For my final post in the Mexico 2020 digital nomad series, I’ll be recounting my last two months in the Mexican Caribbean. It would’ve been nice to explore more of this massive country, but due to COVID-19 I really wanted to minimize my movement. Still, the Caribbean coast had a lot to offer, and I’m satisfied with my time there.
In my last post, I had mentioned that some of my family members would be visiting. My mom and sister arrived just before Christmas and I was able to give them a pretty decent tour of my hometown as of the last couple of months. During their stay, we’d visit beach clubs, Cozumel, some of my favorite restaurants, and chill on the beach.
On their first night in Playa Del Carmen, I immediately took them to eat on Calle 38, right off of Quinta Avenida, where a small grouping of restaurants are tucked away in forestry leading down to a beach entrance. We ate at one of my favorite places called Chela de Playa.
Next morning we decided to do some exploring using the public bicycles situated all over the city. It’s a project called Biciplaya and you can rent bikes for a daily or monthly fee. I took them up and down Calle 10 and also to a pier off of Quinta Avenida.
Later we rode further north to a beach club I had been wanting to try out called Martina. It’s located in a quieter, less busy portion of the beach, which is great considering COVID, and also I think my family just prefers more relaxing environments. We stayed there until sunset drinking beers and eating french fries on the beach.
After that, we headed back toward the heart of Quinta Avenida to find some dinner. It was Christmas Eve, but we were hoping to find some good Mexican food since we were actually trying to escape this holiday. Unfortunately, it turned out that practically every restaurant in PDC was serving up special Christmas Eve menus that had American-style Christmas dinners. Pretty disappointing but not surprising considering the tourist rush during this time of year. Eventually, we did find a decent taco joint though.
On Christmas day we woke up early, got some breakfast at my favorite restaurant Pik Nik, and headed to Playa 88. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Playa 88 is a less busy beach that more locals visit, way further north up Quinta Avenida (to Calle 88), away from all the resorts.
Later that night, we caught sunset at my favorite beach restaurant known as Zenzi.
The day after Christmas is the day we went to the island Cozumel just off the coast of PDC. To get there we had to take a ferry 45 minutes across the sea. Two ferry companies operate in PDC: Winjet and Ultramar. They alternate their days of operation, and when we went it was through Ultramar. Tickets were about $25 per person and they can either be purchased at the ferry pier or online.
Riding the ferry was a fun experience in itself. It can be a little sickening going up and down the wave swells, and one passenger close to us even had to get up and run to the bathroom to puke. But overall it’s pleasant if you’re not prone to seasickness.
Arriving in Cozumel, we were bombarded by salespeople offering all sorts of fun adventures on the island. It’s possible to rent cars, buggies, or motorbikes to explore the 30-mile long island. We decided to keep it simple though. First, we found a delicious burrito joint (Crazy King Burrito) off the main road a bit. After that, we just hired a taxi to take us to the other side of the island where a few really nice beaches were. The taxi driver offered to stay with us the whole day so that he could bring us back to the pier when we were done.
Playa Chen Rio is the beach we ended up choosing based on recommendations. Indeed it was a super nice beach with tons of space to distance. There was a restaurant, bar, gift shop, and lounge chairs abound.
We stayed at Playa Chen Rio for a few hours before heading back to the pier via our hired taxi. On the way to the pier he was nice enough to stop at a fresh produce shop my sister wanted to buy from, and he even helped her pick out products and pay. By the time we got to the pier, the sun was already setting.
Overall Cozumel was a beautiful and relaxing day-trip, although it does seem worthwhile to stay there for a night or two and really take it in. Maybe another time.
For my mom and sister’s last day in PDC, we took it easy and had a spa day followed by dinner.
A couple weeks later, it was my dad’s turn to visit. He and his wife came for a week in the middle of January. It was another opportunity for me to play tour guide, which is something I really enjoy doing now. My dad mostly just wanted to relax, so the week he was here was more about eating out and chilling by the pool or on the beach rather than the fast pace lifestyle my mom and sister prefer.
In between the visits with my mom and dad, I took a weekend trip alone to Isla Mujeres. A friend from home highly recommended it, so I gave it a try and was not disappointed.
Isla Mujeres is another island located off the coast of Cancun, which is about an hour north of PDC. Similar to our trip to Cozumel, getting to Isla Mujeres requires taking a ferry (Ultramar or Winjet) a quick 25 minutes across the water. From PDC, I took an ADO bus to downtown Cancun, then took a taxi to Puerto Juarez. Tickets were about $15.
Much smaller than Cozumel, you can probably walk the length of Isla Mujeres in a couple of hours. However, I chose to stay in the Playa Norte area which can be walked without problem. My hotel was at the northern most end of Playa Norte right on the beach. But if you want a quieter experience, the rest of the island further south has plenty of great hotels too.
Playa Norte is a bustling little village-type area with an abundance of shops, restaurants, and beach clubs. Taking the ferry from Puerto Juarez drops you off right on the main street of Playa Norte.
After I got settled into my hotel, I immediately set out to explore this part of town. Veering off the main street a bit and heading eastward through the buildings reveals a much more quaint area of town with small village vibes. I was immediately reminded of Tulum as I walked narrow streets lined with tons of shops and restaurants. I ended up finding some food and enjoyed some live music until the sun went down.
Later I decided to look for some dance music, and I didn’t have to look far. One bar I stumbled into was blaring EDM, yet no one was inside and it was already past 10 pm. Still, I liked the music so I hung out there a bit. The barkeep ended up striking a conversation with me and we became quick friends. He even let me choose the music for the rest of the night, so I played a Nora En Pure DJ set that he really liked. I’d end up visiting there again the next night, but it was far busier than before.
On my one full day in Isla Mujeres I really just did a bunch of walking around, eating, and laying on the beach. I caught an incredible sunset on the north side of the beach. And at night I met a friend and we went bar hopping again.
Isla Mujeres is a super chill place to get away from the more touristy, Americanized city of Cancun. They are polar opposites in many respects. There are some travelers that have been living on Isla Mujeres long-term, but for me, it’s best for just a weekend trip since the WiFi wasn’t that great.
Meeting new friends
For my last couple of weeks in Mexico, I decided to throw COVID caution to the wind and made an effort to meet new people. Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, are all mostly outdoor venues and the Mexican Caribbean just wasn’t as strict as the U.S., so it was easy for me to fulfill the need to make some friends.
I ended up meeting a couple of really great groups of people. One group in particular I pretty much hung out with every day of my last week there. It was so refreshing meeting people from all over the world. I don’t regret my decision at all to venture out of my comfort zone a bit and get a taste of the true travel experience, despite the pandemic.
On my last day in PDC, I woke up super early to catch the sunrise. I was already feeling more homesick leaving there than when I left Portland, OR.
Next stop — Medellin, Colombia
At the end of January, it was finally time to say goodbye to the Mexican Caribbean. Spending four months there was a great way to kick off a digital nomad journey. As I mentioned before, I wish I could’ve explored more of Mexico in those four months, but given COVID-19 I didn’t want to be too mobile. But I think I was able to really take in what the Caribbean coast has to offer. I got to see Bacalar, Valladolid, Tulum, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, and of course tons of Playa Del Carmen.
Now, I’m currently living in Medellin, Colombia, where I’ve been for the past month. Planning on staying here until the end of April. Can’t wait to write my first month’s update, so stay tuned!