Winter Escape to Mexico! Part 4 – What to Do in Playa del Carmen

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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!

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Stunning Cenote Sun Rays

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:

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!

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

There Are Apartments Above Zenzi Bar – I’d Love to Try One Out!

The food was really good, too.  The bar is located near the lighthouse on the beach.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

I’d Recommend a Stop by Zenzi Bar If You’re In the Area

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.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Our New Friend Dave the Diver!

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.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Getting Ready to Explore the Waters

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!

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Accompany Me to the Edge of the Sea

We went to Dos Ojos for our excursion.  Dos Ojos is south of Playa del Carmen, near the city of Tulum.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Beautiful Mural of the Dive Site!

We arrived at the cenote, and Dave explained where to snorkel and where to dive.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

The Area at the Top Left Is the Only Place We Couldn’t Dive Without a Guide

Then, we went back up to change.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

A Little Nervous for My First Real Dive!

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.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Diving Below Our Snorkeling Friends

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.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Diving Makes Me Feel Like I’m on a Different Planet!

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.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

The Most Beautiful View Was Towards the End of the Dive

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!

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

It Was Fun to Slowly Maneuver Around the Underwater Obstacle Course of Rocks and Formations

Here’s a video highlighting our dive:

Snorkeling

The snorkeling took place in the same area as our dive.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

There’s Still a Lot to See Without Scuba Diving

Dave showed us a very pretty tour of the surroundings.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

I Felt Liberated Swimming Without a Wet Suit!

I highly recommend visiting the cenotes, even if you aren’t scuba certified!

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

I Liked How the Light Reflected From the Different Rocks

We finished up by 2:30 pm and rode back to our Airbnb condo.  It was an enjoyable and fulfilling day!

Beaches

Beaches in Playa del Carmen are beautiful!  And because of that, you can expect them to be touristy.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Some of the Beach Was Tattered From Use

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.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

The Most Secluded Beach Spot We Could Find

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.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Helping Gissell Escape the Crowds

We stayed at the beach to watch the sunset.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Beach Sunsets Are My Favorite Thing!

We then started our walk back home.  We had to get up early the next day for our flight to Cuba!

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

The Beach Seemed to Clear out Around Dusk

Shopping

Playa del Carmen also has some fun areas for shopping!

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

I Enjoyed Shopping for Reader Giveaways!

Everything is bursting with gorgeous colors.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

These Fabrics Are Dynamite!

There’s plenty of liquor you can sample for free!

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Drinking and Shopping Is a Dangerous Combination

You can find folks selling handmade crafts along the street.

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Gorgeous Handmade Jewelry for Sale on 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!

Winter Escape To Mexico Part 4 What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Make Sure to Carry Some Emergency-Adorable-Souvenir Cash

How You Can Do It Too!

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 Cancun3 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 Used25,000 Southwest PointsN/A
Source of Miles & PointsChase 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

Southwest Cards:
- 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
N/A
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

Flights

Link:   How to Transfer Chase Points to Southwest

Link:   How to Earn the Southwest Companion Pass

To transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you must have either the:

You can also earn Southwest points by signing-up for the:

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!

You can also use the Barclaycard Arrival Plus credit card to cover the cost of your flight.  The current sign-up bonus is 50,000 Arrival miles.  That’s worth ~$525!

Airbnb

Booking an Airbnb is easy.  Here’s how to choose a good and safe Airbnb, and tips on how to negotiate a better price! And don’t forget you can use the $20 off referral code!

Bottom Line

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!

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