We arrived back in Playa Del Carmen after another marathon bus journey back across the border from Belize into Mexico. Luckily, our next stop was the small and friendly El Acuario Hotel, which is in a great central location, only a few blocks from the bus station and taxi terminus. The hotel has just twelve rooms and one suite and has been at the heart of Downtown Playa Del Carmen for the last twenty years. The hotel has recently had a colourful face lift with vibrant colours and murals creating a bright and happy vibe about the place.
El Acuario’s aquarium!
The aquarium of the ‘El Acuario’ title is in the reception area and there is a pond of turtles in the little courtyard. More and more turtles have been donated or relocated to the hotel pool as people can’t keep them as pets any more, and there’s quite a little colony there now.
All turtles welcome
There‘s a small swimming pool and relaxation area if you want to stay home but the hotel is only 10 minutes walk from Playa’s stunning white sandy beach and the turquoise Caribbean sea. If you like a bit of retail therapy, the main shopping street Quinta Avenida is just as close, and provides a dazzling selection of purchasing opportunities from Margarita glasses to ceramics, Mayan masks, silver jewellery and other arts and crafts.
Everyone is welcome at El Acuario and the hotel caters for those who want value for money and perhaps a more authentic experience than the luxurious all inclusive hotels can provide. The staff are super friendly and helpful and many have worked there for years. Diane, who is originally from Paris, has managed the hotel for six years. She’s married to a Mexican and loves her job. ‘Playa is growing very quickly’ she said ‘and is now more like a city than the village it once was. Our hotel is like a community and has a family atmosphere. We get a lot of independent and quite a few solo travellers here too.’
The El Acuario Hotel is now owned by a Mexican family, and is so much like home that many guests stay here for long periods of time, escaping the cold winters of more Northern climes. In fact one guest, Mike has become a permanent resident, turning his back on his life alone in Atlanta, and now loves living in friendly, sunny Mexico at the El Acuario Hotel!
All rooms have air conditioning, a fan, fridge and small kitchenette, in case you want to make your own meals sometimes and a balcony overlooking the pool. Also free Wifi (so important these days – who can live without it now?) There are lots of reasonably priced places to eat in the locality, and some very cheap tequila to be had in the local mini market.
I first visited Playa Del Carmen over twenty years ago and stayed in a thatched hut on the beach – it had one street and was an up and coming fishing village, with big ideas about tourist expansion. Those ambitions have now come to fruition and today Playa Del Carmen is a bustling hub of shops, restaurants, hotels and even shopping malls! Close to the famous Mayan sites of Chichen Itza and Tulum and the natural delights of the Mayan Riviera, Playa Del Carmen still retains some of its original charm and as a winter destination for us Northerners, is pretty hard to beat. If you are looking for a friendly, family place to stay that won’t break the bank then the El Acuario Hotel could be just what you’re looking for..