Today we left Tulum after ten amazing days. During our last dinner on the beach, we agreed our ratings (as we have done for everywhere we’ve spent more than a night or two). No surprise to me – Tulum has shot to our number 1 spot! We have all been so happy here, I defy anyone to come to this South East corner of Mexico and not find something to love.
You have so much choice about how to spend your days in Tulum. Time spent lazing on the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, including the opportunity to swim with Sea Turtles or paddle board across the calm sea; Days spent exploring the culture and history – discovering the Maya ruins that make you feel like you’re entering another world (and learning something which eases a bit of the travelling parent guilt); Cenotes to explore – the beautiful natural sink holes in the jungle that the Maya people used to communicate with the gods – now used for snorkelling, diving and cooling off after a couple of hours in the Yucatan heat; Activities to keep the kids happy like zip lining over the jungle and lastly, but oh so importantly, a huge range of restaurants, bars and beach clubs to hang out in, with the best food we have had on our whole trip and perhaps ever!
The layout makes Tulum really easy to explore. There are two parts; First the beach and ‘the jungle road’ which runs behind it, with many hotels, bars, restaurants and small boutique shops and then the main drag of the town which is a couple of kilometres away with more (cheaper) restaurants, decent coffee bars, bakeries, gelato stores and many shops selling essentially the same stuff – dream catchers, sarongs, t shirts and other touristy fare.
The vibe is very chilled and laid back. It feels really safe and friendly and for those of us with rubbish linguistic abilities, Mexico is also much easier to navigate vs say Colombia or Brazil, because many more people speak some English. What has made Tulum so special and fun for us is the variety. We have had some days when we have been exploring from dawn until sunset and on others we’ve lazed by the pool, done some schoolwork and finished the day with cocktails on the beach. We’ve eaten at the local burrito bar in town, enjoying a fabulous meal for less than £25 and also been able to treat ourselves to a couple of beachside suppers in trendy boutique hotel restaurants, watching the sky turn from turquoise to pink, grey and eventually black, eating delicious Mexican food and still costing less than a night out back home.
We stayed in a small guest-house hotel in town which kept the cost within our budget and was great for us http://www.h2otulum.com You need a car here and so being in the town really didn’t make a difference to us, but if I were coming on a holiday, I’d probably stay on the beach just to maximise the time spent gazing at the spectacular view.
For anyone planning a trip to Tulum, here are some of our highlights and recommended spots to explore:
Akumal Beach – about 30 minutes drive up the coast form Tulum, this beach is picture perfect and best of all you can swim a short way out to sea and snorkel alongside giant Sea Turtles as they feed on the sea grass. We had a magical experience but you need to do your ‘Google homework’ as there is quite a confusing set up. The beach is public and completely free. You need to rent life jackets and snorkel (unless you have your own which I recommend as there is so much snorkelling to be done in Tulum) but there are hundreds of touts telling you otherwise on arrival and trying to sell you guided snorkel tours, saying you’re not allowed in the sea without a guide etc. We had read about this and just walked up the beach by ourselves, chatted to a few people there and swam out to a small area where we watched two turtles feed for a couple of hours.
Maya Ruins at Coba – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coba This vast site, less than an hour from Tulum, was a huge and important Maya city around 600 – 1000AD. Up to 50,000 people lived there and only about 5% of the city has been uncovered. We did a bit of a history lesson before visiting and learned as much as we could about how the Maya people lived. It really helped the girls engage as we walked around the ruins. The highlight was climbing Nohoch Mul, which is the largest pyramid in the Yucatan peninsular at 42 meters (138 ft) in height. The girls scurried up the steep steps like mountain goats. I was just a tad slower and battled my vertigo all the way up. Our reward was the view for miles over the jungle. Descending was pretty terrifying and I decided to do so by bumping down the steps on my backside – no shame here! I am just glad that I hadn’t read about a tourist falling to her death whilst climbing Chichen Itza ten years ago, which led to the closure of the pyramid to climbers. Apparently in January 2018 the pyramid in Coba is also going to be closed, so we will have been some of the last to do this and experience that view.
Tulum Ruins – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulum My favourite of all. These ruins are perched on a cliff at the north end of Tulum Beach. The setting couldn’t be any more stunning. Thousand year old remains set in lush green gardens, with a view out to sea that is devastatingly beautiful. Those Maya rulers knew a thing or two about enjoying life. You can also spot the iguanas hiding in the shadows if you look hard enough (the one Willow begged to hold was sadly not in the shade with his mates but earning his keeper some cash – I don’t normally go in for that kind of thing but Willow was desperate!)
