By the time, I arrived in Mexico I hadn’t swam at a beach in almost four months. I’d also caught the beginning of the bad weather in Europe with places like Bulgaria being absolutely freezing. Hence, I absolutely had to factor in some beach and swimming time once I hit the warm, tropical climate of Mexico.
I was not inclined to go to Cancun- I’d already heard how touristy it was. I’d imagined it essentially as Kuta Beach in Bali, but for Americans. I couldn’t think of anything worse.
But I’d heard amazing things about the Caribbean Coast of Mexico which was known for its turquoise blue waters and white sandy beaches. Basically, paradise wrapped up in one shiny parcel.
Finally, I settled on the town of Tulum as the perfect base for our beach vacation.
I was travelling with my Dad at this point, which meant it was easier for us to grab a hire car from the airport in Cancun and drive the two hours up the coast to Tulum. Tulum can be split up into two parts; the town part and the beachfront where most of the resorts are.
In the interests of saving some money we decided to stay at a hostel in the town and drive to the beaches. Those that don’t have hire cars tend to hire out bicycles and bike the distance to the beach, where it’s easy to find a beach bar that will let you use their lounge chairs for the price of a couple of happy hour cocktails.
The other advantage to staying in town is that we could find so many cheap and delicious food spots to indulge in the Mexican cuisine. We ate fresh ceviche from a restaurant run by the local fisherman’s collective, we devoured a whole barbequed chicken served with tortillas, guacamole and salsa, and found the best tacos the town had to offer.
But perhaps the best advantage Tulum has over Cancun is that it isn’t just a beach destination. There is so much to see and explore in Tulum itself and nearby.
The Mayan Ruins located on a cliff above the beach were some of the best I saw in Mexico. Buildings on this archaeological site date back to the early 1200s and told a story of a civilisation that made its home on this coast. Once we had our fill of history it was easy to walk down the cliffs to cool off on the beach below.
The deep blue colour of the water and the perfect sand juxtaposed with the sun glistening off the 900-year-old ruins above makes this one of my favourite beaches in the world.
The advantage of having a car was that it was easy enough for us to venture out to nearby beaches and towns. Perhaps the best day trip from Tulum is the beach of Akumal, less than a half hour’s drive away. It doesn’t cost much to hire some snorkelling gear from a nearby dive school and snorkel right off the beach. Akumal beach is famous for the hundreds of sea turtles that call it home due to the large amounts of sea grass that grows in the area. It was an incredible experience floating in the water and watching these amazing animals swimming and munching on sea grass.
You can also head to the UNESCO Listed Biosphere, Sian Kaan for a bit of a more adventurous day trip.
But it was the cenotes that ended up being my favourite part of our trip to Tulum. Cenotes are sinkholes formed when limestone collapses. The water below the surface then fills the sinkhole, forming a natural groundwater pool. The whole province of Yucatan is home to hundreds of them.
We managed to visit just a few from Tulum. Luckily the temperature was extremely hot, because the water in the cenotes was always freezing. There was something truly magical about swimming in what was essentially an underground cave, filled with water that radiated blue.
For us, Tulum offered the best of both worlds. We avoided the crowds while also getting to explore incredible beaches, an underground world of caves and the delicious Mexican food. It’s always going to be one of my travel highlights.
We stayed at Mama’s Home Tulum which is one of the best hostels I’ve stayed at. They had amazing breakfasts that changed daily and the owner was always offer us extra advice as we were on our way out the door to explore. You can also hire bicycles here. I’d absolutely recommend staying in town because that is where all the good food is and it is easy enough to bike to the ruins and the beach.
The amazing ceviche can be found at El Camello Jr, the whole chicken with tortillas (one of my favourite meals in Mexico) can be found at el Pollo Bronco (they are only open for lunch though), the best tacos can be found at Antojitos la chaipaneca and our favourite all round restaurant in town was La Malquerida (their guacamole is seriously insane!).
If you don’t have a hire car the easiest way to arrive in Tulum is by bus. There are heaps of connections to nearby places such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Chichen Itza, Valladolid and Merida. Check the ADO bus website for more information, schedules and prices.