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Destination Events in the Mayan Riviera, 2019

Jambands in the Yucatan, 2019 edition

The saga continues: popular U.S. bands putting on three- or four-day music festivals at all-inclusive resorts in the Mayan Riviera.

Sure, they’re expensive, but these resorts are expensive any time of the year, with their private beaches, all-you-can-eat restaurants, and non-stop booze. Unfortunately you can’t buy single tickets for just one day, only all-inclusive packages.

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Maybe that’s why, for the first time since I’ve been paying attention (three years now), many of these events aren’t sold out yet. So, if you like these bands, take a look at the prices of tickets on their websites.

Most events are put on by CID Presents at the Barceló resort just south of Playa del Carmen. Widespread Panic plays at the Hard Rock Resort (not the restaurant in the hotel zone in Cancun), which has hosted other destination events in the past, like Santana, although there are no other events listed on their website, not even Panic en la Playa.

If you’re planning on going, I highly recommend that you stay a few more days in the area. You’ve already paid for the flight, so why not get a cheap hotel in Playa del Carmen or Tulum? Although most of the packages offer the option to pay for an extra night or two in the resort, the prices are pretty high. A modest but clean and safe hotel elsewhere should cost between $20-60 USD.

Plus, three days is plenty of time in a resort. There’s not much to do besides lay on the beach, drink, and eat mediocre resort meals. It’s nice to get out into real Mexico for some better food choices and authentic experiences. Besides, with a tranquil atmosphere and all the free booze you want, leaving the resort can be hard, and there’s so much to see and do in the Mayan Riviera.

In previous years (2017 and 2018) I mostly wrote about the shows, but at the end of this article I’ll give some suggestions on what to do and where to stay. But first, here they are for 2019:

January 17-19, 2019

Playin’ in the Sand: Dead & Company, Dumpstaphunk, and more

http://playinginthesand.com

January 23-26, 2019

Luke Bryan’s Crash My Playa, with lots of other country artists, an exception to the other events featuring jambands and DJs

http://crashmyplaya.com

January 25-29, 2019

Panic en la Playa: Widespread Panic, with the North Missisippi Allstars and jamband supergroups

http://panicenlaplaya.com

February 15-17, 2019

Dave Mathews and Tim Reynolds, along with solo Warren Haynes and other guests

https://daveandtimrivieramaya.com

February 21-23, 2019

Phish returns for their third year at the Barceló, after skipping 2018.

https://www.phishrivieramaya.com

(You can download a free compilation of songs from Phish’s previous shows in Mexico here.)

February 27-March 2, 2019

DJ Bassnectar headlines three nights of DJs, including the Glitch Mob, during Dejavoom.

https://dejavoom.com

March 13-16, 2019

Odeza and many more at the Sundara Music Festival

https://sundarafestival.com

April 24-28, 2019

Art With Me in Tulum, featuring Michael Franti, is more than a music festival, but in their words offers “programming across seven core pillars encompassing art, sustainability, music, wellness, culinary, and family as a platform to inspire change.”

http://www.theconfluencegroup.com/ArtWithMe/

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Places to see and things to do in the Mayan Riviera

The location of the resorts between Playa del Carmen and Tulum means that you’ll be surrounded by cool places to visit like party towns, secluded beaches, ancient ruins, and freshwater swimming holes surrounded by dense jungle.

You can arrange adventures to many of these at the resorts, or you can do it yourself. I recommend doing it yourself—it won’t only be much cheaper, but possibly more fun, because you won’t be constrained for time and won’t be part of a large group.

To go anywhere you want, simply walk out of the resort to the main road and flag down a white passenger van. Called colectivos, they travel all day long, and for cheap—usually between 20 and 60 pesos ($1-3 USD). Not every white van you’ll see is a colectivo, but wave at them all and eventually one is bound to stop.

Wait on the same side of the road as the resort (assuming your resort is on the sea, like the Barceló and Hard Rock) for all points north on the way to Playa del Carmen, or cross the road to catch colectivos going south, ending at Tulum.

If you want to go farther north than Playa del Carmen, to Cancun for instance, you can transfer colectivos easily. The colectivos for Cancun leave from the same block from where the colectivo lets you off in Playa.

