Posted by Ted Campbell
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.
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.
January 17-19, 2019
Playin’ in the Sand: Dead & Company, Dumpstaphunk, and more
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
January 25-29, 2019
Panic en la Playa: Widespread Panic, with the North Missisippi Allstars and jamband supergroups
February 15-17, 2019
Dave Mathews and Tim Reynolds, along with solo Warren Haynes and other guests
February 21-23, 2019
Phish returns for their third year at the Barceló, after skipping 2018.
(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.
March 13-16, 2019
Odeza and many more at the Sundara Music Festival
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.”
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.
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.)
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
But you don’t have to buy my book—please ask any questions in the comments. See you at Phish!
Posted by Ted Campbell
Well it’s been almost a week now since the legendary Phish shows at the Barceló resort in the Mayan Riviera, about 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. Here are some pics from the “cheap seats” on the beach.
Story to follow. . .