Besides my quick four-hour taco run to Nogales last year, this incredible trip was my first real experience in Mexico. I was fortunate enough to have two close friends guide me across the country to various locations over the best ten-day trip imaginable. I had zero expectations going into this trip, my friends flawlessly planned or improvised every detail (which was a first for me), and it was my first international vacation in years. It’s not conducive to summarize ten days full of experiences into a single post, so I’ve included the highlights and as always I am happy to answer any additional questions!
On New Years Eve, I flew solo to Cancún where I met with my friends, Ale and Jimena, in the airport. From the airport, we drove straight to Paa Mul, a beachside town just past Playa del Carmen. It was incredible driving down the highway surrounded by lush greenery and tropical plants everywhere, it was definitely a much more scenic view than the concrete jungle along the 405 freeway. Once we arrived, Ale prepared an amazing dinner for us while I fixed up some tropical tequila-based cocktails. We watched the sunset on the peninsula and drank copious amounts of tequila before heading over to Diablito Cha Cha Cha, a multi-story bar built within a beautiful palapa overlooking the ocean. After a few shots of Mezcal, we celebrated the new year in the warm tropical breeze watching fireworks over the ocean at midnight. The next morning, we relaxed and explored downtown Playa del Carmen. We started off with lunch at El Mariscos Oasis, I highly recommend their fish ceviche, but everything I tried there was incredibly fresh and delicious. After lunch, we walked down the boardwalk (Calle Quinta Avenida) checking out various shops and stopping in multiple bars along the way for micheladas and margaritas. There’s so much to do and see, it is very touristy, but definitely worth checking out. At sunset we went to the rooftop of the Thompson Hotel to have dinner and drinks at Catch. It was considered off-season when we went, so it was quiet at the pool and bar, but I’m sure in the busier months that it would be such a cool spot. Regardless of the time of year, the view up there is incredible and a must-see if you’re in the area.
The next morning we cruised down to Tulum, I knew I was going to love it there, but it truly exceeded every expectation. Tulum just has a really magical vibe and it quickly became one of my favorite destinations. We parked the Jeep at the edge of town, rented a few beach cruisers, and biked into town. There’s plenty of bike rental shops just along the entrance of town and it’s much easier to navigate through the narrow roads (and it’s nice to not have to worry about parking) verses having a car with you. Our first stop was Ziggy’s Beach Club, we ordered drinks delivered to our towels, laid out on the warm white sand, and dipped in the clear aqua water. I never wanted to leave, I finally understood why people obsess over Tulum so much. I’ve been fortunate enough to see many beautiful beaches, but Tulum was by far my favorite. While we were hanging out, we met some guys from New Zealand and after some light conversation I asked them, “Why would you fly all the way to Mexico if you have Fiji right there?” They laughed and said, “It’s just not the same.” I’ve never actually been to Fiji so I cannot concur – but either way, I felt incredibly fortunate to have Tulum so close and accessible to me. After a few hours we went inside to the bar area and chilled on the bar swings that hung from the thatched roof while sipping margaritas. I ordered the special “Margarita Ziggy” with Clase Azul Reposado and Grand Marnier, it was basically an orange-creamsicle and margarita hybrid, in other words, fucking delicious and worth every “excessive” penny. We later rode our bikes back through town and headed to Papaya Playa Project, an enormous hotel and beachside nightclub with a huge stage located just steps away from the ocean. We had our faces painted with glitter and bright colors for the WOOMOON event, a deep-house concert with thousands of people packed inside and outside. We drank and danced for hours and hours. We didn’t stay until 10am when the event ended, but it was still a great time. It’s incredible that a calm tropical paradise like Tulum can also have a really lively nightlife too.
After a few days on the mainland, Jimena and I took the ferry to explore the island of Cozumel. Ale unfortunately stayed behind to be a responsible adult and work while Jimena and I continued to travel. Our first stop was El Palomar, a classic colonial style home converted into a beautiful restaurant and bar. We sat out on the porch across from the harbor, sipped mojitos, and shared some appetizers – it was the perfect mellow day. The next morning we drove across to the other side of the island to see Playa de San Martin, another pristine white sand beach with crystal clear waters. We packed our car full and then a few more friends from town met us at the beach where we spent the entire day just hanging out, eating, and drinking. There were cute little shacks where you could buy fresh seafood, order tropical cocktails out of pineapples, and swing away on massive hammocks overlooking the ocean. It’s so incredible that you can spoil yourself rotten in Mexico for next to nothing compared to the American dollar – I miss the exchange rate so much.
