$13,000 Playa del Carmen, Mexico Trip Cost Us Less than $550 (Including flights AND 5💎 Resort!)
We just got back from an incredible trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico! Below we'll review the resort we stayed at (a winner of the 5 Diamond Award!), activities and excursions, flights, getting around, must do's and how we did it for less than $550!
Getting There with Skymiles
We used Delta Skymiles to book our RT flights from ATL to CUN. The dates that we could travel were locked in, so we didn't have a lot of good options nor the flexibility that helps get the best deals with miles. The cash prices at the time were almost $900 per ticket for Economy, so I shelled out 148,000 Skymiles. This was an 'ok' redemption, though I could have gotten more value on a later flight, it was easier than dropping $1,800. First class tickets were almost $1400...each!
It was nice to fly first class, as we were able to sit in the very front of the plane and get to our vacation even sooner!
We ended up saving over $2,700 on our first class seats!
As of this writing, we still had to wear masks in the airport and on the plane. Masks were also mandatory in the Cancun airport. Though it felt like it was relaxed in First Class. Delta One was a nice bonus! I used these breathable masks and would recommend them.
The easiest way to earn Delta Skymiles beyond flying more Delta flights is with one (or more) of the Delta American Express Cards or the Gold/Platinum Cards. Both the Gold and Platinum cards allow you to transfer Amex Membership Rewards points directly to your Delta Skymiles account. More on that below.
In total, we paid $88 for the flights with the mandatory taxes and fees.
**One great incentive right now with Delta is you earn MQMs (Medallion Qualifying Miles) on Award flights for 2021. Plus they have a bonus on top of that. This will help you qualify for higher levels of status. This helps you earn more miles each time you fly, plus helps with getting more upgrades to First Class.
Customs was a breeze and our luggage showed up quickly. It took about 15 minutes from leaving the plane to walking outside to find our ride to the resort.
Getting to the resort was easy. They had a free shuttle service, where multiple porters were waiting to help with our bags. It's quite the temperature change waiting outside, so be sure to wear shorts! We rode in a van with ~8 others, so it wasn't terrible. A taxi would have cost ~$40, which we ended up taking back to the airport when we left.
5 💎 Resort-- Vidanta Riviera Maya!
Named one of the Top 5 hotels in Eastern Mexico by Condé Nast Traveler's Readers' Choice Awards. Vidanta Riviera Maya was a great resort. There was over 1000 acres of jungle, dotted with pristine pools and bordered by magnificent beach. There were more than 15 world-class bars and restaurants--all of which were open.
The resort is huge! Almost everything you need is within the resort walls. They even have a small grocery store on property.
We stayed in the One Bedroom Deluxxe room in the Grand Luxxe resort, which was plenty of room for the 2 of us. It would have been enough for our family of 5 as there were 2 sleep sofas and a diving wall for extra privacy. We had a very comfortable king-size bed. It came with a gourmet kitchen with breakfast bar, an attached dining room with formal dining table and sideboard.
We ended up brining most of our lunch and breakfast foods with us (lot cheaper than buying every meal there). It had two bathrooms and one Jacuzzi tub, and a private terrace, complete with outdoor lounge furniture.
Our terrace view was complete jungle. You could hear some trams going by, but not often. It felt like you were isolated in the jungle!
The Grand Luxxe 1BR Deluxxe typically costs $1580 per night for non-memebers/owners, or $11,060 for the week! We paid less than $400! We'll show you how in a bit.
We were supposed to be in the Grand Mayan, but upon check-in the offered us an upgrade. We were hesitant because our original room included a private plunge pool. Anytime you hear private pool, you just have to take it. The concierge was adamant that the Grand Luxe would be better, even though it didn't have a private plunge pool.
Boy were they right!
Not only were the rooms nicer, but we got access to the Beach Club Pool--only available to those in the Grand Luxe.
The Beach Club
Beautiful pool and beach area that was only open to ~20% of those staying at the resort. We ended up here most days we stayed on the resort.
Open from 10:00-5:00.
You are assigned chairs or cabanas (upgrade) upon registering. You get a towel and a clean cushion cover up checking in. A waiter will come to your chairs to bring drinks or you can order food from the Beach Club Restaurant. Half off drinks were every day from 12:00-2:00 plus most mornings they had a 2 for 1 special on Bloody Marys and Mimosas, which we partook of the latter.
Betsey loved all the decorations, both in the room and around the resort. Many resorts and hotels we've stayed out were....lacking with nice design. The Grand Luxe and other amenities were designed very well, which makes it even more enjoyable.
There's something for everyone within the resort. They had 8 "Fine Dining" options, plus dozens of relaxed restaurants, bars and room service. The Quinto steakhouse was incredible. Plus the restaurant is adjacent to the Caribbean Sea. You can listen to the sound of crashing waves while eating a delicious steak!
There were lots of other casual restaurants. We had pizza and salads one night near a pool.
We loved the surprise chocolate covered strawberries twice (2 times!!) in our room. Great touch to celebrate our anniversary.
