Tulum, The Ruins and A Beach I Could Call Home

Yesterday we decided it was finally time to check out Akumal. We’ve heard nothing but great things about it since we got here. It’s always been high on our list of things to do but for some reason a month had gone by and we still hadn’t gone. Well that changed yesterday and I’m pleased to announce that we all had a good time.

Tulum Ruins
Tulum Ruins

Before I get into it though, I suppose I should add a thing or two (or knowing me a hundred) about our three night escape to Tulum. I’m sure you got quite the earful in Cole’s post but he only talked about one day and we all know 5 year olds can never be quite trusted. Especially when iguanas, a trampoline, cheese and mayonnaise sandwiches are involved. 😉

We decided to take a bus to Tulum simply because we thought it would be easier than taking a collectivo. Buses have the added advantage that there’s actually a place to store your bags and since we were four of us for four days we decided to take two of the big bags and two of the day packs. The biggest reason we were heading to Tulum at this point was because we were changing condos for the month and we needed to be out of the old one. We didn’t take possession of the new condo until the 4th so we thought we might as well make the most of it and took that time to check out another place on the peninsula.

Luckily, Claudia, the property manager at our last condo, let us leave the rest of our bags and groceries there while we went down in Tulum. We’ve already accumulated a ton of extra stuff since we got here like toys, supplies, beach things and plastic food containers. The latter because both condos we’ve rented only had glass containers and breakable plates and as much as I enjoy letting Jordan pretend she’s at a Greek wedding every meal I get tired of constantly dislodging glass from my toes.

After taking a taxi to the terminal, we were actually surprised to find out the bus turned out to be cheaper than the collectivos. It only cost us 60 pesos (about $5 Cdn) for all 4 of us to get to Tulum. A collectivo would have easily doubled that price. The bus was also nearly new, air conditioned and would have put any GreyHound bus from back home to shame. Of course it didn’t hurt that the kids were both free.

On a quick note, not wholly unrelated to this one, I have to comment on one of the weird things about this area. A lot of the time they charge their prices based on the height of someone rather than age. Most terminals, attractions and tours have signboards (eerily similar to amusement park rides where you must be this tall to go on that ride) that list 3 heights and 3 prices. Adult (or people 1.4 meters or higher) pay full price while those smaller pay a reduced price. Those under the lowest height are free. It’s an interesting system and I wonder how well it works. I feel bad for giants but I’m glad midgets finally get a pretty sweet deal.

The interesting thing is that Cole is a hand taller than the free price height and yet the only time we’ve had to pay for him was when we went on the collectivos. Their system is pretty straight forward. You take a seat, you pay the price. This seems the fairest to me since the drivers make more money if the van is full. Jordan usually sits (or sleeps) on us so besides for a few pounds of weight she’s not really inconveniencing anyone else.

Tulum Ruins by the Sea
Tulum Ruins by the Sea

Anyway, we were surprised at the size of Tulum. It was much bigger than we expected. We had gotten a hotel in town rather than by the ocean. Tulum is basically a highway town and totally revolves around the highway there. All the major restaurants and shops ply their trades along it. The beach is actually several kilometers away from the center of town. Tulum is also interesting because, unlike Cancun and even Playa, there are no real large hotel chains in the area. Definitely nothing like the Gran Bahia Principe that we had stayed at the week before.

Most of the Tulum hotels are a little on the lower end and a lot of them don’t even have hot water or air conditioning. Even in the guidebooks and travel sites they’ll recommend staying in town rather than the beach because then you’ll at least have some half decent restaurants to go to. We had decided on being in town especially because of the food. Since we weren’t getting a place with a kitchen we were going to be eating out for every meal. Our kids are great and all but anyone with a 2 and 5 year will tell you that onstantly sitting in a restaurant waiting for them to serve you can get a little tiresome at times.

The hotel we chose was called Posada 06. It got great reviews, was close to a few decent restaurants and was only completed last year. One thing we’ve discovered about traveling is that the newer the place, the better the odds that we would like it. New usually means cleaner and more often than not, a better experience. This place was also smaller and would probably be considered a boutique hotel in Tulum based on its size and style.