Cenotes Cristal y Encondido – These two cenotes are closest to Tulum town centre – Just a ten minute drive south. We were recommended to visit them by the receptionist at our hotel. He told us they were his favourite and much quieter than some of the big ones. We loved them! Walking from the small car park, through the jungle, we just didn’t know what to expect and then suddenly there is a clearing in the trees and what appears to be a huge, very deep pond is right in front of you. The water is crystal clear and these two have diving platforms and rope swings to add to the fun.
Dos Ojos Cenote – there are many other cenotes and we went to a few but the big ones tend to be really touristy and we just didn’t enjoy them as much. The one exception was Dos Ojos (Two Eyes). We were advised to take the guided snorkel tour by our airbnb host from Rio and I’m so glad we did. It was amazing. The cenotes are mostly underground in vast connected caves. We had wet suits, flippers, underwater torches and of course snorkels. We swam with a group of others, following a guide, into the caves. It was thrilling and for some of us quite scary. In fact Betsy decided she’d done enough after about half an hour and I stayed back with her. Completely fearelss Willow, Lola and Keith completed the tour in the ‘bat cave’ where they saw hundreds of small bats and cockroaches.
Beach clubs and restaurants – There are hundreds! Having done quite a bit of research, I had a list of places I wanted to visit. The food really was consistently amazing. I think I’ve had some of the best food of my life in the last ten days. The places on our shortlist were:
Mezzanine – http://www.mezzaninetulum.com
This hotel and restaurant was probably my favourite. The view of the beach was out of this world and the Raspberry Margherita I had was just…heavenly. The food is Mexican and Thai. A strange combination but one that really, really works!
Safari – https://www.safaritulum.com.mx
I had read about Safari on another blog. It is relatively new and a really simple yet perfect set up. A few tables set outside on the jungle road. An airstream kitchen with a fire pit out front to cook on. The menu is taco, ceviche, guacamole and drinks. Nothing more needed.
Casa Banana – http://www.casabananatulum.com
We didn’t actually make it here although it came so highly recommended I have to include it. It looked great but the night we planned to visit we realised we didn’t have enough cash. In fact this is a thing…most restaurants in Tulum are cash only. We never quite worked out why but you need to make sure you have plenty of pesos on you.
Pousada Margherita – http://www.posadamargherita.com/index.php?lang=en
In terms of setting and service – this place was the clear winner. The food was also pretty fabulous. Italian – so a break from tacos and guacamole but with home made pasta, cooked to order, you can’t go wrong. What made our experience however, is that this was the same night we tried to visit Casa Banana. When we realised Pousada Margherita was cash only as well, Keith went off to get some out of the ATM in town. An hour and four failed attempts later Keith returned, slightly fed up, announcing he had no cash and we’d have to leave. When our server heard this he told us to hang on. We were then visited by the Italian owner who sat down and said “Of course you can’t leave! Relax, enjoy your meal, have whatever you want and then tomorrow, if you can get some cash, you can pay me. If you can’t get cash or you need to return home to London, then give the money you owe to charity”. Now how is that for service? We of course did go back the next day to pay our bill and I just fell in love with this place for his attitude alone.
Hip Hotel – http://www.hiphoteltulum.com
We happily spent our last evening here and enjoyed fantastic Guacamole and Tacos.
Burrito Amor – http://www.burrito-amor.com/index.php/en/
Hands down the best reviews we read were about Burrito Amor. Set in the town, this is a really casual, almost fast food kind of place selling…you guessed it, Burritos! We went with some friends we had made at our hotel and had a fantastic meal for all five of us for less than £25.
Ziggy’s beach – http://www.ziggybeachtulum.com
We spent our first afternoon on the beach at Ziggy’s. The girls loved the swings they had up to the bar. Little did we know that bar swings are definitely a Tulum thing – they’re everywhere! The food was pretty good and a nice place to chill on a bed and people watch.
La Zebra – http://www.lazebratulum.com
We had a fabulous lunch here one day. A varied menu and something to please everyone. They also appeared to have some of the most beautiful cabanas right on the beach, that I would love to spend a night or two in.
We had a reservation at Hartwood on our last night – http://www.hartwoodtulum.com, which is apparently the best place in town, but decided to have one more evening sitting on the beach at Hip Hotel, as I just couldn’t get enough of that view.
We didn’t have a bad meal or even a bad dish. The food in Tulum is out of this world! Keith and I have even had a conversation about opening an authentic Mexican restaurant back at home…don’t think that idea has legs, but I guess it shows you just how much we were enjoying ourselves. Betsy has eaten her body weight in Gucamole and both she and Lola have discovered a love for Frijoles Negroes (refried beans). Willow loves her Fish Tacos and I have carried out some extensive research in different flavoured Margheritas.
Tulum is serious business when it comes to holidays. We will be back and would recommend it to everyone!