You've got to Playa del Carmen, and you're getting off the plane...now what??
On arrival in Cancun, you go through immigration and provide them with the FMM form, which each person travelling has completed. ( *If you don't know what the FMM form is please go to my blog "Everything you Need to Know About Playa del Carmen"... )
You can apply for up to a 180-day stay in Mexico. In the bottom left corner of the form, it says 180 days. The immigration officer will usually ask you how long you plan to stay and note that on the form, or they may circle the 180 days, as they did with us.
Recently, there have been comments from some bloggers/vloggers that they received fewer days than requested. Often, they assumed that they had been given the number of days asked for and found that they were in the country illegally!
When I read this, I ran to check our forms as I had made the same assumption. Whew, we have 180 days! Or rather, that's circled on John's. It doesn't say anything on mine. Guess we'll find out when we leave if I've overstayed! So, word of warning, check your form at the desk before leaving immigration.
As well, friends just found out they had Covid when they did their PCR test to go home to Canada and had to stay additional days to quarantine. It might be a good idea to ask for an extra two weeks as a cushion. If you overstay, you may be fined.
(Note - I just heard today, as I write this, that there are changes being made to immigration. You might soon be required to show proof of accommodation for your whole visit, $$$ needed for X# of days you are in Mexico, exact planning for your trip. This may make it more difficult for digital nomads and snowbirds. So as always - check what you need before you leave)
Once done with immigration, you go through a door into customs. There, you collect your bags, if you have any, and hand your form to the customs official. This is a form that the airlines may also give you or you may print at home. One member of the family completes this for the whole party.
Then you press the button on what looks like a traffic light. Green means you are free to go, and red means officials must perform a quick inspection of your bags.
***Update: The customs form and the red/green light caused a lot of discussion on a website where my blog was posted. Many people reported that they did not have to complete a customs form or press the light. Others said they did have to. I know that we handed a form to the customs official and that we pressed the light. I'd love to know what your experience was, as it seems it varies.
WHAT TO KNOW TO GET FROM THE AIRPORT TO PLAYA:
You have any number of legitimate options for getting from Cancun to Playa. As you leave terminal four, where many international flights arrive, you go through a corridor where all the rental car agencies and ADO bus have booths.
The thing about that corridor? A lot, a lot, a LOT of people trying to convince you to take their ride, their car, their taxi or that they are your ride. There are also timeshare representatives there that will offer to help you. Research the various scams at the Cancun airport so you are familiar with the tactics before you arrive, so you can say a polite gracias and keep walking to either your car rental or out the doors.
If you have prearranged pick up or if your hotel provides a shuttle, you must walk outside until you go past the minimart to find them. The cost we saw for shuttles and private pickup ranged from around $950 pesos upwards.
We got a private ride back to the airport for $950 pesos ($59 CAD, $46 USD) through Turismo Channel. There are many companies online where you can make transportation arrangements. See official airport comments on transportation.
If you wish to take a taxi, you have to prearrange it. This differs from other Mexican airports where you can purchase a taxi voucher in the airport to catch one outside.
We chose the ADO bus to Playa del Carmen. These are modern large buses that leave the airport every 1/2 hour. We had difficulty finding information online on how to catch the bus, so here is what you need to know.
You can buy a ticket for the bus in the corridor inside the airport; however, they may sell you a ticket for the next bus, not necessarily the one about to leave. If you go outside and look to the far right parking lot, you will see a red ADO ticket booth and possibly a big red bus. You can buy the ticket from this person and get on the bus currently there. The cost is $216 per person. ($13 CAD, $10 USD).
*Note - currency is constantly fluctuating. These rates have changed in the month we have been here. For simplicity, I have rounded up.
PROs and CONS RE: ADO Bus
PROS: it's inexpensive, the bus often leaves quickly and takes you to Centro Playa del Carmen.
CONS: there can be many people on the bus, and not everyone abides by Covid directives (mask), the movie playing on the bus can be very loud, and the bus only takes you to Centro Playa Del Carmen.
In non-Covid times I would have no problem taking the bus. When we were leaving Playa it was early in the morning, we were 21 blocks from the ADO Station, had seen long lineups at the station for the Aeroporto AND it was still the age of Covid; it seemed wiser to spend the extra on a private ride.
