Dining in Playa del Carmen

 

After a week spent looking for the perfect dining in Playa del Carmen experience, I have a few favorites in each category I could think of – and being a spoiled New Yorker, I am quite a tough critic.

When you arrive to Playa del Carmen from New York, you want just a few things – magical views of the beach, toes in the sand, and a cold drink in your hand. Having a nice dinner every night is also a must, and the choice is plentiful, though there are just a few jewels. We set out to find them.

After checking into our beautiful luxury oasis, Maya Villa Condo Hotel, we head straight to Indigo Beach Club for dinner. Located in the luxury El Taj Condo Hotel, with a magnificent designer pool facing the ocean, Indigo is the place to be during the day.

Indigo Beach Restaurant Playa del Carmen

Indigo Beach Club

 

At night, it invites with a relaxed DJ music, delicious food, and tables right on the sand. We order a fresh ceviche, guacamole and some cold white wine.

 

Indigo Beach Restaurant Playa del Carmen

Indigo Beach Restaurant

 

 

The stars are above us, the waves are splashing into the shore, and we are happy. We have found a perfect restaurant on the beach.

Next night, we want something fancy. We are told we don’t need to look too far – we need to try Imprevist at our own hotel, Maya Villa.

Imprevist Dining Room Playa del Carmen Restaurants

Imprevist dining room

 

 

 

 

 

 

We dress up, walk down the stairs and find ourselves in a romantically lit, elegantly decorated small restaurant. We take the corner table, and admire the stone walls and low-lit beautiful chandeliers. The food arrives, and it’s a beautiful surprise worthy of some of the nicest restaurants in New York. The tuna tartar with avocado is the best in Playa del Carmen (so the locals told us, and they were right!), and risotto with a touch of truffle oil tastes as if it came directly from Italy.

After this experience, I am very impressed. Now we have tried a great beach restaurant, and experienced fancy dining in Playa del Carmen. We only need to fill one more category – a local restaurant. More about this is coming up in my next entry…

 

Rick’s Playa Part 2: In Love with El Taj

In August, 2011 my wife Jane and I, our son Ricky, his girlfriend Ange and two of Jane’s sisters – Bobbi and Sue – had a too short 4-night vacation at El Taj in Playa del Carmen.

We stayed at El Taj in Playa del Carmen at the end of an 8-day adventure in the Yucatan that I wrote about here.

I promised I’d be back with the rest of the story, and here it is. We picked unit 336 because a) it was a spectacular hotel in Playa del Carmen b) it could accommodate six people c) it overlooked the beach and d) with apologies for repeating myself, but it was SPEC-TA-CU-LAR! In factthe entire El Taj property was so amazing that we vowed to return as soon as we could (and we’re going back at the end of 2012).

El Taj Playa Del Carmen hotel

Rick Howe in Unit 336 at El Taj

 

If you haven’t been to Playa del Carmen, or if you haven’t been to El Taj, I need to paint a picture for you. One side of El Taj overlooks the Caribbean, and the other side lies on a quiet back street in Playa. You walk in the front door and up a short flight of stairs and you are transported to an astonishing Caribbean/Balinese world. When you stand there, surrounded by authentic furniture and decorations and statuary from Bali, and the sounds and smells from the water, and the smiles of the staff . . . everything you thought, everything you felt, especially everything you worried about, simply evaporates.

We travel to Mexico a LOT! El Taj is IN Mexico, but it is NOT simply Mexican!

hotels playa del carmen

Rooftop Hot Tub at El Taj

 

It is a sensory hybrid that you must experience to believe. I have read some comparisons between El Taj and resorts like Disney’s Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World.   I’ve been to The Polynesian – when Ricky was young it was one of our favorite places at WDW (mostly because it’s on the Monorail), but the “Poly,” as the folks who work there call it, is as artificial as a movie set.  It may look authentic on the surface, but behind the paint is plywood and styrofoam.  And I’ve made the mistake of staying at Hilton and Hyatt properties in various resort locations, including Waikoloa Village on the Big Island of Hawaii.  And right under the surface it’s all the same:  plywood and styrofoam.  

El Taj, on the other hand, is completely authentic.  The art is ART.   The statues are BRONZE.  The furniture is HAND-MADE.  We know – we’ve been to Bali.  It rings true in every corner, at every step.  El Taj is gorgeous.  A magical fantasy. 

