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Healthy Adventures in… Playa del Carmen

By Crabby McSlacker

So we’re back from our trip to Mexico, and to cut to the chase: we had an awesome time!

The “Mayan Coast” is kind of a weird place to spend Thanksgiving though, isn’t it? Sun and sand and snorkeling and being far away from family is not exactly the Normal Rockwell version of the holiday.

This is Crabby not even THINKING about stuffing a freakin’ turkey.

But we were celebrating our 25th anniversary! We figured this gave us special dispensation to bail on the usual holiday traditions.  (Our 20th anniversary was spent at Beth-Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston due to complications ensuing from my hysterectomy recovery. This sounded a little more fun.)

Anyway, if you are a normal person, when you travel you just say a cheerful “F–ck it” to the whole healthy lifestyle thing and just have a good time.

But I am NOT a normal person. Plus, we travel a fair amount. So I try to be mindful about food and exercise in a way that keeps me from going totally off the rails, but without becoming so obsessed that I drive everyone around me crazy.

So, what’s cool about vacationing in Playa del Carmen? And can you do it in a healthy way?

Why Playa?

Playa del Carmen is about 45 minutes south of Cancun. While Cancun is a popular tourist destination, to me it seems a dispiriting collection of high-rise hotels, resorts, and American franchises. In my cranky opinion, Cancun is best seen in the rear-view mirror while heading south.

So is Playa del Carmen an undiscovered, uncrowded gem?  It was when we first visited, 16 years ago. Most of the streets were still unpaved, and tourists were European or Canadian, not American, so the food and architecture and general vibe was way hipper and more mellow.

But now… Playa is not so Undiscovered. It can be crowded.

And the ratio of Americans to other tourists has definitely increased, which unfortunately we contributed to (despite our imaginary Canadian citizenship).

But we knew what we were in for before we went, and it still seemed to have retained more sophistication and charm than typical American-infested tourist destinations.

The wonderful thing about it is the combination of urban amenities like great restaurants with proximity to an impressive selection of outdoor diversions.

Food and Beverage

There are lots of intriguing temptations when considering dining options in Playa!

However, it wasn’t hard to find healthy fare at many of the restaurants.

There were even a number of “health food” focused eateries, though we never managed to get to one.

Best meal by far was at the restaurant Oh La La, which is small and extremely popular and is often booked up. We stayed up past our usual pathetically early bedtime in order to get a table, but it was so worth it. We were totally blown away by how good the meal was.

Packin’ for Snackin’

I’ve gotten so anywhere I travel I like to pack my favorite snacks. These can, in a pinch, replace meals as they contain Protein and Fiber and Vegetables.  Yet they are junky enough to be tasty.

We were brave enough to buy produce, but not without a little pre-soaking for sensitive American digestive systems.

Still, I managed to forget to pack imodium and dramamine, both of which it turned out I needed. I may have been smart enough to soak the apples, but I kept forgetting not to brush my teeth with local water. Duh, right?  And choppy water on the ferry to Cozumel would have definitely had me puking had I not found dramamine. I was very grateful that Mexican convenience stores carried the drugs I stupidly forgot to pack.

An even dumber mistake?I was shocked at how tired I was the first few mornings. I blamed the heat, and secretly worried that I’d caught some weird bug or something.  Turns out the reason for my stupor?

I’d blame my lack of Spanish, but “decaffeinated” ain’t that hard to translate.

Activities and Exercise Opportunities

The weather is fairly warm in November (80’s during the day, a little cooler at night), which did not deter many joggers we saw, but I hate hot weather exercise so it deterred the f–ck out of me.
So most of my cardio occurred here:

And I know, how lame is it to hit the gym on vacation? But it made me happy. Our condo/hotel (which we got off VRBO; it was awesome) came with free gym membership. The Gym is a well-equipped and somewhat air-conditioned fitness facility. So I was down there most mornings trying to torch a few calories in anticipation of gluttony to come.

Strolling at night is quite pleasant, and the main drag goes for miles and miles and is awesome for people-watching, window-shopping, and sombrero-borrowing.

And early mornings were good for strolling the neighborhoods too. Not so much the middle of the day.

How About Hiking?
These pictures look sort of hikey, don’t they?
We weren’t actually hiking, just checking out one of the many pretty cenotes. There probably is some hiking somewhere but we didn’t investigate because it was too darn warm.

How about Snorkeling and Diving?

This is as close as Crabby gets to scuba equipment.

Diving scares the crap out of me, but there are plenty of great diving and snorkeling spots. Cozumel is just a quick and cheap ferry ride away. 

Guess what we saw while we were snorkeling off Cozumel?  

That was not our picture (no underwater camera), but we saw one of these spotted eagle rays pretty close up. It was GIGANTIC and BEAUTIFUL and AMAZING! Possibly the highlight of the trip.And there are lots of other interesting places to snorkel–we went to a lagoon and a couple of other lovely spots.

Bonus: if you’re too cheap for a pedicure, the fish there will eat the dead skin off your feet for free!

Note: it kinda tickles.

Excursions and Sights

Impressive Mayan ruins are not far away; we’d gone to Tulum and Chichen Itza the last time so we skipped ’em this time, but they are definitely worth a visit.
There are all kinds of parks and tours that combine natural sights with things like ziplining or ATVs or swim-up bars or whatever.  We thought most of them seemed pricey, but couldn’t resist the Rio Secreto tour, which ain’t cheap either but which we’d highly recommend:

We weren’t allowed to take pictures (though they’re happy to have their photographer sell you some), but oh my goodness was this amazing.  It’s an underground river full of stalactites and stalagmites. They outfit you with a wetsuit and water shoes (it’s a little chilly) and you walk, stumble, slog and swim for over an hour through watery caves with incredibly evocative geological formations. It’s surreal and wonderful and the guide was great. They even threw in a decent meal and a Mayan purification ritual, just so we didn’t offend the spirits with our crassness while we were wandering around down there.


There are beaches and margaritas and massages. ‘Nuff said?
How about you guys, how was your thanksgiving? Any thoughts on holiday travel, whether healthy or not? 

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About Mehmood Esmail

Mehmood Esmail
Hi, I am Mehmood Esmail, there have been severe health issues in my family, like cancer, heart attacks, stroke, kidney stones, IBS, etc. Where we live, in Africa, health facilities are basic. Thus it becomes imperative that we hnow what is happenining to us and how to look after ourselves, and where possible, how to prevent serious illnesses.

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