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Trip Report: Puerto Morelos, QR (Villas Clarita), March 2011

Brooklyn, New York
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Trip Report: Puerto Morelos, QR (Villas Clarita), March 2011

Since I get a lot of help from TA in planning trips and because I don’t see a lot of non-AI discussions on this particular forum, I thought I should contribute something to help other future travelers planning to visit the town of Puerto Morelos (and maybe convince others to give it a try). I expect this thread to get buried quickly and deeply by the overwhelming resort-related posts, but at least it’ll be here to be searched. I don’t have anything against resorts per se (in fact, after walking through it, I’d love to have a few days at Ceiba del Mar eventually), but they’re just not my thing usually.

My partner and I traveled to the area for the first time for eight days (March 11 to March 19). It was also our first trip to Mexico. Our last four trips out of the country have been to Costa Rica; we love it there and will return, but for this trip, we wanted something a bit less involved in terms of logistics – and we were really needing a relatively straight-forward beach trip. We had planned on staying in Playa, but as usual I switched everything around a couple of months before leaving (I always do this, it seems!), and I’m very glad we made the switch.

I had originally looked at Puerto Morelos, but for some reason I couldn’t get a grasp on the layout of the town. We generally like to base ourselves in walkable towns so we don’t have to have a car or rely on transportation. For some reason, PM didn’t seem to offer what I was looking for on my first look. After booking in Playa and then having concerns that it might be too busy (during March) for us, I took a closer look at PM. This time, for whatever reason, I was able to find maps, use Google Earth, etc. to convince myself it was walkable, pleasant, nice beaches and water, etc. One of the most useful maps I found was on the Viva Puerto Morelos website (http://vivapuertomorelos.com/).

Besides it’s small size, slow pace, and low-key profile, I was also drawn to PM because of the nearby botanical garden (I love seeing monkeys in the wild), by the prospect of snorkeling for the first time, and the fact that the town is surrounded by so much green on Google Earth. Somewhat odd reasons maybe, but there you have it.

Villas Clarita

We booked our entire eight nights at Villas Clarita (http://www.villasclaritamexico.com/). Cabanas Puerto Morelos was my first choice, but they didn’t have a room on an upper floor available. I don’t even remember now how I stumbled upon Villas Clarita and even though they do not have an entry here on Trip Advisor, I was able to track down some previous guests by searching on Flickr and Picasa and got some great feedback. We’re so glad we stayed here; it’s a special place, that’s for sure. Though a bit more worn in places than it looks in some photos, we found it to be a very charming place with a lot of character. It’s a relatively large walled property – possibly a combination of two previously separate properties? – with tons of places to sit and relax. It’s weathered a few hurricanes, and its few signs of age became indications of strength and survival for us. It reminded us a movie set in some ways, with tons of statues, figures, plaques and other unique items all over the property; we noticed new things every day. Just really beautiful. It’s managed (and owned?) by the friendly, sociable and very funny Johnny. In fact, everyone in town seems to know VC better as ‘Johnny’s Place’.

We stayed in an incredibly spacious one bedroom apartment on the 2nd floor, with one king size bed and one single bed in the bedroom, two amazing balconies, a working kitchen, huge dining table, couch, big closet, big dresser, tv in the bedroom. The balcony in the back, overlooking the yard, was truly a peaceful sanctuary with a huge almond tree and a palm tree providing privacy. I fell in love with that almond tree. The small balcony off the bedroom faces the street and the ocean and allowed for an amazing breeze.

A basic but good breakfast was provided every morning in the courtyard by the pool: coffee, granola, yogurt, mixed pastries, orange juice (fresh-squeezed by hand every morning – thank you, Fabiola!) and a big basked of fruit. Free wi-fi was provided (which I could only pick up from the courtyard with my iPod, but that was fine). The pool is gorgeous, but it was a bit nippy at this time of year (though I did get in one afternoon and had a nice little swim). Three or four hammocks on the grounds, and a nice swing. We received daily housekeeping (except on Sunday).