The first half of my trip was spent partying and exploring the tropical state of Quintana Roo, but it was definitely important for me to also explore a historical side of Mexico and submerse myself into the beautiful culture in Yucatán. After a couple of days in Cozumel, we headed back to the mainland and began our journey to the Yucatán capital, Mérida. Jimena and Ale (as well as my close friend Natalia from back home) are all from Mérida, so it was really special to be able to see where they all grew up and to meet their families. Our first afternoon was a much needed mellow day, I got the hometown tour and met a few of Jimena’s childhood friends. Everyone I met was incredibly kind and had no problem speaking English whenever I was around, which was really cool of them since I know maybe five words of Spanish. That night we went out to Esvedra, a local trendy restaurant-lounge type of place. Their menu basically consisted of bottle service and really tasty pizza – Los Angeles definitely needs a place like this. I’m not a big vodka drinker, but I really enjoyed ordering $5 Negroni’s with top shelf gin, and the bartender was thrilled to make something other than a vodka soda.
The following morning we woke up early and drove down to Uxmal to see the ancient Mayan ruins dating back as far as 500 A.D. I definitely recommend hiring a tour guide if you go, as there were so many incredible and intricate details that we all would have missed had we explored on our own. Directly across from the entrance of the ruins is a restaurant called Coole Chepa Chi, I’m shocked to see that the reviews online are so terrible because this place was really amazing. The service was great, the food was delicious, they made the tortillas fresh about 20ft away from our table and the entire ambiance was perfect. I tried Poc Chuc (grilled pork) with the fresh tortillas for my first time and it was heavenly. Natalia had given me a list of all the things I had to try when I visited and she stressed that Poc Chuc was a must… and I definitely agree. We then drove back to the outskirts of Mérida to a specific park where various vendors meet to sell traditional snacks straight from their carts. I, of course, started with a huge cup of street corn doused in cheese and spices, followed by Nutella stuffed Marquesitas. I sat and ate while Jimena told me stories of how she used to always come to that park as a kid and I suddenly felt a sense of nostalgia to a place that I had never been. We then headed back to the city center where the Filux Light Festival was happening. There were incredible art-instalments throughout the town but my favorite was the thousands of lights synchronized to music hung from the ceiling of the 16th century Catedral de Mérida, one of the largest cathedrals in the America’s. It was pretty cool to just walk around and see how crowded and lively the town was even late at night on a Sunday.
We hoped back in the car the following morning and headed down to Cuzamá and Homún to explore the various Cenotes. These massive underground caves or “sinkholes” are natural formations with exposed groundwater measuring hundreds of miles deep resulting from the collapse of the limestone bedrock. These cenotes were a source of clean water for the ancient Mayans and in some cases sacrificial offerings. Each cenote is easily accessible by mototaxi tours and are typically about 30 pesos to go inside. I recommend checking out at least three different cenotes as each one is so unique and they’re very close in proximity. Our driver was able to share a few interesting facts about each cenotes, but just being down in there and swimming in the cool water was remarkable. After our tour, we drove down the road to Hacienda Yabucú, a beautiful estate where we had lunch overlooking the gardens before heading back to Mérida.
For the last day of the trip we went down to the local beachside town of Progreso. We stopped for a quick brunch at Crabster, the food was great and the outdoor patio overlooks the ocean nestled right on the boardwalk. The town was mellow like Playa del Carmen, as again it was off-season, but in the summer time it’s where everyone from Mérida goes. After brunch, we were invited out on a friend’s yacht to cruise around the harbor (Puerto Progreso) and relax. It was nice to have a day to just chill after a lot of exploring and with my flight back the next morning. For our last dinner, we had planned to go to some fancy restaurant in town, but after a day in the sun we were exhausted; we ended up just grabbing al pastor tacos at La Parrilla, which was honestly really the perfect last meal. I sat there with Jimena ordering rounds of tacos, sipping horchata from huge fish bowl size glasses, and reminiscing about the past ten days. It’s always bittersweet going back home, but I knew I was really especially going to miss Mexico a lot. I’m so fortunate to have wonderful friends down there that are always inviting me back to visit, so hopefully I’ll be back soon!
31 December 2017 – 10 January 2018