Half the nights we ended up in Salum-- a combination outdoor market, lounge, with restaurants and bars. You could order from any of the 8 restaurants and bars and have it served at your table.
The lobster tacos were great! They had sushi (sneakily spicy!), brisket, burgers, salads, wings, pizza...basically you could get whatever you wanted.
Things to Do
Greg got to play the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.
It was a par 3 executive course, so it's not a full course and you don't need a full set of clubs. I was able to rent a set of clubs. I brought a sleeve of balls "just in case" I was able to play. I did forget a glove, which would have been nice as the temperature got in the upper 80s by the time I was finishing up.
The first 9 were in terrific shape. The greens were great. The views of the resort were really nice. There were dozens of iguanas. I was the first tee-time at 6:50, so I was able to get in half the round before it heated up too much. My advise it to get up and play early!
The last tee time of the day is at 3:30, which was a little disappointing because it would have been cooler playing in the early evening. Every night we went to dinner around 6:00 or 6:30, the sun had dropped and it was much cooler. As we rode past the golf course, it was empty :(
It was $100 for golf, cart, plus club rentals. I paid $50 with the discount card available.
Cirque du Soleil show JOYÀ
Within the Vidanta resort, is their exclusive Cirque du Soleil show. We saw advertisements for it in the airport, on billboards and within the resort itself. Apparently its a very good show, because they were sold out all the nights we could go! But, I've borrowed some pictures from the resort website that look awesome!
You could go to the show or add on their 3 course meal and make it a full evening.
New Water Park: Jungala Aqua Experience
This massive new water park was right next to the Luxxe, so we walked past it everyday. It has one of the longest lazy rivers in the hemisphere. They offer private cabanas, dining options, and even spa service. Pretty much something for everyone.
Exploring Playa del Carmen
Excursions Outside the Resort
Besides the beautiful pools and the resort amenities, there is a lot to do in the Playa del Carmen area. We took 2 excursions, trying to cover some of the "must dos" from various suggestions along the way.
This is a **MUST DO** if you are in Playa del Carmen for the first time or the hundredth. The water is cold and with the right light, it's crystal clear and blue.
Mexico has an estimated 20,000 cenotes dotted throughout the country. These "swimming holes" are filled with underground rivers and many of them are connected. Some of the cenotes are fully underground, while others are partly open in the jungle. We went to 4 different cenotes and each one offered something new and unique.
The underground cenotes have a Goonies type feel. We put on snorkel gear and underwater flashlights to check out the depths. It was unbelievable how far down the underwater caverns go. On the ground, you would see different ropes running along the floor. This is to help scuba divers find their way out if they were to get lost or lose lights while diving. The cenotes are connected and divers can swim for miles and miles between them.
The outside cenotes were once underground, but at some point part of the ceiling collapsed and leaves an open air jungle swimming pool. We had a blast jumping in!
Mayan Ruins of Tulum
Tulum was an ancient trading city for the Mayans. About 45 minutes south of our resort we were given a marvelous tour from Natoural Mexico. A driver picked us up at our resort, offered multiple times to stop at a Starbucks and got us there quickly and safely. Tania was our guide. She did an incredible job and is very knowledgable. She took us to the ancient ruins of Tulum, allowed us to explore two different cenotes and then we enjoyed an authentic Mexican lunch.
For history buffs, Tulum was a lot of fun. It was quite hot and with current masks mandates, we probably spent less time walking around that many. **Pro Tip: bring an umbrella to block the sun. There's very little shade and much of the city is blocked from the sea breeze.
Outside of the park there's a market like you see in many touristy places. There's even a Starbucks, but I hope they're only serving iced coffee with those temperatures!
Adventure Park- ATV, Zipline, and Repelling
You'll see a lot of options for these excursions. Zip lining through the jungle was a blast! We used Selva Maya Eco Adventure for our adventure tour. I took a much longer ATV ride through the jungle than I anticipated. Sometimes they're only 10-15 minutes. We were riding for much longer than that.
**ProTip** Bring bug spray into the jungle before zip lining. The mosquitos were everywhere. Thankful for the nice prepared family that shared some of their bug spray wipes with us or we would have been in a world of hurt!
Betsey had no problem climbing the 60 foot wall in flip-flops! It felt great to swim in the cenotes after the hot time in the jungle. Fresh tacos awaited us when we finished!
I would be remiss if I didn't share how we got back to the resort after the ATV excursion. We took a taxi in the morning, as we needed to be there at a very specific time and the shuttles could have been difficult to time it right. So, we paid $35 for the taxi to pick us up at the resort, and then drop us off at the entrance to the adventure park. When we left, the owner of the park said not to take a taxi, as it's too expensive. "Simply, cross the highway and flag down any white van with a red, green, or yellow stripe. They will take you and you can get a cab in Playa del Carmen for much cheaper."
