The next day we headed out to have lunch with Jack Perlman, developer of the El Taj. As we strolled down Fifth Avenue — the main strip in Playa del Carmen and a prime location for tourists — Perlman reminisced about his journey that began 20 years ago. He was on his way from Cancún to Cozumel when he missed the ferry in Playa del Carmen. While waiting for the next ferry, Perlman felt at home in Playa and never made it to Cozumel. He began purchasing land and building condo-style hotels. In his New York accent, Perlman recalled his trip to Bali, Indonesia. There he packed up 13 containers and shipped them back to Mexico. These containers held the inspiration for the El Taj. The curves throughout the property and the palm trees that were hollowed out, filled with cement and used to create the majestic pillars on every floor, were part of Jack’s very specific plan to create the most luxurious hotel in Mexico.

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Mexico, Playa del Carmen
Mark Lewis

We listened to mariachis at the Mi Pueblo restaurant while we ate our fill of a traditional Mexican feast. Each course consisted of comfort foods, including molcajete de arrachera, which I cut with a fork, and sopa de tortilla (tortilla soup), which had chunks of avocado and was topped with fresh cheese.

After we stuffed ourselves at lunch, my husband and I parted from Perlman and headed back down Fifth Avenue toward the Hacienda Tequila museum. Alberto, one of the tequila experts, happily poured samples of tequilas from around the world. Shoppers wandered through the store that, according to Alberto, houses over 750 types of tequila, not to mention rum from Cuba and other classic favorites. The front of the store offered souvenirs, including ceramic shot glasses, coasters made from sand and Mayan art and sculptures. Of course, for those who are interested in tasting more than just a few tequilas, I recommend heading down to the corner of Fifth Avenue and Constituyentes Avenue to the Tequila Town cantina and store, where you’ll find the ultimate in tequila sampling.