Dispatch, Playa del Carmen: Heading downtown

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Destinations Editor Eric Moya was in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, from Sept. 18 to 21 to attend the Destination Britain Americas trade show at the Paradisus Playa del Carmen. His second and final dispatch follows. Click to read Eric's first dispatch.

I was short on free time at Destination Britain Americas, like most of the attendees. Seminars, appointments and interviews left little room on my schedule to explore the grounds of the Paradisus Playa del Carmen, let alone what lay beyond.

Still, one evening I was able to check out Calle 12 and Avenida 5 downtown, the city's main shopping and nightlife district. In an extravagant use of time, if not money, I opted to make the 3-mile walk from the resort -- much to the skepticism of the guard posted at the Paradisus' ample security wall, who was apparently not accustomed to pedestrian traffic. (The cab ride back was 100 pesos, or about $6 under current exchange rates; I tipped another 50, grateful for not paying the 300 pesos a fellow conference attendee had.) It was a hot, humid day, so along the way I stopped for a michelada (beer with Bloody Mary mix).

I'd never been to Playa del Carmen, but it was nonetheless a familiar scene: kiosks for adventure tours, the Xcaret theme park and other attractions. (The neon-green-clad agents for the Coco Bongo nightclub/stage show -- "Puts Vegas nightlife to shame"! -- had a particularly strong presence.) Outposts of American Apparel, Forever 21, Victoria's Secret and other familiar brands. Souvenir shops selling shot glasses, T-shirts ... other things.

Food options, too, were fairly routine for a beach town: sushi, tacos, pizza, burgers. But Yaxche piqued my interest with its promise of regional cuisine. I ordered cochinita pibil: pork marinated in achiote paste and citrus juices, wrapped in banana leaves before roasting and served shredded.

Time-strapped as I was, I enjoyed this small sampling of Mayan culture. After all, this was -- chain stores and cheesy clubs aside -- the Riviera Maya.

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