Always up for an added adventure, Betsey was all over it. We crossed the highway and within 90 seconds a white van with a green stripe is coming up and we wave him down. 2 people got out (we are in the middle of nowhere by the way, barely anything around except for some cenotes and adventure parks!) and we climb in the van. There are 2 seats in the last row. So, the two of us and ~12 other locals head off to Playa del Carmen. The air was sort of on and we did make it. Costs us $2.50 each and then a $10 cab ride to the resort costs us half the taxi ride. Plus...the story!
Remember, every dollar you save on this trip is another dollar for a future trip! $$
There's so much to do in the Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Cancun area. Check out some of these!
What about the Kids? Good For Families?
Though we did not take our kids on this trip, we commented often that we believe they would have had a great time at the Vidanta Resort for a few reasons.
Pools. Pools. and More Pools. There were so many different pools, that you could go to a different one each day if you wanted. With each pool having bars and restaurants, it's easy to camp out at the pool for most of the day without stress.
The Resort had tons of fun activities going on as well. (trivia, scavenger hunts, games). The water park seemed to be a big hit with families.
Big Enough Rooms. Though we stayed in a 1 BR suite, it would have been plenty of room for our party of 5 (at this stage) given that there were 2 pull out beds, 2 bathrooms and a divider to close off the sleeping area. The 2 and 3 BR options would have been even nicer.
Lots of food options. With so many different restaurants, there's something even for the pickiest of eaters. The Salum area especially was good since you could order from 4 different restaurants and all eat at the same table.
Animals. We were amazed at the number of iguanas, kawatis, and birds around the resort. We know the younger kids would have had a blast watching (chasing?) all the animals. They also have an alligator and flamingo reserve.
Trams. The intricate tram system to help you get around the resort would have been especially helpful for families with younger kids. Though sometimes you had to wait 5+ minutes at tram stops, it was nice to get dropped off at the pool, restaurants, etc without walking all the time.
Excursions. There were endless opportunities for excursions from the resort that every family could find something to do.
Safe. Getting in and out of the resort took a few extra minutes due to every driver, taxi, or transport having to fill out a form to identify themselves as well as the passengers staying on the resort. The staff was also overly cautious with virus protocols, including masks mandates for all staff at all times as well as an abundance of sanitation stations throughout the resort.
**We would definitely come back with the whole family at some point.**
How to Travel Hack Your Way for $600 or less
We had a blast on this trip and part of the fun is having incredible experiences for a fraction of the cost. It was relaxing. The food was good. The pools were gorgeous. We did just enough activities for fun while not coming back from vacation exhausted!
Here's how you can do the same.
We used Delta Skymiles as we live in Atlanta and direct flights are great.
Taxes and fees for around $88 for first class, including Delta One on the way home!
Full Fare First Class: $2,700.
Our Cost: $88.
You can also fly American with multiple flights connecting through Miami or Charlotte. I saw multiple flight options for around 50,000 miles. This was less than what I used for Delta.
There are tons of ways to earn Skymiles and AA Advantage Miles. The fastest way is through credit card sign up bonuses.
American Express Reserve: 50,000 Miles (Has annual fee)
Delta Skymiles Blue Card: 10,000 Miles (No annual fee)
Delta Skymiles Platinum: 50,000 Miles (Has annual fee)
Delta Skymiles Gold: 40,000 Miles (Has annual fee)
*note, you can have personal and business cards connected to the same Skymiles account.
American Express Reserve: 60,000 Miles (Has annual fee)
Delta Skymiles Platinum: 60,000 Miles (Has annual fee)
Delta Skymiles Gold: 50,000 Miles (Has annual fee)
We took advantage of the free airport shuttle on arrival. We paid around $40 for a taxi going back to the airport.
Booking the Resort.
Instead of booking directly with the resort or through an agency, we used a timeshare transfer voucher (thanks Dad!) which only cost $380. Normally I am not a big fan of timeshares, unless its a place you want to come back to year after year. Often, the swapping of weeks or trading for points at other locations is difficult. But this time, it was a huge success!
For those with access to a timeshare exchange, you can find good deals that way. You can also try resort clubs like SFX and find deals without the need to swap a timeshare week.
Full Cost with Vidanta Grand Luxxe: $11,060
Our Price $380
We did eat most breakfast and some lunches either in the room, or at the pool. This probably saved $50-100 a day. Obviously food and drinks can be much more expensive, depending on what you order, how often, etc. So, we typically will do 1-2 nice restaurants and a few drinks here and there.
Normal Cost for Travel and Resort:
Our Travel Hacked Cost:
How to Save Even More Money
So, we did lose ~4 hours of our lives one afternoon. We went through the dreaded timeshare spiel in exchange for some added benefits and savings on the trip. **This was not required with the exchange we did. They mentioned a golf deal, so I (Greg) was the one that dragged us in. I'll have to write a whole extra posts on this experience :)
We were told it would be 1.5 hours with lunch. It was 2.5x that long, but...we did get lunch, half off of golf, 10% off our final food and drink bill and 40% off excursions. And I know what you're wondering....NO! We didn't buy a timeshare :)
Let us know if you go to Playa del Carmen!