View from the private rooftop at El Taj

But yet, for all that, Mexico is just a few steps out the door. We arrived on a Wednesday late afternoon, having driven from Merida with stops at the Dzitnup Cenote, the Pyramid at Coba, and Tulum. We wanted to go out to a great Mexican restaurant for dinner. The folks at the front desk gave us a list of restaurants who offered discounts to guests of El Taj and the other Condo Hotels properties. I fired up Trip Advisor on my little laptop and checked restaurant reviews in Playa del Carmen, and based on the reviews we picked Mi Pueblo on Fifth Ave at about 8th St. North. Outdoor seating for people-watching, Mariachi Bands (who take requests), and delicious food. It was a great place to start off our vacation’s first night – eat and shop on Fifth Ave – all in one location.

The next morning Ricky and Ange wanted some adventure, so the front desk arranged for them to go up to Maroma for horseback riding, jet-skiing and snorkeling.  

playa del carmen condos

Horseback Riding at Maroma

A whole day adventure that was convenient, reasonably priced and so much fun that the kids are going to do it all again when we return.

The adults opted for Indigo Beach Club in front of El Taj, lunch on the sand, swimming in the Caribbean and time in the pools. And then we all went shopping! With a few side excursions, Fifth Ave is the main commerce area in Playa, about 20 blocks of pedestrian walkway that is the envy of every resort town. Food, fashion, jewelry, art and artifacts, furniture, tequila, cigars, bars, clubs, shoes, handmade clothing and more. I suspect you might be able to explore every store on Fifth Ave if you spent five hours a day for about ten days. But I’m a guy – I shop fast. Jane’s sisters would probably take twice no, three times – that long.

That night we tried another Trip Advisor-recommended restaurant – La Mission, on Tenth Ave (which is only one block west of Fifth Ave – go figure), a little south of 2nd St. North. We were greeted by Juan, who must be either the owner or manager – his English was very good. It was a little warm (you should sit back away from the grill in the front), but the food and the music was wonderful.

The next day, while the family was out baking in the sun at Indigo Beach at El Taj, I opted for a massage right there on the beach. And while I was drifting away, Ricky arranged for a boat to carry us down the beach (towards Akumal, I believe) for some snorkeling. Sounded good to me. But when we got there what did we see? Turtles. Sea turtles.

On the way to swim with the turtles

 

Swimming around us. The guys on the boat had little bait fish with them. So when I held out a little fish underwater, this BIG BEAUTIFUL turtle – who was SMILING! – swam right up and grabbed it out of my hand.

That night we had our third dinner in Playa del Carmen, again with a recommendation from Trip Advisor. This time we drove up to 38th St. North to Origenes, and the meal was spectacular! We got GREAT service and WONDERFUL food, accompanied by two very talented musicians.

Origenes in Playa del Carmen

 

Sat outdoors on a cool evening, although inside seating was also available. All the food was wonderful, and we’re pretty picky (lots of travel experience to Mexico over the years): Calamares Fritos (Fried Calamari), Camarones Mango (Shrimp with Mango), Fetuccini con Mariscos (Fetuccini with Seafood), Pasta Rellena con Huitlacoche (home-made Ravioli with corn truffles), Pesca del dia al Ajillo (fresh fish with LOTS of garlic!!!). Yumm!!

The next day Ricky proposed to Ange (!!!!!), having slipped the engagement ring on her finger while she slept. There is another long story there, but that day was spent with the warmth of the ocean, the warmth of El Taj, and the radiant warmth of their love for each other. So to celebrate, we arranged for a private chef to prepare dinner for us in our place.

Rocio arrived at our condo loaded with groceries, and with an assistant. It was fascinating to watch a professional chef prepare our dinner – washing, sorting, slicingcooking and tasting in OUR kitchen! We had already told her we would dine “up on the roof,” so she brought all of our courses upstairs for our gastronomic pleasure. She served all six of us and waited politely for our approval.

Private Chef at El Taj Rocio Norzagaray

It was all delicious. Rocio was wonderful, and we couldn’t have been happier. So we’ve already arranged for her to prepare another dinner for us when we return. 

