We just returned from our long anticipated 7 night vacation (March 13-20,
2004) from Kansas City to the Playa Del Carmen area. We stayed at Kailuum
resort about 11 kilometers north of Playa. We made side trips to Playa,
Cozumel, Chichen Itza and Cancun. ―We‖ included my wife and myself and
two teenage daughters (15 and 18). We were probably looking for a more
sedate, laid back trip than some of the Play Info folks but that’s the great thing
about this website—diversity! We wish we could have stayed longer and seen
more but we were blessed to be able to take the trip. Wonderful experience,
lovely place, perfect weather! I think some of the best times were just hanging
out at Kailuum –walking on the beach and reading in the hammocks—that and
sitting in the bars and restaurants in Playa watching people! We want to come
back! There was so much we wanted to do that will just have to wait for
We owe a big thanks! to Playa Info and all the contributors. I visited the site
for months to plan our trip and it was a tremendous help. I wanted to return
the favor by sharing our trip experience.
Pics (strictly amateur from disposable cameras!)
Gordon's Kailuum Pics at Ofoto
Hope the link works.
If I could just find a cheap way to get there! Not a frequent flyer in the family
and we couldn’t be flexible in our scheduling and we were coming during
prime spring break time--so we paid through the nose for tickets! I spent
hours on the net looking for good prices without luck. The scheduling options
kept getting fewer and the prices kept going up so I finally just bought the best
I could find and forgot about it. I booked Continental through expedia.com and
we flew 2 hops—KC to Houston and Houston to Cancun. No ticket problems
although Continental made a slight change to our flight times a few weeks
before we left.
In the ―small world‖ category, we ran into old friends on our flight out of
Houston. They were heading to a resort in Playacar with 9 in their party (and I
thought I had to spend big bucks on my trip!).
Arrival / Departure (customs, airport, transfer)
First of all, most of our arrival / departure advice was gained from the Map
Chick at www.mapchick.com. Map Chick rules! Great free detailed advice--
buy the maps—worth every penny plus! We bought maps for Cancun,
Cozumel, and Playa and found them all extremely useful. One very helpful bit
of advice—bring pens for everyone in your party to fill out the customs and
immigration forms on the plane. Thanks to Laura’s advice, we knew about the
forms and we had pens (the airline won’t give you one!) and were able to fill
out our forms quickly and loan pens to those who didn’t know about the Map
Chick! This was true coming and going.
Our flight arrived about 4:20 pm on Saturday and we were out of the terminal
by 5:30pm. We were so excited to be there that we couldn’t have been
bothered no matter how much trouble we had but it was no big deal getting out
of the airport. Lines were long but they moved quickly. Everyone ―official‖ we
talked to was unfailingly polite and cheerful and spoke excellent English. We
had already made our ground transportation arrangements but we saw a lot of
folks who hadn’t talking to the transportation ―hawkers‖ who were actively
soliciting business in the customs area. I would prefer to know ahead of time
how I’m going to go and how much it will cost.
Most awkward part of the whole arrival procedure was finding our luggage
before going through customs. They take it off the baggage conveyors before
you get there and your bags may be scattered all over. We were fortunate
that most of ours were fairly close together but we hunted quite a while for a
couple of pieces. I forgot to mark our luggage with something colorful for easy
identification (next time!) and all those black bags look alike!
I thought for sure we would have to have our bags searched at customs as
there were many, many green lights before we got our turn to push the button.
Maybe they bumped up the number of button pushes to get a red light due to
the long lines because we sailed right through also and I wasn’t seeing
anyone get searched. I had thought each member of our party would have to
push the button but thank goodness it was just one push per group. Just
before we were ready to leave the terminal, an official welcomed us, asked
about our ground transportation arrangements, gave us final directions,
cautioned us to put our passports safely away and asked if we had any
questions. He spoke perfect English and it was a nice final touch to our airport
experience. A Turquoise Reef van was waiting just outside the door as
advertised to take us to Kailuum.
Upon our departure at the end of our trip, we were driven right to the terminal
door by our Turquoise Reef van. We used one of the guys with carts to take
our bags to the check-in counter as advised by the Map Chick. He asked us
for our airline and took us directly though the confusing crowds to the right
counter. Hope I tipped him an adequate amount because it was definitely a
worthwhile service. Again, the whole check-in process was organized and
staffed by polite, cheerful people with excellent English. In contrast, when we
went through U.S. customs in Houston I have to say that although it went
reasonably fast, it was not well organized and people were not always polite or
Resort and Tour Reservations (Turquoise Reef)
I booked my vacation at Kailuum II and our Chichen Itza tour online with
Turquoise Reef (www.turqreef.com) via contact with both their Colorado and
Playa (http://www.vagabonders.com/) offices. All contact was via online
reservation forms and email except for any confirmation hard copy mail from
them to me. I had read positive reports that they were reputable on Play Info
and other sources before I used them. They were very helpful and friendly
and professional and responded to any questions or concerns I had
immediately via email. There were no surprises or extra charges and all
arrangements were as advertised. I would not hesitate to use them again.
Itinerary / Kailuum
Kailuum II was simply wonderful. It’s a small ―luxury camping‖ resort with no
electricity consisting of individual ―tentalapas‖ right on a beautiful beach north
of Playa. The emphasis is on beauty and barefoot comfort and peace and
quiet. Kids under 16 not allowed (we fibbed about our 15 year old who looks
and acts much older)! We took two ocean front tentalapas right next to each
other and enjoyed the experience immensely. Great place to relax and
recharge but just a 10 minute taxi ride away from Playa. We loved it and hope
to return. You can read more about it if you are interested at
Breakfast and dinner are included in the price. Lunches and beverages are
extra but very reasonable. There is a 24 hour self service honor bar. Meals
are taken in a beautiful sand-floor dining palapa. Service by the largely Mayan
staff is excellent. I thought the breakfasts and lunches were very good to
excellent. I thought the dinners were mediocre to very good. Cooking was
described as Mayan rather than Mexican and included dishes such as lime
soup, fish in garlic sauce, coconut shrimp, chili rellenos, various chicken
dishes, etc. We took many of our meals here but also ate in Playa, Cozumel,
Cancun and on the road.
They have a loyal clientele—almost everyone we met had been there many
times. Mostly couples of all ages. One wedding party.
I will probably stay at Kailuum again and I will probably plan to eat more
dinners in Playa than here just because of the opportunity to experience more
variety. I’ve mentioned some of the other restaurants we tried below.
One note—supposedly 2005 will be Kailuum II’s last year at their current
location. They plan to relocate and create Kailuum III about 4 hours south
(Mahahaul?) and everyone was concerned about travel time and whether the
new location will be as nice etc.
Saturday—arrival and evening at Kailuum (paradise!)
Sunday—nada but beach and hammock and food!
Monday—breakfast in Playa, ferry to Cozumel for shopping and lunch, dinner
and shopping in Playa.
Tuesday—Kailuum in the day, horseback ride on the beach, dinner and
shopping in Playa at night. Blue Parrot.
Wednesday—Chichen Itza tour all day and back for dinner at Kailuum
Thursday—Kailuum and a ―mini-tour‖ of Cancun Centro and hotel zone.
Friday—nada—last day in paradise
Saturday—to the airport and back to reality
Documentation / passports
We chose to get passports rather than go the birth certificate route and I’m
glad we did. Everyone I saw was using passports and everything was geared
towards passports. I think we would have been slowed up with birth
certificates. Everything you want to know can be found at
http://travel.state.gov/passport_services.html. I think we received our
passports within about 3 weeks although they tell you to expect longer.
Please notice that you need to sign them! We didn’t see this until we were
checking in at the airport at KC and the counter rep scared the hell out of me
when she told us our passports were ―invalid‖. We signed them and they
became ―valid‖ quickly but I had momentary visions of a ruined trip!