The walk to the town square was less than 10 minutes, and the beach was ½ block away. Around the corner there were two mini supers, and you can enter the property either from Av Niños Héroes or Av Javier Rojo Gómez.

The only two things that took some getting used to were the bed – it was very, very, very firm – and the fact that that morning sun floods the bedroom by 7 am every morning. I basically got used to the bed after a couple of nights, and we were going to bed early every night, so the early rise was fine – and who can complain about the sun on a beach vacation?! Though, to be honest, I would prefer to have a more comfortable bed for a week-long stay, neither of these things would keep me from staying there again. The positives far outweighed the mild negatives.

Here are my photos of Villas Clarita: http://bit.ly/i3wSAH

Puerto Morelos

In short we LOVED Puerto Morelos. It was the perfect choice for us for this trip. It’s the slow, easy, safe, walkable, beachside town we were hoping for. In fact, the water and beach were much nicer than I was expecting. Once the sun is out, the ocean water is magnificently clear and inviting. I had read that it was murky, but that wasn’t our experience at all. It was beautiful and gentle and just perfect for floating and playing in. I go to the ocean to be in the water, and it was just so nice to be able to do that. In fact, I usually look for beaches that are described as “child friendly” – because I just want to float around in the water and not have to worry about rip tides, etc. The reef offshore ensures gentle water. The water temperature (at this time of year) was not as warm as I was expecting, but we got used to it within a minute of getting in. It was still way warmer than the water on Long Island in August!

The air temperature was in the low to mid-80s every day (with low humidity), and it got down to the low to mid-60s at night (and very, very windy at night). We definitely got chilly in the middle of the night and had to close the balcony door. It was sunny to partly cloudy every day; not a drop of rain in the eight days we were there. We really had the most perfect weather, and it was the escape we needed from this seemingly never-ending winter this year.

I have to give proper credit to the Alma Libre Bookstore (http://www.almalibrebooks.com/) for publishing so much helpful information on their website and for their monthly newsletters; this helped in planning and knowing what to expect a lot. In fact, that was the first place we stopped in after walking into town that first afternoon – and I have to give a huge shout out to Daphne at the bookstore. We saw her several more times over the week, and her advice and smile and attitude made the trip for us. Thank you, Daphne! She gave us one of the local tourist maps (that we also saw in other businesses around town) and turned us on to the “boardwalk” through the mangroves behind Ceiba del Mar. I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise, and it was a great little morning trip one day (I would recommend packing a lunch and having a little picnic in the gazebo while there). We went to the bookstore almost every day (and actually made some purchases to pay them back for the info – thanks!). It, along with the church, became a daily stop for us.

So, basically, each day consisted of getting up, eating breakfast at VC, then going to the beach for two to three hours and frolicking in the water, coming back and either making lunch or going into town for lunch, stopping in at the Casa Martin grocery store for more food (seriously, every day), exploring the town, sitting in the church, coming back to relax at VC, making or walking into town for dinner, more relaxing at VC, some reading, some tv, to bed early – get up the next morning and repeat. Sometimes, we went to the beach in the afternoon instead, but you get the idea.

Though Casa Martin is certainly bare bones in terms of grocery options, we were able to find pretty much everything we needed for the week. They also had a much better produce section than I was expecting, so that was a welcome surprise.

We had every intention of getting out of PM for a day trip or two. I really wanted to get down the coast to Muyil and to Coba – and maybe even Punta Laguna. Maybe even into Playa for an afternoon. None of that happened! We just got so comfortable, and we couldn’t muster the motivation to get on the road for a few hours.

We did make it to the Puerto Morelos Botanical Garden (http://www.ecosur.mx/jb/YaaxChe/home.html) one afternoon (a less than 10 minute, 50 peso cab ride from the town square). I really wanted to see spider monkeys (and was hoping for a tamandua sighting also). I had read the best time for monkey sightings is in the late afternoon, so we got there at around 2:45. Maybe two minutes after paying the entrance fee (100 pesos each) and entering the trail, a troop of about six or seven adult spider monkeys (with three or four babies attached) and maybe one or two juveniles came swinging by. I think we got very lucky, but it was immediate. We saw another adult with a baby later in the hike, by themselves. We also saw many iguanas and birds, and there are some small pretty ruined ruins there also. Nothing super impressive, but it will have to hold me over until next time when we will get to Cobá or Muyil. Though the rest of the hike wasn’t particularly exciting, the monkey sightings made the whole little excursion more than worth it.

