Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Playa del Carmen & Riu Palace Riviera Maya Trip Report 05.07-05.14.2016

I'm sure some of you have already heard about the trip I won from Star Tribune, Funjet Vacations and Menards. When the guy from Star Tribune first called to tell me about it, I was rather doubtful, but we managed to find dates that worked, even though there were a lot of blackout dates, and we booked for early May.

Our flights were direct on Sun Country airlines departing very early in the morning at 6:10am. The flight was uneventful and not very full, so that was nice and we made it out of the airport in about an hour. We found out transportation and were the first to be dropped off, around noon I believe. Unfortunately, our room was not ready until 3:30pm. In the meantime, we explored the resort, sat by the pool bar and made dinner reservations for the specialty restaurants. We grabbed lunch from the grill as they grilled on the beach daily. The burgers were OK, pretty overcooked. Once we got to our room, we changed, unpacked and went to the buffet for dinner that evening.

view of the beach from pool bar
lobby area
room was nice and very clean
real king bed too! Not the Riu twin beds pushed together 
view from balcony looking toward beach- we got garden view I guess. 
different towel creatures every day

The buffet wasn't too bad, the first night was Asian night, so they had lots of sushi and stir fries.
assorted sushi and sashimi- not too bad actually
handsome shark watermelon sculpture at the buffet

Sunday we had booked a tour of Coba ahead of our arrival, online though Viator. We waited a long time for the tour to pick us up, but they arrived eventually. And there was another couple from our hotel on the tour, so we made friends and enjoyed the day with them. Our first stop was Coba, but first we had a 1 hour and 15 minute ride to get to the site.
We grabbed rental bikes near the entrance and biked to the last site way in the back to start.
We climbed this monster of a Mayan ruin. It was super fun as the stones are uneven, missing and worn oddly in spots. I am beginning to think all we do is climb stuff on vacations.
Proof we made fit to the top! 

This is the other large pyramid at Coba, but we can't climb this one.
After Coba, we headed to a cenote for a swim. A cenote is fresh water in a cave and they are all over this region of Mexico.
The cenote featured cool water and some bats flying around. It kind of smelled like a basement too. 
Super fun stairs to get in and out. There were a couple platforms you could jump from, because, hey, it's Mexico and they let you do crazy stuff.
We had a buffet lunch at this place. Not too bad, but not too great. 
View of the entrance to the Coba site from across an open cenote, not a lake, from where we had lunch. Apparently there are no lakes in this region of Mexico at all. Our tour guide was Marco Antonio and the driver was Leo with Amigo Tours.
We got back from Coba to the hotel around 5pm and cleaned up and had dinner at Agave the Mexican restaurant at the Riu.
few raw seafood items from the buffet, all ok, on the bland side. 
fajitas for John
The shrimp had a nice grilled flavor but not a lot of spice. 

The desserts looked nice but did not have much flavor. But that is basically the way all of the food at the Riu is.
We made friends with Filipe the bartender during our stay. He always made sure to wait on us quickly. Overall, we found the service was really good all over the resort, but it improved a bit if you tipped occasionally. After dinner we enjoyed drinks at the lobby bar and met couples from California, Scotland and Canada.
Monday we started the day with breakfast at the buffet, which was also the only option for breakfast. We spent the day at the pool. Saw a wedding on the beach in the late afternoon. Crazy games at the Riu was not very crazy and not even held every day. 
Monday night we went into Playa del Carmen to walk around a bit and had a beer at Palapa bar next to the ferry terminal and watched the boats a bit. A taxi to town was 90 pesos. We walked all the way down 5th Ave to Club de la Cervesa for a couple beers. They had some interesting local beers available that we did not see anywhere else.
 We decided to try dinner at Casa de la Agua. The restaurant was really empty, but the good was decent. I had some sort of a cod dish.
John also had a cod dish.

Tuesday we had breakfast at the hotel, walked down to the Playacar mall, toured the Riu down the street (it had been recently remodeled and was very new and modern looking) and took a taxi to town.
mall monkey
wildlife at the resorts- forgot the name of this thing. Looked like a rat/pig combo

We hired a taxi driver near the bus station in Playa del Carmen to take us to the Jungle Place near Chemuyil. It was about 30 minutes away. You have to contact them ahead of time to visit the spider monkeys, but it is well worth the hassle and $80 cost. They are a rescue sanctuary for spider monkeys that were pets or abandoned. They currently have 87 monkeys I think she said. The cages are really very large and extensive and the entrance fee goes toward their care and feeding.

