James and I had decided, with our friends Charlotte and Jack, to have a relaxing beach holiday in Mexico (chosen for ease of flights to the UK and because it was the right side of the world for my travels afterwards) before they went home, and I went south to Guatemala and then Colombia. So, on the 28th December we set off to Tulum!
Arriving in Tulum after a 10 hour flight was a bit of a nightmare. We left the airport air conditioning to walk straight into a wall of heat and humidity, hundreds of people standing around with suitcases and rucksacks and lots of noise. Inside the airport, we had paid for a taxi to Tulum so all that was left was to join the queue for a taxi… And what a queue.
It snaked around the airport concourse and people were joining, leaving, moving right to the front with no rhyme or reason. Two hours later, we ended up getting into a shuttle bus that was going to drop people of at several resorts along the way to Tulum. This was not ideal as we had paid for a taxi but it was either that or to wait at least another hour.
It came to our turn to be dropped off and we were taken into the housing area where we were staying – but the taxi driver had no idea which building was ours and insisted on driving around the estate at high speed as I tried desperately to spot a sign in the dark. After less than two minutes, the driver decided he wanted to give up, drive fifteen minutes down the road to drop the last passengers off and then come back to find our apartment. We had had enough so decided to just get out, reasoning that we knew it must be close and that it would be quicker to find it on foot. As soon as we got out of the van we realised that we were actually right in front of our building and were inside in just a few moments!
We had originally planned on staying in a posh hotel on the beach but they were all either fully booked over NYE or ludicrously expensive even by a posh hotel’s standards, so we had decided to shell out on a posh Air Bnb instead. And what a fabulous apartment we ended up with – Jaraguas had two bedrooms, three bathrooms (this was to become important), a balcony, a roof terrace with a (small) jacuzzi AND access to a shared pool. It was in between the town and the beach with relatively easy access and cheap taxis to each.
There are really two parts to Tulum – the beach and the town. The town is pretty ugly, with shops, hostels and restaurants just on either side of the main road – but it does have a lot of fantastic restaurants, at much cheaper prices than the food restaurants along the beach. We had a lot of fantastic meals and I have a post planned about all the restaurants we went to. The beach seemed to me to be split into two. If you turned left at the bottom of the road, towards the ruins, you were in quiet, chilled out territory – several relaxed hotels, with easy access between the hotels and the beach and plenty of places for a drink and a toilet stop. Turning right, the beach road gets much busier and is surrounded on both sides by hotels and restaurants. Although all beaches in Mexico have to be public access, many of the hotels won’t let you through to the beach, and once there, many won’t even let you buy a drink in their restaurants.
We spent our days dozing on the beach, researching good restaurants to eat in, reading, chatting, relaxing. Our Air Bnb was near a great little yoga studio called Tribal Tulum and I would really recommend you check it out if you like yoga and are going to Tulum. I also went for several runs along the road to the beach in the morning (trying desperately to wake up before it got too hot) – there’s more on what its like to run in Tulum in last week’s marathon recap post, here.
We visited the ruins but were underwhelmed, partly due to visiting on one of the busiest days of the year, right in the middle of the day, with absolutely no knowledge of what the various temples represented.
There were loud tourists swarming everywhere, no shade amongst the ruins and extremely limited signage to tell you what was going on. The buildings were relatively small and you couldn’t get close to them – but the views out along the coastline were wonderful.
I think you really do have to go first thing in the morning for the Tulum ruins (NB: entrance is significantly more if you want to go at sunrise!)
We also went snorkeling in the cenotes – these are natural sinkholes formed by the limestone bedrock of the Yucutan peninsula, seen as sacred places by the Maya. We visited the Azul cenote first – Jack described it as a “nice pond”.
It was a nice place for snorkeling, especially given how much sand annoys me, but was so ridiculously busy when we went on New Years Day – I would have liked to have gone again when it was quieter.
Next we went to the Gran Cenote, which was much quieter on the 2nd January (although by no means deserted) and had more of a cave system – it was quite fun swimming into the dark and wondering how far to go! (Answer: not that far). There were lots of colourful fish and the rock formations under the water were fascinating. I’d love to go back and snorkel in more of them and scuba drive in others…
We did the shore learning and pool dives back in the UK so just had the ocean dives to master, and spent one morning and one afternoon doing so at the beginning of this week. I had forgotten just how much I love scuba diving. We did it with Mexidive, and I would really recommend them if you are wanting to dive in Tulum. Our instructor was Eduardo and he also was great. As we were just getting PADI certified, we couldn’t dive in the cenotes but they do run tours to them.
The reef was fantastic though – lots and lots of coral and fish, and the best moments was when we spotted a sleeping turtle, who soon woke up and soared out of its dark sleeping place and away into the blue. I was a bit sad that we had woken it up, but on the other hand it was one of the best things I had seen and really just filled me with joy. Charlotte and I swam towards each other after, trying to smile as widely as possible in our scuba masks and resorting to huge thumbs up which we quickly changed to the “okay” sign – in diving, a thumbs up means “we are going to the surface” but it is hard not to do it when you’re so excited!
And now on to the worst part of the holiday. One of the great things about Tulum is all the food, and I have several blog posts coming on the various restaurants we went to. We didn’t drink the tap water, washed any fruit we bought in water we had purified, and only ate in places that were pretty nice. Still, everyone but me got really sick, and I was definately not feeling normal for the last few days.
Charlotte was the first to go, on New Years Day – after either eating an ice lolly from a vendor at the Tulum ruins the day before, or after swallowing loads and loads of cenote water on New Years Day. She was in bed for the whole of the next day and wasn’t ready for food again until the 5th January – our last day – which took out a chunk of our holiday! James and Jack both went on the same day, the 4th, after our first scuba dive. We dived in the morning and then went to a hotel near the dive shop, Zamas, for lunch.
It looked like a fairly nice hotel and the boys ate exactly the same thing as me so I have no idea what it was that made them ill – unless it was the lime in the top of their beers? James was better the next day but Jack didn’t recover until leaving day on the 6th. It was a bit shit (unintended bad pun alert) and all the more annoying for not having clear, stupid things we had done that we could pin it down to. I don’t know if we were just unlucky, or if a lot of people get really ill in Tulum! It’s a shame as I would love to go back to get to more of the restaurants and some of the same restaurants again, and to dive in the cenotes – but not if we are going to get ill!