Some might disagree with the info I'm about to provide, but I think it's important that people get an informed (or at least secondary) opinion before buying suitcase loads of vanilla to bring back to family and friends.
I've just returned from the Iberostar Paraiso Beach, and spent a significant amount of time shopping for Vanilla in, around and all over PDC.
Had I beeen on my own, I would likely have been very happy to have bought any of the brands adorning shelves and counters around town. However I was with my wife. Who happens to be a pastry chef. You can imagine that she knows a bit more about vanilla than the average Joe.
Suffice to say, none of what you buy there is the 'famous Mexican Vanilla'. The best of the best comes from the province of Vera Cruz, I think from a town or county called Papantla. You can't get this in PDC. Maybe in Cancun...but not in playa.
You'll get lots from Xel-ha. Some from Xcaret and other places around the country. But it's of a lesser quality. And after tasting it, I'd go as far as to say it's heavily watered down...and some is artifically sweetened.
This might be a bit of a bummer, and I suppose I should qualify what I've said. I saw nothing on 5th avenue. I saw nothing in gift shops at hotels or on Cozumel. I even dragged my wife out of the tourist area and into the grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience-type shops in the 'local' areas of town. Every person said the same thing - 'you can't get it in this part of the country.'
I'm not trying to burst bubbles or call people liars or anything like that. I just know I would have bought all sorts of the stuff if I hadn't married an expert.
My suggestion? Cancun might be a worthwhile trip where you might the real thing. Alternately, seek high and low for a bottle that proudly proclaims Vera Cruz Vanilla (specifically papantla...I'm nott sure if I'm spelling that correctly). Or (if you really want that baking to come out better than anyone elses at the fair) shell out for the really good stuff - tahitian vanilla. It's something like $100 per litre, but worth every drop. Or so the experts say...