The hubs and I recently went on an amazing trip to Tulum, Mexico. Prior to December 2016, I had never even heard of Tulum. My friend started telling me about how they had already booked an Air B&B, and asked us if we wanted to join them. Of course I couldn't turn that down! My husband and I had NEVER been on a trip together without our kids. We didn't even go on a honeymoon. Crazy right?!? So after some negotiations for childcare for said kids we were all ready to enjoy our first beach vacation. The friends that we traveled with are experienced world travelers which definitely helped put us at ease. I personally have never even left the county. (Unless you count that one time I drove across the border to Canada with my dad. Yeah, no that doesn't count.) So it was time to get those passports and start working on that beach body (yeah um about that...) For our trip we flew on a direct flight from Houston to Cancun. From Cancun we rented a most excellent mini van and drove south to Tulum. The drive took about 1.5 hours. From all the studying I had done it looked like the road from Cancun to Tulum would be a gorgeous drive right along the beach. But in reality there was a strip of dense jungle between us and the water so the views were pretty much non existent. It was an interesting drive though with lots to see. Like signs of Mayan towns that were impossible to pronounce, the biggest speed bumps I've ever seen, entrances to fancy resorts outside of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, and lots of Policia. We got into Tulum right after the sun had gone down, and it was HOPPING! I really expected s very sleepy village but there were people and store fronts everywhere it seemed. We met with the other two members of our party that were sharing the house with us and followed them back to the casa. The house was just as beautiful as it had been in the Air B&B listing. We chose our bedrooms, unloaded our luggage, and cracked open a refreshing cerveza while we decided what to do for dinner. I had done lots of research on Pinterest about things to do in Tulum so I became our unofficial tour guide. We decided to eat dinner at El Camello Jr. It was recommended and close to our house, winner! Our dinner was delicious, fast and very filling. We each had a shot of Mezcal which none of us were very pleased with. Dinner itself was quite tasty though. There happened to be a carnival going on at the time we were there, so we walked down the street to check it out. Our fist stop was at the games, but none of us had any luck. We milled around for a while and wished we had not just eaten so we could have tried some of the street foods available. It was a great immersion into the local culture. Everyone was VERY friendly and we had a great time doing as the locals do.
The next day we decided to head to the beach. That was why we were there after all. My research had not prepared me for the onslaught of boutique hotels. There are literally hundreds of them all packed in tight together and public beach access is at a minimum. We drove down the beach road a ways, avoiding pedestrians, bikers, and crazy taxi drivers, until we arrived at a less crowded stretch. We parked on the side of the road and approached the beach club right there. I was one of the newer eco chic clubs with only camping. But they did have a bar and restaurant and for $40 of food/beverage consumption we were able to lodge in their beds as long as we wanted. Since this was our first day on the beach we were perfectly happy to be beach bums all day. Stupidly, we applied sunscreen at the beach and all we had was a spay pump type bottle. Needless to say coverage was a bit spotty and we ended up with the most messed up sunburn imaginable! We were much more careful after that! The water and the beach were gorgeous and we had a sun filled day soaking it all in. Tulum could be easily separated into two very different places. The beach road and the town. Everything along the beach road is boutique style cabanas, hotels, and restaurants. Each one is operated as a beach club and for a minimum consumption (usually around $40) you could lay in their beach furniture. But it is all resort prices. Expect to easily spend $75-$150 each day hanging out here. We were frugal on food and ordered appetizers or shared a meal anytime we ate on the beach. Our Air B&B was in Tulum town, so we ended up eating most of our meals in town. This was MUCH more affordable and there was no shortage of delicious food, drinks, and culture. The next day we visited the Tulum ruins. Personally if was neat to see but you can't actually get too close to any of the structures and there is very little shade. So after we walked around a bit and saw the main buildings we were ready to cool off. We headed to Grand Cenote which was just a short drive down the road. Grand Cenote did not disappoint. It was beautiful and refreshing. We brought our own snorkel gear but you can rent it there as well. While snorkeling we saw lots of fish ad turtles. The water was crystal clear and the most beautiful blue I've ever seen. It was not very crowded and we had a lovely afternoon swimming in the cool water. After a few hours here we were getting quite hungry and there was only a small convenience type store available so we packed up and headed back to the beach. We stopped at Mateo's first. It was one of the highly recommended restaurants along the jungle side of the beach road. The beach road consists mainly of beach clubs on the beach side and a few restaurants on what is referred to as the judge side. Mateo's had come highly recommended for the fish tacos and it did NOT disappoint. They were absolutely delicious! I also had an amazing cocktail with cucumber and basil. The perfect refreshing drink after the heat of the Ruins.
After a couple of $8 beverages and delicious late lunch, we ambled down the road a bit which was mostly more restaurants and beach clubs until we came to a public beach access alley. We cut across to the beach and hung out there for a little while. The beach istself is all public so as long as you can get to it you can park yourself anywhere you choose. However if you want the comfort of a beach chair our lounger you will have to patronize the bar of the beach club. We wanted to go back to Mateo's because they had a rooftop bar with drink specials at sunset. So after a couple of hours we did just that. The drinks were good and cheaper this time around, even though they only had a small menu you could order from which was you basic tropical drinks and cerveza. The sunset over the jungle was gorgeous though and the floor below the rooftop had super comfy hammocks to laze around in. We almost didn't make it out of them, but eventually we dragged ourselves out and got into the minivan to head back to the house to freshen up for a late dinner.
