The Colorful Riviera Maya of Mexico

I confess, I felt like a naughty student playing hooky. It was exciting and adventurous, yet I didn’t want to tell anyone about our adventure. I feared to be judged reckless and irresponsible because everyone else was canceling trips to stay home. Yet this was exactly what I needed!

If ever a trip was booked last minute, this was it. The decision (and a reservation or two) to go to Mexico had only been arranged a mere 12 hours prior to leaving for the airport.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, Oregon schools had closed a week early for their annual Spring Break extending the normal one-week vacation to two full weeks! Our previously planned Spring Break getaway as well as trips scheduled for April, May and July had all fallen through. In my opinion, to not take advantage of this window of opportunity was crazy.

Just a few months back airline prices were prohibitively high for Spring Break, but now were a real bargain. All across the country places were shutting down. Was there any warm place where we could go and just chill?

We breathed a sigh of relief upon boarding the flight from Denver to Cancun. Prior to that we feared Mexico might close her borders.

We considered the pros and cons of staying in the USA and flying to the Hawaiian Islands versus staying on the North American continent and going to Mexico. We reasoned that crossing a land border was easier than a vast ocean if we needed to get home quickly or in the event that flights were canceled.

Mexico won out over Hawaii for being the better economic value. Accommodations were less expensive and we would not need a rental car.

The soft white sand beach and aquamarine, turquoise, clear warm waters of Playa del Carmen made me feel a million miles from Portland, Oregon.

First I found Southwest flights for a 12-night round trip to Cancun. Regarding accommodations I wasn’t sure where to stay. My brain was swirling with all the options: Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, Tulum…? I called a friend who recommended the website and after a super quick perusal decided on Playa del Carmen and used to reserve a hotel for the first four nights. I liked the idea that we could wait and see how we liked PDC and perhaps move around to experience a few different locales. I also booked and paid for a shuttle service to meet us at the airport.

The Playa Palm Beach Hotel was a treasure which exceeded our expectations and our usual budget. A small hotel, yet it had a lovely courtyard of lush tropical plants and colorful flowers, a small pool, palm trees, chaise lounges right on a sandy beach, and provided drinking water and breakfast, as well as being within walking distance to everything.

Breakfast including fresh squeezed orange juice (my favorite!) was delivered to our balcony each morning where we had a table, chairs, hammock and an ocean view. There was only one negative. “Noseeums” were biting and I had a multitude of itchy insect bites on my ankles and legs.
Unit 307 is a suite with bedroom, kitchen, bath and living room that could open up to another bedroom/bathroom unit. The two units are for sale.
The small beachfront at Playa Palm Beach Hotel and access to walk the beach and find beachside restaurants and massage therapists all outbidding each other. For $50 the two of us had hour-long massages to the sound of waves slapping the beach. Later we found prices as low as $36 for two.

Mexico is considered a foodie destination. The variety of flavorful Mexican food and sweet tropical fruit was a big draw for us. It is a real reason to return in the future.

We loved the food! We had fresh succulent shrimp, octopus and fish dishes, chicken, al pastor, chorizo, and steak tacos, burritos, guacamole and regional specialties like the Tlayuda (pictured lower left) which looks like a pizza.

If one goes to the Yucatán they must see Chichén Itzá, named one of the Seven New Wonders of the World! We purchased the excursion from our hotel concierge and extended our stay at Playa Palm Beach Hotel for another night.

The all day tour included a visit to a cenote, a small village and the Mayan site of Chichén Itzá. It is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico with over 2.6 million tourists in 2017.

The Yucatán Peninsula is a limestone plain, with no above-ground rivers or streams. The region is pockmarked with natural sinkholes, called cenotes and an underground river system. This one is like a swimming hole in a huge underground cave with just a small opening to the sky above.
Dominating the site of Chichen Itzá is the pyramid the Spanish named El Castillo – or the Temple of Kukulkán. It stands about 118 feet tall.

According to Wikipedia, “The Mayan name “Chichen Itza” means “At the mouth of the well of the Itza.” Chichen Itza was constructed from 600-1200 AD.

“The northern Yucatán Peninsula is karst, and the rivers in the interior all run underground. In 2015, scientists determined that there is a hidden cenote under Kukulkan, which has never been seen by archaeologists.”

Our guide said the pyramid was used to study the sun, stars and planets. A steep staircase on each side consists of 91 steps. The staircase has a serpent head, but no body, until a body appears as shadow during the equinoxes.
“Around the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, the northwest corner of the pyramid casts a series of triangular shadows against the western balustrade on the north side that evokes the appearance of a serpent wriggling down the staircase, which some scholars have suggested is a representation of the feathered-serpent god Kukulcan.” Photo and text from Wikipedia.
The Maya played a ballgame in a large field with a hoop on the two stone side walls. Archeologists agree that the court at Chichén Itzá is the most impressive, largest and best preserved ball court in ancient Mesoamerica. It measures 551 by 230 ft. Many of the stone buildings were originally painted in red, green, blue and purple colors.

