A few years back during my first visit to the Yucatan I stayed at the Mayan Riveria resort, located halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Our time share room was courtesy of a relative. While immaculately landscaped and filled with friendly staff it didn’t appeal to me in the least. In short – too perfect. I just don’t care places that are the gargantuan scale of Las Vegas casinos, and the Mexican time share megaresorts are the equivalent. Minus the gambling that is. If you need to learn the golf cart tram schedule to get around it’s simply too big.
My most enjoyable stays have been in small guest houses I’ve found online after scouring reviews, local listings, and personal travel blogs. The work usually pays off. Fortunately during the same trip I also found the Luz en Yucatan over in Merida, and also explored Puerto Morelos, a small village halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. If you’re looking for seclusion Morelos is a beautiful village yet close to everything along the coast, including Cancun.
On the subject of growing too big for enjoyment, that’s the assessment many folks currently hold on Playa del Carmen. People who have been regulars or visitors for 20 years are now seeing a progressive increase in construction, including resorts inside the city limits which eat up multiple blocks. I happen to like Playa del Carmen, perhaps because I see it in the present rather than the days it was just a small fishing village. It also makes a great launching point for truly getting off the beaten path with easy access to Tulum and points south, and west to the villages and old towns of the inland Yucatan Peninsula.
Despite the encroaching developments the city is still “people-scale,” and it’s easy to get around by walking, bike, or a quick taxi ride. Many small hotels and guest houses are found in Playa del Carmen, allowing you to fully aborb the beach and the town, without being isolated in a ostentatious and isolated time share 20 miles in the middle of nowhere.
Hotel Banana sits on the north end of town. They recently changed their name, so a search brings up their former name “Fiesta Banana” as well. Not only am I thankful I found this hotel, but also the neighborhood. It’s quiet and the location borders a residential area to the north and west. Further south you’re surrounded by non-stop merchants, nightlife, and tourists that populate Calle Quinta (the 5th Street pedestrian mall.)
The rooms in Hotel Banana are similar to most medium range small to medium size hotels in Mexico, in that Americans would consider them spartan, furnished simply with the basics. However much effort goes into the common areas and courtyards, which are usually filled with lush trees, comfortable sitting areas, and promote open air socializing and relaxation rather than staying cooped up in your room.
Hotel Banana has three floors with an open air sitting/breakfast area on the second floor. The location can’t be beat, and it’s quiet with little traffic or pedestrian noise at night. That’s not the case south on the busier parts of 5th. It’s about a five block walk down to the beach, which is closer than you’ll get staying at other large “beachfront” resorts.
The staff is friendly and always ready to help. My Mom made friends with the housekeeping ladies and locals from the dive shop during her hours spent reading on the second floor. Despite the language barrier they enjoyed each other’s company, and since my mom has been on a crocheting spree she knocked out some potholders for them.
My only suggestion would be to offer a bit more for breakfast. Currently the breakfast is just toast with nutella, and fresh coffee with juice. But if you need more there’s a small cafe on the first floor run by some Italians who really love soccer.
On a related note, I do enjoy having a kitchen for longer stays. The Hotel Banana lacks any suites, however some rooms have fridges and there’s plenty of inexpensive markets and cafes nearby. I just returned yesterday from Puerto Vallarta, doing the beach with some friends. (My Hotel Banana stay was in December.) I stopped for pizza at Wyman’s #5 en route home from the airport, and the waitress told me about a small condo in Playa del Carmen that she absolutely loves. However I was so tired I didn’t remember the name, but may research it further. If she’s reading this perhaps she can post. Occasionally I’ll be sitting at a diner here in Denver and I’ll see people whispering while pointing at me – then one will walk up and say “Excuse me, but are you the Future Gringo?” and want a photo. ok that never happens, but it’s a joke amongst my friends and coworkers.
Another great resort that is comparable to Hotel Banana is Hotel Del Arco Cabo, located in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.