The other arrival point to get to Playa del Carmen is Cozumel, an island 20 km off the coast to the east, with a small international airport. On arrival in Cozumel, catch a taxi to the ferry terminal in downtown San Miguel and board the ferry for Playa.
Two ferry companies, Winjet and Ultramar, travel between Cozumel and Playa. The ride is about 45 minutes. People start lining up an hour early, and the ferry can leave late. It felt like a very long wait. The schedule is online, and you can buy your tickets in advance. The companies appear to alternate directions hourly. We heard that Ultramar is a more comfortable ferry.
When we went to Cozumel, we ended up on Winjet due to our schedule. On Winjet, there was a powerful diesel smell.
It is best to buy one-way tickets so that you have the option of either company on your return, depending on your schedule. The tickets cost $235. ($15 CAD $12 USD).
Once in Centro Playa del Carmen, where either the bus or the ferry drops you, you need to get to your accommodation. There is a good chance that you can walk, however, should you decide to take a taxi there are a couple of things to know.
Leave the La Quinta Avenida (5th Ave) area to catch a taxi. The ADO bus station is on 5th Avenue, and the ferry is nearby. This area is primarily a tourist area, and you will be considered fair game and charged more. Walk up to 10th or 15th Avenida and try there. If the taxi's green light is on, try flagging them down.
An official tariff dictates taxis should only charge 40 pesos within this area. HOWEVER, my understanding is most people are paying between 50-80 pesos. Drivers always asked for 100 pesos, and we would negotiate less or walk away. We spent 50 or 60 pesos the few times we took a taxi. To put this into perspective, though, forty pesos is only $2.50 CAD or $2 USD.
We now have the phone number for two taxi drivers in Playa and you can reach them on Whatsapp. Let me know if you need the number! (everyone in Mexico uses Whatsapp and Facebook.)
We walked pretty much everywhere in Playa, as it is very flat and easy to get around. Read more below about that!
WHAT TO KNOW TO MAKE LIVING EASY:
The locals do not take taxis; they get a collectivo, small vans that pick up people along major roadways like 30th Avenida. We were unsure which one to take, but we learned that any colectivo heading north or south on 30th could take us from Benito Juárez to CTM, or visa versa, for 10 pesos.
We did take the colectivo from the Tulum Ruins to Tulum and then back to Playa, which worked great. Just wave them down on the highway. Much better than the ADO we had taken to the Ruins. More on that in a future post!
Ok, about walking. KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN. There are many hazards to be aware of when walking around. Wires are everywhere, often hanging very low. But you can't spend all your time looking look up, as the road and sidewalks are not in great shape. They are cracked, they heave, and may not even exist. Trees and poles often jute out in strange places, and you never know what might block your way. As well, people do not always pick up after their dogs. It's always an exciting adventure.
Want to ride a bike around? It's easy in Playa as it's flat, and there are bike lanes...sort of. As with the sidewalks, the bike lanes may be blocked or non-existent. So you need always to be aware. Try the bike path on 10th Avenida; it runs parallel to Quinta Avenida. You can not take a bike on Quinta Avenida, however. There is a route map here.
Mastercard has partnered with Biciplaya to provide rental bikes at 44 stations in Playa Del Carmen. You can rent the bikes at one location and return them to another. You may have a system like this in your hometown. We do in Vancouver! In Playa, a one-day pass for unlimited 30-minute trips is $98 pesos. ($6 CAD or $5 USD)
There is a helmet by-law in Playa, but no helmets are provided and we rarely saw anyone wearing one. The bikes look different from what is on the website. I confirmed these are Biciplaya bikes; they have not updated their advertising since joining Mastercard, so the colour scheme is different.
Many hotels have bikes they rent or provide, and there are also individual rental companies where you can arrange for a bike for a more extended period. If you move to Playa, you can find new or used bikes at bike stores.
So whether you are riding or driving, you need to know that most streets are one way in PDC. There is a blue arrow on the street signs indicating the direction. There are very few stop signs, so slow down at intersections. I read that the Avenida's have the right of way and that the Calles give way; however, I have not been able to confirm this.
