A day trip to Puerto Morelos

On October 1, at 4 am, I stared out the window of a Denver light rail into the darkness as I made my way to the Denver International Airport. Then a ding brought my attention to my phone. My good friend Art from Gringo Nation sent me a message. He had met a couple in Albania who were headed to Playa del Carmen soon and he wanted to put us in touch. Two minutes later, a message from that couple, NaLu (Naomi & Luke) Adventures appeared in my Instagram inbox. We would overlap by several weeks in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, so we made a plan to meet up.

Fast forward to two weeks later. Our plan becoming a reality. This is what I love about international travel and meeting other travelers. We had never met in real life, but we were about to embark on a mini road trip from Playa del Carmen to Puerto Morelos, and whatever adventures we could get up to along the way.

Nicki standing in the water at Punta Esmeralda

We initially talked about renting scooters to make the journey, but strangely enough, it’s not as easy as you might expect renting a scooter in Playa del Carmen to be. I’ve rented scooters from Bali to Taiwan to Nicaragua, and it was never as much of a confusion as it was in Playa. So eventually that idea was forgotten and we considered our other options. Yes, there is a colectivo that leaves from PDC and will drop you off on the side of the highway by the road that leads to Puerto Morelos, and from there you can catch a taxi into town.

The White Nissan parked on the street

What we ended up settling on was renting a car. Here’s a piece of advice when renting a car in Mexico- don’t do it on Expedia or any other popular online travel websites. There they won’t tell you about the extra fees and required insurance when renting a car in Mexico. We found this out the hard way. Online the car was $30 for 24 hours which seemed like a great deal. Only once I arrived in the early morning to pick up the car was I informed that the I would need to pay an additional $50 for Mexican car rental insurance. So in the end, the car was $80 for the day + gas. Rather than Expedia, head directly to the website of the Mexican car rental company, and you’re sure to get a better deal. We rented from America Car Rental, which is right downtown.

Nicki walking down the street

On the day of the adventure, I got up early, packed my stuff and walked down the unusually quiet 5th Avenue to pick up our rental car. Once the extra fees were paid, and insurance was sorted, I was handed the keys to a very old, very manual, white Nissan hatchback, and I was on my way. Naomi and Luke were staying just outside the city, in a neighborhood called Flores. After introductions and exchanges of “nice to meet you,” we were off!

Across the street from Tacos dot com

Puerto Morelos, by car, was not as far as we had expected. After just 35 minutes, we found ourselves in the center of town, and since it was still early, parking was easy to come by. Our first stop, of course, was breakfast. We had fresh fruit juice and Mexican style eggs at a place called Tacos Dot Com, which we chose mostly for the name; after that it was just a short walk to the beach.

Nicki sitting on the boardwalk

Puerto Morelos reminded me of a smaller version of Playa del Carmen. Perhaps what Playa was 30 years ago. There were other tourists there, but the town was not overrun or overdone, like Tulum or Cancun. It’s much smaller than Playa, with a main square in the center near the beach, and a market adjacent to that. Several small cafes and restaurants both along the beach, and on parallel streets. Puerto Morelos is a still functioning fishing village, and you can see proof of this all along the coastline, as the fishermen come in from the sea, weigh the fish, and haul it to trucks in wheel barrows.

Nicki walking towards the water on the wharf

Near the main entrance to the beach you’ll find a leaning lighthouse, El Faro Inclinado, which was nearly destroyed in 1967 by the Hurricane Beulah. Years later, authorities attempted to remove this leaning tower, but were unable to due to its strong foundation, and ultimately let it stay. It is now a main attraction in this little fishing town, and a sign of strength and resilience.

The Leaning Lighthouse

We strolled along the beach, which was mostly empty, save for a few tourists and several local fishermen. Puerto Morelos is definitely a great alternative to Cancun or Playa del Carmen, if you’re looking for a calmer, more ‘tranquilo’ kind of holiday. We then made our way back to the center of town to check out the local artisan market. There we strolled through shops, admired the embroidery and handmade items. In one particular shop, I was regaled with tales of all the great “Lucha Libre” fighters and the meaning of each mask. Obviously I had to buy one for my 6 year old nephew who, on Christmas Day, will have the grand privilege of reenacting the great struggles of Huracan Ramirez.

Nicki chatting with a shop owner about various Lucha Libre stars

Finally the time had arrived. It was hot and all we could think of anymore was getting wet and escaping the heat. We salivated for cenotes. So we headed back to the car with a vague idea in mind of the direction we should go. Back on the highway, in the direction towards Playa del Carmen, we saw a giant sign mentioning a Cenote Way, so we quickly turned right and headed that way.

There were a ton of signs for various cenotes all along this 2-lane road. After stopping to talk to a guy on the side of the steet at a cenote information booth, we decided on the Ich-Ha Cenote, or in Spanish- Ojo del Agua (eye of the water). It was a bit of a drive, but well worth it. After spending another 20 minutes on this small road cut through thick jungle, we finally arrived, about 2.5 hours before closing.

The sign in front of the Ich-Ha Cenote

Cenotes are essentially sink holes in the ground, with water in them. The Ich-Ha Cenote had several holes, all inter-connected underground. Each hole had a different height from the top to the water’s surface: 4 meters, 6 meters, 7 meters. From each height you could jump, and jump we did. Several times. A big group of coworkers from a language school in Sinaloa arrived, and we made friends with them as well. They jumped, we jumped, and we all encouraged each other to jump again and again and again, from higher heights.

Nicki jumping into the Cenote

In addition to the cliff jumping, there was also a very small zip-line in the main cave, which we all took turns on, and cheered while the others went. Two and a half hours passed like it was 20 minutes, and suddenly we found ourselves saying goodbye to our new friends and packing up our things and heading out.

The Ich-Ha sign that says it’s a 7 meter jump

However, we were still not ready for the day to end, so we drove back to Playa del Carmen, and stopped just on the north side of town at a local beach called Punta Esmeralda. We had heard it’s a good place to catch a sunset. It was a Sunday evening, and the beach was lively. Dozens of local families were having BBQ’s and picnics, swimming and playing music. There were even a few natural lagoons, where fresh water was coming up from the ground, and all the children laughed and played.

Families enjoying the day at Punta Esmeralda

The sky was a bit cloudier than we had hoped for, but the blue of the sea matched perfectly with the blue of the sky. The sun went down to the soundtrack of calm waves hitting the sand, and distant voices fading into the parking lot, as the families began to head home.

The sun was gone, but the air was still warm. A relaxing way to end a busy day.

Sunset at Punta Esmeralda