Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Another beach vacation but make it international.

This year has been the year of the beach. This is my third beach vacation and my husband’s 1283rd, which includes work trips to be fair.

I was never much of a beachgoer until I met my husband. They’re one of his favorite vacation spots, but I tend to agree with Anakin Skywalker:

“I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere."

That plus the sun and heat don’t make beaches my first choice.

However, Nick is typically very good at planning vacations so I’m happy to go wherever. As long as we’re not working and just enjoying our time together, I don’t really care where we go.

I wanted to write up this blog post to help anyone planning a trip to Playa del Carmen or Cozumel. I’ll outline activities, restaurants and shopping, and where to go if you forgot to pack something as well as where the heck you get pesos.

Playa del Carmen

We decided on Mexico since it had been so long since we traveled internationally (or traveled at all, thank you covid). It’s also an easy flight from Austin- about 2 hours and you’re in a different country with completely different scenery.

Playa seemed like it had a lot to do and had lovely beaches. Be careful what time of year you go though because I hear there is a stinky seaweed season that’s smart to avoid.

There are lots of activities, restaurants, and shopping to be had in Playa. It’s a high-trafficked tourist destination so you’re going to get hassled a lot while out and about. Just say no and keep walking- we didn’t run into any issues.

Another great thing about Playa is that it’s a 40-minute ferry ride to Cozumel, which also has lots of activities, restaurants, and shopping.

Both places are beautiful and look like postcards so to speak. I would take the time to download Duolingo and brush up on some Spanish. It will help a ton. Also, it’s hot and very humid and most places do not have AC so pack accordingly.

And only drink bottled water or soda.


We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Resort in Playa. Keep in mind we travel almost exclusively with credit card points (hotels and flights). It’s how we can go to so many places. We’d go broke staying at all of the places we do with cash. 😅

The good

It’s a stunning property and the pool is fantastic. The beach is only a few steps away, but you will have people walk up to you to get you to buy something. The restaurants there are tasty and the food is actually fairly priced. It was cheaper than the hotel we stayed at in Miami and I think you’ll find that’s the case in Mexico, even in the touristy spots. It’s pretty inexpensive. The staff is all very friendly and we were even able to get late check-out on our last day.

The not-so-good

I’m going to ramble in the section because I’m very good at complaining. We did have a great time in Mexico and might stay at this hotel again.

However, I will say, and I’m not trying to be snobby, that the hotel was less than helpful with a couple of things. They do not have an ATM that gives pesos (I think you’ll find it hard to find one that does. They really want you to spend dollars so they can set their own exchange rates) and they also do not set up covid testing for international travelers. Their suggestion was, “There are a few places on 5th street that do testing!” after we had just checked two of those places and one was “out of tests” and the other was closed despite being labeled as open. While I don’t need someone to hold my hand, this is kind of what hotel concierges are for especially for those who are unfamiliar with an area. I found a great testing location that actually came to our hotel and the hotel said they have a room set aside for just that thing. Well, guess what room was suddenly unavailable when it came time even though we reserved it? Just little annoyances like that put me off because their rooms are between $300-$1000 per night. Again, we use points and don’t have status, so maybe that has something to do with it.

I think the thing that irritated me the most was the water situation. You have to drink bottled water in Mexico so everywhere charges for it, even the hotel. We refilled our bottles in the on-site gym’s water cooler. There were also a couple of power outages during our stay, but they weren’t long just weird.


Gorgeous, but not very wide or long where we happened to be staying. The hotels pretty much butt right up against the water. The water wasn’t as clear as in South Padre, which was surprising, but the beach was well-maintained and it was still super relaxing.

We would go on evening walks on the beach. Other hotels put on outdoor events that we stumbled onto so that was fun as well. One was a group of fire dancers!


There is a ton of good food in Mexico and it isn’t hard to find authentic places for super cheap prices. Be sure to get pesos (lots of places take dollars too and most, not all, take cards) and then head out.

Bistro Playa (Playa)

Address: 1a Avenida, MZA 77, Local 2, Centro entre Calle 26 y 28, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico - Google Maps

Bistro Playa was about a two-minute walk once we got outside of our hotel. It was awesome since it’s so hot all of the time and I just melt. It’s a cute, small place that serves mostly breakfast and brunch-type foods. Great prices and large portions.

Rockas Jamaican Kitchen (Playa)

Address: 1a Avenida, MZA 77, Lote 2 Centro 77710 Playa del Carmen Q.R MX, entre Calle 26 y 28, Mexico - Google Maps

Rockas is right next door to Bistro Playa and it is an absolute gem. Hands down some of the best chicken I’ve had in my life. We also got coconut shrimp, coconut rice, and fried plantains. Get the jerk chicken and whatever sides you’d like- you won’t be disappointed.

El Fogón (Playa)

Address: Av. Constituyentes, Quintas del Carmen, Gonzalo Guerrero, 77720 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico (Right across the street from MEGA Soriana) - Google Maps

This is the place my husband was deadset on trying and what spurred our ATM adventure that I’ll get into later. Super cheap and super good tacos. I loved the chorizo and Nick’s favorite was the al pastor tacos.

HEMINGWAY Lounge & Nightclub (Cozumel)

Address: Casita Publica Casita, Rafael E Melgar S/N entre BLVD Aeropuerto y Playa Publica, Zona Hotelera Nte., 77600 San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico - Google Maps

Another great brunch-type place, but this time in Cozumel. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the ferry. They have great ocean views, tasty food, and kind staff. Our waiter was very sweet and called a cab for us since we were a bit off the beaten path and taxis didn’t frequent the area. He also said my extremely limited Spanish was very good, haha.

