Allan and I are two frugal minded nomads from Orange County, CA. who love to write and travel. Our mission is to travel the world on a budget and so far nothing has been off limits.
Our quests have led us to walking across Spain, hiking in Portugal, cycling through France, cruising Russian waterways and even riding a couple camels in Egypt. In so doing we’ve been introduced to a large community of travelers who thrive on diverse cultures and broader perspectives.
The COVID-19 pandemic had put the world on hold as we burrowed down in quarantine, but now after tippy toeing out of our cloistered confines we’ve been excited to hit the road again discovering more new and unexpected places.
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico May 24, 2021
We should know better… Really we should. After an uneventful yet tiring 5 hour flight from LAX to Cancun we just wanted to gather up our belongings and find our booked driver to Playa del Carmen.
Entering the shuttle’s meeting area required maneuvering through what we affectionately refer to as “The Gauntlet”. This treacherous section is basically hall full of time share bandits disguised as transport services. Or maybe…. it’s alternate transport people trying to steal you away from your scheduled shuttle. Or perhaps they’re tour companies hitting you up for excursions??? Don’t know! Don’t care! But we did allow ourselves to be briefly hustled before coming to our senses.
Our transport was scheduled directly through the hotel. Instructions were easy and said to look for the employees uniformed in yellow and blue. Easy except that seemed to be “the” color for most of the transport companies!
We finally found our “guy” who wasn’t holding a plaque with our name, but instead on a long list with other weary travelers. But hey, we made it through the gauntlet with our wallets intact and soon would be wisked away to Playa del Carmen. Life is good!
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico May 24, 2021
Where to stay? Hmmmm?? With our planned escape to Mexico’s Xcaret park, the decision to stay at the Occidental Xcaret was an easy one with the park located literally next door …….. So no shuttle required.
As for the resorts rate we got an all inclusive deal of $169 a night, which was per room and not per person, that fit nicely into our traveler’s budget. We also got a discounted airfare of $300 from LAX to Cancun which made us feel like we’d won the lottery!
Since we planned multiple park visits it was nice that it took only 5 minutes to walk from the hotel lobby to the park’s ticket booth.
The ticket booth was also where we would get our wrist bands scanned and sign the “WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE IF YOU DIE” waiver.
As far as the Occidental Xcaret’s property goes, it’s located on a large chunk of land that encompasses several Mayan ruins with numerous paths and trails.
With lots to explore here Allan definitely came in handy as my “Human GPS” because I get hopelessly lost.
Being directionally challenged aside, it was fun roaming the resort and discovering all sorts of “mutant like” jungle critters that we couldn’t identify in addition to the domesticated deers, monkeys and innumerable iguanas the size of our cat.
Also throughout the property we saw multiple open air buildings housing the guest rooms and time shares. We stayed in building 19 which included its own concierge personnel who were very helpful in giving us directions and restaurant suggestions.
Our two favorite Concierge Hombre’s we referred to as “The Jeff’s” aka Pavel and Geoffrey, because each morning we would pop downstairs and say “Hey Jeff” not knowing which guy we were talking to. Ok so to our defense these guys really did look the same from behind…. and then throw in the mask. “The Jeff’s” were pretty cool though and didn’t seem to mind our lack of facial recognition and laughed at the joke.
On the resort there are 11 different restaurants which includes the snack bars. The food was good but not great with the exception of the seafood restaurant El Pescador, so needless to say this wasn’t our foodies paradise. It was a bit challenging too because the restaurant’s weren’t opened on the same days, making that concierge information even more useful.
Due to the COVID-19 restricted occupancy the resort wasn’t crowded making it easy to spread out when visiting the restaurants, swimming pools and lagoon.
My only complaint was the checking in process which may have been complicated by not purchasing the UXX (Unlimited Xcaret Experience) beforehand due to a glitch in the hotels booking system.
The UXX pass is a must which allowed us unlimited access to the Xcaret park. Unfortunately instead of paying $199 a piece the price had now increased to $250 at check in. So when I slapped down that $500 for our passes I felt a tad cheated and Allan’s face may have turned a bit green.
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico May 25, 2021
What is Xcaret Park? It’s a man made enhanced ecological park incorporating natural features of the land such as underground rivers. The park is dedicated to the preservation of the natural habitat and also a nature preserve of sorts for the rescue of wildlife and native plant species. Or, it’s Disney’s Jungle Cruise on steroids.
