My 2021 adventure is officially off to the races! In case you missed the prelude, I will be traveling to 12 Cities in 12 months throughout the year. My first stop on the adventure: Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking: if you’re supposed to be exploring different cities in America, why are you in Mexico?
Mexico made the list for two reasons:
1. If T***p was reelected, I planned for it to be my escape pod.
2. I knew that if he lost, there would be some drama in January and I wanted to be nowhere near the US when it happened.
Before the election, I spent a great deal of time researching different cities in Mexico for ex-pats and LGBTQ people. I’ve been to Mexico several times growing up with my family, but my family is pretty bougie, so we spent most of our time either at resorts or on excursions. I’m spending a month in Mexico, I want to see real Mexico rather than a fairytale.
I’ve seen pictures of Tulum all over my timeline from friends that have gone there in the past few months, and while I considered it, I had a strong feeling that it wasn’t the type of place I was looking for. More on that later.
I ended up settling on Playa Del Carmen because it has been a long established ex-pat community and is also known for being very LGBTQ friendly.
Even though I planned a solo trip, this location felt like an appropriate one to share experiences with people close to me. So a few of my friends and a couple of their friends joined me for my first stop.
COVID. America does an outstanding job of painting Mexico as an awful place with no standards. Let me set the record straight: they take COVID way more seriously than the US does. Any restaurant, supermarket, flea market, or any other public place we went to, we had to have our temperatures checked, sanitize or wash our hands, or step on these mats to disinfect their shoes. In talking to a hotel employee, he mentioned a 7-month shutdown aimed at encouraging people to take the pandemic seriously, and thus, avoid future lockdowns. In the state of Quintana Roo, where Playa is located, they were reporting about 150 cases despite their population of 3 million. So when we ventured to the local areas, we saw fewer people wearing masks in crowded spaces. We definitely got some strange looks and even questions from people as to why we were wearing masks, but I refused to let my guard down regardless of what other people may have thought.
The weather. While the Bay Area isn’t known for its harsh winter conditions, I was still freezing my cheeks off in low 40s and 50s temperature ranges. The coldest day, while we were there, was 71 degrees. It was the most glorious January weather of my life.
The people. Every person that we encountered was incredibly helpful and welcoming. I arrived in Mexico receiving no assists from my three years of high school Spanish, but by the time I left, I could carry a decent conversation. Good to know my old brain’s still got it! Knowing or even attempting to speak a country’s native language will get you much further. in general, and the same was true in Mexico. Some people spoke perfect English, whereas others spoke broken to very little English. Those moments were actually my favorite as we each respected the others’ attempt to communicate and it always ended with the other walking away with new vocabulary.
The prices. Mexico is incredibly cheap. It’s even cheaper if you stay away from tourist traps and the areas right outside of hotels. You’d be hard-pressed to spend more than $50 in a day to feed yourself (drinks included) unless you plan on going hard every day. Otherwise, you should be fine. Beers run anywhere from $1-$4 USD and mixed drinks around $4-6 USD.
The food. SO MANY AMAZING PLACES! Well mostly. If you’re in the primary tourist areas, you’re going to overpay and the food won’t be that great. However, the majority of the food is phenomenal. For a full list of the restaurants that I went to and my thoughts on them, check it out here.
History and Adventure. Mexico has a ton of amazing history and adventures and have plenty of opportunities to show it all off. In terms of excursions, the first one was a Catamaran Tour to Isla Muejeres which is flat out gorgeous all the way around. Our tour included snorkeling, holding a shark, and an afternoon exploring this amazing island that can be easily traversed by golf carts for all the gram worthy photos.
The second big excursion was a trip to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza. These excursions are always an all day affair, but trust me it’s worth it. There are plenty of options for different tours that will take you to the site of the famed pyramid but I believe ours was the best. Each one includes two additional stops at a cenote and an additional stop in a small town. The pyramid did not disappoint. Our guide, Adei, made sure to take us to the ancient city that is located a short walk from the pyramid and told us all about Ancient Mayan life.
