We Survived Pandemic Travel!

On Mexico, Christmas, Covid and Accommodations

Oh no! I just sneezed! Twice. Is that a tickle in my throat? What’s my temperature? I quarantined myself, and now that it’s been more than 14 days since arriving home from Mexico I am happy to report neither of us have exhibited any real symptoms of the Wuhan China virus, also known as Covid19. We survived pandemic travel to and from Mexico!

Our summer 2020 European vacation was canceled. Plan B was to take a 14-day Panama Canal cruise over Christmas and New Year’s Eve which, of course, was also canceled.

For Plan C we decided we could socially isolate in Mexico as easily as isolating at home.

Our flights were completely full of masked like-minded travelers.

Take a minute and picture what life in Portland, Oregon where I live looks like during a Covid Pandemic “lockdown.” Shopping malls, Costco, Walmart, grocery stores, and even Goodwill are open. Restaurants are open for take out food only. Participate in a nightly protest or riot and clash with police, vandalize buildings, smash windows, start fires and pull down statues. Park a RV anywhere or set up a tent and live on any sidewalk or grassy spot. Schools, libraries, and most churches are closed. The amenities included in the homeowner associations or rents such as pools, hot tubs, saunas and work-out rooms are shut down. Oregon’s Governor decreed that holidays gatherings should be limited to six in number. 

Staying home and socially distancing became the new norm for me in 2020. I never had any work. I occasionally shop Costco or do a quick stop at a grocery store, but have most of our groceries delivered or do the pick-up. I confess to regularly seeing only my daughter’s family. I am 60 years old, healthy and daily take Vitamin B-Complex, C, D3, and Zinc along with other supplements. I believe the health risk for me is minimal.

Cancún is the gateway to the Riviera Maya to locations such as Isla Mujeres, Cózumel, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, Tulum, Bácalar and a number of smaller communities all with their own unique vibe. Beautiful Xpu Ha beach was perfect for isolating!

The Vacations2Go travel planner I contacted said, “An All-Inclusive is the only way to do the Costa Maya. And an Adults Only one is better.” Because we had really enjoyed our previous Playa del Carmen stay even though it was at a hotel and not an All-Inclusive I wasn’t totally convinced. We had never stayed at an all-inclusive resort. I heard they came with lots of negative reviews concerning mediocre food, large crowds, and rowdy music. The same can be said of some sea cruises, yet we enjoy cruises. The idea of the all-inclusive was intriguing and I started reading reviews to find a good one.

We had this delicious fresh fish dinner at the open-air poolside restaurant in Puerto Morelos.

In the end we decided to move around and experience several different options. We stayed at a boutique hotel, an All-Inclusive, and a private condo.

Our taxi driver traveled this dirt road to our hotel. I would’ve been concerned except for watching our progress on Google maps.

Puerto Morelos, once an original coastal fishing village is now a quiet, mixed-use neighborhood of private homes, hotels, condominiums, restaurants, and tourist shops. Located a mere 12 miles south from the Cancun International Airport it was a perfect landing place for our first two nights in Mexico.

Hotel Casa del Puerto by MIJ is isolated. It is not in the pueblo of Puerto Morelos. We booked the King Suite with Balcony and Sea View and breakfast on Booking.com. Unit 402 was a 4th floor, 646 feet² unit with TV, sofa, desk and chairs, plus a huge balcony with a hammock and chaise lounge to enjoy the full ocean-front view. The breezes were lovely and we slept with the patio door open all night. There was an elevator, free WIFI, air conditioning and a on-site open-air restaurant as well as pool and beach access. With only 14 units this place is tranquil. The workers were so friendly and there is free parking. 

Some things to consider: They charge $2 for a 500ml bottle of drinking water, so pick up a gallon or two on your way there. The restaurant menu is limited. Again, not a problem for a few days. A visit to the pueblito of Puerto Morelos will require a taxi – not a deal breaker.

