All pictures are personal unless otherwise noted.
I’m baaaaaaaaaack! I’m back as a Mrs. (wowza!) and from our mini-moon getaway to Tulum, Mexico. Our wedding was on a Friday night and it was amazing, fabulous, perfect, [insert cliché wedding word here—they all apply].
Photo credit: Clean Plate Pictures
The following day was a blur of achy feet, packing, unpacking, and packing again, and dinner with some visiting family. Then, Mr. S and I escaped to Mexico in the wee hours of the dawn on Sunday morning. I’ll tackle Tulum in two posts: (1) what we did and (2) what we ate. Unsurprisingly, post two will probably be longer than post one.
With the help of some in-flight DirectTV and the best $7.99 he ever spent, Mr. S survived the three and a half hour plane ride to Cancun, Mexico. We arranged for USA Transfers to drive us the one and half hours to Tulum and they were ready and waiting for us when we exited the airport.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m kind of a beach snob. I’ve been to beaches all over the world—up and down the east coast, the Caribbean, Europe, etc.,—but no beach could ever compare to Boracay, Philippines. The sand there is white and fine, never burning your feet no matter how hard the sun beats down and the ocean is clear and blue-green with virtually no waves. My only gripe with Boracay has come in the recent past. When I visited as a child, Boracay was like the Philippines’ best kept secret—tiny bungalows with thatched roofs, stretches of untouched sand, and fishermen selling their wares along the beach. But now, the secret is most definitely out. On my latest visit, gigantic hotel buildings and nightclubs had sprouted everywhere, the beach was overloaded with tourists, and hawkers were now peddling cheap seashell necklaces instead of the day’s catch. The allure was gone for me and I decided that instead of returning to Boracay, I’d explore the Philippines’ other beach offerings the next time we made a trip there.
Boracay, PhilippinesImage via Boracay Foundation
All that is to say, Tulum is the only beach I’ve visited that rivals my beloved Boracay of yore—in beauty and in spirit (and it’s only a three and a half hour flight away vs. 22 hours!). The sand doesn’t burn, the water is the same blue-green (albeit with bigger waves), and smaller hotels line the beach in a way that isn’t overwhelming or invasive. Everything and everyone was so warm and laid back and it was completely acceptable to spend the entire day in your bathing suit and cover up—no matter where you were or what you were doing. I don’t know if it’s because Tulum is super eco-conscious, or because they’ve made a concerted effort to maintain the land’s rustic charm, or because the secret just isn’t out yet. Whatever it is, Tulum has claimed the number one spot on my list of best beaches.
Hello Tulum! (That’s me waving to Mr. S from the beach)
We spent five days and five nights at The Beach Tulum, where they greeted us with “Welcome home, welcome to paradise.” I enthusiastically recommend this hotel to anyone traveling to Tulum—aside from the fabulous room, the staff and service were first-rate. The hotel is small enough that it feels intimate and after only a few days we were on a first name basis with all the staff. When the bartender noticed I sounded congested and sniffly towards the end of our vacation, she promptly whipped up a concoction of honey and lime for me that her abuela used to make for her when she was sick. Little things like that made all the difference in our experience there.
The lobby of The Beach Tulum
Our suite had its own beach access (very nice for rolling out of bed onto the soft sand) and private rooftop lounge (very nice for romantic stargazing). We woke up every morning in time to catch the sunrise and would watch it (and snap pictures) from the comfort of our bed.
The sunrise that greeted us every morning
After a few days of doing nothing but lounging around on daybeds and hammocks, catching up on Serial podcasts, and stuffing our faces with every kind of shrimp taco you can imagine, we decided that we should probably venture off the hotel property and see some stuff.
Tough to tear him away from this.
We borrowed some bikes from our hotel and headed toward the Tulum Ruins, which overlook the beach. We skipped the guided tour here and just explored on our own.
The next day, we booked a tour through our hotel with Yucatan Diving & Travel to visit Akumal (a snorkeling site) and Cenote Sac Actun—known to the locals as Pet Cemetery because they found many animal bones there (Mayan sacrificial offerings or Mayan domestic pets? I’m not sure of the answer).
