Tootling Around Tulum
30 January 2016 | Tulum, Mexico
Beth / high 20's, sunny, relaxing
Time for a road trip! We sailed by Tulum on our way down the coastline four years ago, and we were curious to see it up close. Oddly enough, we weren’t even particularly aware of the beaches – we went to see the Mayan site. As it turned out, that wasn’t our favourite thing!
We took a cab from the marina to the ferry dock, the “people ferry” to Cancun, another cab to the ADO bus station, the bus to Tulum (2 ½ hours in air-conditioned comfort) and walked to our hotel. All very easy, efficient and affordable.
Our 4-year old Lonely Planet Guidebook to Mexico talks about the town being basically a truck stop on the highway, but that’s not what we found. It was a pleasant little town with a wide variety of restaurants, hotels, gift shops with attractive natural fibre hammocks and lots of straw hats – and not overly assertive sellers! It is flat there so biking is easy to the ruins and at least one cenote and the beach is an 80 peso cab ride or a longish bike ride away. We got there at noon, stayed 2 nights and left at noon on the third day, and I wish we had added at least one more day. We underestimated our desired beach time!
We used booking.com to reserve a room at a charming and funky little hotel recommended on Trip Advisor – just sweet, with a nice big clean room, helpful front desk staff (Jonathan and Guillermo) bikes to rent and beach towels to borrow, hammocks for naps on the rooftop and a bakery on the main floor. Maison Tulum is two blocks from the bus station and just two blocks off the main street so it was quiet but easily walkable in the evenings.
Now about those ruins: we knew it was a small site and that it is heavily visited by tour groups so it is advisable to go early or late. Unfortunately we slept in so it was 9:30 by the time we locked our bikes just outside the entrance gate, and there were many buses in the lot. We were able to sidestep the many groups and guides though so it wasn’t really a big issue. We used an iPad App for our own self-guided tour. The disappointing thing was that all the structures were roped off so we had to follow the main streets with no prowling around and inside the remains of the buildings. There is no question that it is a beautifully situated site. The Mayans regularly sailed up and down the coast, and this would have been a port town and fortress – offering protection from other Mayan city states, and occupied during the late post- Classic period (AD 1200-1521).
The Lonely Planet offers this description, “When Juan de Grijalva sailed past in 1518, he was amazed by the sight of the walled city, its buildings painted a gleaming red, blue and yellow, and a ceremonial fire flaming atop its seaside watch tower.”
That would indeed be something to see! And although the site is not nearly as interesting as other small sites we have visited, it was lovely to swim in the gorgeous turquoise waters within sight of the cliff top structures. And that brings me back to those beaches.
Oh my! The icing-sugar sand! The breakers to play in when the breeze was from the East, and the calm swells the next day in a West wind. The beach is divided into Zona Publica and Zona Hoteleria. We asked the cab driver to take us to the first public beach, although there are hotels and beach clubs along that part too – some that rent chairs and umbrellas and lockers for the day. We found lots of empty areas to lay out our towels, and we didn’t take much of value so we weren’t too worried about the backpack. On the first afternoon when there were more people, we just asked the young women next to us to keep an eye on it, and on the last morning, there were so few people there that it was really a non-issue. We could easily have spent several more hours walking the beach, playing in the water and relaxing on our towels. It was clean too – no plastic, but no shells or sea glass either.
The cenotes interested us - and again, we knew nothing about them before we decided to go to Tulum. We picked Gran Ceynote as the one to visit solely because we could bike to it from our hotel. The cenotes (pronounced say no tays) are sinkholes, or pits resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock. Some are totally open, some are almost totally underground, some are a mix. Some are quite commercially developed, while some are in a wilder state, and there are many in the Yucutan. They all have crystal clear water, and one can swim or snorkel through them.
Gran Cenote was a little underwhelming and we wish we had had time to visit another one or two to compare. The water was beautiful, but it was pricy at 200 pesos per person and took us very little time to snorkel from start to finish. We read about others with more rock formations that would have been fun to see.
We ate well while we were there! One dinner was at El Asadero, an Argentine restaurant – very attractive with excellent service and tasty food – a departure from the usual Mexican food we have been enjoying. We ordered the ancharro platter – a beautifully tender flank steak grilled perfectly according to our “doneness” requests, a sample of Argentinian sausage, either potatoes or onion, and a flat cactus “leaf”. (What does one call a piece of cactus?) Jim didn’t care for that at all, and I ate enough to know that it wasn’t high on my favourite local food list either. I have seen them at the markets, and now I know I don’t need to bother trying to cook it!
We sampled two different bakeries for tasty treats and either cappuccino or fruit frescas, and started our days with a fruit platter and a shared egg, sausage, bean plate at two different places. (I think Don Cafeto would be great any time of day.)
So – Tulum is certainly worth a visit if you are in the neighbourhood. Get a bike, regress a few years, go flying around on the wide roads and bike paths, play on the beach, relax in a hammock. Have fun!