A few months ago we embarked on a trip to Mexico with my sister and brother-in-law, Bri and Linden. We picked Mexico because it provided the cheapest airline tickets for our dates and starting point, which we agreed would be the deciding factor on where we were going to go. I'll be honest, I wasn't completely excited about going there at first. Mexico just seemed so typical, and brought to mind images of partying college students. With a desire to avoid crowds, we decided to travel to Playa Del Carmen (a town about 45 minutes south of Cancun) and then head further south to the little town of Tulum once the rest of our party arrived. When we arrived in Cancun we headed to the ADO bus station and managed to land tickets on the last bus to Playa that night. While we waited for it to arrive we started chatting with two of our fellow bus riders. Meeting interesting new people is one of the great joys of traveling. The first gentleman described how he used to compete in karate at a high level in Europe before moving on to his current job in a start up car sharing company in Vancouver. The second gentleman told us he had just graduated from Stanford and was taking a three month break to see a bit of the world before starting work. He planned to travel from Mexico down through South America and end his journey in Cuba. He admitted that this was his first time traveling on his own and we thought he was very courageous for taking on such a beastly trip as a new traveler. We arrived in Playa around midnight, and lugged our bags through dark streets to The Yak, the hostel we stayed at while awaiting Bri and Linden's arrival. I'll be writing a separate review on that. If posh shopping, fine dining, and clubs are your thing then Playa Del Carmen might be the perfect place for you, whilst also escaping some of the crowds of Cancun. But for us, Tulum was the real treasure.
While the town of Tulum was nothing special, the beaches and accommodations stretching out from it are nothing short of spectacular. Sand like powdered sugar, water warm enough to stay in all day, luxuriously chic and rustic boutiques, and restaurants that could hold their own against the finest dining in Playa Del Carmen. Besides the quality of the beaches, the thing that drew me to this area was its artistic flair. Brightly painted buildings, chandeliers hanging from trees, cheerful murals, eco friendly clothing and home decor shops: everywhere you look is beautiful and interesting.
Now that I've described the location, let's get into the accommodations. We stayed at a wonderful eco friendly boutique called Hotel Nueva Vida de Ramiro. With mentions in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times, and Chicago Tribune we were pleasantly surprised to score decently affordable bungalows ($100 a night) at this clearly chic resort. No, it wasn't the $40 a night we paid to stay in a private room at a hostel in Playa, but we definitely got a whole lot more for our money at Hotel Nueva Vida de Ramiro.
Walking into the lobby we were immediately captivated by the open air design, colorful accents, and a shelf of books which guests are free to borrow during their stay. Check in was quick and easy, and before we knew it our belongings were being transferred to our bungalow via wheelbarrow. The room itself was basic, but lovely, with lots of windows, a porch, a bathroom boasting a beautiful Mexican tiled sink, and a second outdoor rain shower. With temperatures well into the 80's each day, the most glaring feature lacking in our bungalow was air conditioning. However, a fan was provided and we found that we slept quite well with the windows open and the fan on high.
Our immediate priority after dropping off our things was to visit the beach, for which large towels and a tote were kindly provided. Located just a minute's walk down a jungle path, we emerged onto the sand only to find that our luck was even better than we thought: Hotel Nueva Vida de Ramiro has strategically lined their section of the beach with swinging beds. Lying on those beds reading was arguably the best part of the trip.
Each evening we strolled along the main street flipping through menus, trying to decide what was going to please both the palate and the wallet. While I'm sure there are plenty of out of the way places in Mexico with cheap food, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum were not those spots. We found ourselves paying around $10 a plate for relatively simple food. This came as quite a shock compared to most international traveling we've done, where food is not a problem when it comes to budgeting. Ten dollars a plate was really painful when the last place we visited was Nepal, where we were paying $1-2 a plate! With no grocery stores within walking distance (we didn't rent a car) there wasn't much we could do but accept this fact and enjoy the food.
A few days into our stay we decided--with some difficulty--to do some adventuring away from our slice of beach paradise. Early the next morning we caught a taxi north to the Mayan ruins of Tulum. We were told that their claim to fame is that they are the only Mayan ruins located along the sea. After paying 59 pesos per person to enter, (we chose not to hire a guide) we wandered the paths through the ruins and along the massive walls. It really was beautiful, situated on a bluff overlooking a lovely sandy beach. However, maybe because of the intense heat or the fact that we were able to do so much more exploration through ancient structures in India, these ruins fell a little short for us. The skill with which they were constructed was impressive, but they were fairly small and completely roped off to the public. After only twenty minutes we decided to head on to our next activity.
From the ruins we hailed a taxi to El Gran Cenote, a sink hole resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock exposing the ground water beneath. There are quite a number of cenotes throughout the Yucatan Peninsula due to the amounts of porous limestone present in the bedrock. Having been filtered through the limestone, the water that fills these pools is exceptionally clear and fresh. Upon arrival we had to pay the rather steep entrance fee of 150 pesos a person, but we felt it was worth it as soon as we saw the cenote: dazzling greenish-blue water as clear as glas,s with a nice wooden platform in the center to dive and snorkel from. We climbed down to the platform and headed straight into the water, which turned out to be very cold. We were quite envious that some of the snorkelers and divers were in wet suits, but it was so hot out that after a few minutes it felt good and we were able to focus on exploring and enjoying the host of small fish and turtles swimming about. What was especially enchanting about this centote was the ability to swim from the main pool into a cavern complete with stalactites and stalagmites. On the other side of the main pool a quick swim through a wide tunnel led to a second smaller and shallower sink hole that would be a perfect place for small children to swim.
After our day of adventure we returned to reading, food, and the beach. Regarding food, Hotel Nueva Vida de Ramiro provides its guests with breakfast vouchers for either their restaurant, or the restaurant at La Zebra, a fantastic boutique just a few hotels down. We soon decided that we preferred to dine at La Zebra, not because of the food but rather for their restaurant's prime location right on the beach.
When our last day finally arrived there was an air of sadness, as we definitely weren't ready to leave Tulum's laid back pace. That evening we treated ourselves to a fantastic dinner, complete with custom made salsa and a mariachi band, and then rounded things off with a starlit walk on the beach and some night photography. The next morning we were sad to leave but did so with the knowledge that we had enjoyed Mexico to the fullest and would be back.