We had agonized over the decision of where to book our next stay and decided to try resort living. We booked a condo in Xio Akumal of the Tao Wellness Resort, inside the Gran Bahio Príncipe Resort for the next three nights – or so we thought.

Returning from our Chichén Itzá excursion we received a text message from the U.S. State Department recommending that “Americans return home – or be prepared stay abroad indefinitely.” We were very thankful that we had the foresight to not make reservations for all 12 nights of our intended vacation because they would’ve been non- refundable.

The next morning we had news that out return flight (still 6 days in the future) had been canceled and that Southwest Airlines was suspending all international flights. Their last scheduled flight out was in two days!

Do we go home or bunker down in Mexico? 😎

California’s Pacific Coast Highway this is not. Traveling south over the very flat terrain of the Yucatán Peninsula there are no ocean views; billboards advertising adventure parks and resorts are abundant. Also hard to miss are the grandiose gated entrances to luxury resorts that guard the privacy of the rich and famous. They make you feel either like a million bucks – or poor and excluded.

We did not feel like a million bucks as we pulled our suitcases behind us and crossed the highway to a less assuming and unmarked gated entrance. The colectivo (the local inexpensive bus service) had just dropped us off on the side of highway at South Akumal. We assured the guard someone from Reception was coming to pick us up. He probably didn’t know what to make of “these poor creatures” who traveled by colectivo instead of private car or taxi.

Waiting for our ride, we witnessed workers departing the grounds on foot or by bicycle, each one opening their personal bags to be examined by the guard. The guard informed us that we had arrived at the “auxiliary entrance” – the workers’ entrance.

We were finally delivered to the open air Reception surrounded by jungle garden and birdsong. It was so tranquil, and very, very deserted. It was here that we learned that everything was shut down. The pool, yoga studio, fitness center, 4 of the 5 hotels, most restaurants, and the shuttle service were all closed. It became very clear why we had gotten such a bargain.
This beautiful pool at Xio Akumal was still open when we visited.

No restaurants, but we didn’t go hungry. Prior to arriving we had stopped at a fruit stand to purchase a papaya, mangos, and an avocado. We met a family at the pool who were leaving in the morning and gifted us a bag of groceries including a brand new bag of tortilla chips to go with our avocado!

Instead of 3 nights we only got to stay 2 and they graciously refunded the third night of our 3-night “non-refundable” reservation.
We flew on Southwest’s last flight out of Cancun, Mexico.
We rented this lovely spacious condo for nearly $67 a night.

Mexico has long been a popular Spring Break destination. The place was busy, but we don’t know if the size of the crowds were normal or smaller than usual. Many of the tourists were from Europe and other Spanish speaking countries. We heard talk that the coronavirus was beginning to affect Mexico, that business was slowing down and cruise ship ports closed. I believe the pandemic will cause many Mexican families financial hardships.

We patronized 3 of the 5 Playa del Carmen Starbucks. Steve felt right at home.

The Cost of Travel for one week: Costa Maya, Mexico

I share our cost of travel not for bragging rights, but to encourage travel and help others with budgeting their travels. Our transparency in sharing our actual expenses is to demonstrate the affordability of travel. One can always spend more or less.

$1398.69 for 7 nights/8 days = $174.84 a day including airfare.

  • Airfare: $178.10 (for taxes on Southwest flights that were paid with 35,568 points.)
  • Accommodations: $739.29 = $106.61/night
  • Transportation: $125.57 = $15.70/day (includes airport transfers, taxis, buses, and tips, but not flights.)
  • Entertainment: $186.97 = $23.37/day (includes 4 1-hour massages, Chichén Itzá excursión, tips.)
  • Food: $177.75 = 22.22/day (includes all coffees, snacks, meals, and gratuities.)
I use the Trail Wallet app to track each trip’s costs as well as home expenses.

We are home and are grounded! That is to say, the day we arrived home Oregon’s Governor issued Executive Order 20-12 ordering people to stay home. We survived the flights with no illness. May life, work and travel return to normalcy soon!

We have good memories of our spontaneous Mexican getaway.
Until next time! Hasta Luego!

4 responses to “The Colorful Riviera Maya of Mexico

  1. Looks beautiful. So nice you and Steve could squeeze this in.

    On Mon, Apr 6, 2020, 6:17 PM Meet You In The Morning wrote:

    > Merrill posted: ” I confess, I felt like a naughty student playing hooky. > It was exciting and adventurous, yet I didn’t want to tell anyone about our > adventure. They might judge us as being reckless and irresponsible because > everyone else was canceling trips to stay home.” >


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