We also went to the Jungle Spa (http://www.mayaecho.com/Jungle_Spa.html) one afternoon for massages. I had made the appointments a couple weeks earlier via email. The quick 50 pesos taxi ride was easy, and the hour-long massage was fantastic. Brutal but amazing! Okay, maybe not that bad, but it was definitely mostly a therapeutic massage, working on the lymphatic system and pressure points. I like these kinds of massages, but not everyone does. They do ask if you want soft, medium or hard – so ask for soft if you’re not sure, and I’m sure they can tailor it to your needs. The setting was peaceful, there was a nice breeze, and be sure to check out the products they have for sale on the tables. Thank you, Lupita!

The other little excursion we did was to take a walk one morning in Colonia, the part of town on the west side of the highway. I thought we might hire Ana Trépanier (welovepuertomorelos@yahoo.com) for her walking tour through Colonia, but we ended up just wandering around on our own (sorry, Ana, maybe next time). We stopped in at the various produce markets, bought some fruits and veggies, and snapped some photos of some of the great signage. We didn’t eat because we weren’t hungry, but there were a couple of appealing looking places. Thanks again to Alma Libre for their info on walking around Colonia.

I also took a snorkeling trip one morning by myself. I went to the pier and hired someone through one of the vendors on the east side of the town square (in front of La Aldea café); can’t remember the name of the company. Since I was alone and no one else was ready to go, I ended up paying for two people. I know I could’ve done much better, and I didn’t try to haggle the price down – but I was really fine with the situation. I got a private snorkeling trip with Alberto, and it was great. It was my first time snorkeling, and it was really fun. Saw all kinds of tropical fish, several schools – and a barracuda. That was fun! The water was so clear and it was just such a nice experience.

Restaurants we tried:

• Dona Triny’s (I would try it again – it gets good reviews – but what we had was pretty boring and tasteless actually)

• Le Terraza (VERY good – we went twice; the vegetable samosas and chicken burritos are excellent)

• La Aldea del Mar Café (very good – we went twice; great jamaica and the guacamole is to die!)

Cantina Habanero (really great pizza, guacamole and margaritas – we went twice; hi Heidi!)

• Hola Asia (it was really good, and I would go back again)

Tacos.com (really, really fresh and tasty)

• Piccolinas (we didn’t go here till the last day, and I wish we had gone earlier – AMAZING!)

Here are my photos of Puerto Morelos: http://bit.ly/h0Bh5o

One lesson learned: never fly into our out of Cancun on a Friday or – especially – Saturday in March. Oy! We flew out on Saturday, and it took two hours just to check in. We got to the airport three hours before our flight and made it to the gate about 10 minutes before boarding; it was a little frantic. It was the worst airport situation I had ever seen, and I will never do that again. I guess it’s a duh moment, but my schedule made it necessary for us to travel at this time. If we’re ever there in March again, I will definitely fly in and out on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, that’s for sure.

Oh, also, we used the ATM by the bathrooms at the airport when we landed to take out pesos and used those for the entire trip. I see a lot of people asking about using US dollars, but I don’t see the point in not using pesos. I did take other’s advice and opened up a separate checking account with a debit card and used that during the trip, just to be safe. I’ll keep that one open and use it when I travel from now on for a little more peace of mind.

I’ll end with saying we had a really great time, and we will certainly be back. We will probably try staying in the north side of Playa at some point, if we ever go back during a less busy time, but I know Puerto Morelos will always be a base for us. We also hope to explore more inland areas (Valladolid & Mérida) and more southern points (Akumal, Tulum & Cobá). I’ll add more details if I remember anything – and feel free to ask any questions or send me a private message. Definitely go to Puerto Morelos!

