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bineba Tulum - A travel report by Sabine
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Tulum,  Mexico - flag Mexico -  Quintana Roo
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bineba's travel reports

Tulum – Mayan City by the Sea

  11 votes
Page: 1 2
Two hours drive south of the madness and mayhem that is Cancun, is Tulum, highly recommend if you feel the need to get away from it all. As an added bonus, there is the abundant wildlife and Mayan sites you shouldn’t miss.

Mayan ruins in Tulum
Mayan ruins in Tulum
The first time I saw a picture of Tulum (in the German magazine GEO Special) and having been interested in Mayan history since being a teenager, I decided that I had to go there one day. So, after another dismal summer here in the UK, I started planning our trip for May 2008. we decided on spending one week in Tulum, then 2 nights in Chichen Itza, 1 night in Valladolid and the last 4 nights on Isla Mujeres. May is a perfect time to go, no hurricanes yet, it’s hot (30-35C), the Caribbean Sea is warm (27C) and its low season, so hardly anybody else around and prices of accommodation drop by about a third. And (and I don’t know if this is typical for the season) we always had a nice sea breeze going, which meant the heat was bearable, we didn’t need any air con and there were no mosquitoes!

We got a direct flight from London Gatwick to Cancun with and after about 12 hours (including a delay at the airport – they didn’t have the correct paperwork for the plane filled out), we arrived in Mexico. We picked up our rental car and, after reading postings on several websites, were prepared to be either ripped off at the next petrol station or pulled over by the police for some bogus fine, but we were lucky for the whole 2 weeks and didn’t have any problems whatsoever.

Once you get to Tulum, there are 3 very distinctive parts to the small town. There are the Tulum ruins about 2 km north of Tulum Pueblo and from there a 3 km road takes you to the Zona Hotelera, and the Punta Allen Road which runs about 10km to the entrance to Sian Ka’an. Most of the ‘hotels’ are cabanas, from basic to luxurious, hidden in the jungle, but with beach access, but you won’t find any high rise hotels here.
A car is fairly essential if you are staying on the beach road. There are a few convenience shops along the road, but the big supermarket, along with ATMs and a good selection of other shops and restaurants are in the pueblo. Another option is to rent a bicycle or use a taxi.

Favourite spots:
View from our balcony
View from our balcony
The beach – as easy as that and not just because of the turquoise, clear, warm Caribbean water and the brilliant white sand with the consistency of icing sugar that never gets hot underfoot.

The day starts with spectacular sun rises (facing east you do miss out on sunsets), well worth getting up early for. You’ll probably encounter some of the crabs returning to their homes you’ll otherwise only see the tracks of that they leave in the sand.
Walking up and down the beach is great exercise and good for checking out other hotels, finding nice restaurants and bars. You’ll probably pick up a dog or two, which will follow you home, but they are all very friendly.
Sitting on our balcony, sipping a delicious fruit juice, we watched the (mainly) girls attending the Bikini Boot Camp further down the beach power-walk past, or people kite surfing.
And at night, as there was no light pollution, you could see millions of stars right to the horizon.

What's really great:
Palm trees and hammocks
Palm trees and hammocks
I love the easy going vibe that in Tulum. Cancun just seems to be ‘mad’ ( that impression I got from just half an hour there when we returned the rental car) and Playa del Carmen being overdeveloped with big hotels catering to the ‘all inclusive’ crowd, you can still get glimpses of the time Tulum was a backpacker’s heaven, even if you can’t just sling your hammock under a palm tree on the beach these days. Everything seems to happen at a slower pace and it is perfect to unwind and recharge your batteries.

Unfortunately, things might change soon. There are plans for redevelopment including a big golf resort and even an airport, although for the time being, this has been put on stop. Some of the cabana hotels have already been repossessed and there have also been incidents of ‘land grabbing’ and hotels and restaurants owned by ‘gringos’, being taken over by force.

Tulum has had it’s fair share of destruction from hurricanes over the last few years, but this is hardly noticeablet

El Castillo
El Castillo
The Mayan ruins are a ‘must’ – unfortunately so thinks every tourist in Cancun, Playa del Carmen and every place in between. Take advantage of staying in Tulum and get there early, this is also recommended to avoid the worst of the heat.

Tulum was developed into an important port during the Mayan late post-Classic period during AD 1200 and 1500 was still going strong during the Spanish conquest.
The walls of the fortress gave Tulum its name, but it also had other name, Zama, or place of the dawn. The ruins might not be as impressive as Chichen Itza, but the setting is spectacular and the ruins are well preserved, especially the Temple of the Wind God and El Castillo. You can’t explore the ruins themselves, as everything is roped off, but considering the number of people descending on the site every day, that is probably a wise decision.

Don’t forget to bring your swim suit as there is a lovely beach underneath the ruins and don’t trip over one of the numerous iguanas.

