Renting a Car in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is a great city for walking, with many options for transport and sight-seeing. It is also the perfect base for a variety of day trips to cenotes, ruins and deserted beaches, so renting a car in Playa del Carmen is a great way to explore the surrounding Riviera Maya.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

There are a multitude of car rental companies around town, and the process for renting is very straightforward. Prices generally range from about $50 for a compact car to $100 for an SUV, including full insurance. This is important to have, as it’s always better to be safe than sorry when embarking on a self-drive tour.

Are the roads safe in Mexico?

The road in Playa del Carmen

Some people who have never traveled to this region of Mexico may be concerned about the roads, but after driving around Playa del Carmen and beyond to the surrounding Riviera Maya countless times, I can assure you that they are in very good condition.

Some of the local streets around town may suffer minor disrepair after it rains, but the highways are very well sealed and well signed.

Watch out for the topes!

One of the main differences I have noticed about the roads in Mexico is the prevalence of speed bumps, or ‘topes’. As a safety precaution and speed deterrent they perform a very important role, but keep an eye out for signs marked ‘Tope’ or you will be in for quite a shock when you suddenly find yourself at one!

Why rent a car when you can take a tour?

This really comes down to personal preference, and what your individual vacation style is. Some people prefer to have the concierge organize all their transport and tours, and this is a very convenient option. Some of us, however, prefer a little more adventure and freedom on our travels, and renting a car offers the freedom to create your own schedule and be your own tour guide.

Many people prefer having the freedom to go wherever, whenever they want without relying on someone else’s pre-determined schedule. Also, renting a car for a family or a small group can be very economical, both time and money wise.

Where should I go?

There are so many options for day trips from Playa del Carmen. Drive to a local cenote, explore ancient ruins, deserted beaches or visit a colonial town.

Suggested itineraries:

Turtles and Cenote - Head south to Akumal bay (about 40 mins) and snorkel with giant sea turtles. Relax on white sand beaches and have lunch at a waterfront restaurant. Visit a cenote in the afternoon, such as Azul, Cristallino or ‘Jardin del Eden’ and take a refreshing dip in the cool, clear water of these natural sink holes.

Coba Ruins - About one and a half hours’ drive south-west from Playa del Carmen is the ancient city of Coba. Explore by bicycle or cycle taxi, climb an ancient pyramid, and then drive to one of three nearby cenotes to cool off from the heat of the day.

Yal ku lagoon - A unique and fascinating place to spend the day, snorkeling, swimming and relaxing, north of Akumal bay.

Day trip to Valledolid - About two hours’ drive from Playa del Carmen, Valledolid is a great town to visit for history buffs and cultural enthusiasts. Eat ice cream in the zocalo, visit the small museum and wander through cavernous cathedrals built hundreds of years ago. Stop off to marvel at the natural wonder of cenote Zaci, in a natural cave filled with fresh water and dripping with green vegetation.

Valledolid

Valledolid

Wherever you decide to visit with your rental car, you will be sure to discover the many fascinating sites of the Riviera Maya and beyond, with the freedom to explore them at your leisure. As long as you have a valid driver’s license and purchase the necessary insurance, you can be assured a unique and adventure filled vacation. Happy driving!

Rental Car Playa del Carmen

Valladolid: a day trip to colonial Mexico

The wonderful thing about Playa del Carmen, aside from the sparkling Caribbean Sea and laid-back atmosphere, is its location to many wonderful sights and attractions. From ancient ruins to cenotes and deserted beaches, there is a wide variety of experiences to be had along the Riviera Maya.

Venture inland, however, and you will discover a different side of Mexico, the colonial heart of the country; towns with crumbling cathedrals and neat zocalos (squares) set among historic buildings, all just a day trip away from the white sand beaches of Playa del Carmen.

If, indeed you manage to pull yourself away…

Valledolid church

Just two hour’s drive from Playa, you will find yourself in the charming town of Valledolid, where you will catch a glimpse of traditional Mexican life. It is home to two very large, impressive Cathedrals, and the most prominent one, San Gervasio, sits adjacent to the main square, or zocolo, in the center of town.

valledolid square

The zocolo is the heart of every old town in Mexico, and it is here you will experience the typical way of life; stout Mayan ladies selling hand-made wares, children laughing and playing, while elderly couples sit peacefully, watching the world go buy.

Most of the tourist stores are located around the main square, along with a traditional ice-creamery. Buy a cup of your favorite flavor and sit on a bench under the shade of a golden flowering tree and observe local life going on around you.

Valledolid handicrafts

About ten minutes from the center of town is another smaller square with an large, yellow Cathedral called San Bernadino. Stroll through the peaceful interior under a high pitched ceiling, while a few birds flutter around, escaping the midday sun.

When you have had enough of churches, squares and pretty architecture, stop off at the nearby cenote, Zaci. For just 20 Pesos entry, descend the wooden staircase leading down into the cave filled with crisp, cool water.

It makes for a great escape from the heat of the day, and is conveniently close to the center of town. The cenote is named after the ancient Mayan city that Valladolid was built on, after it was invaded by the Spanish. These days, Valledolid’s Mayan heritage is celebrated, and you can buy various handicrafts around town and at the entrance to the cenote.

Valledolid locals

Sometimes it’s nice to experience another side of Mexico, and Playa del Carmen’s convenient location allows you to do this in one day. Hire a car or a driver for the day, leave early in the morning and return to your Condo Hotel early evening. You could even tie in a visit to the ancient ruins of Chichen itza which is about 45 mins drive way.

Hit the ruins in the morning and stop for the afternoon in Valladolid before returning to Playa del Carmen for sunset cocktails at Indigo beach club, having experience a different side of the country – colonial Mexico – that many tourists don’t ever get to see.

Stepping Back in Time at Coba

The Yucatan Peninsula was once a powerful Mayan center, home to some of Mexico’s largest and most impressive ancient cities. Whilst the renowned site of Chichen Itza attracts large crowds to marvel at the famous Kukulkan pyramid, the lesser known but equally impressive archaeological site of Coba, just one and a half hours’ drive from Playa del Carmen, provides a unique experience that shouldn’t be missed.

ancient tablet at Coba

When visiting any ancient ruin, it’s best to arrive early to beat the crowds and the heat. The good thing about Coba is that it is set in dense jungle which provides shade when walking between the different structures. One thing I noticed about Coba was it’s size – it is a very spread out site, so we decided to hire bicycles to explore the grounds.

The fact that Coba is so spread out means that you will often be alone while exploring the different structures. Looking up at the pyramids, imagining the ancient ceremonies taking place in the heart of the jungle is a spine tingling experience. The fact that there aren’t hoards of other tourists around makes it even more special.

Coba pyramid

The highlight of a trip to Coba is of course, climbing the main pyramid (as long as your legs are up for the challenge). Going up is not as hard as it looks, and there is a rope running the length of the climb for added support.

The views at the top, however, are absolutely wonderful. Here you can imagine you’re a Mayan King gazing out across your Kingdom. The view of the dense green jungle stretching out to the horizon is just spectacular. It’s nice to be rewarded for the physical exertion of the climb!

view from Coba pyramid

Of course, what goes up must come down. The climb down is slightly more difficult, and a little hard on the knees, but still totally worth it. I always enjoy ancient sites where you can climb the structures, as it just adds more adventure to the day.

Coba pyramid

Another great thing about Coba is its proximity to some beautiful cenotes. As it was late in the afternoon by the time we arrived, we chose to visit the closest one, with the help of some directions from the locals. We made our way down a dirt road and through a local village, where a sign led us to the entrance of the cenotes.

We couldn’t believe our eyes as we made our way down the wooden steps which led into an underground cave filled with clear blue water.

Coba cenote

The water was refreshingly cool as we took to it with our snorkels to explore the strange underground land. The Mayans of Coba certainly had access to plenty of water for swimming and drinking!

It was a much needed swim after the exploring the ruins, and we let the cool clear water refresh our minds and bodies before heading back to Playa del Carmen.

There was just one more stop to make, however; the lagoon near the entrance of the ruins. We arrived just before sunset; the calm surface reflecting the pinkish sky as some friendly dogs came to greet us and say ‘hola’.

Lagoon Coba

Although we were intrigued by the signs for crocodiles, we were quite relieved we didn’t get a visit from them!

Coba crocodillo

It was a fantastic day, cycling through the jungle, exploring an ancient city, climbing a pyramid and swimming in a natural pool. I’d recommend it to anyone who would like to experience nature, history, culture and adventure all in the one location, just a short drive from the heart of Playa del Carmen.

A Jungle Adventure at Aktun Chen

Last week my partner and I decided to take a break from the beaches of Playa del Carmen, and have an adventure in the Mexican jungle. Aktun Chen Natural Park, otherwise known as ‘Indiana Joe’s', seemed the perfect place to start, located an hour south of town.

Our van veered off the highway and took us 3 KM into the jungle, before depositing us at the entrance of the park. We signed in and met our guides for the first part of the tour – zip-lining!

aktun chen natural park zip-line

It was our first attempt at this adrenaline-inducing activity, so I was a little nervous, but the professionalism and friendliness of the guides who ran through our safety briefing immediately put my mind at ease and allowed me to focus on one thing – having fun!

Aktun chen zip-lining

Zip-lining over the canopy of trees was an absolute blast and was not even a little scary, just exhilarating! When the time came, I even went upside down, as the guides showed us how to do, letting my arms hang over my head as I flew along the line.