Playa del Carmen is my first suggestion for an afternoon visit. Running parallel to the beach for several kilometers is the pedestrian street Quinta Avenida—5th Avenue. It’s lined with restaurants, bars, overpriced souvenir shops, shopping malls, and more, with the beach just beyond. Public drinking is unofficially allowed in Playa, so you can buy a beer or two from a convenience store and walk around, soaking it all in.

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To the south, Tulum refers to three distinct places—the Mayan Ruins, the small town on the highway, and the beach that’s outside of the town. The town is perfectly nice, but a little far from the beach (ten-minute taxi ride or a walk of at least an hour), and not nearly as interesting as Playa del Carmen. The beach is huge and gorgeous, and easily accessible from the ruins.

The most famous ancient city in the Mayan Riviera is Chichen Itza, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Sure, it’s spectacular, but if you only have time to visit one archeological site, go to Tulum. The area and the structures aren’t nearly as large as Chichen Itza, but Tulum has a nicer location on limestone cliffs overlooking the turquoise Caribbean. It’s also much closer to the resorts, only about 30 minutes away by colectivo.

Chichen Itza is too far away to get to on public transportation (three or four hours) and still be able return to the resort in time for the evening’s concert. If you’re really set on going to Chichen Itza, do it with the resort tour, or if you stay extra days, do it on your own when there isn’t a concert later that day.

After Playa del Carmen and the Tulum ruins, the next can’t-miss experience would be a cenote, the freshwater sinkholes that lead to the extensive system of ancient caverns found everywhere underground in the Yucatan Peninsula. You can swim, snorkel, or scuba dive in the cenotes. (For scuba diving, visit a dive shop in Tulum or Playa del Carmen.)

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Visiting a cenote couldn’t be easier—there are five across the street from the Barceló, with three all in a line right on the highway: Cenote Cristiliano, Jardin del Eden Cenotes, and Cenote Azul. They all have low entrance fees of between 100-200 pesos.

These smaller cenote operations are a good alternative to the huge ecoparks you’ll see advertised everywhere: Xel-Ha, Xcaret, and Xplor. These are big complexes with cenotes, adventure activities, cultural shows, and all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffets. Sure, go if you want, but you’ll pay for it (about $100 USD per person), and you have free food and booze in your resort anyway. Check the prices on their websites for discounts before you pay for it at your resort.

If you want to visit different beaches, I recommend two nearby: Xpu-ha immediately south of the Barceló and Akumal on the way to Tulum. Xpu-ha is long and nearly virgin, without the restaurant and resort development on other beaches. It’s perfect for a long, peaceful walk on the powdery sand.

Akumal is famous for snorkeling with sea turtles, with several routes in the sea marked with buoys and ropes. You can rent a snorkel and life jacket right there (life jackets are required), or bring your own. Take the colectivo to Tulum to get to Akumal. Though more expensive, Akumal is a good alternative to Playa del Carmen or Tulum for a place to stay after the shows, especially if you want calm and quiet.

And yes, there’s even more to see in the Mayan Riviera! Like I said, think about getting a cheap hotel in Playa del Carmen or Tulum after the concerts. Or, if you really want some relaxing beach time, check out Isla Mujeres north of Cancun.

Shameless plug: I wrote a guidebook about the Mayan Riviera with details to these and many more places. Click the book below or this link: Cancun and Mayan Riviera 5-Day Itinerary

Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial

(paid link)

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But you don’t have to buy my book—please ask any questions in the comments. See you at Phish!

Destination Events in the Mayan Riviera, 2018

Jambands in the Yucatan, 2018 edition

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A year ago I wrote about something really cool: U.S. bands putting on multi-day concerts at resorts in the Mayan Riviera.

With support acts and a beautiful natural setting, these shows have a lot in common with U.S. music festivals. In fact, many of the bands are festival mainstays, especially jamband festivals. Time-tested road warriors like Widespread Panic and My Morning Jacket are known for long, multi-set, dynamic concerts with unique setlists, making them perfect for both festivals and destination events.

The big difference, of course, is that at a resort you won’t be sweating like crazy in a stuffy tent full of your drunken friends, lining up for filthy porta-potties, or surviving on veggie burritos and lukewarm beer.

Instead, you’ll stay at a sprawling, super-luxury complex with all the food and drinks you want, on a private white-sand beach and the stage a short walk from your hotel room, if not within view of the balcony.

Hell yeah. Sounds awesome. Ok, I’ll admit, I’ve ever been to one, at least not yet. Well, not through the front door, hahaha. (That’s another story.)

