myself face to face with a forty-something Mexican ex-con complete with neck tattoos straight out of central casting from “Breaking Bad”. The hatred spread clear across his face from the pursed lips, sneering flared nostrils and slits for eyes that made you feel as if you were staring down a gunfighter in an old spaghetti western. He silently held out his upturned hand as if to say, “You’d better fill my fist with cash or they’ll be hell to pay, Gringo”.
I just looked at him like he was crazy, which he probably was, and he proceeded to punch me in the stomach. He kept giving me the stink eye in a manner that I might be in for a serious beating or perhaps the next assault on my stomach might include a blade tucked away in his boot. No matter how seedy the establishment, nobody wants a dead or bleeding Gringo to explain to the authorities so two large security guys pounced on him and dragged him into another room. He tried to fight his way back in but to no avail.
Just as that calamity abated, a terrible caterwauling ensued from the other side of the bar. Unable to identify the source I assumed its origin to be the floor. Again I saw two security people struggling to resolve whatever swirled uncontrollably beneath their feet until finally, they each lifted a screaming prostitute to her feet with two fistfuls of hair in each hand that resembled some sort of bizarre “Dancing with the Whores”.
At this point that I realized that even if by some miracle the Beatles were to reunite there on that very evening that I would probably decline the invitation. Okay, I probably would have toughed it out for that, but under the circumstances, I headed back to my flat, happy to be unharmed and grateful for some quality material for “The Bad” part of my article on Playa del Carmen. Fortune seems to favor the fearless vagabond.
CHSTR – Fortunately across the street from the horror that is the Bar El Aquario, there is an Italian restaurant that serves up enormous portions of inexpensive and very satisfying food.
Ten dollars feeds me for three nights.
Ah yes, it’s so nice to be overlooking the Caribbean for a month of diving, eating, writing, and relaxation. Those multi-hued turquoise blue waters bring back childhood memories of summers in Bermuda with endless days spent snorkeling and zipping about in a boat called a “Glasshopper” with a completely clear cellulose acetate butyra hull so you could see the goings on in the water beneath.
Parque Los Fundadores – Not particularly overwhelming as a park except for the marvelous beachfront location with a killer view. The enormous sculpture makes for a beautiful centerpiece and gateway to the Caribbean waters that beckon to every passerby.
Nice, chilled, fresh coconut milk to cool off when the weather gets hot and sticky which is most of the time.
CASA PARTAGAS CIGAR SHOP – Havana Cigars
This pleasant Swedish lady and proprietor of Casa Partagas is holding certificate guaranteeing the authenticity of her Havana cigars. This is very important given that about 98% of the Havana cigars sold in Playa are phonies.
All of the guys on La Quinta that are trying to sell you cigars on the street are hawking fakes. There are many ways to spot the fakes, but instead, I’ll just cue you in on the places that sell the real McCoy. Casa Partages has been in business for over 15 years and carries all of the best brands in a proper humidor. There are five other places that sell legitimate Havanas in Playa Del Carmen. La Bodeguita del Medio, Morgan’s Cigars, Señor Habano Cigars, Havana Cigar Company, and La Casa del Habano. So go out, and buy your Havanas with confidence.
PRISON ART – Fashion From Behind Bars
Money Well Spent
PRISON ART – This is a moving story about a man who went to prison, and who upon release wanted to improve the lives of his fellow inmates by creating better work for them on the inside and opportunity on the outside. The pay the inmates receive for the leather goods they create is far better than other work programs in prison, and helps them to support their families while they serve their time. The inmate pictured above is one of the craftsmen.
This is one bit of retail therapy that is extremely beneficial to all involved.
The handbags are beautiful and not all that expensive plus they are quite unique.
The quality of the leather is good and doesn’t have the unpleasant smell that one can find on some leather products in Mexico. The leather is soft and supple.
The stitching and fasteners are also of good quality and check out the golden skull bag jewelry hanging on the leather strap. These are featured on many of the handbags.
Some wild billfolds for the gnarly dudes in your life.
Just like an open-air mall in Southern California.
This is past Constituyentes and heading into the new Quinta that has more of a European feel because of the types of restaurants, the French restaurant and pastry shop, the Birkenstock store, European clothing boutiques and so forth. The other very attractive attribute is that it is not as noisy and crowded as the old Quinta.
CHEZ CELINE – A fantastic place for breakfast and the people who created this beautiful pastry.
CENACOLO – A very nice upscale Italian Restaurant in the new Quinta with a pianist at night.
Also, there are parts of the new Quinta that are pleasantly shaded.
KUXTAL – A condo complex that I fell in love with that is under construction.
Here’s what it will look like when it’s done. There is an incredible amount of construction going on in Playa Del Carmen. Most of the units that are sold are used for investment purposes.
Here’s the type of condo that I wanted to buy. Unfortunately, because I am a houseless vagabond, I was unable to secure a loan to buy this little dream home. They would have needed a property to do a home equity loan with, plus the interest rate would have been horrendous. No way I need that hanging over my head.
At any rate, I have my little studio apartment for two months each year as well as my gnarly, styling Malibu Beach Cruiser Turbo bicycle which is stored there and waiting for me.
This what the view would have been from the rooftop pool of the property except this is one floor lower so it would have been a little better. You can’t always get what you want, but I’ve got the whole world instead. The heat and humidity of Playa would be a bit oppressive all year round.
OLD QUINTA – At Night