We saw the aftermath of an accident from our apartment window between a motorcyclist and a gas truck, likely resulting from someone not giving way. Luckily, the cyclist only had minor injuries. It was interesting to watch the police and ambulance response - but that's a whole other story.
We have compared driving in Mexico to driving in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. My Vancouverite friends will understand that reference. Pedestrians pay no attention to lights or corners, drivers pull out from anywhere, and you have to be very alert for anything at all times.
And in Mexico, you never know when you will come across a speed bump, known as topes. Sometimes there are indications, but not always.
And remember, there is no driving or riding on Quinta Avenida!
I know, not the most tasteful subject. However, the sanitation infrastructure in Mexico may not be what you are used to, like most third-world countries. People rarely tell you that the waste paper baskets beside every toilet are for toilet paper and hand towels. Unless your host tells you differently, do not flush anything other than body waste down the toilet.
And on that topic, it's a good idea to have toilet paper with you travelling around; you can buy excellent condensed rolls for travel, and you should have 5-10 pesos to pay to use the toilet. Once you pay the attendant remember to get your toilet paper from them. I only had to pay once in the ADO station and used the paper once in Starbucks. Best to be prepared!
Further to that - do not drink the water! Most restaurants will provide you with water and ice cubes from bottled water. You do need to stay hydrated! Our Airbnb did not provide drinking water, so it was one of the new things we learned. There are several ways to deal with this situation. Ours' was to buy a 10-litre bottle from Soriana (or any other store) for 33 pesos ($2.05 CAD, $1.60 UDS) and find a refill station. You can buy a giant bottle, but they were too heavy for us to carry when full.
You select the amount of water you want at the refill station - 1 litre, 10 litres or the large bottle and pay the coin into the machine (5 pesos for 10 litres). Put the bottle upside down, and press go so the device can clean it. Once that is done, flip it over, put it under the spout, and press go again. The water will start to fill the bottle and will more than likely overfill it. The first time John got the water, he came home soaking wet. He learned to pull the bottle to the side when it was almost full, as it splashed less that way. We filled smaller used plastic bottles from the 10-litre bottle once in our apartment. We always kept a bottle of water in the bathroom for brushing our teeth.
"Watermen" will deliver the large bottles to your residence. They also go around neighbourhoods loudly advertising water from speakers on their trucks. I believe you can make arrangements for home delivery at the water dispensary or have the large bottles filled there by staff.
Usually, when travelling and our clothes get dirty and need washing, we handwash our laundry and hang dry it, as we pack minimally. But NOTHING dries in Playa as the humidity is so high. Easy solution - there is a lavanderia around every corner! You take your laundry to them; they weigh it, clean, dry and fold it, and return it to you! Wouldn't you rather be at the beach? They charge by the kilo - 10-12 pesos. (($.52-.74 CAD, $.49- .58 USD) and if you want it the same day, you may have to pay a small additional amount.
I am covering things you might have questions about before arriving in Playa del Carmen. So here are some more.
Wifi and sim cards are one of those things. There is excellent WIFI in PDC, which has brought many digital nomads to the area. Most hotels and Airbnb's have WIFI. If you need connectivity, ensure that your accommodation provides WIFI before booking. John is still working remotely, so reliable WIFI is essential.
We all carry cell phones these days. I can't remember how we travelled without them! How did we find our way around or find good restaurants to eat at? Puzzling!
So you will probably want to temporarily replace your sim card with a Mexican sim card. If you have a newer phone, it should already be unlocked. If your phone is older, you may want to make sure, before you leave, that your phone is unlocked. Telcel is a major Mexican provider, and there are stores on every block. The employee can assist you with installing your card. Just make sure you put your regular sim card somewhere safe. You will want it when you get home.
We have decided for our next trip we will change the sim card in an old cell phone we have and leave our current phones with our regular sim cards in them. This way we can still get calls on our regular phones via WIFI and use the old phone as a WIFI hotspot.
A 1.3g card for 15 days was 100 pesos. ($6.20 CAD, $4.86 USD) You can easily extend it online, at Telcel, Oxxo, or other stores.
Why aren't these the rates we pay at home?!
If you are staying at a private residence and plan to make meals at home, there are a wide variety of places you can get supplies. Of course, there is a Walmart and Sam's Club, if you feel the need for a taste of home.
