As the news that Mexico is to move to the red list for travellers within the UK comes out, I have taken the time to reminisce on one of the best holidays of my life. Two weeks before the first lockdown hit England, I was fortunate enough to get away to the sunshine coast of the Riviera Maya. The pearly white sands and crystal-clear waters are just some of the reasons why this part of Mexico is so popular. The locals are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet, and the classic Mexican dishes are second to none.
Playa del Carmen is by far the most visited beach town and it’s not hard to see why. Having lived in a seaside town my whole life, I was intrigued as to what else the town had to offer that may sometimes be overlooked due to the mesmerising coast. It is a perfect blend of cosy local shops, high-end retailers and intimate bars and restaurants all decorated in the most vibrant colours you can imagine. With sunflower yellows, post-box reds and azure blues wherever you look, it is hard to decide where to venture first. As with most shops abroad selling local goods, I had the opportunity to practice my haggling, which I dread. We filled our pockets with bottles of homemade mezcal adorned with miniature sombreros infused with agave worms. These worms are called con gusano and are only found in mezcal not tequila. It is thought that these larvae are added to mezcal to enhance the natural flavour. They are also included as proof of a high potency spirit as, in order to pickle the insect, the spirit must have a large percentage of alcohol. Aside from liquor, there are also beautifully hand-created keepsakes you can buy, such as earrings made from Mexican shells and ceramic and glass dishes in shapes of local wildlife, all painted in vivid hues and tones.
When you tire from shopping, there are plenty of cafes, restaurants, or bars to choose from. We opted for Pez Vela, renowned for its swing bar (quite literally a bar with a swing!). We grazed on fresh shrimp tacos with homemade guacamole and chips which were simple but cooked to perfection. I bravely tried the Mexican Bulldog: a margarita with a Corona on top. As flavoursome as it was, safe to say, it did knock me for six!
Life outside of Playa del Carmen does exist, and we ventured to the world of Xel-Ha which was not far from our resort. This was, hands down, one of the best experiences of my life. Xel-Ha is your own piece of paradise in the form of an ecotourism development centred around the natural inlet and lagoon where the fresh and salty waters meet. It is a natural aquarium that allows you to snorkel and scuba dive, and generally observe the animals in their natural habitat. I am a beginner snorkeller but there was so much to explore, from damselfish to stingray. There are also several mangroves which you can swim or float through, eventually bringing you out in the salt water.
In true Brit fashion, we were delighted to learn that entry into the park includes unlimited beverages and food, and so by the time we got on the bus home, we were slightly tipsy from all of the cocktails we had sipped with full stomachs.
Owned by same company as Xel-Ha, we also discovered Xcaret, which is an ecological nature park made up of naturally occurring cenotes, but also providing habitats for lots of exotic creatures. There is a replica of a Mayan village, including a Mexican cemetery, museum and even performances of pre-Hispanic dances from Danza de los Voladores (Papantla Flying Men) who traditionally used to dance to offer their gratitude to the Sun God and bring the rain.
Swimming around the cenotes is an experience all on its own. Cenotes are natural sinkholes resulting from the collapse of rock and when the sunlight hits the water inside of one, it feels like so much more than that. The feeling of floating in one is not really something you can describe, but more like a type of magic, and you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say that you need to experience it yourself to truly know that magic.
Mexico offers so much more than beaches and I believe that it holds a little piece of perfect for everyone, whatever you are looking for. Adventure, relaxation, exploration; Mexico has it all in store