Edited: 28 March 2011, 17:22
Boston
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1. Re: Trip Report: Puerto Morelos, QR (Villas Clarita), March 2011

Thank you!!!! Your report was great and very helpful. I hope to go to PM next spring with my husband and two children. We are regulars to Cabo but the 9+ hours travel time from Boston with the kids is just not appealing while they are still young. We are not at all into all-inclusives. I like to stay somewhere central that we can walk to shops/restaurants and see the town and experience the culture. It is very hard to find alot of information/reviews etc. of anything but AI resorts for this area. I'm going to go check out your pictures now! Thanks again for taking the time to write this and help out the non-all inclusive resort travelers :)

Phoenix, Arizona
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2. Re: Trip Report: Puerto Morelos, QR (Villas Clarita), March 2011

Plumboy-your report was perhaps the best trip report I have read about vacationing in PM and I agree with you about the majority of comments on this forum have to do with the AI resorts. Your report was such an interesting read and so full of detail and great information - I found it very helpful in planning our trip tp PM.Thanks

Boston
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3. Re: Trip Report: Puerto Morelos, QR (Villas Clarita), March 2011

I should have waited to reply until I saw your pictures! They are breathtaking! I am 100% convinced this is the place for our next vacation!

Saint James City...
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4. Re: Trip Report: Puerto Morelos, QR (Villas Clarita), March 2011

Thanks for the great trip report. We don't stay at resorts either, whether all inclusive or not.

We had lunch in PM several years ago, I wonder if it's gotten busier since then. It just didn't look like there would be enough restaurants to keep us occupied for a week.

How about beach bars? We're not huge drinkers, but like to find a spot with friendly locals, expats and tourists.

midwest
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5. Re: Trip Report: Puerto Morelos, QR (Villas Clarita), March 2011

Plumboy--congratulations on finding Puerto Morelos. We love it, and it sounds like you did, too. Great, GREAT photos, you have a wonderful eye for color and composition, thanks for posting the link.

JeanH--there are approximately 40 restaurants in PM, enough to try a new one for each meal!

Brooklyn, New York
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6. Re: Trip Report: Puerto Morelos, QR (Villas Clarita), March 2011

Thanks for the feedback. Glad it'll be helpful for some.

There is an actual beach bar in the area where we plopped down everyday. I think it's part of the Manta beach club (I've seen it listed as several names). Anyway, it was a cute little beach shack that opened at 2 pm everyday. We didn't go, but it looked like a cute place to hang out ON the beach. There may be others on the beach, but I don't know.

We're not big drinkers either, so I can only say that Cantina Habanero seemed like one place that would be fun to hang out and have some drinks, talk to the waiters, tourists, expats. It's not on the beach though, but great food. The margaritas are huge.

There are supposedly something like 40 plus restaurants in PM. We barely scratched the surface since we were only eating out one meal a day most days. I think next time, we might spend the first three nights in PM and then head down the coast to Akumal or Tulum for a couple nights and then come back to PM for the end. That would be a nice way to break it up and get some more diversity, but we really didn't get bored in a week there.

Virginia
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7. Re: Trip Report: Puerto Morelos, QR (Villas Clarita), March 2011

That is one great review of PM, and I love love all the pictures and the links you provided! We are going to PM end of April, and are looking forward to checking the town, and going snorkeling! How deep is the water by the reef?

Lakeland, Minnesota
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8. Re: Trip Report: Puerto Morelos, QR (Villas Clarita), March 2011

Wonderful review! I have been to PM already this year but will be going back in 2 weeks and reading your review and seeing the pictures gets me even more excited to get back there.

MN
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9. Re: Trip Report: Puerto Morelos, QR (Villas Clarita), March 2011

What an amazing trip report! Thanks so much for the info on your non-AI experience. Everyone is right, there is very little available on this forum that talks about the condos, etc. Great photos too. Hoping to book my next trip to Mexico in PM!

Brooklyn, New York
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10. Re: Trip Report: Puerto Morelos, QR (Villas Clarita), March 2011

The water out at the reef isn't really that deep at all. I don't know for sure, but it didn't look that far to the bottom at all. I could definitely always see everything on the bottom very clearly.