As first time visitors to Playa del Carmen in Mexico, my husband and I struggled with finding affordable activities which we would also enjoy. Of course, we wanted to see the Mayan ruins and visit local shops, eateries and markets – but how could we know whom to trust? The larger companies offering tours seemed to prey on the fact that we were strangers in a foreign company, offering us little for a lot of money. For example, for almost $200 each we would board a large bus full of strangers, set out to the ruins, be given a lunch and taken home later on that evening. It often seems to be the only choice for tourists who allow the hotel to push these tours on you. However, considering there are three main ruins in the region – Tulum, Coba and Chichen Itza – that would mean spending $1200 if we wanted to see all three. Not to mention the fact that we had no control over the day’s events including where we would stop or what we would eat. After going ahead with one of the large tours for Chichen Itza my husband and I felt swindled. They took us to a nice location however, we had to wait nearly 4 hours at a hotel in between the actual tour (which we were rushed through) and the evening light show, with nothing to do except walk the grounds. I knew I wanted to see Coba and Tulum but refused to spend two full days and nearly $800 on what I felt could be condensed into a single day’s trip. My husband did not feel comfortable renting a car so what were we to do? A chance encounter in a Playacar taxi turned up the best private tour in the region, run by Israel Olvera Carrillo.
We met Israel in his taxi after we took a trip to the local Playacar supermarket for some inexpensive souvenirs. His vehicle, a smooth and clean SUV style car, was roomy and cool. Israel spoke excellent English – far superior to many other taxi drivers we encountered – and he was personable and friendly. After viewing his tour books we decided on a private tour. For less than $200 total (as of December 2010), Israel would pick us up from our hotel, take us out to see the Coba ruins, the Tulum ruins and anywhere we wanted to go. He even had some special locations he wanted to show us, but only if we wanted to. I could hardly believe that we would be getting a private tour for less than the price of a single ticket in a large bus operation.
The next morning Israel promptly picked us up at our Playacar hotel, which is just south of Playa del Carmen. On our way out to Coba Israel spoke to us about the region, the growth of the area and the tourism. We discussed the cenote, or natural water pool, he could take us to if we wanted. The pictures were amazing – naturally clear water in a cave-like setting. Once we arrived at Coba Israel told us to take our time – there was no schedule and no rush. We biked up to Coba, I climbed to the top and we made our way back to Israel who was waiting for us in the parking lot. Although we had been gone for over an hour he was still smiling, upbeat and friendly.My husband and I felt like he truly enjoyed his job and loved his beautiful country.
Israel asked us if we would like to try a classic Mexican drink – coconut water straight out of the coconut. We said yes and he took us to a stand on the side of the road. We watched as the seller used his machete to chop the tops right off the coconuts. They were cool and refreshing and although we took them in the car with us, we were invited to relax and stay. When finished with the coconut water the person operating the stand would chop up the meat for us. Instead, we decided to keep moving but we deeply appreciated the friendliness.
On our way to Tulum I spotted a souvenir on the side of the road that I had been searching for. Israel stopped right away, no problem and told us if there was anything else we wanted to just let him know. This accommodation and makes up part of the reason Israel’s private taxi tour is the best in Tulum, Playa del Carmen or anywhere in the Mayan Riviera.
The next stop, a Mayan village, is another large reason I consider Israel’s tour to be the best in the Playa del Carmen. Israel took us to visit a Mayan home where we could view a traditional Mayan way of life. They had animals that I have never seen before and a small monkey named Natasha, who loved to sip Coca-Cola. One of the girls spoke of being in the film Apocolypto, and Israel told us about a teacher in the village who also appeared in Mel Gibson’s movie. We purchased a handmade necklace from one of the girls and I took my picture with them. One of the most important things I learned about the culture is the genuine happiness that the Mayan and Mexican people of the region possess. Everyone went out of their way to make us feel welcome – it was truly a unique experience that most people from other countries would not expect to find in Mexico.
Israel’s tour then continued to Tulum, where we saw the most gorgeous of the Mayan ruins. Set right on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the Tulum ruins are a sight to see. We took our time as we did at Coba and found Israel waiting for us in the parking lot. By now, we were starving and we asked Israel to take us to an authentic local eatery. We wanted to try one but were afraid, as many tourists are, of getting sick. Israel knew the perfect location to take us – El Camillo, “The Camel”.
We spoke little Spanish and the workers little English but Israel helped us with our orders. We invited him to eat with us and felt it was only right considering what a gracious host he has been to tourists in his country. The restaurant accommodated my vegetarian needs and my husband ordered coconut fried shrimp. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and Israel told us more about his country and the Mayans as we ate. The price of the meal was so little that it definitely did not make up for the difference we would have paid had we gotten a “free” meal with a large bus tour.
Overall, I have to say that this experience was truly one of the best days of our entire 2-week trip to Mexico and I have no affiliation with Israel’s tour service whatsoever. It can be difficult to plan a trip without knowing the culture, the region or the people. I strongly recommend Israel Olvera Carrillo’s private taxi tour service for anyone traveling to Tulum, Playacar, Playa del Carmen, Coba or any of the surrounding areas such as Cancun and the general Mayan Riviera. Israel can pick you up at the airport or arrange travel for you. His services are so welcoming that you will truly feel like you are not a tourist. The price of the tour is so inexpensive for what you get; we made sure to tip Israel for his outstanding service and suggest you do the same. Even though we spent our own money on lunch and on the entrance fees to the ruins (Less than $10 each) we saved a lot of money by booking with Israel’s private tour. Regardless of the savings this tour was far more enjoyable than any larger bus tour or excursion.
If you have any questions about the best private taxi tour in Playa del Carmen please feel free to inquire with Israel directly at [email protected] or 52-984-151-6017. You are also welcome to email me with any questions you may have regarding my review or trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico.