Day 1: 13 December 2015
Now I know I can make it – walking about 3km carrying 20 kg luggage on me. From the self-esteem perspective it may feel good, but the experience itself was pretty exhausting and frustrating. Right on the first day of my journey!
This is what happens when you underestimate the distance. It wouldn’t be that bad, if not the confusion with The google maps while searching the hostel for over a half of hour. It was not the Googles fault, the street was not built yet as we found out later. Even the hostel was not finished yet. We found ourselfs in the middle of a bloody semi-construction. That was shocking! We couldn’t check in immediately (why am I not surprised ?!) so preferred to go for a lunch first.
The lunch was fantastic, we found a tiny open-air place called “El Vegetariano” just around the corner right on the highway. The wonderful meal and refreshing drinks healed our pain of the morning within a moment. So this is going to be registered as the beginning of our Tulum-Experience. BTW, with “our” I mean Anja, Manuel and me, friends traveling with me in Mexico from Frankfurt.
We checked-in later with a heavy feeling – we really didn’t like that hostel. There were not even enough water for shower, not to mention it was cold. Long story short – we moved out of there next morning instead of staying 3 nights. Topic closed.
The area of Tulum we were staying at is called Tulum Pueblo or El Centro, it is a bit further away from the Tulum beach (5km), which can be easily reached by a cab (4-5 mins), shuttle buses, or a bicycle – very common here. There is another area called Cabañas for more upscale touristic experience, with a clear emphasis on touristic, will get back to this later.
The first thing we checked out that day was the bus terminal of Tulum and the schedules for our day trip to Chichén Itzá next morning. After some strolling in the town we headed to the beach to catch the sunset, which was absolutely beautiful.
The Tulum Beach
The Tulum beach has the longest white-sand beach on Caribbean coast, which makes it one of the most beautiful and top rated beaches in Mexico and Caribbean’s. The only thing about it is you can’t really experience its scale – neither by walking nor visually. Unfortunately the access is blocked by private properties such as resorts and bungalows of Cabaña mentioned earlier. We failed to find any overlooking spot to get a view of the coast dissolving in distance, in order to feel how huge it is. Nevertheless, the beach itself was amazing. I’ve never experienced sand like that, so fine, almost like a powder and sugar-white. The wonderful warm water kissing my feet, that light and the breezy air, the Tulum Ruins dramatically overlooking over the cliffs, all that gave me a true sensation, so that for a blink of an eye I found myself loosing my connection to the reality. Was such a recharging moment. It got dark pretty soon, so we went back to the town. Time for a dinner!
The Street food
By the time we got back to the town it became much more lively: the streets were full of people, music playing from all directions – mexican tunes cheered up the whole atmosphere. The colourful collage of shops and restaurants got additional illumination, the carritos de taco (portable taco wagons) popped up like mushrooms everywhere. The air was full of delicious smells. Taco time! Man, that was so yummy!!! We tried a few, all of them based on a simple concept: two small tacos topped with somehow prepared/chopped meat and optional cheese, avocados or fruits, to be spiced up with salsas, which usually are placed on the side of the wagon and vary between spicy and very spicy, and guacomole for all those who want something mild. That’s it! For just 9-24 Pesos (0,5-1,5 Eur) you have a yummy taco exploding with wonderful aromas in your mouth. After 3 Tacos I was filled. Best dinner under 3€!!!! The level of entertainment was also very high. I just loved watching those guys making tacos. Every Carrito-Chef has its own specialty, non of them was doing the same, so that our taco tasting tour ended up being a huge fun.
Day 2: 14 December 2015
Chichén Itzá for me is not just a famous attraction to visit in Mexico, but a part of my childhood. It is one of those majestic and mysterious cities described in my favourite adventure books. I loved reading about Aztecs, Mayas and other pre-columbian people, about the Spanish conquistadores and the sad decline of those fascinating cultures. So Chichén Itzá is just the beginning of my personal exploration of the mesoamerican culture. I’ll keep it short and will skip the whole description of the monuments at this point. The bottom line is – it was very impressive and special experience to me!
Day 3: 15 December 2015
Swimming, Snorkelling or diving – Cenotes is a must-activity for every Yucatan visit. Cenotes are the Maya term for sinkholes, resulted by collapse of caves ceilings, exposing the groundwater and building natural water reservoirs. Since there are no large rivers on the Peninsula, cenotes were the only source of freshwater in the jungle for the Maya civilisation and are considered sacred for Mayas even in nowadays. Due to geological characteristics of the Peninsula, which is a huge limestone rock, there are over 8000 cenotes on Yucatan.