You can also get many of the same items at Mega Soriana or one of the other two Soriana's. Aki is another large grocery store that has more housewares and staples. These stores are all similar, and you can get most things you need there.
When shopping at these stores, if the meat does not have a price, ensure to get it weighed and priced in the meat department.
If you want bakery items in Soriana, get a tray and tongs and make your selections, which you then take to the person in that department for weighing, pricing and packaging.
It's a good idea to ensure that all your items have readable barcodes. It is possible for some damage from refrigeration. Apparently, this happens enough that there is a warning about it.
And if you have USD you are able to use up to $280 cash in all major supermarkets.
Remember to bring your own bags, and it is customary to tip the person who bags your groceries for you. If you get a weeks' worth of groceries, a tip of 8-12 pesos is normal. Less if you get less.
DAC is a smaller local store located on 30th Avenida at Calle 20th that ex-pats frequent. DACs has a good fruit and vegetable selection and carries Asian and other items not available at the larger grocery stores. There are wicker baskets for use while selecting your items. We heard that the restaurant attached is excellent for breakfast.
There is a small chain store called Willy's, which is a small minimart. Then there is Oxxo which is like a 7/11 in layout, and there are also 7/11's. These tend to be open later.
Fruitaria's are produce stores that also have some staples. Should you need a small amount of some spices, this is an excellent place to check for it. Many Fruitaria's have bags hanging near the cash register containing common spices. The perfect amount if you are not there for a long time.
Pharmacias or Farmacias, you'll see both spellings, are on every block as well! You have your laundry, your Telcel and your pharmacy available everywhere.
Like tortillas? You can find tortilla factories on most major Avenidas where you can buy fresh, warm tortillas for a very few pesos.
And finally, if you don't want to bother going to shop there is a delivery service - loQsea.com . I can't speak to it personally, but there are good reviews.
If you don't want to cook? There are restaurants for every budget everywhere!
In my opinion, it is a good idea to get away from La Quinta Avenida and 38th Calle, as both are very touristy. The food may be gringoized - dummied down - and the prices are much higher.
We discovered many great restaurants away from the core area, and I will follow up in a future blog with ones we liked.
Quinta Avenida aka 5th Avenue
Aw, the famous Quinta Avenida!
Colourful, loud, and busy with many touts. We often found ourselves there, despite wanting to avoid 5th Avenida.
There are mainly tourist souvenir stores, bars and restaurants along this car-free Avenida. Tourists flock here, and you can often see people just arriving or leaving, lugging their luggage down the street.
There are also at least two malls. Need to visit Sephora or other big names stores? Quinta Avenida is where you will find them.
There are at least 3 Starbucks and 3 Aldo ice cream shops between Benito Juárez Avenida and Calle CTM!
It's an exciting place to wander on a Saturday or Sunday night. I have never heard so many different types of music competing. We listened to some great musicians while walking down the street. If you are looking for nightlife, this is where you can go.
Mexico and Noise
Mexico is a country of sounds! There is always music blasting, dogs barking, blow horns announcing something from the street and church bells ringing. It can be glorious OR annoying.
Things to Do
There are many activities to keep you busy and entertained. Tour historical sights, go scuba diving and snorkelling, go on a food tour or visit a theme park.
We choose to go to a Pearl Farm on Cozumel, take a Mexican cooking class, visit the Tulum Ruins, take a boat ride thru the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve and swim in three Cenotes. Tours are very unlikely activities for locals except for the cenotes!
For all of that, subscribe to get my next few posts!
If you read my blog or follow me on Instagram, you know that I love all kinds of street art and have collected hundreds if not thousands of pictures worldwide of fabulous art.
Mexico is no exception. I found many streets with beautiful examples of art. People even decorate their homes.
The Everything Playa del Carmen blog provides a map with locations where there is street art, although this article is dated and the art may have changed, there is street art there.
Airbnb Experiences has an Urban Art and Bike Tour.
The City Art tour will take you to many locations of street art in Playa. I had discovered most of these areas myself, so I did not personally go on any of these tours.
It's a fun activity to do. Challenge yourself to open your eyes and notice what is around you. You might be surprised! I think it deserves its own post. What do you think?
Why don't we paint our houses in bright colours with beautiful art?!
