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Playa Del Carmen
Most Romantic Hotels & Best Restaurants
By Ron Kapon, Contributing Travel Editor

Playa Del Carmen Map
New York, NY - The Mexican Mayan Riviera is, in short, a public relations dream of a name if nothing else. First and foremost, let's get the geography lesson out of the way: Quintana Roo is a state in Southeastern Mexico on the eastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula with a population of 1,135,000 million. The Caribbean Sea is to the east and the nation of Belize is to the south. If the name Quintana Roo is not familiar, look at some of the cities contained within the state Cancun ... Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel enhanced further by the Mayan Ruins at Tulum, Coba and Xcaret.

I flew on Jet Blue, for only the second time, non-stop to Cancun in under four hours. Long but not too bad. As you make plans of your own, there's a beautiful new terminal at JFK with a large food court, the check in was easy and my flight left on time. Off to a good start. There was much more legroom and wider seats than I expected, since the plane is all coach, and the individual TV consoles had movies and TV shows that made the time go even quicker. Don't forget the famous snack basket although, admittedly, most folks buy the food of their choice before boarding. Regardless, be advised, without sounding too commercial, that I would fly Jet Blue again in a heartbeat.

Less than an hour south of Cancun you will discover the Mexican Mayan Riviera where Playa (del Carmen) was established by Europeans from Germany, Switzerland and, especially, Italy. Playa del Carmen is named for Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the patron saint of Cancun. In the Mayan time (300-600 A.D.) Playa del Carmen was called Xaman-Ha (waters from the north) and was the departure place for the Mayans who would cross over to the island of Cozumel (Cutzamil) to worship the Goddess Ixchel and bring her offerings. The first modern village was created in the beginning of the 20th Century and was touristically discovered first by Europeans who found in Playa a tranquil place. The lifestyle is slower with clean white sand beaches, parallel to the Caribbean Sea, surf, coral reefs, scuba, jet skiing, windsurfing and a 20 block pedestrian street named Fifth Avenue (Quinta Avenida) with a mixture of shops, bars and restaurants (mainly Italian & Mexican, but with many other specialty cuisines). With a population of about 250,000 there are fewer large hotels and the atmosphere is definitely more laid back. The Playa del Carmen government has attempted to retain Playa del Carmen's charm as a small fishing village and artists' colony, without it becoming as large and metropolitan as Cancun. To help achieve that, the city passed an ordinance limiting buildings to four stories.

For More information

  • www.visitmexico/playadelcarmen
  • The island of Cozumel can be reached from the ferry dock in Playa in less than 45 minutes and it is where the cruise ships dock. The snorkeling and scuba are great as they are near the Great Maya Reef, which passes between the island and Playa. It is the second largest coral reef in the world including the countries of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras & Mexico (Australia's Barrier Reef is larger). That same 45 minutes will take you to Tulum by road, which reflects the Mayan period of 1200-1520 A.D. and really must be seen to be appreciated. Great photo opps here. It draws over two million visitors a year (the most visited of Mexico's archaeological sites) and was actually "rediscovered" in 1842 by archeologists. Hurricane Emily hit the Rivera del Maya and did minimal damage (mostly broken windows and roofs) in July 2005. In October of the same year, Hurricane Wilma took its toll on Cancun, causing a great deal of damage but no lives were lost. It is worth spending, as I did, an afternoon and/or evening at Xcaret, which is about 15 minutes from just about any hotel. For $60 you can get an all day pass or, for $43, just experience the two-hour evening extravaganza (the history of Mexico with over 200 performers). Count on spending about three hours if you plan on walking through Mayan Village, along the jungle trail, through wildlife, underground rivers & caves (called Cenotes, and they are everywhere), through an Aquarium and several other shows. Bring your walking shoes and consider this your exercise away from home.

    Best Restaurants:
    Alux Restaurant & Lounge- Mexican. Natural underground caverns located 10 minutes from the beach, with live music and dancing. Waiters will give you a private tour of all the hidden underground caves, cenotes (tunnels) and rivers. For the record, I loved the food and, yes, enjoyed a writer's advantage of dining with the owner- Rolando Calderon del Rio. Ask for him ... what do you have to lose?
    Mosquito Blue & Wine Bar- Mediterranean/Italian cuisine right on 5th Avenue next door to the Mosquito Blue Hotel. Andrea Bastogi, who also co-owns Negrosal and Indigo, has done a fantastic job, one well worth savoring.
    Indigo Beach Cafe
    Food sampling by chef Jean Paolo Ferrera at Indigo Beach Cafe.