We decided to head back to the carnival and had super cheap street food.We were traveling with a couple from England so they were very unfamiliar with the food so we had them sample different flavors. We had elotes (Mexica street corn) Tacos al Pastor, and churros. Everything was delicious! After pausing the carnival the second time and some shennaigans we decided to call it a night and went back to the house to play Cards Against Humanity of the roof or our casa. On our third day we hopped into the minivan for a little jaunt down the road to the Muyil ruins and the Sian Ka'an Biosphere. I read about this exciting adventure here. and I knew that it was something I wanted to experience. Luckily everyone in our party was up for a little adventure. The Muyil ruins were much smaller than the Tulum ruins and all in the jungle. There was a small fee to enter, but what's sort of tricky was that there was a man selling tours making you think that you have to buy one to be able to enter. This is NOT true, so don't be fooled. We followed the exact directions that I read about in this blog http://www.roamingaroundtheworld.com/how-to-visit-sian-kaan-biosphere-preserve/ post and everything was just like they said it would be. After walking around the ruins a bit we headed down the trail to the Biosphere. There is a small gate here and another small fee to pay to continue on your journey. We followed a boardwalk trail through the jungle. There was an observation tower for those brave enough to climb up. Height aren't really my thing but I decided it was worth it for the view. IT was a bit shaky (maybe it was just my knees) but the view did not disappoint. I stayed long enough for a photo op before climbing (hanging on for dear life and telling myself "don't look down") back down to the trail. We continued a little farther and I think the rest of the crew really started to doubt my sanity and wonder just where the heck I was taking us. After being in the jungle for what seemed like a good chunk of time, we arrived at the grand finale as I like to call it. This was what I was really after. Here there are a small fleet of boats at a dock and some very nice guys that spoke little English ready to take you on a boat ride across two freshwater lagoons. Your ride ends at a dock on the far side of the second lagoon where you put your life jacket on diaper style, kick off your shoes and jump into the clear water. Why would you jump out of a perfectly good boat you might ask? Because this is an amazing mangrove lined channel that is going out to sea. Which means theres a nice strong current that pushes you along lazy river style. IT was so amazing!! We floated down the crystal clear channel for about 30 minutes or so. To be honest it could have been hours. We felt like we had been transported to another world. We all agreed that it was one of the most amazing things we had ever experienced and the highlight of our trip! If you are able to do it then I definitely recommend it. After a while you come to a dock and we realized why our tour guide Raul had been following us in the water. He brought our shoes with him in a dry sack so we had them to put back on to walk down the winding (and a little rickety) boardwalk over the marsh back to the boat dock where we had jumped in the water. Then he took us back to the first boat dock where our adventure began. We got off, walked back through the jungle the same way we had come and back out through the main gate of the ruins. There is another way to get to the boat ride but it involved driving much farther and at the time of my research the road was not in good shape. So the easiest way to get to the mangrove channel was to go through all the other things as well. It was an experience we won't forget and the highlight of our trip.
The rest of our vacation consisted of beach bumming, a little shopping in town, and lots of cerveza and Pina Coladas. Our favorite beach club ended up being the one we found the last day. Don't it always seem to work out that way? The ocean was much calmer than it had been on any of our previous days and we drove farther down the beach road. We ended up at Villas Las Estrellas. IT was absolutely perfect there! The chairs were comfortable, the shade from the palm trees divine and the beach was pristine. One of the coolest things though was that there was a disturbance in the water. We thought it was just the way the waves were hitting the rocks under the water. But upon closer examination it was actually several holes where fresh water from the cenotes was pouring into the ocean. What an experience! The pressure made it difficult to see the opening, but if you could get enough power to swim down you could see the holes. The water here is hazy from the two different salinities and temperature mixing. And it kinds of looked like it could be an entrance to hell, but it was one of the coolest things I've ever seen.
It was amazing the variety of food choices we found. Anything from to traditional Mexican food to authentic Italian. Taco stands, fruterias, panderias, gelato,and loads of PIZZA places are sure to satisfy everyone in your party. One evening we ate at a delicious Italian restaurant La Nave. I highly recommend it!! El Carmello Jr. was another great restaurant serving traditional Mexican dishes and fresh seafood. There seemed to be quite a large ex-pat population from many places in Europe. . Manglar was the one pizza place we really wanted to try. We drove around forever to find it only to discover it was only a couple of blocks from our house. It was such nondescript little place buried in between houses that we kept driving right past. I read that it was one of the best places to eat in Tulum, but by the time we found it, they were ready to close and told us we were too late. Sigh...guess it gives us a good reason to go back. Tulum was wonderful, unexpected and bi-polar. Some of the things that surprised me the most was the differences between the upscale but laid back beach scene and the local energy of the town. Another thing was all of the trash. And the policia everywhere carrying large weapons up and down the streets. Even with their presence we never felt scared or in danger. If you go I highly recommend staying in an Air B&B and staying in town. It makes the trip WAY more affordable. Our share of the house for one week was the same price as one night in a Cabana at the beach. And we really enjoyed seeing the town and enjoying the local culture and people. Your turn: Have you been dreaming of a trip to beautiful Tulum? Or have you already been and have more tips to share? We can't wait to go back one day!