The cenote was an important moment for me. For those who don’t know what these are, they affectively sinkholes. As someone that can’t swim, this both intrigued me and terrified me, even with a life jacket on. After freaking out for the first few minutes in the shallow end, my friend coached me to swim to the center. Once there, I had one of the most amazing moments of my life. Throwing caution further into the wind, I laid on my back and stared up at the sun. Even though, we don’t have the pictures to prove it, it was one of the most beautiful and relaxing experiences and then I will never forget.
It was also a bit metaphorical in that I faced my fears head on and basically said, “fuck it.”
Bugs. To be fair, Playa doesn’t have the same giant bug situation as Puerto Vallarta, but be aware, they are there and they will make their presence known. Be sure to have some bug spray on you. If you are looking for Hydrocortisone , you need to go to a pharmacy or major supermarket because they keep it behind the counter. It took us way too long to figure that out, but once we did, it was a lifesaver.
Tulum. As I mentioned above, I was debating between Playa and Tulum. I read online that if you just wanted to lay on nice beaches and live the resort life, that Tulum was the place for you. But, if you wanted to experience Mexican culture and still have access to incredible beaches, Playa was the way to go. That comment was the one that pushed Playa over the edge for me. We made two different day trips to Tulum as it is about a 45 minute drive between the two cities. The first time that we went there, we drove through the town and main streets. There are some cute little restaurants but mainly tourist geared souvenir shops, which I find woefully boring. Once we arrived at the beach, it was raining on and off. The area that we were in was effectively “America in Mexico,” as described by one of the other people at the beach. The second time was a bit better as we got to see the ruins, which was pretty cool, especially because they are on a cliff. We tried a different beach, which was alright but not amazing. Because I spent a lot of time in hotels growing up, I know that resorts tend to grab the best stretches of beach. So I suppose if you’re staying at a resort in Tulum you’d have a lovely time, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s not for me.
Extortion. Every day is extortion day in Mexico. In my 31 years of living, I’ve never had so much random trouble with the police in my life as I did in Mexico. I can’t go into too much detail about it all (because I don’t believe in snitching on myself on the internet), but let’s just say I encountered a few experiences involving immigration, la policia, running from a scooter rental conman, and lying to the coast guard.
Being Queer in Mexico
Before my arrival, I reactivated my Tinder in hopes of getting some insider information on the queer community. I ended up getting connected with two self-organized WhatsApp groups. One communicates primarily in Spanish, whereas the other communicates in English. Understandably, I spent more time in the latter. They had weekly meet ups at one of the local restaurants/bars before venturing over to La Old School – a bar where all three of the bartenders are queer. Everyone was super friendly and each one had a different perspective on Playa, as well as a unique story detailing how they got there.
Being Black in Mexico
If you’re Black, you know that you keep a steady watch on how many other Black people are around you. Mexico is no different. I did notice a handful of us out and about. We either chatted for a few, exchanged friendly waves, or gave the obligatory head-nod. One of the girls that was in the queer WhatsApp group was also Black and she told us that there was a big black ex-pat community in Playa as well. On top of that, there was a second group called “Support Black Women.” Basically, if you’re in trouble and are able to text the group, somebody will come help you. Crazy, right?!
Despite some hiccups, Mexico was the perfect start to this journey because it provided the shock to my system that I needed. It was a bit of a bittersweet goodbye as I started to find restaurants or bars that I would frequent and a few people that I would actually want to hang out with if I lived there. But the show must go on.
That said, halfway living internationally (not having my familiar living situation, internet/cell service set up the way that I would like) was a bit frustrating, so there was a part of me that was definitely ready to go. The COVID testing requirement came up while I was in Playa and I was required to get a test to return. I recommend CostaMed. It’s a chain of hospitals and they do their own testing.
Will I be back?
Absolutely. There’s so much more that I want to see and experience.
Could I see myself living there?
Yes. I had to restrain myself from going too far down the property window-shopping process as you can find amazing deals on condos and villas. I’ve already begun the process of recruiting a few friends to go in on a vacation home that we can Airbnb out when we’re not using it.
Since it’s the first city, it’s #1 🙂
Austin, TX (YEEHAW)
P. S. You can follow my adventures in real time on Instagram @angieandthechipmunks
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