Beaches and Beach Clubs
Beaches are why people flock to the east coast of Mexico. The Caribbean ocean is fantastic!
No one owns the beachfront. Indeed, some of the large hotels and Beach Clubs would like you to think they do - but they don't! So feel free to set up your towel wherever you would like.
Don't want to lay on a towel? Prefer to sit on a lounger for the day, being served your drinks and food? Go to a Beach Club! It was confusing to get accurate information about the cost of the clubs or how much of a party scene each is.
We visited two - Martina Beach Club and the Lido Beach Club.
Pros - there is a beautiful expansive beachfront with many loungers.
Cons - you pay a fee to go in. Food and drinks were expensive and not great. Service was slow. Very, very loud bassy music and scantily clad girls dancing. (We aren't into the party scene so this was a con for me; however, many people seemed to have a good time.)
Pros - no upfront fee. Recorded music was quiet, and they also had a talented duo. (this may not be all the time). Prices were reasonable, food and service were good.
Cons - there is very little actual beachfront and very few loungers. We could not reserve the loungers, and we waited a long time to nab one. (*I am advised, 3 weeks later, that there is a lot more beachfront now.)
We were happier with the Lido Beach Club, but it depends on your expectations.
People complained about seaweed on the beaches in the past, but we didn't notice that at this time. There were areas less pleasant smelling, however.
Note - it's very easy at the Beach Clubs and other clubs to get carried away with how much you drink. You can become an easy target if you are drunk, especially if you are on your own. Always be aware.
Tipping is common in Mexico however it is illegal for anyone to add their own tip or tax to your bill. They can, however, make a suggestion. There is a great guide as to when to tip, or not, at Everything Playa Del Carmen.
It's a good idea to exchange some money before you come to Playa del Carmen however, there are banks available. It is advisable not to use stand-alone ATMs or Foreign Exchange booths. That is the same advice for almost any country anywhere you go. You are not going to get the best exchange rate there and you could get scammed.
Do wear sunscreen. You are close to the equator and you want to avoid sunburns. The pain will ruin your travel fun and you are risking skin cancer. It is advisable to use eco-sensitive sunscreen. Read the Rolling Stone article on the best sunscreens for the environment. If you are hoping to snorkel by the reef or swim in the cenotes you MUST be wearing eco- safe sunscreen.
We were only able to find two bio-friendly sunscreens in Vancouver before we left and we bought both.
The Badger is a very thick cream and is a little harder to spread than the All Good, but uses less as it spreads. It does take longer to put on, so that might be a deterrent. The All Good is much more liquidy, it comes out quickly and you use more. We liked both products. You can get lots of different sunscreens in Mexico, although if you buy them in Playa you may pay more.
We also bought an eco-friendly bug spray at the cenote we were at.
Covid and Mexic0
Restrictions in the country are in place in Playa. Masks are mandatory in public places, outside and indoors. It is illegal not to wear one, so always have one with you. However, many, many people were not wearing them outside and often we weren't either.
We were uncomfortable on the ADO into Playa when a man close to us pulled down his mask when the driver was not around. I don't understand wearing your mask under your nose. We also had an issue with some European males who weren't prepared to wear them in a van with nine other people during a tour. They found some and did wear them on the trip out, but not the trip back.
We found most Mexicans did wear masks.
Many restaurants provide sanitizer on entry; take your temperature or do both. On entering the malls or stores, they will do both.
There are Covid testing stations everywhere! So if you feel sick or didn't bring your PCR test with you; you can get tested there. More covid information.
Walmart has testing stations in some areas of Mexico. I am not sure if the Walmart in Playa does testing. The larger hotels offer Covid testing to guests who require proof of testing to return home.
Our conclusion on our short stay in Playa del Carmen? We liked being on the fringe of the tourist area. It's a very walkable town and people are very friendly and always helpful. We'll happily go back and would consider staying for the winter and becoming snowbirds!
I hope the information above and in part one helps you decide to visit Playa and to better enjoy your time while there. Let me know if you have any questions and fill me in on your trip.
The next post will be a synopsis of the five tours we did while in PDC. You saw the pictures above. Doesn't it make you want to know more? Subscribe and you'll be notified when it's posted.
Until next time.......