Playa del Carmen is unlike any resort I have even been to in my 62 years. And El Taj is simply magical. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line. I’m a yapper, and I love to share. My email address is rickhowe@aol.com

 

Condo Hotels vs Traditional Hotels

Currently, condo style hotels in Playa del Carmen are on the rise.

El Taj Oceanfront by Sarah Natasha

There is no wonder, because how else will you solve a teenager plus parents situation – would you put them in the same hotel room with two beds? I don’t think so. Get a separate room for kids and one for parents? Sure, but it can get costly and, especially if kids are younger, parents might want to have them closer… but not too close.

Living room at El Taj Oceanfront condo hotel

Or let’s say there is a group of friends traveling together. Wouldn’t it be sweet to stay at a luxury private condo with a large common living room, modern equipped kitchen and a private rooftop with a Jacuzzi and sweeping views of the turquoise Caribbean waters?

It’s even better yet if your condo hotel is located in the best downtown area of the Mexican Caribbean paradise-like playground, Playa del Carmen.

Private rooftop with a Jacuzzi at Condo Hotels Playa del Carmen

Condo Hotels Playa del Carmen offer luxury condo style accommodations, and function as a 5-star hotel with daily maid service, a private Beach Club, two restaurants (La Sirena serves freshest seafood in the area and Imprevist is the most romantic gourmet restaurant in Playa).

Indigo Beach Club has the most comfortable Bali-imported beds I have ever tried. Get up in the morning at El Taj, the beachfront property, roll down the stairs to the  Beach Club, and enjoy the delicious oceanfront breakfast buffet. Spend the day on one of these luxurious beach beds, with a beach attendant carefully adjusting your umbrella to provide you with shade all day long.

Indigo Beach Club

Try fresh ceviche or oven brick pizza for lunch. In the evening, stroll on the famous pedestrian 5th Avenue (a block away from the hotel) with all the outdoor bars and restaurants.

Finish the evening with a delicious tasting gourmet menu at Imprevist.

Dining Room at Imprevist

 

Traditional hotel with a small room? An all-inclusive tucked away in the jungle? These are just for the amateurs.

Beach Clubs in Playa del Carmen

Indigo Beach Club

 

Playa del Carmen is all about fun in the sun. Its beaches are some of the most beautiful you will ever see, and the vibe of an international beach town has made it famous worldwide in the past years. It’s hard to believe that only fifteen years ago Playa was only a small fishing village with unpaved streets.

Today, it still preserves the charm of a small fishing village, but at the same time this Mexican Caribbean beach town has developed into a glamorous international beach spot with multi-national restaurants and bars lining its famous pedestrian 5th Avenue and during the day, most of the fun concentrates in its Beach Clubs.  There are many, but a few stand out.

Indigo Beach Club at El Taj

Indigo Beach Club is located at the luxurious and lavish El Taj hotel in Playa del Carmen, and it follows the hotel’s Bali theme with comfortable authentic Balinese  beach beds and umbrellas, and super attentive staff.

Indigo restaurant serves fresh ceviches, brick oven pizzas, and prides itself in an Asian-Mediterranean fusion menu.

On Sundays, there is always a live band performing and a buffet served. Check out their famous breakfasts, too, served right on the beach.

Mamitas Beach Club is a Playa staple and has been around for years. While some say that its glory has been lost and transfered to Indigo, Mamitas still has a draw among tourists with its loud lounge music and party-on-the-beach vibe.

Canibal Royal is located a bit further from the downtown area, but it’s worth the hike (or a cab ride). The food is a gourmet Asian-Mexican cuisine, and it features a fun, laid back vibe, preferred by many locals.

Playa del Carmen’s beach clubs are where the fun happens, St. Tropez style. So be ready to be immersed in a carefree, relaxed atmosphere, and order a margarita. And another one.

Playa Beach Club

Destination Weddings in Playa del Carmen and “Trash the Dress” Concept

Every girl has a dream of a fairy tale wedding. These days, fairy tales are becoming a reality as more and more couples choose to escape the kitsch-like environment of the boring events spaces of their native town, and to head for a tropical, romantic, and – equally important –  affordable destination weddings.

