Central America, Mexico, Travel

Chilling in Tulum

Pete and I had flights to Mexico booked almost the minute we landed from our 3-week adventure to Thailand, New Zealand and Bali. After a ridiculous 60+ hours in the air on this holiday, one of Pete’s stipulations about our next holiday was that he wanted just 1 flight, that’s it…

Fortunately, you can get relatively cheap flights direct from Manchester to Cancun. The flight takes over 10 hours, sure, but with “just 1 flight” it was a sneaky loophole I planned to exploit.

The only problem was that in the months before our planned holiday, Pete and I broke up…

We were still living with each other in separate rooms whilst we made arrangements individually to find places to live. We had bought flights only so far, and had booked no accommodation. So we made the decision to continue to travel to Mexico together, potentially staying in the same places, but in separate rooms and travelling only as friends.

It is really nice that Pete and I have decided to continue our friendship. The Mexico trip may have had a slightly more different dynamic than previous holidays together, but it was otherwise a really nice week on holiday with a close friend. I am glad we continued.

Our flight from Manchester was to take us to Cancun, on the far Eastern coast of Mexico in the Yucatan peninsula. I had heard about Cancun and it’s cheap package holiday reputation and it’s not something that really appeals to me. So, as with a lot of our holidays, the plan was to rent a car and drive between some of the smaller towns in the area, staying only a few nights at each place.

The Yucatan peninsula was home to the ancient Maya civilisation from approximately 2000 BC to the time of the Spanish conquest, and as such is home to some spectacular Maya (and other ancient civilisations, like Toltec) ruins and sites. The most famous of which is Chichen Itza, which I have always wanted to visit.

The area, including the state Quintana Roo, is also home to a really cool geological phenomena called Cenotes. Basically a cenote is a limestone cave-in which has been filled with water. They can exist as deep pools which look like wells, or expansive underground cave systems. There are literally hundreds in the area, so I tried to make a list of the ones which looked the coolest for us to try and stop at.

We landed in Cancun after a slight delay to our flight and picked up our little car. First stop was Tulum, a beach town about 2 hours South of Cancun along the coast. I had read a lot about “up and coming” Tulum, about it’s fancy beach bars and Instagram haven. However, we were going in September, so I hoped that the town would be much less busy in the off-season. And I was right. The town was incredibly quiet relative to the number of hotels and restaurants there are. I think in high season it would definitely have been too much, but at the end of September, it was very manageable and we had all the picturesque spots to ourselves.

We had booked separate places to stay in Tulum, I had gone for a rustic beach hut at the very front of the beach, it was absolutely stunning. We checked into my place first before nipping over to Pete’s. He had gone for a budget hostel, and after scoping it out, decided he would probably just stay with me anyway haha! I didn’t blame him, the hut was big enough and really really beautiful!

My beautiful beach hut! Who could blame him!

The beaches in Quintana Roo are absolutely stunning white sandy beaches fringed by jungle. However, depending on the season and off-shore blooms, large quantities of Sargassum seaweed can wash up on the beach. We didn’t think this was as bad as I had read. It does change the appearance of the beaches and the sea a little, but overall it wasn’t too disruptive. Many of the bars and hotels along the beach work tirelessly to rake and remove the sargassum, either removing it from the beach entirely, or burying it. So many of the more popular bars we went to didn’t have any on the sand.

Beautiful white sand beach and some sargassum seaweed

Our first full day in Tulum we took the opportunity of a beach front location to relax and do pretty much nothing. Pete went off and did some kayaking on his own and I did some reading and had a little walk along the beach. We ate at some of the beach front bars and found out quickly that Mexico is a vegan’s (and a foodie’s) dream. The food is so fresh and delicious and the avocados… oh wow… the taste so different, always perfectly ripe and smooth and creamy. Yum yum!

On our second day we took a trip over to Tulum ruins, an ancient Maya site and one of the only coastal Maya towns. The town was abandoned after the Spanish conquests in the 16th century, but is still quite well preserved. We also saw a lot of iguanas in the ruins and a few cheeky coatis, like the one pictured below. It was nice, but it was also fairly busy, especially considering we got there really early…

Cheeky little Coati
The beach at Tulum ruins (and sargassum)

From here we drove over to one of the areas most famous and beautiful cenotes, cenote dos Ojos. The water of the cenotes is crystal clear and because of the pale limestone rock, they always have a brilliant bright blue colour which is just stunning. However, the abundance of water in the hot humid jungle can only really mean one thing… shit loads of mosquitoes. And not just normal mossies, these girls were HUUUUUGE! Pete got eaten alive, and a beautiful dip in the cerulean pools quickly became a mossie nightmare. We didn’t stay too long…

So to cool down in the heat of the day, we decided instead to head over to the beach of Akumal, an area where apparently turtles are very easy to spot. We first ate on the beach, a selection of tasty small Mexican dishes, then headed out into the sea with the car key wrapped up in a waterproof bag. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any turtles 😦

For our 3rd and final full day in Tulum, we headed South over to the Sian Ka’an biosphere and Muyil ruins. We much preferred this site over Tulum ruins, we only saw one other person the whole time we were here and the ruins were a lot larger. There was also a huge wooden lookout tower that was taller than the jungle canopy, with 360 views out over the region and coastal areas. It was scary to climb given how flimsy the structure looked, but it was safe enough and the views were worth it.

As we prepared to leave Tulum to head in land to Coba and Chichen Itza we woke on our last day to find that all the Sargassum had washed away! But still, we had a wonderful time in Tulum. It’s a built-up and large town full of luxury beachfront hotels, bars and restaurants. It has a reputation for being hippy and boho and attracts a lot of yogis, which meant there were more than enough vegan restaurants around for us to enjoy. We were fortunate with the season being so quiet that we got the best of both worlds; access to these cool hip bars and vegan restaurants along a stunning beach, but still nice and quiet and peaceful. Winner!

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