June 7 to 14 2014
Getting to Playa
We started going on trips to celebrate big birthdays when I turned fifty. My wife brought me to Key West so we could go diving. It was a really good birthday.
When my wife turned fifty we went to the Amalfi Coast in Italy. I turned sixty this year and my wife wanted to plan a big trip to Europe. I insisted that we go diving in the Caribbean, she insisted that we should celebrate my birthday in Europe. We finally compromised. We could go to Spain for my 60th birthday trip if we went to Playa del Carmen over my birthday.
Both Karen and I had airline miles that were going to expire on our Flex Perks Visa so we were able to use them to buy tickets to Cancun.
We had first gone to Playa almost eighteen years ago. It was a fraction of its current size. During later vacations to Puerto Morelos and Playa Puerto Aventuras we took day trips to Playa. Each time we visited Playa we were amazed how much is had grown. Karen didn’t care much for Playa since it has become a sprawling beach city but we had only experienced the overly touristed areas of Playa.
I came back to Playa two years ago in November to go diving. I discovered that I like the area of Playa north of Constituenties Avenue. It’s still touristy but much saner that the area near the ferry dock.
Karen agreed to come to Playa because I guaranteed she would like it. I was a little worried I might be wrong.
We had an early flight and we parked outside at Park and Fly near the MSP airport. The skies opened up and dumped rain on us just before the shuttle showed up. We were soaked when we got on the bus.
We had a direct flight from MSP to CUN and we had exit row seats. We had booked our tickets separately since we were using Flex Perks Awards tickets. As they scanned my ticket to board the plane a first class upgrade printed out. I told the gate agent that I was traveling with my wife hoping she would upgrade both of us but she scolded me and told me that I should have refused the upgrade when checking in. She was a little rude about the whole thing.
Our luggage arrived in Cancun with us this time, we breathed a sigh of relief. Last year when we went to Isla Mujeres my luggage was delayed a day and Karen’s was delayed two.
It was a one hour shuttle ride to our condo in Playa and the driver had an agua for Karen and a Dos Equis for me. The driver dropped us directly in front of Porto Playa condos.
I had noticed the Porto Playa condos during my last two trips. It seemed like a nice complex. Our unit was on the main floor and we enter through the sliding glass patio doors.
The condo was beautiful. The kitchen had granite counter tops. The bathroom was large. The master bedroom was huge and it had a king size bed that was not rock hard as most beds in Mexico are.
The Gym is located on the main floor of Porto Playa and gym admission is included with your stay. The Gym is a nice health facility with weights, Nautilus machines, a lot of cardio equipment and exercise classes. I had paid to use it on my last two trips to Playa.
There is an incredible variety of food available in Playa. Because of the large amount of Italian expats that live in Playa there are many great Italian restaurants. There are also French restaurants, American cuisine, Middle Eastern and of course Mexican.
Breakfast was included with the room. It was at the Imprevist restaurant on First Avenue. Luckily the restaurant was only a block from Porto Playa and it was on the way to the dive shop. Usually when breakfast is included with your hotel room you have a buffet and maybe an omelet bar so it was a nice change to have breakfast at an actual restaurant.
We had about four or five menu options to choose from each morning. The waiters were very friendly. They knew our name after the first day. One of the waiters spent a lot of time talking to us so he could practice his English.
Once we checked into Porto Playa and unpacked, we were hungry, so I guided Karen north on 5th Avenue pointing out my favorite bars and restaurant. We stopped at Cafe de le Cerveza for a beer and appetizer. I love Café de la Cerveza, there are very few restaurants in Mexico where you can buy imported beer and Café de la Cerveza has a great imported beer list. The food is also excellent.
We usually had lunch at one of the beach bars after we finished diving. El Taj is the sister resort of Port Playa so we were able to get a discount at their restaurant, Indigo. We ate there several days.
Mike the dive master and owner of Dive Mike had recommended Canibal Real beach bar. It is located north of Mamita’s Beach Bar. In a way it is the adult version of Mamita’s. It is smaller and quieter. It was a great place to have lunch, a cocktail and hang out.