We all took our drivers’ licenses and medical insurance cards and I also took
copies of all these documents that I carried in my pocket during our local
travels. I left the passports and our tourist cards in the resort ―safe‖—I never
saw it but I think it might have been a filing cabinet! We had been warned at
the airport to hold on to our tourist cards or we could become temporary
Mexicans for about a week before we continued our trip home. Didn’t sound
like an altogether bad deal to me!
Pesos / dollars
It wasn’t really necessary but I bought a few hundred dollars of pesos to take
with me and it was handy to already have some. I also had several hundred
dollars with me and I used my debit card at the ATM machines in Playa and
Cancun to get pesos as needed. Exchange rate was about 10.85 and there
were no fees on my card at all. I found that I could pretty much get by
everywhere with either dollars or pesos although you came out ahead on the
shopping by paying with pesos. The nice thing about buying your pesos
ahead of time is you can pick your denominations. My general
recommendations are to use the ATMs, use pesos, carry as many small
denominations and coins as possible and not to worry about exchange rates.
I think I got my best exchange rate for dollars at a Chedraui grocery in Cancun
when I bought a bottle of tequila and 4 snickers bars using a $100 bill. I
wasn’t sure they’d take it but the girl at the register never blinked—just
checked out the bill for counterfeit and gave me my change in pesos—the
receipt had the exchange rate on it.
I must preface all reports about food and beverage by noting that I come from
good peasant stock. I eat anything. I am not picky. I prefer not to pay a lot for
a good meal and I find that frequently the best meals I have eaten aren’t the
ones that cost the most. I prefer simple surroundings and local specialities
when I can get them. Because we stayed out of town (and the food wasn’t
bad at all), most of our meals were taken at Kailuum but we had some great
food in Playa and elsewhere. Most were recommendations from this website
or from Map Chick!
In Playa before taking the ferry, we took Anna’s suggestion for breakfast with
the street vendors on the Zocalo square. We had tacos de cochinita pibil
(shredded pork), fruit cups and fresh squeezed fruit juice. Magnificent and
One evening we ate at Palapa Hemingway’s—excellent food, great service,
reasonable price, nice music and atmosphere—a winner!
Another night we decided on El Serape on Juarez—we ate a variety of
seafood and Mexican dishes and all had the wonderful tacos al pastor that
everyone raves about—we all agreed! I will be trying to reproduce these at
home—what a treat! Great atmosphere here—very friendly waiters—all the
food was great.
In Cozumel, we picked from Map Chick’s recommendations and found Casa
Denis just off the square. Hard to choose one, but I think if we voted this
would get the prize as the best meal of the trip. We ordered two wonderful
Mexican platters for two at the recommendation of the waiter / proprietor? All
four of us could have eaten well from one of the platters! Throw in ice-cold
cervezas and some Santana by strolling musicians and it was a memorable
On a taxi tour of Cancun (I know, I know, but everyone had to say they had
been to Cancun) we went to a couple of markets and a Chedraui grocery in
addition to whizzing through the Hotelara Zonera. We ate in a Mercado 28
restaurant (another great Map Chick recommendation)—El Ceja’s open air
seafood restaurant. Only questionable menu selection was my decision to
have the fried conch—OK, but bland, it needed ―something‖.
During our tour to Chichen Itza on Wednesday, our tour group stopped for
lunch at a very large, very clean restaurant in the middle of nowhere that was
serving a buffet of a little bit of everything. It was good, not great, but entirely
adequate considering it was included in the price of the tour. I thought it was
odd that hot dogs and sauerkraut were included on the buffet—very popular
with the Europeans and the kids—I passed and stuck to the tacos and frijoles.
I should mention that one of my family’s favorite food items on the whole trip
(after the tacos al pastor!) was the great yogurt and granola and fruit served
up as part of breakfast every day at Kailuum. Sounds like this is a very
common breakfast there but it was different to us.
