Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Laura Brown Laura ziplining into a cenote © Laura Brown

Laura Brown, Senior Manager of Advertising Products for Lonely Planet, recently returned from Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Tell us more… Three people in my group of friends share the same birthday week in February, so there is an annual celebration that gets bigger in scope every year. This year, the destination that lured us in was Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

We chose Playa del Carmen because of its rich Maya history, variety of adventure activity options, and because we wanted a more authentic experience than the resorts of Cancún, just an hour up the beach. I must say, Playa del Carmen blew our expectations out of the water. It was probably the best vacation I’ve ever taken!

Hostel, hotel or all-inclusive? Instead of the traditional all-inclusive resort, we rented an incredible apartment that was two blocks from the beach. One side of our apartment had a deck overlooking the jungle and the other side overlooked an adorable plaza on 10 Avenida North, a main street closed to cars. The money we saved allowed us more opportunities to get out and explore the local culture.

Best day? On our first full day we did a Viator tour that took us into the jungle for various adventure activities. We ziplined through the treetops, rappelled into and then snorkeled in a cenote (a natural swimming hole formed by the collapse of limestone bedrock), were blessed in a Maya smoke purification ceremony and ate the most delicious homegrown Maya food.

Laura Brown 2 The breathtaking Maya ruins of Tulum © Laura Brown

After getting to experience some living Maya tradition, we headed over to Tulum, where we explored the ancient ruins. With cliff-side beach views and the incredibly vibrant colors of the surrounding nature, it wasn’t hard to imagine why the Maya chose this spot as a place of worship.

Good grub? There was a gelato shop right outside our Airbnb that I ate at every single day – I’m pretty sure I tried every single flavor by the end! On the last day, a friend and I stumbled into a smaller hole-in-the-wall-type restaurant and spent an hour befriending the owner/cook and eating the most delicious guacamole I’ve ever had in my life. Avocado ripened to perfection, the perfect blend of salt, lime and spices – I will dream of that guacamole for years to come.

Fridge magnet or better? I got two tattoos on the tops of my feet. I’d been wanting them for a few months and was planning on getting them once I was back in the US, but when opportunity presented itself in Mexico, I had to say yes. We had befriended a local bartender who had a beautiful sleeve tattoo, and he walked us across town to introduce us to his tattoo artist. We chatted for three hours, muddling through the language barriers, and I came away with two beautiful tattoos.

If you do one thing... do yourself a favor and go to Playa del Carmen! There’s something for everyone there – beautiful beaches (with waited service), adventurous outings for the adrenaline junkies, plenty of dancing to satisfy night owls and amazing historical landmarks for history buffs.

Want more behind-the-scenes adventures? Check out where Destination Editor Bailey Freeman has just got back from.