El Mero Mero (Cozumel)

Address: 10 avenida entre Adolfo rosado salas y 3 sur, Centro, 77600 San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico - Google Maps

More tacos! This is where we had lunch while in Cozumel. A tiny, hole-in-the-wall type place that serves simple and delicious food. We happened to be there when a group of fishermen were leaving and they offered us one of their (cooked) snappers! A serendipitous and delicious moment.

La Cocina (hotel)

We had their breakfast buffet one morning and it was very good albeit pricey- about $35 per person. Easily our most expensive meal. There are a lot of options and be sure to save room for all the baked goods.

Sushi N Raw Bar (hotel)

We ate here several times and mainly stuck to the poke bowls which were very tasty.

Coffee Shop (hotel)

Nothing better than convenient coffee! Nick would run down here each morning to grab us a couple of drinks. They were always out of vanilla for some reason though.

Pool Area (hotel)

The best thing about resort-style hotels is you can order food by the pool and then eat by said pool. It’s the ultimate luxury. We ordered orange juice, shrimp quesadillas, and the Caprese panini probably every day we were there. The prices are a touch more than what you want to pay, but not bad.

Things to do

We ended up not doing too many activities. When we go to a beach, that’s what we’re there for so most of the time was spent by the pool, lounging, and swimming. However, we did venture out of our hotel a couple of times.

Paraque los Fundadores

There is a cool outdoor theater where shows are put on that you can watch. During the day there is tons of shopping and restaurants. This place is right by the ferry dock.

Cozumel day trip

Cozumel is an island off the coast of Playa Del Carmen and is an easy, 40-minute ferry ride away. The ferry dock was about a 20-minute walk from our hotel. I believe there are two ferry companies that go back and forth and we used Winjet. Be sure to buy your tickets from the actual ferry station and not people offering tickets or packages before you get there. You’ll overpay that way.

Cozumel is a big island with lots to do. If you want to explore, you’ll need to catch a cab or rent a car. There are lots of activities advertised right after you disembark the ferry and it’s an easy way to plan the day.

The ferry spits you out into a big tourist area which is nice because there are immediate things to do. Lots of restaurants and shops to explore.


This was our big activity for the week. Nick found a snorkeling place in Cozumel where you could swim and learn about stingrays. Very neat!

The place is called Stingray Beach and you can find it here on Google Maps. We were able to get a spot without a reservation, but feel free to make one. I would have if I had known they take reservations. It was $50 per person and they provide all the equipment. You snorkel with stingrays (and sharks!) for a bit, then you go to another area and feed, learn, and take pictures with the rays. It’s a lot of fun and I highly recommend it.

Top tip: you’re not allowed to wear sunscreen as it harms the reefs and the rays. You should be able to wear the reef-safe stuff, but they didn’t specify this so you might be stuck sunscreen-less. I didn’t get a horrible burn, but I definitely got sunburned.


There’s an absolute ton of it. Between Playa and Cozumel, you won’t be bored if you love shopping.

The most unique shop I found was this place called Miniso. Apparently, we do have them in the States, but I had never heard of it. There were several of these Japanese-esque stores in Playa and I was pretty surprised, but I loved it. I’m a sucker for cute things.

Anyway, all the shops I looked at are decently priced even in the tourist areas and you can haggle at most places. Remember to have pesos though.



Download WhatsApp before you go. Lots of places use it for communication and you won’t be charged by your provider for messaging outside of your network.

ATM adventure

Alright. We had one not-fun day while in Mexico and it was when we spent a full afternoon, in the heat, hunting for an ATM to get some pesos. As I said earlier, our hotel was less than helpful and every ATM on the main, tourist street only gave dollars. There are also currency exchange businesses everywhere, but you have to give them your passport which we were less than thrilled about. You also might not get a good exchange rate which is why everyone wants you to spend dollars- things are priced higher in dollars so you spend a little more and businesses get a little more profit.

Whatever, I get it, but it’s better to pay in pesos. So where do you get them? MEGA’s typically have ATMs in them that will give pesos (which we used), but right outside our MEGA was Santander, which I guess is a bank. This one is a building in the parking lot of MEGA and just had a row of ATMs. We also used them to get pesos.

Also, when the ATM asks you if you accept the conversion rate say “No” (not all ATMs ask). This will save you money as your bank will handle the conversion rate versus it being passed on to you.

The best way to get pesos is to grab them from an ATM at the airport after you land.

MEGA Soriana

Address: 30 Avenida Nte. 101, Gonzalo Guerrero, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico - Google Maps

MEGA is a grocery store blended with Walmart. They’re huge and have everything you might have forgotten at home. We picked up some aloe, reef-safe sunscreen (this is important to get), and baked goods for breakfast. TMI, I needed some feminine products and I got brand-name stuff for literally $1. Literally. It’s almost worth it to stock up on supplies before going home. It’s also a straight shot from the tourist area to get here which is awesome. You’ll learn your way around town quickly.

COVID-19 testing

If you need to have a covid test for any reason, go to this place: the International COVID Test which is right by the ferry to Cozumel. Check their website for the WhatsApp number. You can go to them or they will come to your hotel for the same price. They’re super nice and you get your results quickly.


Taxis are everywhere and easy to recognize. This will be the main way you’ll travel if you have to drive anywhere. Pay in pesos and ask the driver how much the fare will be before getting in.

Travel to and from the airport

I highly recommend pre-booking a company to take you to your hotel from the airport after you land. That way you get a fair rate versus finding a cab at the airport when they know you just landed and need a ride. When heading home, have your hotel call a cab for you whenever you’re ready to leave. This way it’s on your schedule and you should still get a fair rate. The cost of our cab back to the airport was $50 and was an hour ride.

Heading back home

We spent almost an entire week in Mexico and had a great time. I would have loved to explore more and maybe see some ruins or do more water sports. This time was about learning the area and relaxing.

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