Little Black Book...Salsa Dancing in Mexico
Playa del Carmen
I love flying; looking down at the patchwork world below and knowing that someone somewhere is looking longingly up at my plane, wondering where it's headed. Well, if they are anything like me they're wondering.
It seems like I've spent half my life speculating on where people are going and where I can go next. Before every trip I spend a good deal of time planning, making lists of sites to see and things to do.
But Mexico was different; I'd just gotten back from Asia and could already feel my chronic restlessness settling into the background of my everyday life, like the constant dripping of a leaking faucet that refuses to be shut off.
So when a couple I knew decided to go on a last minute trip to Mexico and asked me to tag along I practically ran home to pack my bags. With no notice, no lists, travelling companions who'd never really traveled and a host I had yet to meet I found myself once again in uncharted waters, which was exactly where I wanted to be.
Our host, a mild Canadian who'd been living in Playa del Carmen for the winter was a great tour guide, and since he already had Mexican friends we got a more local taste of the area than usual. We did stray onto the touristy Avenida Cinco one afternoon, but I found the backstreets of the city more interesting, especially our own block.
It was lovely waking up to bright white light sifting through open windows onto the bare floor, listening to sounds of the awakening neighborhood. I had brought my ipod, but music seemed to be in the air on our little street; the overlapping beats of the cleaning ladies salsa radio, the Spanish hip hop of the passing trucks mixed with the sound of men laughing, birds chirping and stray dogs barking, forming their own chaotic symphony of every changing sounds and rhythms.
It was not a long vacation, and Mexico has never been a spot too high on my travel bucket list, but as I skim through my Playa del Carmen journal I realized that last minute trip turned out to be one of my favorites. There are moments of it I will never forget; salsa dancing at la bodeguita del medio, riding on the back of a Moped with a girl who spoke even less English than I spoke Spanish, serenading a colectivo full of amused locals to "build me up buttercup" with my new friends (shockingly we were all sober). What would my year have been like if I'd turned down that last minute invitation?
As I put my little black book for Playa del Carmen back on the bookshelf I can't help wondering how many others fell in love with that little city and its people, and how many of them went back for good, I was certainly tempted to.
My Playa del Carmen To See List
Since Playa del Carmen is a quite a mix of local flavor and tourist traps sometimes its hard to tell the difference. Below is a list of my favorites of both.
El Fogon Restaurant
Mouth wateringly good local food, huge portions, low prices and great company - what more could you ask for?
Jardin del Eden Cenote
Cenotes are actually sink holes filled with water, great for swimming, snorkeling and diving. Just a little ways off the main road this particular spot is beautiful. Since it's pretty close to town the taxi fare isn't bad and the entrance fee is only about 5 USD.
Bodeguita del Medio
A great late spot for drinks and dancing after dinner this Cuban style place has tons of atmosphere and a great margarita.
A beautiful beach and a great spot to swim or snorkel (especially if you want to spot some sea turtles). You can take a collectivo from the bus station in Playa del Carmen for pretty cheap and if you want to save even more money buy your own snorkel gear in town before you go.
Right next to a produce store in 30th avenue this is a great breakfast spot, the fresh squeezed juices are cheap and yummy as are the vegetarian tostados if you feel like going back for lunch.
This coastal Mayan ruin is breathtaking. Bring your swimsuit and bottled water; the site is in the open so you get thirsty pretty fast, luckily there is a nice beach just below where you can cool off.
Additional Sites Nearby
- Ek Balam: A little over 2 hours from Playa del Carmen this off the beaten path Mayan City's name means "black jaguar" in Mayan.
- Sian Kaan Muyil: The ruins of an ancient trading post, canal and temple to the moon goddess Ixel.
- Aktun Chen Caverns: Explore thousands of stalactites, stalagmites and natural sculptures.
- Coba Ruins: The ancient city known for its amazing elevated roads is situated among five lakes in the middle of the jungle and once was home to 50,000 people.