Casa del Puerto, 2 nights at $74 a night plus $76 for two dinners and drinking water. $112 per day.

If you’re looking for beauty, peace and quiet I’d recommend Casa del Puerto by MIJ for a short stay. 

Leaving the hotel for our next place we had our taxi driver show us around Pueblo Puerto Morelos and found it to be a place we’d like to return for a stay as it was a walkable beach community with several little hotels, rental homes, eateries and grocery store. Maybe next time?

Catalonia Royal Tulum Beach and Spa Resort at Xpu Ha. Absolutely gorgeous!

Catalonia Royal Tulum Beach & Spa Resort – Adults Only All Inclusive

Xpu Ha, 21 miles south of Playa del Carmen, is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. Our hotel was not hemmed in by big resorts on either side.

Catalonia Royal Tulum Beach & Spa Resort has 288 rooms. The price included all meals, beverages, stocked mini bar and 24-hour room service. We upgraded to the Privileged Junior Suite which included some benefits and perks plus access to the beachside “BLoved Restaurant” which offered a la carte breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Otherwise, breakfast and lunch are served at a buffet with a cook-to-order eggs/omelet station and grilled meats. In addition to BLoved there were four speciality restaurants: Asian, Italian, Mexican and a Steak House. Dinner reservations were never necessary. One restaurant was usually closed each night but we never saw a schedule in order to plan ahead which is why we never experienced the Italian restaurant. The food was always excellent and beautifully plated! Several times we ordered multiple entrees and desserts.

There were a few scheduled activities like a beach walk, yoga, stretching, bingo and aqua aerobics. The music around the pool was not too loud or obnoxious.

Covid precautions were taken seriously. All workers were masked and had hair coverings. Food items at the buffet were behind plexiglass and were not self serve. QR codes opened menus on your mobile device. Chaise lounges were sanitized daily. Workout times for the gym could be scheduled.

Privileged Junior Suite, 5 nights, $255.60/day (plus extra gratuities.)

To brunch at BLoved Restaurant was our favorite “Privilege” perk.
We loved the food at Catalonia Royal Tulum. The Chile en Nogada was exquisite. Our only complaint was that we over indulged!
Where is everybody? We loved that the place was well below 60% occupancy!

I’d definitely return to Catalonia Royal Tulum!

Our room was much larger and the bathroom more luxurious than what we would’ve had in a cruise ship stateroom.

How Does the All Inclusive Compare to Cruising?

In many ways, All Inclusive resorts are similar to cruising – if not better. Specialty beverages are included, not extra and we love our espresso drinks which usually cost extra on a cruise. We are not alcohol drinkers, but after a day of ordering Pepsi and iced tea we experimented with more exotic fruity alcohol-free orders. Many times I mentioned how much I did not miss “This is your Captain Speaking” or “Your Cruise Director here” blasting announcements in three languages all day long. Fortunately, there are neither formal nights nor the song and dance routines presented by the dining room servers. And lastly, you can tip as you wish, and additional gratuities are not added to your final account. Our per day cost at the All Inclusive resort came out to less than it would’ve been on our Christmas Panama Canal cruise.

On the other hand, cruises are an excellent way to travel to see a variety of ports of calls and are really ideal for visiting several Caribbean islands, cruising Alaska and transiting the Panama Canal.

Yes, there is even a Starbucks in Playacar and it was a treat for us to sit down outside to drink our coffee.

Playacar is an upscale gated community resort area of Playa del Carmen. On AirBnB we rented a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom condo. I mistakenly assumed that everything inside the gated Playacar community was upscale. Although our condo was lovely and I don’t have any complaints, it was located among older residential buildings and the pool was a big disappointment. Included with the rental unit was free entrance to The Reef Playacar Beach Club which we used once. While Playacar is considered walking distance to Playa del Carmen, the humidity made the distance uncomfortable and we usually ended up walking one way and taxiing back which was not a big issue, and was less expensive than a car rental. Another thing to consider, taxi rates to Playacar are higher and cars line up at the Security Gates to both enter and exit and show ID, etc.

