mexico travel diary: playa del carmen & cancun

I wrote this months ago. Then finals hit, I burned out, and forgot that it existed. Today, on the first Monday of summer, I return. 

Jordan and I spent the last week getting fat and crispy on the Riviera Maya in Playa Del Carmen + Cancun. It is technically our spring break, but if you know me at all, you know better than to envision clubs and water raging on jet skis. Here's a day by day break down of how we got around:


We left LAX on a beautiful Saturday evening, and connected in Dallas, where we had a COUNT IT 9-hour layover. Midnight shenanigans (read: nachos and a Madame Secretary binge) ensued. Then we hopped on a quick flight to Cancun. Here's where the really helpful advice kicks in - we rented a private car ($60 one way for 2 people) ahead of time to pick us up and drive us to Playa Del Carmen, which is about an hour from the airport. DO THIS. I cannot express the relief you feel walking directly into humidity and knowing there's someone there to drive you exactly where you need to be.
We basically spent the rest of the day sleeping the deep sleep of people who know they have nowhere else to be in THE MOST BEAUTIFUL AirBnB.

DAY 2: 

Time slows down when you're on vacation - especially as someone who thrives on hyper-productivity, it was such a novelty to just wander the streets of Playa Del Carmen, sifting through identical mass produced souvenirs and eating a taco whenever I felt like it. We found this wonderful little breakfast spot that served not only the best damn breakfast burrito I've ever had, but FIG LEMONADE, an innovation I didn't know I needed. We spent the day frolicking in the water and then went to the exotic shopping oasis of Walmart to get some snacks for a movie afternoon. We watched Highwaymen. It was pretty good, as far as vehicles for Woody Harrelson to be Woody Harrelson go. That night, we walked all the way down 5th Ave, the main shopping drag, and found a smaller, more immersive restaurant that served me the biggest burrito I've ever seen, and a rotating cast of street dogs. I appreciated both. I did not appreciate the amount of times I was asked if I wanted to buy cocaine.

Day 3:

Today is the day I face one of my biggest tourism fears: Zip lines. The people at XPlor Adventure Park graciously invited us to spend a day at one of their beautiful parks, ziplining over a mile of courses, hammock splashing (Jordan's favorite) and crashing around in amphibious vehicles. It was SO much fun once I got over both my crippling fear of jumping into space secured with nothing but a carabiner and the worst wedgie of my LIFE. They also had an all-you-can-eat buffet, which was very exciting for me, and a juice bar surrounded by hammocks, which really just pushed it all over the edge. Everything is included in the price of admission, which makes this a really solid vacation activity in my book. The embarrassing tourist photos are going to run you $70, but I figured it was worth the #content.

Day 4: 

We woke up at the crack of dawn - 10am - and rolled out to the breakfast place where we were practically becoming regulars. I said goodbye to the cat that lived downstairs. We packed our bags and hopped on a shuttle to our resort in Cancun. We booked this through the same service we used to get from the airport to Playa Del Carmen, and I think it was a solid (and safe!!) option. I already knew the resort was going to be a very different experience, but it was practically another planet. We stayed at Krystal, in the Hotel Zone, but didn't do the all-inclusive package because neither of us drink, like massages, or wanted to eat hotel food. So we splurged a little and got an ocean view room that never ceased to amaze me with its beauty. We spent the rest of the day down in the ocean, getting rolled over by warm blue waves, and burnt (Jordan) but the #nofilter sun. For dinner we headed out to a small taqueria on the corner of a very busy street, and I ate too much Al Pastor. We also had a relatively harrowing experience in the souvenir marketplace, in which I got yelled at so much by various merchants that I ended up making a blind dash for an exit. I'm not hardcore enough for that

Day 5:

