Akumal: Akumal is a quaint beach town with white, powdery-soft, sandy beaches, calm waters, and swaying palm trees. Over the years, this community has added restaurants, bars, gift shops, snorkeling tours, a small grocery store, and even a small library. It is, however, most famous for its resident community of Endangered Green Sea Turtles. If the thought of swimming with these giant, gentle creatures excites you, then be sure to spend some time at Akumal.
Getting to Akumal from Playa del Carmen is quite easy and there are several different options. The least expensive is probably the Colectivos, which will most likely charge you anywhere from $25 – $35 pesos (always more when you’re a tourist, unless you can talk them down). Next are the buses, though make sure you remember that the ADO buses do not stop at Akumal. Last…a taxi. From Playa, our driver agreed to accept $35 US for six passengers.
Once you arrive, you may be approached by someone claiming to be with the conservation board. Though this may be true, be aware that the information you are given may or may not be completely true, and often is given to persuade you to purchase snorkeling equipment and tours. If you are comfortable snorkeling, however, do not waste your money, as snorkeling is easily done on your own. Even our youngest son (age 9 at the time) was completely fine snorkeling, although it was helpful to have a floatation device with us, when he got tired. Thankfully, the friends we were with let him borrow theirs our third time out, as it certainly came in handy! If you plan to do a lot of snorkeling, it is wisest to get your own snorkel equipment. Not only do you save a significant amount of money over time, but you are also guaranteed a better fit and clean equipment.
If you want to save additional money, feel free to pack your own picnic lunch, making sure to bring a lot of water with you. Otherwise, you also have the convenience of a small grocery story along the way to the beach or a few somewhat expensive restaurants right on the beach (e.g. burgers are $9 US, Ceviche $15 US).
Playa del Carmen
Dining: There are numerous places to dine in Playa del Carmen. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Just “Google” dining in Playa, and you’ll see what I mean. That said, it would be easy to drop $100 on dinner for two at a restaurant right on 5th Avenue. Of course, that is not what we plan to do. We steered clear of most of the touristy restaurants, and walked just a bit farther to find equally tasty yet much more affordable dining options. In fact, if you look hard enough, you can find some excellent Taquerias where a Taco Pastor (a tasty pork taco) will cost you a total of $7-12 pesos. That’s less than a dollar! So really, any budget works in Playa. Some of our favorite places? El Fogon, Don Sirloins, Nino’s Pizza, La Cueva del Chango, Muy Guay Thai, and Pioli’s.
Accommodations: Just like dining, accommodations also run the gamut, from your basic hostel-type lodging all the way up to five star resorts. You can opt for bed and breakfast type lodging, all-inclusive lodging, or European meal plan hotels. Playa also offers a wide range of condominiums and rentals by owner. We opted to go the condo route, as we wanted a more home-like setting, a kitchen in which to cook meals, and three separate bedrooms.
When negotiating accommodations, we asked the owners if they were willing to decrease their monthly rates, if we were to commit to staying for three months or more. They agreed to do the same, and our overall rental price ended up being about $66 a night for a beachfront, 3-bedroom “penthouse” apartment with beautiful ocean views. Now, don’t be mislead. “Penthouse” here doesn’t mean luxury. It just means we’re on the top floor.
For more information on resorts in the area, visit Cancun and Riviera Maya Resorts.
Electricity: While that may seem inexpensive, there are a few other costs to consider. The greatest cost by far has been the cost of electricity. While negotiating, we asked for an estimate of what electricity would run, with modest use of air conditioning. The estimate we were given? About $500-$1000 pesos, just under $80 a month. We could live with that. However, you never know in these situations, and so we monitored our usage very carefully. I must say we were shocked when a one week meter reading determined that we had already spent $160 US on electricity. How was that possible?!
So we made some changes, decreased our use of the A/C dramatically, and bought a few fans. Now that we’re a month in, we got our first “bill.” $927 US! No way!! We were more than shocked. This was nowhere close to the amount estimated, and now we’re wondering if we were lied to or if we’re being overcharged. So unfortunately, we have to spend a little time investigating. We’re hoping we can come to a quick resolution.
Update July 25, 2014: We finally have a few answers. One of the men reading the meters read it incorrectly. He is relatively new here, and is not used to reading old-fashioned meters that still use needles. In determining our readings for the month, he accidentally added 1000 kilowats to our reading, more than doubling our bill! When we opened our “investigation”, he went back to the original photo he took of the meters and sent that to CFE, the electric company here in Playa. Thankfully they were able to identify the mistake, effectively cutting our bill in half.
That said, the electric bill is still quite high. We met with the Property Management Company, who acknowledged the discrepancy between what we were told and what the actual bills were. The company then discussed the situation with the owner, and are now offering us $2500 pesos/month credit toward the bill. We are thankful for this generous solution. In addition, they will also honor any government subsidies automatically applied to the bill, which will also decrease our final payment. Praising the Lord for working out this situation in an amiable manner.
Taxi: Yes, another surprise. Initially we were told that taxi rides wouldn’t be more than $20 or $30 pesos, so less than $3 US. Well, upon arrival, we find out that most taxis don’t have room for six, which means our family requires two taxis. On top of that, they double the price for tourists randomly. They’re not supposed to, but in talking to the taxistas, they say they feel like tourists have the money and can afford to pay the high prices. We have tried, unsuccessfully most times, to talk them down to fair prices, explaining that we are not tourists, that we are now living here, but it’s been a losing battle. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve walked away from a taxi driver on principle alone!
The positive side of this? I am learning how to fight in Spanish! And I have to admit, on occasion, it has worked, and a taxi driver will grudgingly give in and charge us a fair amount, but in general, this is not what happens. Ah well. It infuriates my teacher, because she loves Playa and feels like these “sharks”, as she calls them, give Playa a bad reputation. I believe she’s right. But we’ll figure it out.
Bus: We have yet to learn how to use the buses and the ever-so-cheap “Collectivo.” We’ve been reluctant, only because it’s hard to get a bus to stop for six people. But we’re intent on trying at some point.
Bikes: When we realized how expensive it would be to take two taxis everywhere we went, we decided to purchase bikes. After scouring several bike stores, we purchased two bicycles at Bici Bike. The owner, Alma, was wonderful and very helpful. For $125 US each, we were able to purchase a bike, basket, light, locks, and a rear rack on the back to carry items. The owner said if the bikes were in good condition when we were ready to leave Mexico, she would buy them back from us for about 50%. Great to know!
Ferry: The Ferry to Cozumel one way costs about $162 pesos for anyone 12 and older. It is about $97 pesos for children 5-11, and free for anyone younger. There are two companies that shuttle back and forth, almost every hour on the hour, but pay attention to schedules, as they tend to alternate. The ride takes about 45 minutes. Make sure to just buy a one way ticket, because you don’t save anything by buying a roundtrip ticket. The advantage to doing this is that when you are ready to return, you have the option of riding either ferry back, depending on when you leave. If you have a roundtrip ticket, you may only ride back on that specific ferry, and if they’ve just left, you may have to wait another two hours or so.