So, it turns out our resort wasn’t even in Cancún at all.
Playa del Carmen is a little beach community just outside of Cancún proper. It’s quieter, and most importantly, it feels more “authentic” for lack of a less-cheesy word. Signs are in Spanish, actual restaurants and “formal” businesses only accept pesos, and you feel like you’re in Mexico.
We took a tour that required us to meet up with people from other resorts in the “Hotel District” of Cancún proper, and were frankly horrified by what we saw. The resorts were so Americanized, it was ridiculous. One actually had an official Wet ‘n Wild, like in Orlando. The restaurants surrounding the resorts were American chains: Outback Steakhouse, Johnny Rocket’s, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, etc. High-end shopping was all around, with expensive brand names that most shoppers probably couldn’t afford.
It was like the love-child of Disney World and Las Vegas.
Playa del Carmen has a bunch of charming places to shop and eat all up and down 5th Street. We haggled our way to a bunch of souvenirs, and considered a bunch of options for dinner. We chose to eat at an Argentinean restaurant, and had the most amazing food, wonderful people-watching, and sangria that was bliss in a glass. It was enticing enough that my cheap ass ignored the free food and alcohol at our all-inclusive resort, and never begrudged it for a moment.
In retrospect, though we didn’t intend to stay in Playa del Carmen instead of Cancún proper, we couldn’t be happier with how things turned out. If you’re heading to the Cancún area and looking for a calmer, quieter, and more authentic alternative, Playa del Carmen is the place to be.