While In Mexico
Our group consisted of 16 travel members, and we organized private transfers from the airport to the hotel. However, if you aren't traveling in a group, I would recommend Ado Bus Lines. The operate all day and have large comfortable vehicles. There will be no shortage of other cab drivers trying to get you to use their services at a much higher price but Ado is very affordable.
Upon arrival in Playa Del Carmen I helped get the rest of the group checked into an all inclusive resort Riu Palace Mexico. Due to a space availability, I had to stay at a different property. I did have day passes to the resort so I was able to enjoy time with the rest of the group. However, my experience was much different that theirs. While they stayed beachfront at an all inclusive resort that waited on them hand and foot with margarita after margarita, food galore, and desserts to die for, I stayed in town in Playa del Carmen.
This was my first trip to Mexico. I was scared to leave the familiar faces of the group and venture out on my own looking for a hotel in a city that I know bustles at night until the early morning. I took a cab from the resort to my hotel. From the outside, I felt skeptical. However, as I entered, I was calmed by the laid back, low key vibe everyone had. In fact, everyone in Playa del Carmen had that about them. I felt comfortable.
On the positive side of not staying at a resort, I was able to experience authenticity. In the morning, street vendors sell fresh squeezed juices of pineapple, papaya, coconut, and many other fruits I've never seen before. I drank out of a coconut with a straw for the first time in my life.
Downtown Playa del Carmen is littered with bars with rope swings as stools, a bounty of gift shops, artists making handcrafted goods, and so much more. You can also access the island of Cozumel by ferry.
Three of us took a colectivo (van transportation that takes locals and visitors up and down the Riviera Maya) and spent an entire day at Akumal. It cost equated to $3 USD. Akumal means 'place of the turtle' When we hit the beach, the water was absolutely stunning. It was the perfect temperature and the clearest ocean water I have ever seen. You can rent snorkel gear and life jackets (which I highly recommend); although we brought our own snorkel gear. Don't bother packing food, because there is an open air restaurant with stunning views of Akumal.
Another absolute must do is Xcaret. Xcarat is a natural waterpark with part of it sitting on the side of a cliff with these amazing natural swimming pools right into the side of the cliff. From several layered platforms you can sit and take in the views of the ocean. It looks like you're in a Corona commercial. Some members swam with sting rays and sharks. Xcarat has some great snorkeling add-on features as well but one of my favorite parts of about our entire trip was a lazy romantic float through natural underground caves where every twenty or thirty yards light spills through a hole illuminating the tunnels just enough to provide the perfect lighting. As you glide your hands through the water it shimmers with electric blue ripples tracing your hands. It is a very beautiful and even breath-taking experience. It’s not only for couples as a few groups of friends enjoy the experience together as well but there is definitely a magical vibe about it that adds the element of romance. You have two tunnel options: 'Right' or 'Left'. We chose the left tunnel, then the attendant said that the left tunnel is the dark tunnel, and the right tunnel is the light tunnel. I highly recommend the left (dark) tunnel. A couple group members took the light tunnel, and although they had a great time, the dark tunnel is the way to go.
When shopping anywhere in Playa Del Carmen it is best to your money converted to pesos or to use a card such as Capital One, that doesn't charge any foreign exchange fees. You do need to make sure that the vendor charges your card in pesos, and not in US dollars. There are quaint little corner stands available in Playa del Carmen offering exchange services at reasonable fees, however, I would exchange your money at a AAA that offers those services.
This was my first time to Mexico, and loved everything about it and I cannot wait to go back to explore some more. Playa Del Carmen is a magical place. I hope you get to enjoy it sometime.