With our limited time in Mexico, we had chosen Tulum (pronounced Teloom), as our first stop and headed there straight from the airport – it is about an hour and 30 minutes drive.
The trip itself was underwhelming, not very scenic until we approached Tulum and landscape became more lush. Arriving at our hotel, Betulum Resort and Spa, was a jaw dropping moment. The spectacular setting of the Caribbean ocean took our breath away and we knew we had made a good choice. Our first night was spent in awe of the beauty, enjoying delicious food at the hotel’s main restaurant, Maresias, listening to live music whilst we contemplated how we would best use our precious few days. Whilst we didn’t quite get through our entire list, we have put together some suggestions of restaurants, places to visit and experiences.
Restaurants and cafes
This restaurant is not to be missed if you are in Tulum…. you cannot usually book, so arrive early if you want to be sure of a table (they open at 5, Wednesday to Sunday). Their philosophy honours Mayan traditions and supports their communities by sourcing high quality produce from ‘Milpas’ (Mayan farms), Yucatán markets and suppliers observing sustainable fishing methods. The restaurant itself is exclusively solar powered, cooking is done using an open fire and waste becomes organic compost, exemplifying the overall emphasis on sustainability and ecology in the area. All these elements come together to create a unique outdoor dining experience, a fusion of delicious flavours, exotic cocktails and wonderful service.
This cafe was a stand out, so much so that we had to make time for a second visit. Their acai bowl was the best one we came across in Tulum, and just what you feel like in the hot Mexican climate. As the name suggests, the food offered is predominantly raw and vegan (except for mayan honey).
Adelightful cafe located within the Sanará Hotel, situated on beautiful Tulum beach. Again there is a strong focus on sustainable produce and good nutrition. We struggled with the choice on the vegan smoothie menu, ultimately being very happy with vanilla and banana split thick shakes.
Enchanting location, again eco friendly. We were fortunate enough to stay in this beautiful resort, and enjoyed a delicious breakfast each morning (usually an acai bowl topped with an array of fresh fruit which changed daily). The menu is extensive and the setting is hard to beat, so even if you are not staying there, we recommend going for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or an afternoon cocktail.
Activities/places to visit
The beautiful setting of the Tulum ruins adds to the allure of the fascinating history of the ancient Mayan civilisation, walking amongst the remnants of the post classic period, built in the 13th century. Ruins appear to be guarded by their permanent iguana residents, sometimes resembling gargoyle statues along the walls of the structures.
Visit a Cenote
Unique to the Yucatan region of Mexico is the underwater river system, which was not only the primary source of water for the Mayan people, but of important spiritual significance. The underground caverns were considered sacred. The Cenotes are areas where there is a hole in the surface, allowing access to this pristine water. They are known for their exceptional beauty and have recently become a popular tourist destination, to the point that many have become quite crowded. One has to wonder whether there will be a point in the future when these extraordinary natural ponds will be compromised by increased human contamination. There are many in the Tulum and Coba area, each with their own character. We of course did not have time visit them all, so we suggest doing some research to chose the most appealing to you. Perhaps the most famous is Dos Ojos, which was certainly on our list, however we chose the adventure we have described below.
We had seen signs for this park and hesitated slightly as there were hints of a ‘theme park’ like feel and we had no recommendations to go. However, after looking at the photos online and the beautiful cenotes, Yaxmuul and Nohoch Nah Chiich (underworld for the Mayans….) we decided to go, and it was an experience we will never forget.
We were treated to a private tour beginning by a four wheel drive deep into the Mayan jungle, where our delightful guide, Victor, took us on an extraordinary adventure. The reverence to nature, respect for the waters, as observed by the Mayans was explained to us. Everyone must shower before entering the waters. We began rappelling (lowering ourselves using a rope whilst attached to a harness) through a hole into the Yaxmuul Cenote, a mesmerising sight. From there we swam out and attended a traditional Mayan cleansing ceremony and blessing by a Shaman.
We then enjoyed an exhilarating zip line through the jungle, finally landing in the water at the beginning of the next Cenote, when we put on our snorkelling gear and swam through the clear waters of the world’s longest underwater cave system, the Nohoch Nah Chiich cavern, between stalactites and stalagmites. The entire experience takes around 3 hours.
Due to the nature of these activities, phones and cameras are left in lockers, although go-pros are allowed. Don’t worry though, your personal experience will be captured in still and video format and available for purchase afterwards.
Mayan Spa Treatment
Included in our Betulum stay was a ‘Healing Waters Circuit’ in the spa, a both relaxing and invigorating experience, beginning with a luxurious steam room complete with exfoliating scrub, followed by a less fun freezing shower (only 30 seconds), then the dry sauna, another freezing shower and finally relaxation time by the pool with a number of water jets to complete the circuit.
If we could choose one more activity, it would probably be swimming/diving with the turtles in Akumal, slightly north of Tulum. This is a turtle conservation area.
Another restaurant we wish we could have visited is Casa Jaguar which was recommend to us – we hear they do a killer ceviche.
- Whilst we did not feel unsafe whilst in Mexico, it was helpful to read the travel advice, that is to pre arrange transfers from any airports, not hire a car and exercise caution.
- Make sure you have a good mosquito repellant (some hotels will provide this) and you may notice the smell of Copa which is burnt to help keep these pests at bay. Remember though, it is the jungle and they [mosquitoes] are hard to avoid.
- Bring adaptors.. you will struggle to find them here. If you do happen to forget (as we did) there is a Kodak store in the main town where you should be able to find one.
- A number of restaurants/cafes only take cash (either pesos or american dollars) and whilst there are a number of ATMs dotted along the hotel/restaurant strip, a storm can knock them all out, as we discovered when we were there.
- Taxis are plentiful in the Tulum Beach area and it is possible to negotiate a good day rate (we did this via our hotel, Betulum) to visit a number of sites, so it may be worth considering this to tailor make your day trips. For the full day it was $100 USD.
- English is not widely spoken outside of resorts, so some basic knowledge of Spanish, or a phrase book (or a translation app) could be useful.