The first stop of the day was Akumal, where we were told we’d be able to snorkel alongside various fish in the reef, sting rays, and green turtles. Neither Mr. S nor I are great swimmers, but I’ve snorkeled in the past and as long as I have a life jacket on (i.e., I can be lazy and just float), I’m good to go. This was Mr. S’s first time with a snorkel, but since he’s a much better athlete than I am, I assumed he’d take to the water just fine. I was so wrong. Turns out I’ve married quite possibly the world’s worst snorkeler. (This is also a lesson in how you can be with a person for fourteen years and still not know everything about him.)
GIF via GIFsec
Part of the problem was that Mr. S’s four day old facial scruff prevented his goggles from properly adhering to his face, thus allowing water to enter his mask. The other part of the problem was that he was just straight up freaking out about breathing underwater. I could hear his short, choppy breaths from my own underwater paradise and tried to coach him as to how it was done. “Pretend you’re Darth Vader. Hoooooooooo, haaaaaaaaaaa, hoooooooooo, haaaaaaaaaaa.” For some reason, my stellar instructions weren’t helpful to him.
Image via Hawaiian Seamonkey
I wish I could tell you that upon my first call to duty to act as wife I showed my husband exemplary acts of patience and kindness in his time of need and never left his panicked side. But no, I did not. Whenever our guide, Cynthia, would call out to us, “TURTLES!!” I’d kick my fins as fast as I could in the direction she was pointing to. Goodbye husband, hello turtles! Cynthia (bless her heart) saw Mr. S struggling and let him hold on to her neon orange salvavidas, which seemed to be a great source of comfort to Mr. S (since, you know, I wasn’t). Eventually he got the hang of breathing through the snorkel tube and was chasing turtles and other sea creatures right along with me.
Image via Akumal Dive Center
After Akumal, Cynthia drove us to Cenote Sac Actun—the only cenote in Tulum that features all three different kinds of cenotes: cavern, cave, and open air. Unfortunately we don’t have any pictures* in the cenote, but swimming in the cenote was hands down the coolest thing we did in Tulum. Giant stalactites hovered inches above our heads in the caverns, bats fluttered around at the top of the caves, and the water was this brilliant shade of blue that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in real life. It was like jumping into a National Geographic magazine and an episode of Lost all at once.
We’re not scuba certified, so we didn’t do any cenote diving, but we did swim deep into the caves and caverns.
On our fourth day in Tulum, we arranged for a car service to take us to Chichen Itza (Mayan ruins), Valladolid (cute colonial town), and Coba (more Mayan ruins). We opted for the guided tour in Chichen Itza, which I think was well worth it to have a better appreciation for the various structures and Mayan culture. Also, the guide was nice enough to take our picture so that we wouldn’t have to add more bad selfie photos to our collection.
After lunch and some shopping in Valladolid, we arrived at Coba. The ruins at Coba are smaller, but they’ve been left untouched and semi-unrestored, still set in their jungle habitat. It was like a scene out of Indiana Jones.
Unlike Chichen Itza, visitors are allowed to climb the ruins at Coba, although this will probably end sometime next year. By the time we got to the tallest ruin that most people climb, Mr. S and I were tired. Still, it was a once in a lifetime experience, so we started to make the trek up the stony steps. Midway through, the sun was beating down on us, the stones became less step-like and more jagged and narrow, and I was just too drained to maintain the concentration required to ensure I didn’t fall off the Mayan ruin to my death.** I turned around to Mr. S and said, “I can’t make it to the top,” to which he quickly responded, “Oh thank God.” Match made in heaven.
After all that activity, we spent the last day of our vacation enjoying the comforts of our hotel and planning our return trip to Tulum.
Honestly, if it wasn’t for missing Chunk like whoa, we would have seriously considered making ourselves a new home in Yucatan peninsula.
I could have definitely gotten used to this. I think Chunk would have too…
* If I could do our mini-moon all over again, I’d invest in an underwater camera and selfie stick. At the beginning of our trip, Mr. S and I were making fun of all the silly tourists with their selfie sticks, but by the fifteenth pathetic arm’s length selfie we took of ourselves, we realized how smart they were and how dumb we were.
** According to our guide, tourists were allowed to climb the ruins of Chichen Itza until a German tourist fell from one and died. Yikes!