El Taj Hotel in Playa del Carmen

View from the pool at El Taj Oceanfront

On my recent visit to El Taj Oceanfront in Playa del Carmen, the atmosphere was festive. A beautiful bride in a tropically coral wedding dress was running up and down the stairs at this beachfront boutique hotel in Playa del Carmen and suddenly, she jumped into the pool with a glass wall, while the wedding photographer was snapping pictures of her floating underwater, her hair wild and and her dress hugging her body.

That was a typical photo shoot of “trash the dress,” which is a new concept in destination weddings. A romantic, tropical foreign country encourages more liberty and breaks traditional wedding standards by inspiring imagination and fearlessness in young modern brides. So instead of having their wedding dress spend decades in a closet till it gets yellow and old, they opt for having amazing pictures in their wedding dress that will stay forever, even for the future generations. These pictures can be of her in the sea, of her underwater, on the beach, in a pool, in the jungle…. you name it!

Weddings at Hotels in Playa Del Carmen

Trash the Dress photoshoot. By Del Sol

The vibrant, international Mexican beach town of Playa del Carmen, to me, is a perfect location for such joyful, free-spirited photo shoot (with its turquoise Caribbean Sea, jungle cenotes, which are natural sink holes, and amazing pools).

Wedding Photography at El Taj Hotel in Playa del Carmen

Wedding photoshoot at El Taj. Photographed by Del Sol

And in Playa, El Taj is the dream hotel for a perfect luxurious wedding. It faces the white sand beach and offers upscale multi-bedroom units with living rooms, private terraces, outdoor Jacuzzis and rooftops. Host your family and friends here, and have an amazing photo shoot with Del Sol Photography, which specializes in the most creative and daring wedding photography.

A living room at El Taj Oceanfront

I believe that your family and friends would be thankful, too, for the most unforgettable wedding experience of their lives. Hey, some blue Caribbean water and Mexican mariachi music cannot hurt. And if you stay at a penthouse at El Taj Oceanfront with 180 degree views of the bright blue sea, even better.

Contact Linda with questions about El Taj weddings: lindamktg@msn.com.

 

A Sunday in Playa del Carmen

They say that every day in Playa del Carmen is like Sunday.

The rhythm is slow, the beaches are enchanting, the beer is cold. What a change from the craziness and rush of my hometown of New York City.

By now Playa is my second home, as I come here all the time for work (I know, I know, I am lucky), but today is Sunday and we will spend it the way real playenses (the locals, as they are called) do – a walk on the 5th Avenue, delicious breakfast and a full day at a Beach Club… all done in a relaxed and cool way.

It’s morning, so we head to my favorite best-kept breakfast secret, hidden in a lovely jungle garden. La Cueva del Chango is located on 38th street off 5th Avenue, and it serves natural and traditional Mexican food. We start with fresh juices, and a good morning deserves real Mexican huevos motuleños, served on tostadas with black beans.

La Cueva also attracts many locals for breakfast because it’s located away from the main traffic of 5th Avenue and serves fresh Mexican food all day long – so be sure to stop by during your next stay at our Playa del Carmen condos.

Mmmmm, and now it’s time for the beach! We head to Indigo Beach Club at El Taj Oceanfront hotel, which never fails to stun me with its amazing Balinese architecture and beachfront duel-level pool.

I lie down on my comfortable Bali beach bed and order a cold michelada beer, served in a glass with ice, salt and spices.

The DJ is spinning cool lounge music, the rhythm waves of the turquoise Caribbean Sea is in front of me, and a few little boats in the distance are going up and down on the water. Such a pleasant day. With these thoughts I become completely relaxed, and doze off in a sleep…

Not sure how much time goes by, but a pleasant sound of live music wakes me up. The tables on the beach are full of people – some well dressed, some still in their beach clothes. I notice glasses of champagne, cold white wine and full plates of food.

Ah, the Sunday night party has started!

Every Sunday, Indigo has a live band and serves a delicious buffet of food created by Paolo, our authentic Italian chef.

The sun starts going down, and the sky paints itself in dramatic purple colors. The sea is calm, and the breeze is pleasant.

The live music at Indigo is gently filling the air with soft sounds. More people start coming, and the atmosphere becomes more energetic and lively. 

After enjoying a plate full of delicious food, we are ready to head home to sleep, completely relaxed and happy. What a beautiful Playa Sunday it was.

By Raminta