Choosing the Best Destination
Each year when we look for a long term travel destination to avoid the long, cold winters in the Northeast US, we consider a number of factors. First and foremost is whether we can afford to live there for 4 months.
But we don’t want to live just anywhere- we want an enjoyable adventure, comfort, beauty, access to amenities and more. Below is our checklist for choosing a place to live. If it all adds up, then it is a yes.
- Within our budget for airfare, housing and food
- Moderate to warm weather
- Easy to get around
- Good internet
- Near the ocean
- We can snorkel off the beach
- Affordable adventures
- People speak some English
Does Riviera Maya Fit the Bill?
We decided to spend the winter on the Riviera Maya in Mexico. It ticked most of the boxes, although we had heard it was a bit touristy. We settled on Playa del Carmen and have been pleased with our choice for this 2015-2016 winter season.
We spent very little on airfare from Boston and were able to use frequent flyer miles for our return ticket. It took us two tries but we ended up with a very nice airbnb rental from mid January to late March. The cost of our first airbnb rental, for December and early January, was a great deal for the area, but did not meet our standards.
We spent six weeks in a noisy apartment with major hot water issues, uncomfortable beds and a cramped, ill equipped kitchen. It was not the apartment we had seen online. (The airbnb customer service was stellar, letting us out of the deal, giving us a monetary credit, even helping us to find another place to stay. We were impressed and continue to highly recommend airbnb- claim a $25 credit toward your next stay here.)
We moved to a well appointed three story townhouse far from the tourist areas but close to grocery stores and among a mix of locals and expats. In Playa del Carmen we have fair to good internet service, cheap phone plans, very affordable groceries from clean modern stores and inexpensive and convenient taxis.
A Parade of Guests
One reason we went for a two bedroom rental was so that we could host some guests. Once one of our sons got a glimpse of our apartment on Skype he decided to come visit for a week. We had an amazing time showing him the sights, tasting local food in the restaurants and hanging out cooking together.
This sort of visit is always in our plans and it does not hurt that we are staying in a gorgeous tropical beach town in Mexico, close to a major airport. Also, the dollar has been a good value against the peso, and that is another plus for us and our guests.
Relaxing at Cenote Azul
A Bit Over the Top
During our four month stay, January 2016 was an unusually expensive month for us, and we believe it is important to plan for extra expenses when making long term travel decisions. Going over budget in January is not a problem when December and February are handled with more restraint.
And we did that! We are watching our spending again as we prepare for more visitors in March. We love it when our family and friends come to play. This is one of the ways long term travelers can keep the connections to the people they care about.
Here is a description of our spending and our adventures in January.
The month included these special treats:
- Laurie’s birthday- rental of beach chairs and umbrellas, with drinks and lunch at the Blue Parrot Beach Club $39
- Two hour Snorkel trip- three of us on a boat trip out to the reef in Puerto Morelos $100
- Cenotes and Tulum Ruins visits. (details below)
- Extra groceries, taxis and restaurant meals (details below)
- Not included in our expenses was a lovely adventure at Rio Secreto, a gift from our children
Expenses: Total for the month $846 plus rent
Our airbnb townhouse rent came to about $700/month for the period from mid January to late March.
We spent a little less for our first six weeks here and we did have to negotiate to get these prices. Rental prices are very inflated in Playa from December to March or April.
- Cell Phone plans for two $24/month
- Transportation (including extra taxi rides and Collectivos to Puerto Morelos and Tulum ) $120
- Groceries and sundries – including bottled drinking water $285
- Restaurant meals (including the previously mentioned Blue Parrot birthday lunch) $239
- Miscellaneous adventures (Cenotes, Ruins, movies, snorkeling trip) $178
- Haircut $18
The restaurant, transportation costs, and adventures all pushed us slightly over the limit of our $1500 monthly budget.
Is Playa Del Carmen An Affordable Long Term Travel Destination?
If you are deciding if Playa is within your budget here are some things to consider.
We do a lot of our own cooking. Restaurants are affordable but daily dining out would not fit our spending plan. Street food is cheaper, unless you are like us and care about getting your veggies!
Airfare is a cost we amortize over the length of the trip. Be sure and add this expense to your monthly budget. We also purchased travel insurance for our trip ($100 for the whole trip for us both)
We think Playa Del Carmen is an affordable travel destination, if the following fits your travel lifestyle:
Live with the Locals. Don’t expect to stay at the beach during high season. We spoke to a couple with a studio near the beach. They paid $1000 rent for December and $800 thereafter for their 6 month stay.
Be prepared to do some walking and take a few bus rides. We were often the only non locals on the bus and sometimes we had to stand.
Limit your purchase of imported grocery items. We did buy coconut oil, peanut butter and more expensive breads and good imported olive oil. Stick to fresh local produce, meats, and eggs with a few specialty items. We think groceries are so affordable here! Avocados, jicama,cucumbers, cabbage, limes and grapefruits are practically free.
Do not think of yourselves as being on vacation, but rather of living in a lovely place and exploring, by walking, visiting the beaches and cenotes. Take advantage of inexpensive activities with only the occasional special treats. If you can swing it, stay for six months. There are some deals to be had, especially if you know Spanish.
Will We Return to Playa Del Carmen?
We are all about exploring new places and we do prefer house sitting to paying rent. That said, it was lovely to hang out on our own in a temperate location, with friendly and helpful locals. We improved our Spanish too!
We think we will return to Playa in the future, making contact with folks we met here to help us secure a long term rental for a bit less than we spent this time.
Tip: We loved snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of the cenotes and off the beach in nearby Akumal. You do want to bring your own mask, snorkel, and fins though. The rental stuff was of poor quality and purchasing gear in Mexico is more expensive than in the US. View our latest recommendations here.