Originally the land was a 12 acre parcel of land owned by Miguel Quintana Pali for his personal residence. While clearing his property the owner, who was an architect by trade, discovered remnants of Mayan ruins along with underground rivers and lagoons. After contacting the INAH (Federal Institute of History and Anthropology) the land was found to be situated above an ancient Mayan city. Sr. Pali then decided the area would be better suited for public use and envisioned a venture creating an ecological park with a historical and cultural center.
Construction on Parque Xcaret began in 1984 and opened to the public in December 1990. The park now encompasses approximately 200 acres and is the first in a series of 6 parks between Cancun and Tulum in Quintana Roo.
We had planned on visiting 3 of these different parks on our stay in Playa del Carmen, but instead spent our entire time exploring Xcaret Park.
There are maps and colored pathways throughout the park which I found confusing at first.
The best way to visit the park is to choose the activities or things you want to see and then stay on the colored pathway that best corresponds to your choice.
For example, if you want to visit the aquarium stay on the blue line. If you want to see the aviary stay on the white. Swimming activities your thing?…. stay on the black line and so forth. Remember the park is huge and if you start crisscrossing you’ll end up chasing your tail!
In the beginning we didn’t have a game plan and only had a vague idea of what to do or see. With each visit we had new discoveries and as the days progressed we got this park down and came to appreciate what a jewel in the jungle this place is.
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico May 27, 2021
It was 9:30am and warm but not too hot and the palupas around the snorkeling area were empty. We had our pick of the litter so to speak and every spot was good. We quickly settled in and emptied out our packs with all of our stuff.
Well it’s been years since we’ve snorkeled and I’ve been looking forward to checking out this snorkeling lagoon in Xcaret. We were not disappointed!
As a matter of fact, prior to leaving on this swimming adventure Allan purchased some snorkeling gear off Amazon. Although you can rent everything you need near the lagoon, snorkel/ mask/fins, we didn’t want to take any chances on COVID-19 cooties.
There were also plenty of life vests which we understood are mandatory while swimming in the park. But here at this particular watering hole we ditched our vests to allow us more mobility. The life vest was also rubbing in my armpit causing a good deal of discomfort.
Yes there were plenty of colorful fish with the greatest concentration of these marine creatures found snorkeling near the seaweed.
I normally don’t get the Ebee jeebies … but as we snorkeled out further toward the shark netting that separated us from certain near death, we came across 3 Stingrays. Their size was startling as we briefly pondered whether they were nice while admiring their whip like tail. Steve Irwins freak accident came to mind though as we decided it more prudent to swim back to the other side of the lagoon.
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico May 30, 2021
Ok, so Allan doesn’t like going to aquariums…. as duly noted in previous blogs, but I do and drag him along. Of course latter he typically professes “I sure had a good time!” So when I said “Let’s go to the aquarium!” He dutifully bowed his head in resignation.
With the heat and humidity it was refreshing to explore the Coral Reef Aquarium that we had missed on our previous visits.
After a short trek along the blue line we descended past doors into a cool and quiet exhibition room. Then as we listened to the sounds of soft music we found ourselves decompressing while being immersed in this aquatic world of jellyfish and coral. Ahhhhh…
Ok so this lasted about 2 minutes before a really really REALLY loud family of 6 or so entered our nirvana. Or to be more exact, it was like reverberating noises of screeching parrots! Should we let them pass? Should we speed pass them? There was no getting away. Should we say something? Silencio! Wow I’m thinking maybe Allan and I have become that “cranky old couple”? Of course our own children were perfect….
We finally parted ways with this noisy ménage as we headed down to the shark tank and where Allan snapped pictures of a sign reading “Sharks, a hands on adventure”. We’ll take a rain check on this one.
Next our trek led us to the stingray tank before the blue line took us through the gift shop and onward toward the tortugas. Unfortunately there was a construction zone that ended this line and we were curious about the next planned exhibit. All and all this aquarium is pretty great.
Before leaving the park we dropped by the Pueblo museum. It’s basically a traditional Pueblo where you can explore rooms filled with cool Mexican folk art. Again, I’m glad we didn’t miss this.