Neva was very cuddly with me for some reason. 
We needed up boing in with the monkeys for about an hour and it was really cool. They give you snacks to feed them and they crawl all over you. They only let the younger female have visitors as the males are too aggressive.
After the monkeys, we had Tony the taxi driver take us to La Buena Vida on Akumal beach for a late lunch.
very pretty beach- highly recommend
tree house table
really good chips and guacamole
My chicken torta was really good.
John had shrimp tacos

We arrived back at the Riu at about 5pm. It cost us 2000 pesos or about $125 US dollars for the taxi driver for the day. It was nice to be able to go where we wanted when we wanted, though the bus would have been a cheaper option.
We had dinner at the Riu buffet and had a few drinks in the plaza area afterward. My dessert plate is above. They had entertainment of questionable quality each night as well.
Wednesday started with breakfast at the buffet. There were a few occasional crimes against bacon, where they did not refill it and all that was there were these sad little bacon bits. We spent the day by the pool with an ocean view. It started to rain around 1pm and we went to the main buffet for lunch. By the time we finished lunch, the rain was over and we headed back to the pool.

We headed into Play del Carmen for dinner at El Muelle on 5th Avenue.
bread basket
tuna carpaccio
bruschetta with seared tuna
We had a whole grouper with delicious potatoes and garlic green beans. The whole fish was really good with lots of fresh garlic.

After dinner we headed back to the Riu, had a couple drinks on the plaza and headed off to bed. Not many late nights on this trip s we fund ourselves awake pretty early most mornings.

Thursday we had breakfast at the Riu buffet and then took a taxi into Play del Carmen. We bought tickets at the ADO bus station for Tulum. The bus dropped us off right at the archaeological site. I think it took about 30 minutes to get to Tulum.
inside the ADO bus, which was very nice and inexpensive way to get around 
Once at Tulum we bought tickets for the tram to the entrance to the site. It was a tractor with a trailer behind it with rows of seats. It was some distance, so I think it was worthwhile. 

Tulum is very pretty as it is right on the ocean, but goodness, was it hot if you were not right on the water. There is not much shade either, so bring lots of water and wear sunscreen. We used the map chick maps for information on the site. You could hire a guide for an extra fee, around $30 US I think.
Tulum pyramid
John at an archway in the wall surrounding the Tulum archaeological site

When we were finished at the site, we walked south from the tram drop off and found a taxi stand. We took the taxi to the beaches of Tulum where there are lots of hotels, restaurants and beach clubs. We ended up at Ziggy's beach club as the first place we tried to visit was closed for a wedding apparently. The food at Ziggy's was excellent, so I'm glad we ended up there.

shrimp tacos for me
fish tacos for John 
Tulum beach
Tulum beach

After eating we grabbed a taxi into the town of Tulum, which is a short distance inland from the beaches. We had the taxi drop us at the ADO bus station there and after a short wait, we were on our way back t Playa del Carmen.
ADO bus station in Tulum

We grabbed a taxi in Play del Carmen and went to the local Mega grocery store for a few items. Afterward we took a taxi back to the Riu and got ready for dinner. 
We went to the Blue Lobster in Playa del Carmen. 
I had coconut shrimp
John had a fish and lobster combo

The service was a bit slow, but the food was pretty good. After dinner we headed back to the Riu for a nightcap and headed off to sleep.
Friday we had breakfast at the Riu buffet and spent the day at the pool with a beach view again. The water and beaches really are amazingly beautiful in this area.

We had dinner in Play del Carmen at Carboncito's, which was very good as far as the food and service went.
tacos al pastor for me
John had garlic shrimp

After dinner we headed back to the Riu for a couple drinks before calling it a night.

Saturday we had to be up and ready for airport pickup at 6:50am. Our flights home were on time and uneventful. The security lines in Cancun's airport were not too bad and moved quickly. We picked up Maya from the boarding kennel and were home by 4pm I think.

Even though the food at the Riu was average, we still had a great trip. I suppose we ate in town a lot more than if we had paid for the trip, but those were the best meals we had, those off the resort. We met a bunch of fun people at the resort, but boy, some of them are sure Riu die hards. One lady had been to many, many different Rius, which I really can't understand. Personally, I find the food to be much better and of higher quality in Puerto Vallarta at comparable or lower prices. While the beaches of Puerto Vallarta are not that great, I think it is the fantastic dining that keeps me interested. The food on the Caribbean side is just not as good, even off the resort.