    Indigo Beach Club & Restaurant- On Indigo Beach next to El Taj Oceanfront Condo Hotel where chef Jean Paolo Ferrera is inventive with preparations of some really wonderful fare. Worth having breakfast there any, or every, morning.
    Negrosal- In Porto Playa Condo Hotel- European Fusion, wine room & lounge. Ask to see their underground wine room and then try the smoked salmon and lobster.
    Cocina 38- 5th Avenue-38/40 Streets- International Eclectic cooked by London trained chefs. The sort of restaurant that would do well in NYC.
    El Fogon- Traditional Mexican (called taqueria or Taco Place). When you stop by, if you do, be prepared to be the only "gringos" there. Noisy, crowded with locals and inexpensive but, if you go, try the tacos and guacamole.
    Los Amigos- Authentic Mexican. Five minutes from 5th Ave.and famous for fresh seafood and grilled meats.
    Playasia- Adjacent to the Blue Parrot Hotel on the beach with a dance floor and DJ. No wonder, it is American owned and operated since 1984. Make a reservation, if possible, and try for the multi-level private tree house overlooking the koi pool and waterfall. Excellent wine list

    Just to help you with the menu and order, the regional cuisine is: lime soup - shredded chicken, bits of fried tortilla and limejuice; Poc Chuc - tender slices of pork marinated in sour orange juice, grilled and served with a tangy sauce and pickled onions; Pollo Pibil- chicken marinated in achiote, sour orange juice, peppercorns, garlic, cumin, salt and wrapped in banana leaves and baked; Panuchos and Salbutes - pre-cooked tortilla with shredded chicken and garnished with lettuce and onion. Panuchos have refried beans inside the tortilla.

    Most Romantic Hotels (when attending to bookings):

    El Taj Oceanfront Condo Hotel- 59 condos between the Oceanside and Beachside properties that are across the street from each other. These are not time or fractional share properties. Each condo is privately owned and can be rented out. The beachside has a black mosaic pool and Jacuzzi and is much more laid back. All the furnishings were purchased in Bali and Indonesia by owner Jack Perlman and his wife and shipped here. The beach chairs, lounges and beds are great for couples that need to relax with a romantic intention, commercials for you know what aside.
    Mosquito Blue Beach- All guests must be over 16 in this 33-room boutique hotel opened in 2006. Italian furnishings in this quiet, secluded locale right on the beach.
    Royal Hideaway Playacar
    Royal Hideaway Playacar is a AAA 5 Diamond all-inclusive property.
    Maya Villa- Same ownership as El Taj. There are 17 condos amidst lush vegetation and Mayan art where the complementary gecko-shaped mosaic, glass pool. waterfall and lush greenery make each room private.
    Banyan Tree and Spa Mayakoba- Four miles outside town, 132 private, all pool villas from which you can float along the lagoons that lead to the Caribbean.
    Rosewood Mayakoba- 132 rooms in this 1,600-acre resort just north of Playa. It was #18 in the 2009 Travel & leisure World's Best Hotels. Go by boat along the lagoons and canals to the spa, restaurants, golf or your room.
    Esencia and Spa- Set in 50 acres of gardens, they hold cooking classes and wine tastings. There are 29 rooms with nine in the main house, two private houses and ten garden suites with plunge pools. Very quiet and restful.
    Maroma Resort & Spa- An Orient Express Hotel with 65 rooms for adults only (over 16). Go for the romantic candlelight dinner on the beach after tennis on private courts, shower, sunset and glass of wine.
    Royal Hideaway Playacar- Located 1 1/2 mile south of Playa with a total of 200 rooms divided into 11 villas of 28 rooms, each with their own concierge. This is a AAA 5 Diamond all-inclusive property for those over 13 years of age. . There are six restaurants including Japanese, International and Italian, all part of the meal plans.

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