 TO THE ISLAND. Jordan has family who lived on Isla Mujeres, and has spent quite a bit of time there himself, so we took a taxi to the port, got on a ferry, and headed across the way. I'll admit that I expected it to be a bit like Catalina - sleepy, overpriced, and island-y only in geographic function. I was plesantly surprised to find that I was completely wrong. Tour Guide Jordan directed me to a very specific side street witha very specific torta's cart, then to a very specific ice cream shop that made delicious lemon sherbert, and then to a very specific strand of beach tucked away from the larger beach clubs and main resort that litter the northern end of the island. After a traditional mid-vacation meltdown, we rented a golf cart and scooted off to the southern end of the island to check out a landmark and Jordan's very cute baby cousin. I picked up a whole coconut on the way, and then realized too late that I had no way of eating it once I drank all the coconut water. Thus it sat in the back of our golf cart like a slightly sweaty bowling ball all afternoon. We went to the Easternmost point of the island (and Mexico!!) and paid a couple pesos to wander to the very edge of a slightly sketchy cliff (something that is becoming too frequent in our travels) 10/10 would do for the view, but not for the art, which is slightly corroded and may also just be ship junk. Unsure. After that, there was swimming (Jordan) and fresh mojitos by the pool (Me). We said our goodbyes and made our way to the north of the island to return the golf cart and have a very lovely young man make me a crispy crepe with Nutella and plantain. It was one of the top three best things I ate on the whole trip, and it cost me about a dollar. We wrapped up the day with fresh ceviche ON THE OCEAN, watching the beautiful sunset. Then we had to get back on the ferry, and I'll spare you the details of my nausea.

DAY 6:

This is it (or so we thought.) - our last day. I got up early and took a sunrise walk by the ocean, until I was interrupted by the seaweed tractors and decided it was time for breakfast and packing.  We had a late night flight, so rather than pay for another night at the resort, we checked out and handed our bags over to the concierge, then headed out to hang by the pool. Lots of resorts are fine with this as long as you communicate ahead of time, and it can save you a lot of money that you would have spent on a room you aren't even going to use. Jordan played aqua basketball with some Australians, and I ran through one of my favorite Sophie Kinsella novels (and about four virgin pina coladas). It was the only day of our trip that was very stereotypically "beach holiday", and while I enjoyed it, I was ready to head home. Pro tip: if you do pack away your luggage, make sure to leave out clothes to change into as well as any toiletries you may need pre-airport. Our resort ended up losing power and running water (???) but we both looked fresh leaving the airport. Little did we know.

DAY 7:
I covered this moment by moment on IG, but basically: We got to the airport at 8:30pm for what was supposed to be a 2am flight to Mexico City. We did this because TSA in the Cancun airport *shuts down* at a certain point in the night and doesn't reopen until 6am. Around 1:30 am, our flight is delayed. Around the time it was supposed to leave, it is cancelled. Panic ensues. People scatter. No one speaks Spanish. Hours later, we are rebooked onto a flight that leaves at 1:30pm. That flight gets delayed. We eventually make it onto a plane that leaves at 2:30, we get to Mexico City around 4, and are told our flight to LAX is (guess what??) delayed. Finally, we make it onto a plane that lands in LA at 10:45, at a remote terminal. We shuttle to security, shuffle through visa checks, and finally make it to the departure gate - to get on yet another shuttle that will take us to our car.

Day 8:

We reach our car, and after peeling out of the garage at breakneck speeds, the gate employee is a real homie and doesn't charge us for the extra day our car has been parked there. We go home and sleep for far more hours than is strictly healthy.

Honestly, I loved Playa Del Carmen, it was beautiful and lively and the food was incredible.  I felt just as safe as I do at home, and liked being in a real neighborhood.  I probably wouldn't go to Cancun again. Resort life isn't the thing for me, and the areas outside of the resorts felt too unsafe to wander about the way we usually do. It also cost a lot more, and so wouldn't be as great for a full length trip on a budget. I definitely will never fly with Interjet again.

Did you make it through? Are you still alive? I was going to write about how we pay for all of this as well, but as this blog post is already the length of several of my final essays, I'd better save that for another day. (Gotta keep you coming back, am I right?)

Jordan insists I mention that I got a sunburn, but I actually had an allergic reaction to cheap sunscreen.

Stay safe, don't get burnt. 

x Justina

ps. for outfit details, check posts on my instagram, everything is tagged.

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