A guide to Tulum

3 Aug

A smattering of simple, but well-preserved Mayan ruins in a manicured, palm tree-adorned lawn and off a turquoise ocean, Tulum can be called Cancún: the Mayan theme park extension.  Its proximity to Cancún and Playa del Carmen make it the 3rd most visited archaeological site in Mexico (the other two are also closely located to Cancún and Mexico City).  Though the ruins are underwhelming and dare I say boring when compared to the grandeur of Calakmul or Uxmal, Tulum boasts the beast beaches in the Mayan Riviera and an excellent grand cenote.  In fact, if you’re looking for an uncrowded beach with clear waters and powdery sand, skip Playa del Carmen and Cancún and head straight to Tulum.

Trip Details

What to Do

  • Get a map: Wonderful little tourist information desk on Avenida Tulum, about 4 blocks from the bus station.  They have great maps and great advice.
  • Tulum Ruins: Seeing the ruins will take 30 minutes.  The beach is the best part, as the best beaches in Tulum are located closer to the ruins & further away from the fancier hotels (yes, there is a reason why the Mayans built their ruins there).  The waves are the biggest, the sand is powdery white, and it’s just majestic to relax in the ocean while looking at centuries of history.  Entry cost = 50 pesos.

One of the bigger buildings at Tulum

The beach at Tulum

Ruins + beach = popular

  • Gran Cenote: The entry fee may be pricey at 100 pesos, but totally worth it.  Hands down the most exciting cenote I’ve seen.  It looks like nothing from the outside, but if you rent snorkeling gear (70 pesos), the water below reveals a whole new underworld, making you feel like an explorer on the Discovery Channel.  The cenote slopes down fairly fast, and you can peek at crevices, see the dark shadowy extensions of passageways which are sure to continue for miles (myth has it that all cenotes in the Yucatan are connected), and chase fish.
  • Akumal:  Nice beach (slightly more crowded than Tulum), but the real star of the show are the sea turtles, stingrays, fishes, and coral reefs.  They say that  these endangered sea turtles may have to be found, but I easily saw at least 4 sea turtles and even got charged at by one giant 1.5m sea turtle.  I may have reacted like a shark was after me.  We brought some drinks to the beach (wonderful liter of refreshing chaya blended with pineapple sold at Don Cafetos), rented snorkel gear (100 pesos), skipped the tour, and swam out to where the boats were and sightings were.  Akumal is located 20 km from Tulum and a combi, running frequently, will take you there and back for 60 pesos roundtrip.
  • Za Zil Kin beach:  Rumored to be the prettiest beach in Tulum.

Za Zil Kin at sunset and on the brink of a storm

Transportation

  • From Mérida, we took a 4.75 hr ADO bus that left at 6:30 Saturday morning coming back at 12:15 a.m. Sunday night/Monday morning.  Cost = 410 pesos roundtrip.
  • Along Avenida Tulum, you can walk easily to the center from the bus station.  You will need to take a taxi, combi, or bike to the ruins, the beach, or the cenotes.  Taxis have fixed pricing and will never rip you off.  Combis are substantially cheaper.  For example, a 10 peso per person combi ride to the ruins will cost 40 pesos total in a taxi. A bike can be fun and cheap, as rentals are 50-60 pesos per day.

Lodging:  

  • I stayed at Mama’s home (three blocks off the main Avenida Tulum, Calle Orion entre Venus y Sol Oriente, (52) 984 87 122 72), which was an excellent, no-fuss, new business (6 months old) with a great in-town location. Dorms run 150 pesos per person for a 4-bedroom and private bedroom for 2 runs 400 pesos total with a kitchen included.  Prices include free internet access and large breakfast, with eggs, beans, toast, fruit, whee!  Bike rental is 50 pesos.  I’m glad to report that I did not get bed bugs.  
  • Posada los Mapaches is another excellent option, with all positive reviews on Trip Advisor.  We almost stayed here, but the owner, an incredibly nice and honest gentleman named Daniel, reported that he had bedbugs earlier and was working on containing them.  He does take lot of precautions such as spraying all incoming backpacks down and hiring a terminator every few months.  The place is immaculately clean but “rustic” so you will get bitten by mosquitoes during the night.  

Food

I ate at three restaurants and all were wonderful.

  • Cameo: Local favourite seafood watering hole.  Up a little ways on Avenida Tulum, but worth the trip.  Seafood is fresh. Plates are large.  Prices are reasonable.  I ordered the flakiest, scrumptiest shrimp po-boy sandwhich.
  • La Villa d Bella: Off Za Zil Kin beach, this expansive restaurant under a high-arched Mayan roof offers beautiful front-porch views of the beach and exceptional service.  We ordered a seafood platter for two, which included lobster, snapper, squid, octopus, shrimp, 2 alcoholic drinks, and dessert (well, the waiter threw in dessert) for 720 pesos.  Be careful at night—strangely, the hotel doesn’t have a telephone and may not be able to call a cab for you.  Cabs pass by rarely at night, since it’s an isolated area.
  • Don Cafeto: Situated on the main drag and boasting an Italian restaurant mafia-style collection of celebrity/governor sightings at the restaurant, this tourist favourite has the joys of large quantities of food, good drinks, and good times.  Get the chaya drink.
A Word about Bedbugs
  • There is a strong possibility of catching bedbugs here, as many backpackers bring them in from other parts of Mexico.  Many other pernicious bugs are present in the beach sands.  My friend returned back with clusters of bites on her feet.  Both hotels I talked to fumigated regularly to combat the problem and one hostel spends $3,000 annually in fighting the bedbug war.
  • To keep the bugs at bay, I suggest leaving your beach towel and all other things from the beach outside your hotel room, taking a warm bath immediately after returning to the hotel, and possibly boiling your clothes (just to be extra safe.)
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3 Responses to “A guide to Tulum”

  1. Pierce Sharelove February 19, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    hi,
    I liked reading about your experiences in tulum. I was wondering if you’d mind me asking you a few more questions – it’ll be my first time going and I’ll have my two young teenagers with me – boy and girl.
    My email is:
    sharelove1@gmail.com
    thanks for considering my request,
    sincerely,
    Pierce
    Nelson, BC Canada

    • agneschu February 19, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

      Hi Pierce, glad you enjoyed the blog. Ask away on the forum and I’ll try to answer as helpfully as possible.

  2. Herr Reisende October 31, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    Hello, I’m Damian, currently planning my first-ever visit to Mexico and find your blog entry so very practical and useful. Thank you so much! I was just worrying about how to incorporate various sites in my itinerary. (It may be a bit too much to ask you to see the whole itinerary and check viability, eh? ^^”)

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