Tulum: Land of Sun and Iguanas

IMG_9577Over spring break I made like your average college student and escaping the gray cold of New York, went to Mexico. However, since I do like to entertain the thought that I’m ‘slightly’ different from the pack, we decided to go to Tulum, about 2 hours from Cancun, that paragon of dubious, non-stop college partying.

If you’ve been on social media even once in the past two years, you will notice a subtle yet steady surge of posts and pictures singing Tulum’s praises. Eco-friendly, relaxing, all-natural, NOT Cancun, these are all the reasons you should go. Plus the freshwater cenotes and the multitude of ruins everywhere give everyone something to do besides lie on the beach (which is amazing, but as I’ve never been able to relax properly, not for me).Xamach Dos collageWe stayed at an super secluded eco-resort in the Sian Ka’an bio reserve – that 32 km drive on the Boca Paila from Tulum proper to our reserve took about an hour of bumping along an unpaved road, evading huge potholes filled with water from last week’s storm. But Xamach Dos was so worth it – pristine, secluded beach, cabanas almost right on the water, decorated by the proprietor, Dan. Our cabana had no windows, just a lot of mosquito netting and was guarded by a thicket of palm trees, but by the end of our stay my hair had that textured, unruly, beach-y feel sans Bumble and bumble’s surf spray. We were also lulled to sleep every night by the breeze passing through our mosquito netting and the gentle crash of the waves.IMG_9478.krIMG_9489.krIMG_9569.krDay 1 was spent bumping along the aforementioned Boca Paila, which was usually thickets of palm trees and scuttling iguanas, but could suddenly fall away to reveal a large stretch of beach and a dried up coral reef. If you continue past our resort, you would wind up in Punta Allen, where there’s great snorkeling trips and good food, like everywhere else in the Yucatan.IMG_9460.krDay 2 began with us getting up before dawn to watch the sunrise over the water. All the beaches in Yucatan face east, but you could also get lucky and find a curved beach where you can glimpse the sunset before it slips behind the palm trees.Tulum ruinsIMG_9528.krIMG_9514.krIMG_9532.krWe then dutifully headed out to the ruins at Tulum, although we were told the ones at Coba are better, since you actually get to get close and touch them. You can pay extra for a tour but it was too hot and we were too impatient. All the ruins in Tulum are roped off, but the beach is gorgeous and open to everyone. It was a wonderful way to cool off after hours in the heat. In the same vein, as we had exhausted our water supply, Jake and I grabbed a fresh coconut from a vendor right outside the ruins. To be honest, it’s an acquired taste but very hydrating and half the fun comes from the container.

We then headed off to the Mayan Clay Spa, something that was on literally every itinerary of Tulum and got a massage and Mayan Clay facial. It’s a beautiful space, the stuff you see in movies, with palm fronds and earthy tones everywhere and the owner and staff are very friendly. I looked absolutely funky once the treatment was over, but there’s a shower to wash it all off and my skin was super smooth afterwards.IMG_9542.2.krI promised myself Day 3 would be reserved for relaxing, but we set off to town once more, riding past open air stores and restaurants and colorful resorts. One of the staff at Xamach Dos recommended La Eufemia for “The best fucking tacos” (that’s their advertisement) and it did not disappoint. After a long walk through another hotel we got to the little shack on the beach with the open kitchen and mattresses on the sand. We got every kind and you could choose from a variety of sauces at the sauce bar to spice up your meal. The margaritas were also to-die for – in a burst of wild abandon I ordered a passion fruit margarita with chili salt and it did not disappoint. You can sit on the beach or inside the little shack and then wander around the entire length of the beach. Here it’s a little crowded, unlike our secluded hideaway in the Sian Ka’an.Coqui CoquiA few steps from La Eufemia is Coqui Coqui Tulum, a beautiful boutique hotel that is always booked, but also has an amazing range of fragrances and body oils all made from local Yucatan ingredients. I came away with my own gold embossed bottle of Rosas Secas, although Tobacco was a close second.IMG_9580.krWe bumped back home on what was now a familiar road and made it just in time to see this sunset over the bridge where locals come to fish every evening, despite the “No fishing” signs. We came home and spent our last night in Tulum digging into a delicious dinner and chatting with the other guests, two of whom where a couple from Cancun that came to Tulum to escape the crowds!

I could go on and on about Tulum, the perfect weather and the impossibly azure water, the slow, relaxed pace as people bike and roam everywhere and eat the delicious and fresh (and cheap!) food. When I think back on it, it still fills my heart with warmth and I will definitely go back and go through my entire bucket list or maybe just relax…(not likely).

TO STAY

Xamach Dos was a very secluded, small resort, but the beach was private and not a soul to be seen, unlike the long stretch of beach closer to Tulum. However, it is quite a drive and the food is great, but mildly overpriced compared to the equally great food closer to Tulum.

Coqui Coqui Tulum just got a face lift and having been inside, at least for their boutique, I can say it’s beautiful, with an on-site spa as well.

There are so many more hotels or boutique hotels or resorts to stay in, so you can definitely shop around for the perfect experience. For a more independent experience, I say go for Airbnb.

TO EAT

I did not have the patience to wait in line JUST to place a reservation at Hartwood, but the open air kitchen and restaurant are reported to be amazing, all food sourced locally and cooked right in front of you.

La Eufemia for tacos, sauces and amazing margaritas.

Posada Margherita, where I have not yet gone, is supposed to be great for their juices and healthy meals.

Le Nave in Tulum proper is located on main street and has amazing juices and the best seafood platter.

In general, explore, because I doubt you can go wrong in Tulum or Yucatan in general.

TO DO

Cenotes, freshwater pits that dot the Yucatan and were the main source of freshwater for the Mayans, are a great way to explore the beauty of the region and an alternative to the beach for swimming. If you grab a map you can pick and choose where to go, or join a tour group.

Mayan Clay Spa for a variety of facials, full-body massages and other offerings. They also sell the peculiar local yellow clay to take home.

Ruins in Tulum, Coba and Sian Ka’an. The ones in Sian Ka’an are impossible to find without a guide, but are lesser known and so much more fun that way. Due to our short stay we didn’t have the time to explore those, but apparently there was one right beside Xamach Dos.

TO PACK

For most of peak season, you should bring the lightest, airiest, most comfortable clothes. I walked around in linen and my panama hat and so so much sunscreen and bug spray (we went during the Zika outbreak, but were thankfully fine). Although I did have to pack a cashmere sweater and jeans for the flight back to winter wonderland.

So I tried something new with this post, what do you think?

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