You can find a tour operator for a cenotes on each and every corner in Tulum. We choose one with an environment friendly program a bit more offside of the main crowd. Our half day guided tour included some snorkelling in a private bay, lunch break with some home made snacks and drinks (vegetarian tacos with cactus – yumm!), and ultimately some swimming in Cenotes also in private area. The special thing about the snorkelling was the fact that freshwater and sea water were meeting in that bay, which was resulting an unusual underwater visual effect, as if we were swimming in oil. Unfortunately I don’t have any images from there, was too short in time to rent a GoPro somewhere. But may be I’ll get some pics from the guide sometime soon 🙂
The Cenote we went to was located in the forest on a private property, where, according to our guide Miguel, a lot of organic honey is produced. He also mentioned, that the most part of the honey produced in this region is exported to Germany! We were asked to shower off all the sunscreen and insect repellents, in order to preserve the natural environment of the cenote. They spread smoke around to protect us from mosquitos, just like beekeepers do. Then we entered the cenote. The water felt freaky cold at the beginning despite the thermometer showings 24C water temperature, but I got used to it in a while. The walls and the ground of the cave were covered by stalactites and stalagmites, some baths were hanging down on the ceilings. Again, no pics here, but was a very unique experience.
It was a small group of 6 people with a driver and 2 guides. Was great experience, I would definitely recommend this tour company despite the upscale price level (85 USD instead of average 65USD).
The Tulum Ruins
Just another ruins? Yeah, may be… But be sure not to miss them, because these are one of the best-preserved costal Maya sites. Beautifully situated on the cliffs and facing toward the Caribbean sea the Tulum ruins open picturesque views, despite the small scale of the buildings. The site is 5 km away from Tulum town, right next to the beach. So I grabbed the camera and my bikini for the rest of the afternoon. After 1,5 hours of ruins I was ready for another breathtaking sunset at the beach.
If you are a fan of upscale hotels, fancy boutiques and bars, then this is the place to be for you. Undoubtedly most of those locations are beautifully integrated into jungle, they have great design and most of them have even a direct access to the beach. Scattered on both sides of the road going through Cabañas, these places didn’t really seem inviting for a relaxed strolling. The cars passing by constantly were pretty much disturbing. However that was not the reason why this area didn’t touch my soul anyhow – I missed the authenticity, that very Mexican element. While everything was extremely adjusted to the needs of tourists, I felt as a “tourist” pretty uncomfortable there. The local people can’t afford living or enjoying any activities there, all they do is work for gringos. In these few days while strolling in the streets of Tulum Pueblo and riding buses I saw the poor circumstances the locals were living in. So we found the fancy Cabañas strange and unenjoyable enough to cancel the dinner there and hurried up back to our beloved Tulum Pueblo where the locals hang out. Finally it was going to be our goodbye dinner.
The town is located at the famous highway 307 connecting the main towns of Maya Riviera. The part of the highway running across the town is called Agenda Tulum, which is kind of its downtown. Here you’ll find pretty much everything what Tulum has to offer, basically oriented on tourists needs: bars, restaurants, various accommodations, tourist and souvenir shops, Bus station, banks, etc. But once you leave that main street deeper into the smaller ones on either side, you get a good feeling of how people live there. Its hard to describe what it really is, may be my pics will help you.
Tulum = sleepy town?
I love waking up very early and stroll around with the camera while the city sleeps. Well, in case of Tulum I failed to do so. At around 7:30 am it was wide awake. The streets were smelling of laundry and bleaching agents, coffee and pastry, baked beans and fresh onions – yes, onions for breakfast is pretty common here! Tulum was also awake the nights before. So for me this town is definitely not a sleepy one.
Our last evening in Tulum. After the disappointing experience in Cabañas we came back to the same sport, where we had our first lunch in the town. We noted that little fish restaurant just next to the “El Vegetariano” (the place right on the highway described earlier). Looks this two places are run by a same person. Very classical choice, some seafood + margaritas, all tasted just wonderful. Perfect finish of our Tulum experience. I went to the kitchen to tell the chefs my compliments: thank you guys for this beautiful memory!
Day 4: 16 December 2015
Early in the morning we had a quick breakfast and headed to to bus terminal to catch our bus to Chetumal (3 hours), where we got a water taxi to Caye Caulker, Belize.
Things I learned in Tulum:
- There is no cheddar cheese in Mexican food. In fact I suspected that cheddar was a kind of weird interpretation of gringos. What I didn’t knew is how far it was from the reality. Here they use white salty these, something in-between mozarella and feta.
- Mexicans say “Adelante!” meaning “go forward” when they can’t help you with directions. So don’t trust this instructions.
- House numbers seem to be an overestimated concept in Tulum. Haven’t seen one in 3 days.
- Mexicans have strange sense for environment: for the sake of environment they don’t flush toilet paper, but consume huge amount of plastic in irresponsible manner.
- Excellent food on a highway is not a mythos.
- Drinks with ice are okay. I was recommended to drink only bottled water and to avoid iced drinks, as you are never sure, what kind of water was used for ice. But so far no problems, all fine!
- Onions for breakfasts is absolutely normal.
- Talking numbers: Tacos for 9 (0,50EUR) pesos, a croissant for 35 pesos (2 EUR), wheat bun 12 Pesos (0,8 EUR).