These shows aren’t cheap, that’s for sure. If you look at the Facebook pages for these events, you’ll see plenty of complains, mostly about price. The fact is that these resorts cost a lot anyway, any time of year, even without a great band playing. But there’s no denying that they are expensive. For instance, my wife and I saw five shows of Phish’s Baker’s Dozen last summer, staying in New York for a full week. Our modest but nice hotel was a short walk from Madison Square Garden. Even with all the restaurants and bars we patronized, it was still cheaper than the three-day Phish event at the Mayan Riviera. (Which would have felt even more expensive to me, because I typically stay at small hotels in nearby Playa del Carmen for about $20 USD a night.)

On the other hand, if you really love music and have the money, what could be better than watching your favorite band while standing in powder-soft sand with gentle lukewarm waves lapping at your ankles?

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This year, 2018, January and February will be busy months. The events are at either the Hard Rock Resort (not the restaurant in the hotel zone in Cancun) or put on by CID Presents at the Barceló. Both resorts are between Playa del Carmen and Tulum on the Mayan Riviera, an hour or two south of Cancun.

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I’ve listed the shows below, although for general interest more than anything else, considering that most of them are sold out already. So if your favorite is sold out, check out the photos, prices and all other info, and start planning for next year.

If you’re going to one of these shows and want some tips about the area, check out the article I wrote last year. I give some advice about getting out of the resort and checking out the fascinating and gorgeous surrounding areas, which have secluded beaches, Mayan ruins, colonial towns, and clear-water limestone sinkholes called cenotes.

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Or (shameless plug), you could buy my guidebook, the Cancun and Mayan Riviera 5-Day Itinerary, written for the independent traveler who likes the beach but also wants some culture:

From Amazon:

Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial

(paid link)

I’ll be happy to answer any questions in the comments, however.

Here’s the list for 2018:

January 12-14, 2018

Dave Mathews and Tim Reynolds

http://daveandtimrivieramaya.com/the-event

Dave and Tim come up first in early January.

January 17-20, 2018

Crash My Playa: Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Sam Hunt, many more

http://crashmyplaya.com

Sure, country isn’t a jamband, but this 4-day event deserves mention.

January 26-30, 2018

Panic en la Playa: Widespread Panic, with various jamband supergroups

http://panicenlaplaya.com

This is the seventh edition of WSP’s big party. Unknown in Mexico, Widespread Panic was one of my favorite bands in the ‘90s, and they’re still going strong.

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(Side note: Beach Vibes with LCD Soundsystem was originally announced for these dates, but it was cancelled last summer.)

January 31-February 4, 2018

The Avett Brothers at the Beach: The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, John Prine, more

http://avettsatthebeach.com

Look no further for than this for some excellent U.S. roots rock, including legendary John Prine.

February 15-19, 2018

Playing in the Sand: Dead & Company, Michael Franti & Spearhead, more

http://playinginthesand.com

Last year the surviving members of the Grateful Dead, along with the String Cheese Incident, hosted Los Muertos Con Queso. This year they return in a different format: their collaboration with John Mayer (among others) in Dead & Company.

March 2-6, 2018

One Big Holiday (Dominican Republic)

My Morning Jacket, Portugal the Man, Broken Social Scene, Toots & the Maytals, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, more

mmjonebigholiday.com

Although this took place in the Mayan Riviera last year, in 2018 it’s in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Nice place I’m sure.

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Finally, if you’re into classic rock, check later for Rock Getaway, which happened on October 26-29 in 2017 with Santana and many more. There’s no announcement yet for 2018 dates, but the website is up and ready.

Thanks for reading, and if you’re going to any of these, I would love to hear from you.

Jambands in the Yucatan, 2017: Ideas and Advice

The word got out: The Mayan Riviera is an awesome place for multi-night concerts at all-inclusive resorts. Widespread Panic has played the Hard Rock Resort five times already; Phish is coming back for a second time, perhaps starting a tradition; and early next year you can add two members of the Grateful Dead to the list of jamband luminaries throwing a party on the warm beaches of the Mexican Caribbean coast.

no hay bronca tulum ruins and sea

These three- or four-day events, played by bands that don’t repeat songs from night to night (just in case you aren’t familiar with jambands), sell out pretty quickly, and they aren’t cheap, that’s for sure. Other bands may or may not be on the bill; My Morning Jacket’s One Big Holiday has Gary Clark Jr., among others, while Phish is the only band performing at their second Mayan Riviera fiesta, which is the norm for Phish festivals.