It was definitely a smaller hotel but it had crazy amounts of charm. All the rooms in the 2 story complex faced the inner courtyard and the pool. The pool wasn’t much more than 2 oversized hot tubs connected with a long (3 feet wide and about 20 feet long) winding water corridor. There was a very old twisted tree right in the middle of it all and there were flowers and vines everywhere. It was a tiny garden of Eden.

What we both loved the most about it was that there weren’t any right angles in the place. Every corner was rounded and everything had a great flow to it. The whole place looked sculpted rather that fabricated. The bed frames and nightstands were cast in place and you couldn’t tell where the floor ended and the furniture begun. Even the open shower and the entire sink cabinet were made the same way. The whole place had a very natural or organic feel to it.

Unfortunately the place suffered the same problem as Bahia Principe. It had a strong musty smell to it. It was nowhere near as bad as the hotel in Akumal but it was there nonetheless. The majority of the smell was definitely coming from the air conditioning unit and luckily the nights were cool enough that we didn’t need to turn it on at all. The place was practically empty (we never saw anyone else besides the staff our entire stay) and the entire place was impeccably clean and well maintained. I actually think it’s because the place was so empty that there was any smell. They need to open the rooms a bit and let them air out once in a while. In any case, the hotel was fine with us. The smell hadn’t penetrated anything too deeply and the people were super nice. All in all, this has to be one of the nicest hotels in Tulum.

Tulum is chiefly known for two things. One is it’s ruins and the other is it’s beaches. Even though we were staying in the town, we definitely wanted to spend some time sea side. The first day we checked out the ruins. They were a few kilometers outside of town. Tulum’s ruins aren’t known as the biggest or even best ruins on the Peninsula but they are known for their scenery. They are only one of a small handful to be within sight of the ocean and the only one of any decent size to be pressed right up to it.

Endless White Sand Beach at Tulum
Endless White Sand Beach at Tulum

Before I get into it, let me say that the ocean is gorgeous in Tulum. White sand and sparkling water. Couple that with ancient ruins and you have yourself one helluva tourist destination! There were a lot of people there and if the temperature had been any hotter you would have been hard pressed to see any white sand on it’s secluded beach. As it was there were times when Micki and I almost called it quits while navigating the pathways and dodging the crowd while checking out the 14h century ruins. The only reason we stayed so long was those damn iguanas everywhere. I think we took more pictures of them then we did of any of the remaining structures. No offense to the Mayans but without a guided tour (we were too cheap to pay for one) one pile on rocks quickly starts to look like the next one pretty quickly. Once you’ve seen the castle, the remaining few buildings that are standing and gotten a chance to take a few pics of the structures overlooking the water you’re pretty much done. The only thing left to do is buy a souvenir and take a few more pics of the iguanas.

Iguana at the Tulum Ruins in the Yucatan, Mexico
Iguana at the Tulum Ruins

In truth, we actually really liked the place but it was quite a hot day and we were excited to get to a real beach. Cole and Jordan were getting burnt out with the crowds, the heat and our camera in their face every other minute so after finding a decent taxi driver we made our way to Ana y Jose. That was a beach club the driver, Micki and I figured would be a good place to finish off the day.

If you read the last blog you would know that we had a great time eating, drinking and bouncing the time away. The food and drink wasn’t the best deal we ever had but we all enjoyed ourselves so much that it was a complete hit. The next morning we decided to hit the beach a little closer to the ruins. The taxi driver recommended Club Paraiso (pair-ah-ee-so) since that was the most popular beach club in Tulum. After dealing with the crowds at the ruins the previous day we weren’t sold on the idea of more crowds so we went a little further down the beach to another place that centered around a backpacking hostel.

As we walked to the beach through the Zazil Kin backpacking complex Micki and I saw dozens of simple little huts scattered everywhere. We were strongly reminded of how 6 or 7 years ago we would have been in heaven staying there. We could have easily killed a month or two with tons of time to read, sleep and lounge the days away while chilling in the hammocks listening to the oceans crashing chorus. In truth it totally reminded us our previous trips in Thailand and Asia.

