Touristy: yes. Gorgeous: yes. Worth your time? Totally.
As mentioned before, we had a great time in Tulum and would go back in a heartbeat. Our fantastic experience, no doubt, had much to do with our B&B&B: Posada los Mapaches. The extra B is for bike, which is so very useful for Tulum. While Mapaches is a B&B it has a social atmosphere of a mature hostel and the breakfasts of an excellent restaurant. I'm sure there are other great places in Tulum to stay, but we can't say enough about Mapaches.
We arrived in Tulum by ADO bus, which is a short 90 minute journey from Valladolid. The time change works the opposite way for you returning to the coast, and you lose an hour. This is still worth the hour gained in Valladolid, its just something good to know. We arrived in town just after noon and took a M$70 taxi ride from the bus station the couple kilometers down the road to Posada los Mapaches. Chelo, its charming proprietor, was awaiting our arrival with a smile and overwhelming amount of useful information. She got us all settled in our room, hooked us up with bikes and gave us some ideas for how we should plan our days in Tulum.
Starving, we biked down the path that runs beside the main road to El Vegetariano for some delicious fuel for our first Tulum adventure- the Grand Cenote! Once we had eaten our fill we hopped back on our bikes and started up the road to the cenote. It was an easy 4km ride along the main road towards Coba. Have I mentioned how amazing it was to have a bike in Tulum? It was about 2:30pm when we got to the Grand Cenote and locked up our bikes. With the entrance fee being at least double of even the most expensive cenote in Valladolid it wasn’t surprising that it was also twice as busy. What was surprising, however, was that despite the Grand Cenote being busy and more expensive, it still managed to be a highlight of our time on the coast. Completely different than the cenotes we visited in Valladolid, snorkelling stole the show at the Grand Cenote. Under the water a whole new world exists. Caverns stretch down into unseen depths, turtles and fish dart around stalagmites seemingly suspended from mid air. Whenever you think you've reached the edge of the cenote above ground, don your handy mask and embark down into a dazzling underwater wonderland. Wowzers.
Day 2 : Tulum Ruins & Beach bumming
Get up early and ride your bike to the Tulum ruins getting there as close to the site's 8am opening as possible. The Tulum Ruins are not big and more than the ruins themselves, it’s their location perched on a cliff above the crashing turquoise oceans, that you’re really paying the M$60 to see. It’s a breathtaking experience, standing alone on the edge of the cliff, the stone ruins perched on an outcropping bathed in morning light, the waves rhythmically beating the rocks, the sea breeze tangling your hair... Sigh.. It’s a place to linger and let all your senses soak in the amazingness of your surroundings. Between 8-9:30 am there were about 10 other people at the ruins. Total. It was definitely worth getting up early to experience. At 9:30 when we were biking back for breakfast there were literally bus loads and bus loads of tourists filing down the street to visit the ruins. While still beautiful, I’m sure the Tulum ruins are a completely different experience after 930am.
After filling up on a delicious breakfast and an extra cup of coffee to congratulate yourself for getting up so early it’s time to decide how you’re going to spend the rest of your day. The options are many. The beach in Tulum is stunning. This could be a beach-bumming afternoon. We biked down to the beach where there are plenty places to lock up your bike. It’s a very long walk from town so we would definitely recommend a bike. Maybe you need some postcards or souvenirs? Head into town and browse around. Want more swimming? Try Casa Cenote. There are lots of things to do. Or you can do nothing and just relax in a perfectly placed hammock at your hostel… hey- no judging- it’s your vacation.
Day 3: Day Trip to Akumal
Snorkelling with sea turtles is truly a magical experience. Impossibly graceful swimmers, the sea turtles at Akumal are curious, plentiful and oh so accessible! It was one of the things I was most looking forward to on our trip to Mexico. We flagged a collectivo (shared mini-bus) on the main road heading out of Tulum in the direction of Cancun. It was very easy to do, even with 6 of us. The collectivo dropped us off in an alcove off the highway from which it was a short walk down the road to the beach. Unfortunately the short walk feels very, very long as everybody and their brother wants to “help” you get your “mandatory lifejacket” and “inform” you not to wear sunscreen unless you want the sea turtles to get cancer… The touts were pushy and persistent. Walking down to the beach in Akumal was probably the most unpleasant experience we had in all of Mexico. That being said, unless you are interested in renting a lifejacket and snorkel, just keep on walking. From everything official we’ve read, swimming at the beach is free and lifejackets are not mandatory. Unfortunately, this aggression from lifejacket rental companies continued in the actual water. People were hired to float in the water and accost you for not wearing a lifejacket. Sadly, this probably has at least a little to do with ignorant tourists swimming down and trying to touch or grab at the turtles. (This is obviously a bad idea, touching the turtles, that is.) And maybe even something to do with tourists who think they are better swimmers than they are and then find themselves in a pickle once they are out in deeper water. Regardless, it’s pretty annoying. To avoid this, simply walk down the beach a little to the right and enter the water more in front of the resorts. Voila! The enjoyable, free, turtle filled snorkelling you hoped and dreamed of awaits! We were lucky enough to be with a dedicated sunbather who happily watched our minimal belongings. Otherwise you can rent a locker at the dive shop or try your luck leaving your towels on the beach. It’s a very, very busy beach, especially if you get there later in the day. If you love snorkelling, don't miss Akumal.
Top Akumal Tips:
#1. Don’t let the pushy touts in Akumal stop you from partaking in this amazing experience independently.
#2. Bring your own snorkel and mask
#3. Walk down the beach and enter the water in front of the hotels to avoid the in-water lifejacket hustlers.
#4. Please don’t touch or chase the turtles.
We found this website very useful:
Where we stayed: Posada los Mapaches
Eat Here: Burrito Amore, El Vegetariano, El Cochino