We’re back, tanned, and all relaxed after a whirlwind birthday-week trip to Mexico to celebrate Pete’s 40th! Neither of us had been to the Caribbean coast before, and Riviera Maya, the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula seemed like a good fit for a 4-day/3-night woo-hoo-hoo kind of getaway. At least, if you liked hot, sand, and sun, which Pete does.
Did I mention that this was a surprise birthday trip too (following the surprise birthday party)?
Pete knew we were going out of town for a few days… I did have to request that he took time away from the 9-5, you know, but he knew nothing about the itinerary or final destination and futhermore, he opted not to know any of those details until we made it out of Rochester and were sitting at our gate in our connecting flight city of Charlotte, NC. The guy really likes a good surprise, come to find. Lucky for him, because I’ve had all kinds of secrets lately. This was just the big one.
On a related but unrelated note, I’m also happy to report to you coffee addicts, that there are easily 5 Starbucks within walking distance of any gate in the popular travel hub of Charlotte. And good free internet access. Let’s hope other airports follow this as a trend.
Back to the vacation stuff. Our all-inclusive home for those nights was at the Gran Bahia Principe resort, about 30 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, and didn’t consist of just one resort, but 3-in-one. Meaning it was enormous. And when I say enormous, I mean… all synonyms for huge. Gargantuan. Ginormous. Whoa.
And if you thought it was summer in the good ol’ USA, you haven’t felt anything. The sand, tiles, and grass were blazing hot – nearly unwalkable, and even though we jumped into every pool that landed in our path, we still left us with burned soles. Hot feet aside, without knowing beforehand how these all-inclusive places work, I can tell you after the fact that it was love from first private entry gate to last breakfast coffee con leche and with every pina colada in between.
I scored an amazing deal by placing the order for our trip a few months ago via cheapcaribbean.com. Despite being completely skeptical after reading lots and lots of iffy, poor, and seemingly phony reviews, I wouldn’t give it anything less than a 2-thumbs-up experience. I’m serious, they didn’t even credit me to say that (although, hint, cough, hint). There were no cracks in their travel itinerary, and the resort was fabulous, although I’m not a whiner when it comes to beautiful weather and sparkly blue water.
The guest rooms throughout the resort were constructed as open-air villas, and that was refreshing when in the back of my head I was expecting a traditional hotel setup. Each villa was modern and well-maintained, although the colorful paint and hard-to-destroy tiled floors may have made for a good facade, what do I know. I was especially digging the vertically installed rectangular tiles in the bathroom. That single glass panel acted as a shower door and was static in place, which was cool and minimalistic except when you turned on the water, you had to lean far inside. And get showered just a bit. But what did I care? I was in Mexico, baby.
Hints of original mexican heritage and design were scattered everywhere; I especially loved the backsplash that extended all around the bathroom.
Our villa suite was accompanied by impressive facilities and plentiful food. I somehow also worked my way into a premium package that gave us two din-dins at our choice of 4-course restaurants on-site fo’ free, in addition to all of the other inclusive buffets, drinks, and activities that we were offered. Fabulousity. I think you’re going to find that I’m not crafty enough to articulate more synonyms for AMAZING, so get used to it.
Free dinners and buffets meant we ate really well, and we took it upon ourselves to try all kinds of new foods, although as excited as we were about sampling authentic mexican fish, apple yogurt, cactus, and palm hearts, we wondered if the non-USA foreigners were equally as excited about the very American cheeseburgers, baby carrots, and chicken wings that the resort kept stocked for the (presumably) non-adventurous travelers.
Am I a total cheeseball to keep reinforcing how awesome all-inclusive is compared to every other vacation we’ve respectively been on?
We did a whole lot of sitting around the beach and exploring the resort by foot. It was humid as could be, which explains the whole sexy wet dog look you might notice in photos of us as you browse through.
Accidental sunburns led to seaside naps, and there were no clocks anywhere and even our phones were turned off the whole time. This means that we never had an accurate sense of time for 3 whole days, which was kind of cool (even the clock in our room was wrong, somehow).
Walks on the beach were accompanied by curious iguanas and hand-sized crabs.
Sometimes both showed up at the same time, when you’re innocently zoomed in on a transparent crab, and scare you half to death while they stare each other down in an “I’M GOING TO EAT ALL OF YOU… and then maybe run up that human’s leg” frenzy.
And so the circle of life continues.
Actually, the crab got away by the tip of it’s pokey eyeball. Circle of life broken by frantic shrieks of a girl horrified about what she was about to see happen. That girl may or may not have been yours truly.
We made use of the unlimited miles on the rental car by two car trips during our stay too, one of which was to Playa del Carmen about 30 miles north on the sea beside the island of Cozumel.
The sand was much softer than that at our resort’s beach – less coral, I guess. Dare I compare the two as powdered sugar to Home Depot sandbox sand? It was possibly softer than any other beach I’ve traveled to, and that includes my previous favorite cashmere-sanded beach of Sanibel Island. Plus, Playa del Carmen was lined with fishing boats anchored into the earth, which made for pretty pictures.
We scoured and bartered our way through the touristy shops and came home with some fun treasures like these children’s bobble head toys:
We also bought ceramic hot pepper decor as a gift for mom and dad, the dog sitters, and serious hot pepper fanatics, and a new christmas ornament for this year’s tree.
I bought a few textiles too, which was exactly what I had planned to buy if nothing else. I’ll share those items with you once they’ve found a home. They’re still in the store baggies in my suitcase, which I’ll get around to emptying one of these weeks.
The shops and restaurants in Playa del Carmen were beautiful and as full of color as the photos already shown would suggest; we took assorted photos of the local merchandise, hostels, restaurants, bars, and street decor while we wandered and shopped, so be sure to enlarge to view full-size for full effect. You might even feel like you’re there.
When it came right down to it, we spent much of the time driving around noticing two things: All of the friendly folks sporting M16s…
…and the multitude of vehicle makes and models that we had never seen before. We saw some ordinary Nissan Sentra’s and variations of the Volkswagon Passat, but also plenty of unusually named models, starting with our own Dodge Attitude.
Of course, most of the car photos taken involved Pete making an “I have an attitude” face. Because, why not?
He also thought the Renault Trafic Passenger was the most badass of all of the passenger vans. And yes, just one “f”. That’s no typo. Possibly a cool fit for Kate + 8, which I do still watch on occasion, sue me.
Nighttime at the resort was pretty too; it cooled off just enough for us to stop profusely sweating and only minimally sweat, and once most of the families were in for the night, we had nice opportunities to take photos like this, of the pool not so splashy at night with our great (but low-light) Canon G12 manual settings.
It was possibly the most work-free and travel-drama-free vacation I’ve ever taken. We even adjusted to the whole having-no-phone-access pretty quickly, forgetting even 24-hours later that we could iPhone-connect to the world of internets or dare to look at our missed calls without extravagant charges or taking it off airplane mode.
I’ve heard plenty of fantastic stories of people’s trips to Cancun and Tulum, but has anyone else been to this resort, or another resort on the 307 highway? If yay, do share.