If you’re coming, then a clearly-marked shuttle bus will pick you up at the Cancun airport and take you straight to your hotel. Hard Rock, Barceló, and the rest are enormous vacation villages with pristine beachfronts, big swimming pools, and all-you-can-eat-and-drink restaurants and bars. You could never leave the resort and still have a great time.

If you do want to leave, however, these resorts are surrounded by the beautiful natural areas and wild party towns of the Mayan Riviera. Most resorts (Hard Rock, Barceló) are between Playa del Carmen to the north and the seaside Mayan ruins of Tulum to the south.

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Getting Around the Mayan Riviera

Your resort should have a shuttle to take you where you want to go (maybe free, probably not). If you don’t mind paying a little more money, you could ask the front desk to call a taxi, although public transportation is cheap and easy to use.

Simply walk out the front gates to the highway, make sure you’re on the correct side of the road, and wave down any passing bus or white passenger van (called colectivos). Not all will stop, but when one does, tell the driver your destination and watch for signs so you’ll know when to get off. Colectivos are cheap: most trips will be around 30 or 40 pesos, which with a favorable exchange rate is between one and two U.S. dollars.

Don’t take a tour to Tulum. Go on your own. Leave early and hop on a colectivo. That way you can avoid the crowds and take your time swimming under the ruins at one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, certainly in Mexico, which often appears on “Top X Beaches” lists.

The colectivos going south first pass the Tulum ruins and then enter Tulum town down the road. The town has some good restaurants and a pleasant atmosphere, but not much else, and it’s far from the beach. To get to big, beautiful Tulum beach (not the little one under the ruins), walk 15 or 20 minutes through the jungle from the Tulum ruins.

no-hay-bronca-jambands-tulum-map

Colectivos going north will take you to Playa del Carmen. (From there it’s an easy transfer for Cancun.) In Playa, the area where the colectivos stop is two blocks from Quinta Ave (5th Ave.), the main pedestrian street full of bars and restaurants that follows the beach. Come here after the shows to party ’til sunrise.

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Downtown Cancun isn’t too exciting, but it has some interesting markets and nice parks. To go to the beach in Cancun, take a local bus to the Hotel Zone (Zona Hotelera), which is a long, thin island of white-sand beach and big resorts.

Another nice day trip from Cancun is to Isla Mujeres, where laid-back beaches with views of the mainland await. Ferries leave from two terminals in Puerto Juárez just north of downtown Cancun (take a taxi), or there’s a more expensive ferry from the Hotel Zone.

Shorter colectivo rides from the resorts can take you to less developed beaches (Xpu-Ha is the closest and just south of the Barcelo) and cenotes, the underground caves and sinkholes with fresh, clear water for swimming or scuba diving.

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If you’re staying at the Barcelo, there are four cenote parks right across the street, including Cenote Cristiliano and Cenote Azul, the two closest ones. Just walk out the front gates and cross the street. They are much cheaper (100 to 200 pesos) than the big adventure parks advertised everywhere with funny names like Xel-Ha and Xcaret.

(By the way, the x in words like Xpu-ha and Xel-ha is pronounced like sh.)

These huge adventure parks have ziplines, beaches, and cenotes, along with big buffets and shows. The resorts will offer to sell you a ticket and take you there, but be sure to compare with the prices on their websites and then take a colectivo. They’re cool places, but I think you’d have more fun and a more authentic experience at one of the lower-key cenotes nearby. I mean, you already have a buffet, right?

Sneaking In?

Well, sorry to burst your bubble of enthusiasm, but my first piece of advice is don’t do it, especially if you don’t speak Spanish. Although Mexican law states that all beaches are public land and therefore must be accessible to everyone, these resorts don’t seem to respect the rules, as their beaches are isolated and surrounded by jungle and rocky terrain. Yes, there’s crocs in them streams (not their Floridian second cousin the alligator), and the resorts are heavily fortified compounds with tight security.

If you’re determined to sneak in, however, I have another piece of advice for you: Offer no resistance to the security officers if you get caught. Don’t try to run past them and don’t bother attempting to talk your way out of it. Unless you’re prepared to offer a bribe (which they may take and still not let you in), do what they say and leave immediately.