We took the ferry to Cozumel one day to look around and shop. Girls got their
hair braided and had questions the whole trip about where they got it done.
They also got henna tattoos that were supposed to be dry in 20 minutes but
were still coming off on everything 2 days later! It was a fun excursion and we
enjoyed it a lot. My wife and girls got a bit green on the trips over and back
because it was pretty choppy. I figured it would bother me but didn’t for some
reason. I bought my tickets right by the dock across from Senor Frogs. I
bought tickets on what was supposed to be the faster ferry as recommended.
I didn’t see any difference between the speed of the two ferries—we jockeyed
for position with each other all the way over and back and arrived at about the
same time. Each way was faster than the advertised 45 minutes—took us 30
minutes going and coming.
Biggest minor irritation of the trip—after buying several blankets and ponchos
in Cozumel, I was looking for a place to dump them while we continued
shopping in Playa. I found lockers to rent at the bus station—50 pesos for 24
hours—perfect! The lockers only took peso coins which I didn’t have enough
of! So, for about 20-30 minutes I tried to get someone, anyone to give me
change. Not the lady at the lockers, not the guy at the concession stand, not
the guy at the information stand, not the ladies at the ticket counter, not the
tellers at 2 banks, not the guy at the foreign exchange counter, not the clerk at
the store where I tried to pay double the price for a shot glass if they would
give me 50 pesos of my change in metal! I quit! So I walked the streets of
Playa dragging my garbage bags filled with blankets and ponchos while my
family shopped. I soothed myself with cold cervezas every block or so! I
know someone will probably tell me some ridiculously simple way I could have
obtained the 50 pesos in coin and I will kick myself!
I used comprehensive packing list recommendations posted on this website
and at www.mapchick.com as a starting point for my list so I haven’t listed
everything here. I always bring more junk than I need but I tried very hard to
keep it down with some success. I also remembered to bring print outs from
Playa Info on tips, restaurants etc.
Things we brought that we didn’t need—toilet paper, toilet covers, ―nicer‖
clothes, long pants, jackets and sweatshirts, can cooshies, collapsible cooler,
clothes line, clothespins, rain ponchos.
Things we brought that we needed—Map Chick maps!, good footwear (my
new Teva sandals were great even though brand new and didn’t need any
break-in), small backpack, extra duffels to take stuff home in, pop-top water
bottle, sunscreen, hand sanitizer and hand wipes, pens, hats and caps,
handkerchief / bandanna, band aids, Imodium AD (more of a security
blanket), books, flashlights (it’s dark at Kailuum at night!).
Things to bring next time—reading lights for books (flashlights work in a pinch,
but not the greatest), more small peso denominations and coins, learn more
Spanish! (2 daughters who take it in school were very helpful), more T-shirts,
more cameras (cheaper at home!).
Sun and Weather
Believe the warnings about the sun. We tried to be very careful with
sunscreen and limited our exposure and I’m happy to report that we avoided
any significant sunburns during our trip. The ocean breeze and the clouds can
be deceiving and you can get a lot more sun very quickly than you would think
possible. The first day I only went out unprotected twice—on walks down the
beach—once for 15 minutes and once for 20 minutes or so—I was red and
sore from this the next day! We all also prepared with some tanning booth
sessions before we came. I think it made us feel a little bit better about our
pasty bodies but I don’t think it really provided any protection from the sun.
I saw many people during our stay who were terribly burnt and I felt so sorry
for them—had to ruin their trip.