We were here over New Year’s Eve. Most surprising to us was how quiet it was. There were no firecrackers to be heard until the exact stroke of midnight and then they only lasted for a few minutes.

Condominios Bugambilias, for 6 nights at $91.65 a night, $220 in food and +/-$20 in taxis = $132 per day

The Cost of Travel

$2622 for 14 days of travel for 2 people averages out to $187 per day – excluding airfare and including these miscellaneous expenses: 4 massages for $112, $166 for airport transfers and moving to/from each hotel, and $29 for airport food. The cost of this vacation came to $1300 less than the cost of the cruise before tips and gratuities.)

Within walking distance of the Condos Bugambilias were several good restaurants: Mamma Mia, The Bistro, Bendito Pecado Gelateria, The Brioche, Playacar Burger and Kalypso Cafe. We had fresh squeezed orange juice for breakfast at Kalypso Cafe.

Precautions Against the Virus in Mexico

The days leading up to our departure date we cautiously monitored our health. I didn’t make any non-refundable reservations and was pleased that many accommodations had generous “free cancelation” periods. We also had to take into consideration the possibility of contacting the Wuhan China virus in Mexico and not being able to travel home, nothing we couldn’t live with! Taking the responsibility seriously, I bought a digital thermometer.

Travel day! Our 4:30am scheduled Lyft driver arrived right on time. At PDX check-in lines were long, but mostly spaced out. Security was slow. Our flights were full. Yes, every single seat was occupied by like-minded travelers all wearing face masks. 

January 18, 2021, Melanie Lieberman writing for The Points Guy wrote: “…the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which in October said the chance of getting COVID-19 on a plane was less than getting struck by lightning, admitted there’s risk elsewhere in the travel process, such as at the airport.” I didn’t actually confirm the study but it was a risk I was willing to take.

In Mexico, we were met at each hotel, grocery store or mall with someone checking that face masks were worn, offering a squirt of hand sanitizer as well as taking temperature scan. Many places directed us to step onto a shoe sanitizing mat and in some cases we were sprayed with something! Upon arrival at Catalonia Royal Tulum Resort, our luggage was disinfected and we were asked to complete an online Health Questionnaire. Face masks were worn by all taxi drivers and workers in hotels, restaurants, and stores. Many places had the protective plexiglas shields as well.

At the time of our visit, the State of Quintana Roo limited hotels and restaurants to 60% capacity.

Playa del Carmen was much more crowded, especially on the beach and very long lines for the ferry to Isla Mujeres.

Before returning to the airport we took our temperatures again. We were questioned regarding our health and asked which countries had been visited in the two weeks prior. Finally, we were given a health questionnaire to complete, but no one asked for it and it was still in my possession when we arrived home!

Arriving home, I ordered a contact-less grocery delivery. And now, more than 2 weeks after our return, we are still healthy with no symptoms of the Wuhan China virus.

We love food, especially the challenge of “The Hunt” to discover local eateries offering authentic food at lower prices, usually off of the tourist path. We returned to Señor Taco in Playa del Carmen, a place we discovered in March. This is a huarache and a plate of tacos.

When we return to Mexico, will we stay in a hotel, All Inclusive or private condo?

Yes! All of the above.

I am reminded of something Rick Steves writes in his travel guides, “Spending more for your hotel just builds a bigger wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.”

All vacations are not created equal. I understand there’s a time for luxury, a time for stress-free tranquility, and a time to connect with local culture, people and authentic flavors.

Which accommodation option would you choose?

I’m hoping it won’t be long until we can travel once again to Mexico – and beyond.

Hasta Luego!

One response to “We Survived Pandemic Travel!

  1. We absolutely love hearing about your adventures and we have also enjoyed sharing a few of your adventures.

    Skeets and Connie

    >

    Like

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