Last night we stayed in a fantastic little treehouse right off the beach in Tulum, with views of the waves and a beautiful breeze keeping us cool all evening. The beach in Tulum is stunning, a long stretch of perfect white sand. There are lots of restaurants and cafes in Tulum but I didn’t end up having any hot chocolates there…unfortunately…as they would have made for some beautiful reviews (the cafes and restaurants are all gorgeous with views across the water). One day we planned an afternoon trip from Tulum to Playa del Carmen, only about an hour away, pretty much just to try the hot chocolate at Ah Cacao.
We were last in Playa del Carmen about 3 or 4 years ago for just a couple of days break before attending a wedding in Cancun, and it has changed a lot since then. Gone are the little independent stores I loved along the main pedestrian walkway, replaced by many more large mainstream brands from Europe and North America. But the Playa del Carmen charm is still there. It feels more like Mexico than Cancun, that’s for sure, but is still very touristy. There is a long, very pleasant pedestrian road that goes parallel to the beach for several kilometers lined with tourist shops, lots of American sports bars where you can get highly alcoholic marguerites, most of the people walking down the street are wearing flip flops, beach shorts and no tops. It is where the tourists go when they need a break from the sun and sand and most of what is here caters to them.
That being said there are little jewels here and there, as well as just outside the pedestrian area. One of my favourite reasons to visit Playa del Carmen is Ah Cacao, a local chain only found in Playa del Carmen which sells a range of hot chocolates and all other things made from chocolate…good chocolate. They have several options to choose from when it comes to hot chocolate and surprisingly, even with the heat, at least I feel you can easily sit on the terrace under one of their fans and enjoy one while watching Playa del Carmen walk by (there is also a small air conditioned area in the back). They have hot chocolate with milk or with water, thick sipping chocolate, a traditional chocolate with cinnamon and vanilla. We ordered the Mayan chocolate with a mix of spices including honey and a slight hint of chili. It was rich and creamy yet light and frothy, perfectly prepared with a nice characteristic Mexican frothy top and a nice kick of chili. Ah Cacao also offers a range of other products made with chocolate including soaps and shampoos in case you want the complete chocolate experience.
After enjoying my hot chocolate, we walked back along the long pedestrian stretch. As when we reached a large square towards the opposite end, they had some traditional dances happening for the enjoyment of tourists and locals alike (there were more locals watching than tourists actually). One involved several men dressed in very colourful outfits who had climbed an incredibly tall poll. They sat at the top for several minutes as another man sat in the middle played a flute. Then when they were ready they dropped, held to the pole by a strong rope, and slowly and magically spun around the pole, descending as the rope unwrapped.
My other favourite thing to do in Playa del Carmen is to stop on the beach at sunset and grab a little table in the sand and order a Negro Modelo followed by a really nice Mezcal as the sun goes down (forget about the Tequilla and try the Mezcal…a better drink in my opinion than Tequilla and also not bad mixed into a hot chocolate- see my review from Mexico City). I used to have two stores I loved in Playa del Carmen as well as a great little boutique hotel but sadly, all three places have been torn down and replaced by shiny new shopping malls with a surprisingly good mix of mainstream stores if you are in a shopping mood. At least Ah Cacao is not just still there but thriving (and spreading, they have several locations now) which is all the reason I need to stop here if I’m ever in the region again.
Verdict: A good stop to recover your energy before making your way back along the pedestrian walkway. Ah Cacao, 5th Avenue and Constituyentes, Playa del Carmen, Mexico