In Mexico, especially as a tourist, you have zero rights. Although the security officers probably won’t rob you or beat you up—this part of Mexico has too many foreign visitors for that—they could easily have you arrested and thrown in jail. In fact, I heard that a few people went to jail for trying to sneak into Phish last year.

Again, despite beaches being public land, in practice you can’t really argue the finer points of Mexican law with six angry security guards tapping the guns and handcuffs on their belts.

Just save your money and go another time. It’s not like Phish, Widespread Panic and the rest don’t play your hometown or darn close to it at least once a year anyway. (Unlike poor me living in B.F.E. Mexico—but I did make it to Dick’s last year.)

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Thoughts on Price

This brings me to a common complaint about these shows: too expensive. For sure it would be awesome if Phish played a big festival in Mexico with regularly-priced tickets, like Vive Latino in Mexico City or Cumbre Tajin in Veracruz. (I saw Tool, Primus, Jack Johnson, and more at Cumbre Tajin a couple years ago, by the way.) Phish has very few fans in Mexico, and if they played a festival like one of those, they would instantly create tens of thousands.

But these festivals are in the middle of the country. I imagine that Phish and the other bands want to play shows in Mexico because they want to play next to the ocean, with palm trees swaying and the breeze breezing. Trey wouldn’t have written “Breath and Burning” otherwise.

Sure, these resorts are expensive—they’re expensive even without a popular foreign band playing there. And think about it, when Phish comes to play, it’s not just the dudes in the band and a few guitars, but planeloads of gear. I mean, last year they had so many lights, including big ones over the ocean, that they had to bring in a second lightman, the guy from Umphrey’s Mcgee.

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So of course these resort shows aren’t cheap. What do you expect? That the bands would find some empty beach nearby and set up everything themselves, and their massive fanbase (most of whom don’t speak Spanish) would find their own hotels and transportation to the shows? Sure, it’s possible, by why go through the headache, especially when plenty of fans don’t mind paying and look forward to eating whatever they want and drinking top-shelf tequila all morning, day, and night long.

Whatever the price, the shows are happening and will keep on happening. I won’t be going to any this year (too expensive for my Mexican university teacher’s salary, especially with the terrible exchange rates for the peso), but those who do, you’ll for sure have a great time.

Here’s the list for 2017:

January 13-15

Phish: http://www.phishrivieramaya.com

January 25-28

Los Muertos con Queso (Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann from the Grateful Dead, String Cheese Incident, more): http://losmuertosconqueso.com

February 4-8

My Morning Jacket (with Gary Clark Jr., among other guests): http://mmjonebigholiday.com

February 9-10

The Avett Brothers  (with Jason Isbell, among other guests): http://avettsatthebeach.com

February 23-25

Dave Mathews and Tim Reynolds: http://daveandtimrivieramaya.com/the-event

February 27-March 3

Widespread Panic: http://panicenlaplaya.com

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Final Tip

One last piece of advice. If you can, spend a few more days in Playa del Carmen before or after the shows. You’ve already paid for the plane ticket, hotels and restaurants are cheap, the place is awesome, and there’s a even a huge electronic music festival—the BPM Festival—in the clubs and beaches from January 6-15. Even if you don’t like EDM, the scene is wild.

In Playa you can find decent hotels a block or two from the beach for as low as $20 or $30 USD a night. The Mexican peso is low and getting lower against the U.S. dollar, meaning automatic discounts on everything. You can chill in Playa and have an excellent base for visiting all the places you didn’t visit because you were too busy getting shwilly in the Barcelo pool, like the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza.

(Chichen Itza is too far for a day trip anyway, at least without a rental car and a really early start. Don’t take a tour to Chichen Itza—go by yourself when you have a free day. On the tours you spend more time on the bus than at the ruins, and you get herded around like kindergarteners on a field trip. The best way to see it is to stay in the colonial town Valladolid the night before.)

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Shameless plug: I wrote a guide to the region that describes all of these places in detail. You’ll save its low price the first time you follow my advice for a hotel, restaurant, bus or colectivo. (And I’ll spend the money I make on the guide in NYC for the Baker’s Dozen, thank you very much.)

Please click on the book below or the link for more information. If you just have a quick question, I’ll be happy to answer it in the comments.

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