Click here for Part 1: The All-Inclusive Adventure. Read below for Part 2!
When I’ve heard people describe Tulum, it was described as a laid-back, Boho, magical mecca and it truly was! Tulum is about a 1.5-hour drive from Playa del Carmen so you can definitely do a day trip out there if you’re staying in Playa. This small city is definitely walkable, quaint, and just a delightful place to spend an afternoon and evening while partaking in a diversity of sights and scents.
Our first stop were the Mayan Ruins and beach, which are located within the smaller city-center. You pay about $10 for a ticket and while it is generally crowded with tourists, you can still snap some pictures of the historic Mayan monuments. The descriptions did an excellent job describing the story and inspiration behind these structures. It was incredibly exciting to see such ancient buildings with so much history.
When you’re done with your Mayan Ruins tour, you can go downstairs to the beach. Be sure to bring towels because there is no place to rent them! It was raining pretty much all day and we didn’t have towels, so it was a bit rough but still worth every second of it. The water was cold, but it was extremely fulfilling to be in the waves. It was also nice to be at a public beach, not a resort beach because it felt more authentic. It had gorgeous views of the ruins and hills. In the city-center, we had some spicy and tomatoey Micheladas from this tiny stand near the entrance. They served chili-seasoned peanuts, which tasted incredible!
We were pretty hungry since we had been doing touristy activities all day. We decided to try Chamico’s – there is one at the beach and one in the middle of town. Tulum is a small city and felt pretty segregated. You have the touristy areas, but just one block away you won’t see any tourists.
Los Chamicos: Slightly off the beaten, tourist path
Los Chamicos was not in the touristy part, which was really pleasant, and they only spoke Spanish there so you need to use Yelp/Google Translate if you are scared to accidentally eat something you didn’t intend to eat. If you are a pescatarian, you will be fine since it is a seafood/fish restaurant but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re vegan. It’s incredibly affordable and everything was super tasty. They served large, crispy tortillas with a wide assortment of mild to spicy salsa. Their guacamole was perfectly acidic and refreshing. We also ordered the seafood ceviche, which was well-balanced with a nice lime finish. It was a pretty large portion, but like a ceviche – it didn’t feel heavy and had a mild flavor.
Tulum at Night:
While Los Chamicos was in the middle of a residential part of Tulum, a few blocks away is the super touristy area with many more restaurants, bars, shops, etc., which are all open late. They have late night markets, 24-hour fruit and vegetable stores, and parks. As fans of mezcal, we went to a Mezcaleria. In Chicago, we tend to get mezcal cocktails so we thought we’d see mezcal cocktails on the menu at this bar. Instead, we just saw mezcal shots and we went with our server’s recommendation. Instead of chugging our shot, we sipped on the mezcal shot and had a spicy, cayenne-chili powder mixture on top of the lime for relief from the shot. It was a sports bar, so we had to leave.
We did walk by a restaurant called Techno Taco, which was blasting techno, but was too small to eat tacos in for my tastes. I plan to go there next time. I appreciated how there were coffee shops open late in case you didn’t want to drink alcohol. They also had plenty of specialty shops where you can negotiate the prices.
We did some walking around and saw the vibrant nightlife of Tulum. There were a lot of bars to choose from but we went to a special Mojito bar, Batey for our next drink – I love fresh mint, which is not abundant in the dead of winter. This bar was extensive with a show in the back and plenty of seating all over, yet it was still hard to find a seat because it was so popular! The interior was colorful and it had a youthful, happening vibe to it. We had a Mojito and Negroni. The Mojito was herbaceous and stellar! We tried their vegetarian “focaccia”, which was more like a panini, but still tasty!
While the Tulum trip was short-lived, I was able to see a lot and I cannot wait to go back and spend more time in such a relaxing, charming part of Riviera Maya.
Playa del Carmen:
Playa del Carmen is definitely larger than Tulum. The touristy area is closer to the beach and the car rental place was about a 20-minute walk from that area. Our first stop was to get a relaxing Hot Stone Massage from Bric Spa. Most resorts have over-priced massages, but this massage was extremely affordable and a high-quality massage. It was $45 for a 90 minute massage. They are very accommodating and conscious of your comfort-zone, which I appreciated since I rarely get massages. The Mayan mud massage was perfectly hot and I felt like a new person afterwards. I highly recommend getting a massage here!
After the mind-altering massage, we decided to walk to the gorgeous, public beach. There was barely any seaweed and it was very lively! Right by the beach, we walked by a stunning restaurant named La Cueva del Chango with trees and plants built inside of the restaurant. We just had to stop by and decided to drink some mezcal and eat a snack.
The Mezcal went down quite smoothly with their lovely cayenne-chili pepper mix. They gave us complementary chips with three different kinds of salsa. The green chili one was surprisingly my favorite because it was garlicky (I tend to like red salsa more). They were all so fresh and savory!
We tried the grilled sesame ahi tuna with a coriander aioli and grilled onions on top. The grilled onions were a perfect finish as they added a fun crunchy texture. The grilled onions in Mexico taste quite different (and better) than the grilled onions I have had in the states. They are thinner and more flavorful – they taste less fried. The tuna could have been more flavorful, but as a whole it was a nice tostada. We also tried their shrimp tacos – the shrimp was seasoned very well and the tortillas tasted quite fresh. I also loved the refried black beans. The refried black beans in Mexico are sooooo tasty!!
To continue our progressive dinner, we did some more walking around and went to Los Aguachiles. Los Aguachiles is a casual seafood spot that is quite affordable but it does have a sports-bar atmosphere. We tried the ahi tuna tostada, which was a highlight of the dining experience. The tuna was marinated perfectly and complemented very well with the avocado and crispy, fried onions on top. Simple, yet super savory with a variety of textures!
We also got the fish tostada, which had crispy battered white fish, slaw, and those crunchy crispy onions! Everything was well-balanced and it was a satisfying tostada. Los Aguachiles is known for their “Aguachiles” which is shrimp submerged in a chili-water with plenty of spices. We ordered the shrimp one, but it can come with other seafood. They added fresh avocado and cucumber and yet again those lovely fried onions on top! The sauce was quite refreshing, light, and very flavorful. I’d come here again! The servers were very friendly and enthusiastic.
After eating too much, we decided to do some more walking and check out the bustling nightlife in Playa del Carmen. We happened to walk by a bar that was known for their Mezcal, La Verbena. The bar was gorgeous because it had trees and plants inside of it, multiple floors, and we of course were drawn in by the house music from the DJ playing on the first floor. Our server was excellent and very accommodating.
Their cocktail menu looked quite extensive, but we were just sticking to Mezcal that night and we tried very smokey Mezcal that went down smoothly. They served it with the usual chili-spice mixture but this one had fried grasshopper in it! I almost accidentally ate it but realized that it wasn’t part of the chili-spice mixture. My drinking companion tried it and said it wasn’t gross. I can’t undo my socialization as someone disgusted by bugs.
There were quite a few other intriguing looking spots that I would love to explore next time I am in Playa del Carmen. I expected this place to be super touristy, antiseptically quarantined from anything enjoyable, but Playa del Carmen was very charming and inviting, with sprinkles of realness. And contrary to the stereotypes of Mexico, being a pescatarian there is quite easy (at least in the coastal region). Being a vegetarian and vegan is harder but you will find options in the touristy spots in Playa and Tulum.