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Emily: When I was a teenager, I traveled to Mexico as part of a mission trip to build homes for families in need.
The experience changed my life in such a positive way! I saw how kind and generous the Mexicans were towards me, even when they had very little. I realized how much we take for granted in the US, and how blessed we are in so many ways.
Since that time, I’ve wanted to return to Mexico for another mission trip. But this time, my friends and I were on vacation, so we visited Playa del Carmen before our recent trip to Cuba!
No trip could ever replace that first time in Mexico though. I feel thankful that I was able to help others.
Winter Escape to Mexico Trip Report Index:
- Part 1 – Introduction & Planning
- Part 2 – Transport to & From Playa del Carmen
- Part 3 – Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen
- Part 4 – What to Do in Playa del Carmen
- Part 5 – Where to Eat in Playa del Carmen
- Part 6 – Blog Giveaway
Dive in the Cenotes!
We had just a few days in Playa del Carmen, and one of our priorities was to organize a diving trip. We couldn’t decide if we wanted to do a reef dive or see a cenote (an underwater cave). We thought the cenote was a more original experience that you can’t find many other places, so that’s what we did.
We arranged to meet our guide at a local bar called Zenzi. The location was great, right on the beach!
The food was really good, too. The bar is located near the lighthouse on the beach.
We met up with Dave from Abyss Dive Center to discuss our options. He doesn’t have a brick & mortar store, but you can email him to reserve trips.
Out of the 6 of us, 2 were certified for scuba diving. The other 4 decided to go snorkeling. Dave was very nice and said we could do both snorkeling and scuba diving on the same trip.
The cost for equipment was $145 per person (or you can bring your own!) and the cost for diving was $50 per person (or $75 with a guide). We opted to not use a guide because the cenote was pretty small. We could see everything without a guide, anyway (with the exception of “the bat cave,” Dave said).
We let him know our height, weight, and shoe sizes so he could bring the right sizes. The next day, we met Dave near Zenzi bar at 8:30 am to try on our gear.
After about 30 minutes, we went to the cenote. It was a half-hour drive. Dave arranged a van for us because he couldn’t fit us all in his car!
We went to Dos Ojos for our excursion. Dos Ojos is south of Playa del Carmen, near the city of Tulum.
We arrived at the cenote, and Dave explained where to snorkel and where to dive.
Then, we went back up to change.
This was my first dive since I earned my certification, so I was a bit jittery for the experience! But I knew I was in good hands, so I was up for anything.
The dive turned out to be easy, and really fun! The cenotes weren’t too deep, but when you’re underwater you get the true feeling of being in a cave.
In some places, you can not go up to the surface for air. You’re completely surrounded by rock, and have to continue deeper into the the cave.
This wasn’t an issue for me because I was relaxed and enjoying myself. But, if you are a bit claustrophobic, it may be scary.
Our first dive lasted about 40 minutes.
We took a break to eat lunch, sandwiches provided by Dave. We then went out for another dive and snorkel session.
The second dive was even better! It was a little darker, and there were a lot more stalagmites and stalactites. It was really cool to see a new underwater world!
Here’s a video highlighting our dive:
The snorkeling took place in the same area as our dive.
Dave showed us a very pretty tour of the surroundings.
I highly recommend visiting the cenotes, even if you aren’t scuba certified!
We finished up by 2:30 pm and rode back to our Airbnb condo. It was an enjoyable and fulfilling day!
Beaches in Playa del Carmen are beautiful! And because of that, you can expect them to be touristy.
I wouldn’t call it a relaxing atmosphere. The crowds can smother the peacefulness offered by the seashore. You were pretty much within 2 feet of someone the entire time. But we were together, and on vacation, so we went with the flow and had FUN!
Vendors were everywhere, offering beer, pizza, souvenirs, etc. On top of that, we could hear club music the entire time! Don’t go to Playa if you are looking for complete privacy and quiet space.
I didn’t get a chance to do any snorkeling. But by the looks of it, I don’t think I would have seen very much.
We stayed at the beach to watch the sunset.
We then started our walk back home. We had to get up early the next day for our flight to Cuba!
Playa del Carmen also has some fun areas for shopping!
Everything is bursting with gorgeous colors.
There’s plenty of liquor you can sample for free!
You can find folks selling handmade crafts along the street.
It was fun shopping for reader giveaways! My friend got a colorful shawl, just like the one I will be giving away in an upcoming raffle!
How You Can Do It Too!
I transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest to fly to Mexico for cheap. And so can you! Plus, if you have the Southwest Companion Pass, you can bring a friend for only the cost of taxes and fees!
|Round-Trip Coach Ticket From Austin to Cancun||3 Nights in a Centrally-Located Airbnb for 6 People|
|Retail Cost||$450||$339 total|
|Our Cash Cost||$75 in taxes||$339 total, or ~$68 per person|
|Miles & Points Used||25,000 Southwest Points||N/A|
|Source of Miles & Points||Chase Ultimate Rewards:|
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
Current sign-up bonus of 50,000 points
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
Current sign-up bonus of 100,000 points
- Chase Ink Plus
Current sign-up bonus of 60,000 points
- Chase Ink Bold
Not available to new applicants
- Chase Southwest Plus
Current sign-up bonus of 40,000 points
- Chase Southwest Premier
Current sign-up bonus of 40,000 points
- Chase Southwest Premier Business
Current sign-up bonus of 50,000 points
|Alternatives||- United Airlines - 35,000 miles round-trip + ~$50 in taxes|
- American Airlines - 30,000 miles round-trip (25,000 between September 7 and November 14) + ~$50 in taxes
|- Use Barclaycard Arrival Plus miles to erase $100+ travel purchases, like Airbnb
- Use my Airbnb referral code for $20 off!
- Use Hyatt points to stay at a hotel
|Additional Information||- You can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest and United Airlines|
- Here's how to get the Southwest Companion Pass, so your companion can fly with you for (almost) free for nearly 2 years!
|- Here’s how to choose a good and safe Airbnb
- Here are tips on how to negotiate a better Airbnb price!
- You can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt
To transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you must have either the:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred, with a current sign-up bonus of 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after completing minimum spending
- Chase Sapphire Reserve, with a current sign-up bonus of 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after completing minimum spending
- Chase Ink Plus, with a current sign-up bonus of 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after completing minimum spending
- Chase Ink Bold (no longer available)
You can also earn Southwest points by signing-up for the:
- Southwest Plus Credit Card, with a current sign-up bonus of 40,000 Southwest points after completing minimum spending
- Southwest Premier Credit Card, with a current sign-up bonus of 40,000 Southwest points after completing minimum spending
- Southwest Premier Business Credit Card, with a current sign-up bonus of 50,000 Southwest points after completing minimum spending
Note: The Chase Southwest credit cards frequently offer 50,000 point sign-up bonuses, so I’d wait until the bonus increases before you apply!
Diving through the cenotes (underwater caves) in Playa del Carmen was my favorite activity of the trip! The snorkeling was really pretty, too. But I appreciated journeying through the caves more.
The beaches were beautiful, but the crowded atmosphere cheapened the experience. We still had fun hanging out on the beach, swimming in the ocean, and burying each other in the sand!