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico May 31, 2021
The breeze was warm and balmy and at only 60% capacity we always got the best tables.
Tonight we overlooked the lagoon with the ocean in the horizon. This was our second time dining at El Pescador, the resorts seafood restaurant, and by far our favorite.
The bread arrived immediately and while I procured the menu I slathered those carbs with garlic butter. Then without much thought jammed that delicious bread down my throat.
I had my heart set on Salmon tonight … but what is this? I can have surf and turf!? Salmon and steak! Yep! I typically wouldn’t order something so expensive, but it’s already paid for with this all inclusive thing. Right? So I’m going for it! Bring it on!
The waiter asks “Would like an appetizer?” Well hell yah! What have you got? He begins to talk about the Baby Squid and I say that sounds good while Allan’s not so sure. Well what else you got I asked? We can fix you up with some fish cocktail he says. I say yes that sounds great!
After the waiter left Allan said “Wow did you just order a lot of food?”. Umm did I? Not sure? Then I leaned forward and gave him my little “sad face” and said I was hungry. Actually I lied… I wasn’t.
Hoping against all odds that my over zealousness didn’t equate into some type of glutinous sin, the waiter arrived with my “first” appetizer.
While this little lady admired the presentation of ALL her food, I also felt a little melancholy. Without the assistance of some Mayan cocktail I thought about how I hated wasting food and dwelled on the many food insufficient people around the world. I felt very lucky and sad at the same time.
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico June 2, 2021
With mandatory testing many of the resorts in Mexico offer free COVID-19 testing…. except at our hotel. So for $20 you can go to Occidental Xcaret’s on site clinic or pay $30 and they’ll come to your room. We choose the cheaper route.
We were a bit anxious about our test today. Not because we weren’t looking forward to having a long q tip swab jammed down our noses. Nope. It was because we weren’t instilled with confidence when we scheduled our appointments through guest services. Not to sound like a “Karen” but really they should’ve had this down by now. Maybe something was lost in translation??
The conversation went something like this: Is this where we schedule our COVID-19 testing? Yes they replied…. long pause… “But that other person over there can help you. Please wait, he’s with another guest at the moment.” Ok, no problem we said.
I surmised, as I was eavesdropping, that the other guest was having issues retrieving his test results. Oh I thought… hmmm that’s not good. Poor unlucky fellow! I wonder when he’s checking out?
Next, this fellow leaves and a beautiful young couple walk up. The guest service guy says “Can we help you beautiful young couple and please sit down”…. or at least that’s what I heard. I said What???? No! We’re next! I felt like a troll.
So we now sit down and start to schedule our COVID test… I think?? I’m wondering why this guest service guy isn’t pulling out some type calendar to figure out the 72 hour window of testing thing? Right? He asks us what day we are leaving? Good. We reply Wednesday the 2nd. Then he asks us two more times. Ok probably language. That’s ok. Room number? Name? Ok good. So we are scheduled? Yes he replied.
He didn’t volunteer information on where the clinic was or the cost or that they can do it in your room for an additional fee. Although I already knew most of this information we would’ve felt more comfortable if we didn’t have to ask. He did tell us to bring money and our passports. That was helpful.
Ok so our appointment day arrives. We go to the clinic, scan a bar code, fill out the information and stand in line in a hall that is very warm and humid. A large family before us go in and the door closes. We wait and we wait… Should we knock on the door? As we wait and wait….we start to get all sweaty. Allan now looks like he has COVID but I choose not to tell him that.
Finally the nurse steps out with a clipboard that has all the appointments… and no we are not on it. Our room number is on it with someone else’s name that has been checked off. Ugh!! I quickly glanced over the entire list, huge HIPA violation in the states btw, as I was still in disbelief. The nurse said not to worry. We will take care of you. I’m thinking perhaps this happens all the time??
Once in the clinic the medical team was great and very efficient. We were very appreciative of that. They told us our results would be available within the hour and sent to our email. I asked if us boomers could get a paper copy too? Absolutely after 4:00pm… at guest services. Hmmmm….
Well we did receive our negative results within an hour. Great! Then after 4:00pm we shuffled over to guest services again and yep, you guessed it, they didn’t have a copy and couldn’t find the record. Here’s what you do they said… email us your results and we’ll print them out here. Ok this probably does happen all the time….. it’s Mexico.