Another of the dive maters recommended El Pirate. It’s just off 5th Avenue near 42nd. It was sweltering hot the day we walked the many blocks to the restaurant.
It was an interesting experience. We were the only non-locals in the place. Everyone was watching the World Cup. A band came and set up at the entrance of the restaurant and started playing so was had lots of entertainment with lunch.
We ordered tacos, which was a mistake. Real Mexican tacos are plain. I later found out that the restaurant was famous for its ceviche.
I had eaten at Zenzi and Fusion the previous two times I was in Playa so we ate at both of them after diving. Both are your average beach bar; decent food, decent service and a million dollar view of the ocean.
We ate at a falafel shop on 38th called Chic Pea. I am not a big fan of falafels but Karen loved the restaurant.
Two of my favorite Italian restaurants in Playa are El Diez and That’s Amore. They aren’t that amazing of restaurants but I like the pasta puttanesca at That’s Amore and the shrimp pasta at El Diez. Karen was split on the restaurants, she liked That’s Amore but didn’t care for El Diez.
The owner of Dive Mike had recommended Los Aguachiles. It’s several blocks off 5th Avenue. When we were there about three quarters of the patrons were locals and the waiters spoke very little English.
We ordered the shrimp and scallop ceviche with habanero peppers. The waiter, in broken English, asked us if we were sure that we wanted the ceviche and warned us it was hot. I looked at Karen and she said yes so we ordered it. I was worried about the heat being unbearable.
When the waiter delivered our meal he pointed at the habanero peppers and said cuidado which literally translates to watch out. That made me worry. It was the hottest meal I’ve ever had. I had to drink three beers to keep the flames in my mouth at a tolerable level. Karen and I were sweating, our eyes were watering and our noses were running but it was the best meal we had in Playa.
My favorite pizza place in Playa is Piola. We shared a pizza and salad.
We seemed drawn to the restaurants on 38th because we also ate at Cocette, which is a French restaurant between Chic Pea and Piola. This was Karen’s favorite meal in Playa.
Friday the 13th was my birthday. Since it was my birthday I chose the restaurant. The last two times I was in Playa I walked past La Bodeguita del Medio in the evening and it was always hopping, the band was playing, people were dancing. This is where I wanted to celebrate my 60th birthday.
The food was not the best we had in Playa but it was good. We enjoyed the band, lucky for Karen I’m not much of a dancer.
I had dived with Dive Mike the last two times in Playa and the dive masters are great. I also like that we can store our equipment in the dive shop.
Mike, the shop owner, was our dive master for the entire week. It was just the three of us for most of the week. Both my wife and I have Advanced Open Water certification, that worked out for Mike because he could take us on deeper dives. He also liked that we didn't need a lot of attention from like new divers do.
Mike was training a new dive master, Rodrigo. He was from Mexico city and he tagged along on several dives.
We dived the usual dive sites, Tortuga, Sabalos and others
My favorite Playa dive is the Mama Vina wreck. This is a large luxury yacht that had caught fire. It was not salvageable so they stripped it and sank it to create an artificial reef. There is always a lot of sea life at the wreck. We saw a large green eel as we approached the ship. We also saw barracuda, the main cabin is full of horse eye fish.
Playa has changed a lot since we had first been there eighteen years ago. It has grown so much that it would have been hard to fathom the difference if we would have been able to see into the future eighteen years ago.
I was a little afraid that my wife might not like Playa. It makes for a long vacation if the person you are vacationing with isn’t happy. Fortunately she did, she liked our week of diving with Dive Mike and she like most of the restaurants and beach bars. She even liked the same neighborhoods that I liked.
This was my unofficial birthday trip since I turned sixty while on this trip. The official one comes in September when we go to Spain.
Staying and diving in Playa made this my best birthday except for the fact that I didn’t dive on my birthday. It would have been nice to dive on my birthday but you need twenty four hours from the end of your dive until you fly to allow all of the nitrogen to leave your blood stream.
I will be coming back in November for my annual solo dive trip.
Diving Mama Vina wreck
The ceviche at Los Aguachilies
Dive Mike dive shop. The dive masters are great.
Canibal Real beach bar.