This trip was planned a little last minute. The resort was offering all inclusive stays at a steep discount, so we decided what the hell and jumped. However, what that meant is that we were pretty unprepared than we normally would have been. At the last minute a few days before we were supposed to leave, we decided that we should rent a car. This ultimately was the right decision, but it meant leaving without maps or guide books to help us. So after failing to find any maps or good guide books of Mexico in either Borders or Barnes & Nobel out here (ridiculous), I got on Amazon and placed an order and shipped it using one-day shipping. Well take Amazon's guarantee's with a grain of salt... it didn't arrive in time before we left. Whether it was coincidence or not, it ended up at a transfer point in Washington, Ohio... We were just fine without them, but still.
When we arrived, we waded through the feeding frenzy outside the international arrivals area outside Cancun airport. For anyone who hasn't been, it's basically a 100m strip with about 300 people trying to get you to go in their van or bus, sign you up for a trip or tour, take you to their hotel -- when really all we wanted was to get to the Hertz building across the street. Quite amusing actually.
Lesson Learned -- Rental car companies in Mexico make their money off of the insurance they sell you, not the base fare. I think we got taken a bit because we got a cheap car to begin with, and I couldn't remember if our credit card carried any rental insurance when traveling internationally. Find out before you leave!
The irony here was we got an incredibly small red Dodge Alto (ask if you don't get it). This thing was stripped... No clock, no radio, no power anything, no nothing. Let me tell you, power steering is a wonderful thing. If you're going to do any significant amount of driving, upgrade to a car with power steering. My shoulders hurt just because I'm not used to it at all. I've only driven two completely manual cars and it was a very long time ago. Otherwise, we made it around just fine.
Our hotel, Marina El Cid was in Puerto Morales which is about halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. It's a brand new resort which means while it was really nice... they were basically still under construction. You didn't really notice it once you were in the resort, but it was a little shocking driving up. Especially when you compare it to the other resorts down the strip... Literally the entrance facades looked like huge complexes unto themselves. They all definitely go over the top.
Unfortunately, our beach wasn't that great (although we had a great pool). There were significant rocks about 5m into the water, which turned out to be OK, since we did our beach time mostly in Playa del Carmen. The pool had a swim up bar (which is actually really, really convenient). A really great place to relax which was all we were really looking for.
Food was pretty good and lots of alcohol (all included, which was nice not having to worry about it). You appreciate the buffets because you can see what you'll get -- lesson learned. All in all, a very relaxing place -- however if we were going back we would definitely stay in Playa del Carmen.
Our first trip into Playa del Carmen was a bit of adventure. With no maps, we were basically relying completely on Ann's ability to read the signs in Spanish (though there was quite a bit of English about) and my ability to navigate. We got off the highway too early and ended up in a very rural part of northern Playa del Carmen. No street signs, no signs for anything basically. Thankfully we guessed right that we were just too far north so we headed back in the main part of del Carmen (complete with a Walmart and other big box retail).
The main tourist area is 5th Ave right next to the beach and it's a fantastic stretch. Some great local restaurants, all the tourist shopping you could need, and the beach is right next door. There are a couple of great little hotels here, while they aren't the all-inclusive type, have quite a bit of charm and quick access to the street and beach. I think if we head back, we will definitely pick a place there.