Soon, it was time to return to earth, and explore an ancient cave system. We followed our guide into the depths of an enormous limestone cave, decorated with an impressive array of stalactites and stalagmites. It was eerily beautiful, wandering through the bizarre landscape formed by millions of years of geological processes.

aktun chen cave

Fossils of shells and sea creatures were visible in the limestone, reminders that the cave was once the sea floor. It is now home to an impressive cenote, or fresh water pool, which is not open for swimming in order to preserve its natural beauty. Lit from above, the light shone straight through the crystal clear water, creating an ‘other worldly’ atmosphere, like a scene from the movie Avatar.

aktun chen cave pool

Afterwards, we enjoyed a delicious lunch of quesadillas and fajitas, entertained by colorful parrots in the trees outside.

parrots aktun chen

The spider monkeys, however, stole the show. Tiny babies clung to protective mothers high up in the tree tops.

baby spider monkey aktun chen

While the older members of the family caught up on some much needed beauty sleep.

monkey aktun chen

Next it was time for the part of the tour I was most looking forward to – snorkeling in the cenote! As you know, I love cenotes, so I was excited to see what ‘Indiana Joe’s’ had in stall for us.

We made our way down a rocky staircase and were greeted by a beautiful limestone cave filled with crystal clear, turquoise water. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Everybody gasped as they entered the water, due to the refreshingly cool temperatures!

aktun chen cenote

We donned our snorkels and followed our guide around the large cavern, observing the beautiful formations below through the crystal clear water. The water was so clear, that at times it felt as though I was flying over the deep caverns and the fish who made their home there.

After our guided snorkeling tour, we had some free time to swim in the cenote and explore the different pools within it. At one point, my partner and I were the only ones floating around in a small pool, with light streaming in from a narrow opening above us. It was such a peaceful and magical moment, filling me with gratitude to be experiencing this part of Mexico and its untold natural treasures.

cenote swim playa del carmen

Like all good things, our jungle adventure had to come to an end. We zip-lined, saw beautiful animals, explored ancient caves and swam in their magical waters. We experienced the exhilaration of flying over the tree tops, as well as the peaceful rejuvenation of floating in fresh water pools created by Mother nature herself.

Most of all, we were reminded just how special this part of Mexico is, and how much we love spending time discovering the beauty, history, culture and natural wonders of the Riviera Maya, a part of the world everybody should visit at least once in their life.

cenote cave aktun chen

Contact the concierge at Condo Hotels to book your tour to Aktun Chen Natural Park today!

Getting Back to Nature at Xcacel Beach

The thing I love about Playa del Carmen is its magnificent location on the Caribbean sea. Playa is a lively town filled with all the modern conveniences of stores, restaurants, cinemas, and fantastic accommodation options. There are a myriad of activities on offer from diving to paddle boarding, sailing, snorkeling and many more. With so much to do, it’s impossible to be bored in Playa del Carmen!

‘Playa’ is also perfectly located for exploring the surrounding Caribbean coastline, a pristine stretch of white sand and clear, turquoise water. I recently visited the nearby beach of Xcacel, about a 30 minute drive south of town.

Although not very far, Xcacel feels like a world away from civilization. There were no beach clubs or hotels to be seen as we made our way over the dunes and onto the shore. The wind whipped through my hair as I took in the rugged beauty of the scene, thundering waves crashing onto the sand.

Xcacel Beach

‘This is wild,’ I thought to myself, reminded of the power and beauty of mother nature when she is left untouched. I sat on the sand and dug my feet into its cool embrace, watching as my friends took to the water to body surf the ferocious waves.

Xcacel beach

A few people set up on the beach for the day with chairs and umbrellas, whilst two inquisitive local residents waddled past. A little girl ran over to feed the iguanas some of her lunch as I watched them tentatively, ready to make a run for it if necessary!

Xcacel beach

My friends had enough of being whipped around by the sea and collapsed onto the sand, panting. After basking in the sun for a while, we decided to check out the nearby cenote (natural fresh water pool). We made our way over the dunes and into a clearing dotted with palm trees, where a colorful sign pointed in the direction of a jungle path.

Xcacel beach

Surrounded on both sides by a wall of lush green foliage, we made our way along the sandy pathway, occasionally catching a glimpse of the azure sea over the dunes to our left.

Xcacel beach

The path curved inland, taking us through a mangrove filled with cool, shallow water.

Suddenly, the cenote appeared at the end of the path. It was unlike any I had seen before, smaller and surrounded on all sides by tangled foliage which seemed to rise out from the water. I donned my snorkel and observed the many fish living in the natural pool, some of them coming over to nibble on my feet, giving me a natural (but very ticklish!) foot spa.

Xcacel beach cenote

Sitting on a rocky ledge, I observed the scene; people swimming and laughing, the trees swaying in the breeze, fish darting through the clear water and birds perching on overhanging branches. It was hard to believe we were just a 30 minute drive from the luxury of our condo hotel in Playa del Carmen.

I was looking forward to getting back to civilization, but grateful to have experienced the rugged natural beauty of Xcacel beach and its ‘secret cenote’, an experience I won’t forget any time soon.

*Xcacel beach is about a 30 min drive south of Playa del Carmen, before Tulum, and can be reached by taxi, van or car. There is a small charge of 10 pesos (less than $1) per person at the gate.