Even more so, it reminded us that traveling with kids requires a completely different mindset. What would have been heaven to us before would be hell with two kids in tow. What would have been the perfect relaxation spot would be complete boredom to our two. What would have been a quiet place to read while lying in a hammock would now be an accident waiting to happen when Jordan crawled in and Cole decided she needed someone to push her in circles. The quaint little restaurant with it’s quirky staff and laid back atmosphere would have delighted us and kept us entertained for hours. Now that same restaurant would upset us to no end and we’d probably end up yelling at the staff every other minute as our kids went berserk waiting for that sandwich that should have been served over an hour ago.

Yes, it was that realization as we crested the last hill and finally stepped on the beach proper that made us realize that maybe Club Paraiso was more to our taste these days. This place was fine but it was practically deserted and there was not much for the kids to do there. With that in mind we set off to walk the half kilometer to the other club. To be honest it wasn’t a bad idea that we started off at the last place. It gave us a great chance to see the beach in Tulum. You see, the beach at Zazil Kin is simply gorgeous. It has to be the widest beach we’ve seen since we got herre. The water is so far from the start of the sand that I almost wished I had a 4 wheeler or even a horse to ride around on. There was a huge strip where the sand was so hard packed you could almost roller-skate on. This is probably how a lot of the other beaches looked like years ago before all the tourists claimed it for their own and everyone built large complexes that spilled their bulk onto the sand.

The White Sand Beach at Tulum, Mexico, Yucatan
The White Sand at Tulum

It was refreshing to say the least. At that location you can easily see the ruins farther up the coast and the half dozen people that we saw in either direction were completely dwarfed by the scope of the surroundings. If I was a beach chair, that was were I wish I was placed. Unfortunately for me, I’m not an immobile object whose sole function in life is to relax (at least that’s what Micki keeps telling me). With that in mind we headed to Club Paraiso. As we rounded the bend a different scene filled our vision. People, activity and civilization had encroached upon us once again.

Fortunately for us, it was perfect for the kids. The place was actually quite quiet compared to Playa and Cozumel. We were half expecting a good portion of the ruins visiting horde to be claiming their place in the sun but there weren’t. I suppose most people that go to the ruins do it with a tour or simply as a day trip. Well their loss was our gain. We got a monster sized sun bed complete with oversized umbrella and our own table and chairs for $12 Cdn. We thought it was a little steep (the day before we got nearly that for only the price of food and drink) but the sun was strong and the temperature hot so it was worth it. Cole got to spend a few more hours bouncing on a trampoline and we all enjoyed a nice lunch and drinks. We spent a good amount of time building sand castles and floating around in the clear blue ocean. It was another great day. That night we hit the same restaurant as the day before and Cole got his second chance to eat a chocolate and banana crepe.

The next day we arranged for a late checkout and enjoyed playing in the pool and relaxing at the hotel. We jumped on the bus back to Playa and checked into our condo around 4, and got ready for some fun things to see and do in Playa del Carmen. It was literally on the same block as our last place but in a different complex. It seems a little more plush than our last one and the internet is way better. We can hear a little more road noise and we lost our secondary patio area (which we only used to dry our clothes) but this place has a dryer and a wide screen TV so that more than makes up for it. It also has screens on the windows (the last place didn’t) so now we have less fear of mosquitoes at night attacking us and the kids. We’ve settled in pretty good the last couple of days and after scattering our things and the kid’s toys the place is starting to feel like a home.

It’s funny, I think people often confuse their house with their home. A house is simply a place to keep your junk. A home is where you keep your memories and dreams. For now this place is definitely our home. Every day we’re filling it up and cherishing the time we get to spend together. We realize that all too quickly we’ll be leaving here for other pastures and that every day here is a new chance at fulfilling our dreams and creating memories that will last a lifetime. At the end of the day, when we get back to whatever place we’re calling home we know that we carry that with us wherever we go. In a sense, that’s what being a barefoot nomad is all about.

I hope you all get a chance to get out in the next little while and enjoy what this world has to offer. Doing it barefoot or not is up to you. Happy Travels.