Mexico is such a convenient country to travel to. Tulum, my lovely destination, was just a hop away from the Cancun – and far removed from the spring breaker crowd. The close proximity, relative creature comfort, and prevalence of English speakers makes the entire Maya Riviera easy to explore. I highly recommend it to newbie travelers who are hesitant to take the plunge to countries like Guatemala or France just yet. When you’re taking stunning photos of the Tulum ruins sunrise, you’ll be filled with easy wonder.
Tulum was recommended to me by a bevy of other travelers, and it did not disappoint. Our shuttle driver was cool enough to let us throw back some Tecate in the back seat of his van on the way down from Cancun, and though I went on to take a no drinking challenge for my next trip, it felt like a real when-in-Rome kind of moment.
I chose Tulum Pueblo for my stay because it features more local people, cheaper accommodation, and (relatively) fewer tourists; staying in the beach area itself seemed like it would isolate me from the Mexican culture and give my pocketbook pains. And, of course, I didn’t care about missing the nightclubs and beach party action, being a misfit and all.
Posada los Mapaches was my hostel, and host Chelo made me feel at home with delicious breakfast every morning. My group took the included bikes on a dedicated path to get to both the beach and the pueblo. Chelo’s place is also directly across the road from Ruinas Arqueologicas de Tulum, the number one attraction in the city!
Exploring the Tulum ruins at sunrise
The landscape was enough to make me coo, with thickly forested cliffsides hanging above mysterious seas like a tropical blanket of mistletoe. As my footsteps echoed in the still morning, a benevolent moon hung itself over the ancient structures, its solar counterpart rising in balance out on the opposite horizon. Stepping foot into such a sacred place was everything I had hoped for.
Doing it in the wee hours was definitely a good idea. I doubt I would have enjoyed myself as much amongst a veritable Tower of Babel seething with various tourist tongues.
My group of four was alone for the sunrise, and we might have seen three to five people by the time we went through the entire grounds.
Entrances fees for the 6:30-8:00 AM bonus hours are considerably more – 220 pesos as opposed to 70 – but the solitude is totally worth it. To compare with the prime hours of 8:00AM-5:00 PM, I saw at least two or three hundred people walking into the entrance in the heat of the day.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be bathing in emerald blue waters when the hot Mexican sun is beating down on me.
Tulum’s bountiful beaches
Whether you choose to hit the public beach or check out an upscale resort (I did both) you can’t really go wrong in Tulum. Just look at the water! It really looks like that in person and the temperature is quite pleasant.
I preferred the public area, as you can see the ruins in the distance and the lush trees provided a perfect backdrop while I was taking my hourly Carribean piss break. In between saltwater baptisms, I listened to some essential cumbia jams to immerse myself in the Mexican mood. A misfit I might be – but I never said I wasn’t trying to acclimate!
Swimming always makes me famished. It was only a fifteen minute bike ride to the pueblo, and to my culinary salvation.
The best tacos in Tulum
If there is one place to eat in Tulum, make it Taquerias El Ñero – right next to the ADO Bus Station. As long as beef and pork are on your personal menu you’ll fill up or less than $3-4 USD. Since I’m kind of a freak, tongue, cheek, eyeball, and brain were on the docket. I washed it all down with a nice Mexican coke made with actual cane sugar.
Between myself and my mates, we probably hit this joint at least five times in a week. Not only is it cheap, but easy to fit into your day. The tacos come out in literally one minute. I’m not improperly using the word here, I mean it.
I got into a serious groove just between the beach and eating delicious food. Every night I was in bed at 10 PM, reading a book, and looking forward to more laziness and gluttony. I could have easily filled out a week doing this and not feel any shame about it.
Alas, I knew that sleeping and nursing my ever-expanding gut would not be good writing material, so I soldiered on.
Cenotes are unique fresh/saltwater aquariums
While I’ve yet to be dive certified, I did do some snorkeling in a cenote. A cenote is a cave that has been filled with fresh water – sometimes mixing with salt water as the underground caverns get closer to the ocean. These wonderful places contain an abundance of interesting rock formations and unique marine life.
Unfortunately, it rained the afternoon I went to Casa Cenote and the coolest parts were only accessible to those with a SCUBA crew. I saw more impressive tropical fish the next day at a nearby protected reef (more on that below).
Still, I would not miss experiencing a cenote. Try Dos Ojos or Gran Cenote – i’ve heard they’re good, and if you’re a diver there are endless possibilities to explore in the area. Some cenotes are go on for so long that they’ve never been fully explored!
Swimming with Turtles
Akumal Bay was next on my list, and I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be difficult to spot the marine life I so sought? Were the turtles scared off by the hordes of people, and simply a red herring to lure me in? Wandering down a beautiful crescent beach, I laid my things down on the sand and took the plunge – flippers and mask in tow.
Folks, let me tell you, it did not take long to spot my first turtle. And then another. And then another.
The stingrays were a little scary. I’m not going to lie. But they are so friggin cool! I saw one gigantic fella who was buried in sand, flapping his wings. A bevy of tropical fish surrounded the ray, in some sort of symbiotic mass. I hightailed it back to my friends to alert them, and when I went back under I couldn’t find the same spot for half an hour. If it’s one thing I learned, it’s not to look away from something cool when you’re snorkeling.
Also spotted: sea urchins, two tiny squid (who inked us – their pursuers!), and lots of lovely coral formations.
I’ve since gone on to even cooler snorkel experiences, but Akumal is great for a first-timer and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back!
Akumal Monkey Sanctuary
At $65 USD I think the price for this place was a bit steep (especially compared to The Belize Zoo) but it was for a good cause. A large portion of the animals is being rehabilitated either from time spent in captivity or injuries sustained in the wild. We met a monkey with no tail (and no balance as a result), and the one with no hand pictured on the bottom.
In addition to various species of monkeys, we saw bats, goats, sheep, parrots, and a giant snake! After such a full slate of animal encounters, I was happy to go home, rest up, and hit the beach again with a good conscience that I had helped do some good with my wallet.
That about wraps up my Tulum experience. While thrill seekers and experienced travelers won’t be shocked out of their comfort zone by the Riviera Maya, the casual or new traveler could do a lot worse than spend some time relaxing on a beach, sampling some Mexican food, and marveling at a Tulum ruins sunrise.
I’ll be back, Tulum.