For about a week before we came, the weather forecast was for rain every day
for our first five days. I was very unhappy! The morning we left the forecast
changed to no rain at all! While we were there, there were a few brief showers
in the evening and the day we went to Cancun it rained very hard there while
we were inside the market. We were very fortunate. Temps at night were
I like Mexican beer. I usually drink Corona at home but so you know I’m not a
connoisseur I also get by on Busch Light as a cheap staple!. I have sampled
other Mexican beer but not a lot so I was curious to try as many as I
reasonably could. Bottom line, I came away still thinking Corona is one of the
best for me although I especially enjoyed Negro Modelo (very smooth!) and
bought it here after I got home. I also enjoyed Bohemia very much. I had
sampled Dos Equis light and dark before and had some again and they aren’t
bad (great billboards!). I tried Sol, Superior, Victoria, and didn’t care for any of
them. I thought Leon Negro wasn’t bad. I skipped the Tecate because I drink
it occasionally at home—I like it though.
My oldest daughter is 18 and legal drinking age in Mexico so she was having a
good time sampling everything. I know we’re bad parents but we let our 15
year old go for it too. She looks older and she ordered with no questions
asked. We made it clear for both girls that this was a special ―Mexico only‖
deal and we will be back on home rules prohibition here! For the record, they
preferred Superior and Dos Equis! I think they found the idea of being able to
sample the forbidden fruit openly more enjoyable than actually drinking it.
We bought junk we didn’t need like everyone else! My personal find was 3
ponchos for my buddies and me to use when we play cowboys on my farm.
For those days when we’re going for the Clint Eastwood look!
We bargained enough to feel like we didn’t pay full price but not too much. I
agree with the oft stated position that most of these folks need the money a lot
more than we do!
My girls and wife loved the pareos.
I felt I could usually tell the Europeans from the Americans—―prettier‖, more
glamorous, better dressed, more made-up. Not good or bad, just an
observation! We were with the shorts and t-shirts crowd!
Nothing serious although 3 of us came down with a bit of intestinal discomfort
the last day. I attribute it to eating and drinking more richly than usual and just
the different bacteria we probably encountered. We couldn’t pin it on any one
Wow! I’ve ridden taxis in Europe and Japan and many big cities in the U.S.
and I expected an exhilarating ride, but this was something special and felt
death-defying. I worried for the pedestrians and bicycle riders as much as I
did for us. Didn’t take long to get back and forth to Playa though! My taxi fee
between Playa and Kailuum was 80 pesos as advertised except for one night
when a guy outside the Blue Parrot refused to take us for less than 100 pesos.
He could tell by the look in my eye that I was tired and I wasn’t going to argue
for 20 pesos! I always tipped the drivers 10 or 20 pesos.
We chose not to rent a car this trip because of not wanting the hassle and
being uncertain about the driving conditions etc. I think next time I’ll probably
rent—it’s not that bad and would give you a bit more flexibility although taxis
are not too expensive and easy to get and you don’t have to worry about
We took a day-long tour to Chichen Itza through Turquoise Reef. I would have
preferred an Anna tour but there wasn’t a good day for us. It was a long, hot,
exhausting day, especially for the kids who were bored with the tour guide talk.
It was definitely worthwhile and we went the back way south of Playa instead
of the toll road. We were picked up at Kailuum and went into town to catch the
bus but apparently there was a problem so we ended up taking a van all the
way there and back. Probably better than the bus. It was air-conditioned and
the driver was skillful (albeit occasionally scary) and we arrived home in time
for dinner. The site was fantastic and I came away determined to read more
about the Mayan culture—fascinating. We saw many small villages and
grinding poverty in the countryside. We stopped at markets and in the colonial
city of Valladolid—very interesting and picturesque. We stopped at a beautiful
cenote (forgot the name) with a restaurant overlooking it near Valladolid and I
went for a refreshing swim before continuing the trip home. I prefer not to
think about how polluted the water probably was.
As I said, we also hired a taxi for the day to take us into Cancun one day for a
―mini-tour‖. We just wanted to get a feel for what the old and new parts of the
area were like and we got that. The girls think they want to go to Cancun with
their friends someday so they were interested in seeing the hotel zone. I, for
one, will NEVER stay in Cancun—it’s just not what I want. Take any fancy
shopping center and resort area in the world and you’ve go the same thing—
fast food, big resort hotels, fancy shops—yuk! Give me Kailuum and Playa