Nuevo Vida de Ramiro
Nuevo Vida de Ramiro
Staying in the pueblo is generally cheaper and there are a several options. Cabanas on the beach come in a range of prices and comfort levels. We picked Nuevo Vida de Ramiro ( and loved it! Our cabana was far from luxurious, but comfortable, clean and directly on the beach. The traditional palapa roof meant there was always a natural breeze going, we didn’t have to use the fan provided once. There are no electrical outlets in the rooms, but we had 24 hrs light (electricity is wind and sun generated) and we had warm water (salt water, so have a bottle of fresh water for the final rinse at hand) to shower. There is a wireless zone near the reception if you can’t live without your laptop and you can charge your mobile phone and batteries. Nuevo Vida is an Eco-Resort and the cabanas have been built raised from the ground, so not to disturb the vegetation. Turtles come to this beach during breeding season.
The staff is extremely helpful and can organise tours for you.

Sugar cane crusher
Sugar cane crusher
I believe there are some night spots in Tulum Pueblo, but if you are staying on the beach your options are very limited if you want to party. If however, you are quite happy to sit in a beach bar and sip cocktails or ice cold cervezas you have plenty of options.

Our favourite bar was La Zebra, about 5 minute walk along the beach from our cabana. They have a fantastic Tequila bar and a hand cranked sugar cane crusher for the freshest of Mojitos. There signature margarita is made with fresh pineapple juice and ginger and is delicious. Several times during the week they hold free salsa classes and you can show off your moves on Sunday evenings, when they hold a big party with live bands that goes on until the early hours and, judging by the turnout, is a popular evening out for both tourists and locals.

Fruit stall in Tulum Pueblo
Fruit stall in Tulum Pueblo
You might be tempted to spend your whole time at the beach, but you should also visit the pueblo (and not jut to stock up on your groceries). It’s not big and not particularly pretty at first sight, but worth exploring. A lot of the shops are geared towards tourists, but just wander off the beaten track and you find the kind of shops, cafes and restaurants frequented by local people. Give ‘Subways’ a wide berth and head for one of the places serving roast chicken and rice.

An HSBC bank, laundry, medical centre, the police station and post office and everything else you might need are also found here, like petrol stations, internet cafes and offices offering diving and snorkelling tours to one of the many cenotes (fresh water caves or lakes) in the area.

A great place to get answers to all your Tulum related questions is the following website:

La Zebra was also good for breakfast and dinner, loved the omelettes, smoothies & fresh coffee in the morning and the charcoal grilled fish & meats in the evening.
Casa Banana, which is part of Nueva Vida, also serves good breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The small restaurant is on the other side of the beach road, so you miss out on the ocean views, but the quality of both food and service is very good.

Pizzas at La Vita e Bella were very good if you fancy something different, but for some bizarre reason, which we tried to find out, but couldn’t, despite there being a bar, we couldn’t order any alcohol. A lot of customers turned on their heels when they found out!

Don Cafeto in the pueblo, a local landmark, is a great place for authentic Mexican food and people watching. Beware the pickles you get with your food – they are HOT!

Que Fresco at Zamas occupies a beautiful spot on the beach and serves delicious food. Try the crepes with mushrooms and chaya, a local variety of spf

Other recommendations:
Brown pelican
Brown pelican
I loved our day trip to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve just south of Tulum with Centro Ecologico Sian Ka’an (CESiaK). You can take your own car, but it is worth paying for a guided tour. Numbers of tours and people are limited every day, there were only 5 on ours, which made it very personalised. We were picked up at our hotel and taken for a swim in a cenote (Ben-Ha) right by the entrance to the park. We then drove to the Sian Ka’an Centre, right by the spectacular beach and went on a walking tour through the jungle where our very knowledgeable guide explained the flora and fauna to us. Next was a boat trip through the mangrove lagoon, across Lake Chunyaxche (you can see the underground rivers bubbling up to the surface) and to where the fresh water and the sea water meet. A highlight of the trip was an island in the lake that was teeming with birds: pelicans, ibises, frigate birds, herons, etc. After an amazing sunset on the lake the day ended with a tasty dinner back at the centre.

Published on Sunday November 23th, 2008

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Sun, Dec 07 2008 - 10:25 AM rating by rangutan

Top class report!

Tue, Dec 02 2008 - 06:23 AM rating by louis

After reading you report I would like to go to Tulum and watch a milions of stars ...

Thu, Nov 27 2008 - 11:59 AM rating by marianne

Excellent, good information and a pleasure to read

Tue, Nov 25 2008 - 05:10 PM rating by krisek

Sabine, a very good report! I was not aware that the Maya built temples on the coast. Many thanks! It sounds like you are a breakfast person... I am not - I rather stay an extra 20 minutes in bed :)

Mon, Nov 24 2008 - 06:00 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Good description of Tulum, the only Maya temple by the sea.

Sun, Nov 23 2008 - 07:18 PM rating by gloriajames

I felt as if I was transported to the Caribbean!

Sun, Nov 23 2008 - 04:49 PM rating by pesu

What a nice report to read on a snowy Sunday evening in Germany - stunning pics!

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