Again another delay on blogging but I’m happy to say that Tom and I are back in the (currently) sunny South Island of New Zealand. We have had a busy month of travelling around to see family so have still been on the road living out of backpacks. The backpacks have grown a little with rediscovering clothes left at our parents houses as well as Christmas presents so a suitcase has been added to transport these. At the moment we are in Queenstown recovering from Christmas and New Year (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone reading this) so expect some quick posts about what we were up to between Mexico and our return home.
After leaving Isla Holbox where we swum with whale sharks we opted to skip both Cancun and Playa del Carmen we jumped straight onto a bus to Tulum. In short we unfortunately found Tulum to be both underwhelming and overpriced, although we did stay for a week and saw a few cool places. The first hurdle we encountered was finding accommodation. We hunted through the whole town in the dark and still ended up in what we considered an overpriced budget hotel. The hotel manager gave us a bit of a run-around after we asked for a discounted weekly rate, which they granted, but then started removing perks such as the free bike hire and kitchen use. We thought this was a little unfair and got a bit cranky. As we were about to leave and find somewhere else to stay they re-allowed the inclusions. So overall Tulum didn’t start out great and continued to be expensive. Because of this we didn’t opt to take any tours over the week but still visited some interesting places.
Because we had arrived in the evening after lugging our packs through town on a search for accommodation we had no energy for anything other than dumping our packs and sleeping. But before sleep Tom’s most important thing was a hamburger; street food style. I instead decided to be a bit of a weirdo and have breakfast for my dinner with muesli and yoghurt.
The next morning we (literally) hopped on our bikes and took off to the supermarket to stock up as it was going to be so much cheaper here to cook for ourselves. The other option was to survive off street hamburgers… which may have worked for a night or two but not a full week. After a productive visit to the Chedraui supermarket we returned to our room with our bike baskets and backpacks full.
The conditions in Tulum were quite conducive to using a bike as transport. The town is flat and there are paved bike paths out to the beach. The only difficulty is the sun and humidity so it’s a fine line between biking quickly for a cool breeze and slow enough so you don’t get sweaty and overheated. As in Valladolid I had so much fun on the bikes and they really made me feel like I was getting into the free, backpacker, travel spirit.
We took the bikes out to the beach, unfortunately during our stay the beaches around the Yucatan were all still covered in smelly, gross seaweed. For months we had been asking other travellers who had been in the Yucatan about the condition of the beaches but obviously it was still full of weed. Nevertheless we still stripped off and waded through the seaweed for a swim. It was kind of unnerving to be bobbing around in the water and have a slimy piece of the weed bump into you. Luckily the weed didn’t detract from the water being a nice temperature to escape from the heat and we had a few beach visits during the course of the week. After we had become sick of the smell and the weed touching us in the water we hopped back on our bikes and cruised back to town stopping off at the supermarket again. We brought a bottle of rum and happily spent the remainder of the day with some drinks in hand and cooking dinner. Our go-to meals, even though the weather was hot, was pasta. But we often changed it up with burritos or stir-fries as well.
The next day we visited the main attraction in Tulum: the archaeological site. Jumping on the bikes again we rode to the edge of town where the site is located. After locking up our bikes and paying our fees the first attraction ended up being a couple of coaties being cuties and showing off for the tourists at the entrance. The site was full of tourists who seemed like they were just there to tick off the Tulum box on their travel itinerary but didn’t really care about the place. As we wandered the site this was demonstrated again and again by people ignorantly climbing on the ruins beside blatant signs saying not to. It seems quite typical of the type of tourist who frequent the Maya Riviera… In this site there aren’t many large structures remaining and the main temple is well roped off, probably so the tourists similar to the type I mentioned before can’t get to it. This is a little disappointing as it becomes hard to see the details of the temple and only with the zoom on our camera were we able to get a closer look.
Another enjoyable part of the site is the small beach in a cove which can only be accessed by a set of stairs. I imagine that without the weed it would look perfect with beautiful white sand and sparkling blue water but unfortunately the seaweed doesn’t discriminate and ALL the beaches were coated. We were two of only a small number of people who actually took a refreshing dip at this beach. Most of the tourists just had a look and took some photos (most likely returning to their tour bus afterwards. Stereotype… maybe).
As the site was small we still had plenty of time remaining in our day so we rode back to the hotel the long way. We stopped at the same beach we visited the previous day for another swim but quickly got sick of the seaweed. It was nice to ride the bikes around town but after two days out and about on them we were starting to get bruised bums.
For this reason we decided to go on an excursion the next day to a nearby beach halfway between Tulum and Playa del Carmen. The sign of expense in this area was proven by the price of the colectivo; for a 20 minute ride we paid 30 peso each. In other places in Mexico we would have spent less than half of that for a journey that length.
We were off to Akumal beach which had been highly recommended to us both by people we have met in our travels as well as being highly rated on trip advisor. Our first impression wasn’t great. We had shown up with our cheap snorkels in hand ready to chill out and see some fish and turtles only to be told that in order to snorkel we MUST not only be wearing flippers and a life jacket BUT only snorkel within a small roped off area with a tour. There was no way we were going to spend 300 peso each for an hour splashing around with a group tour, what a rip off. So we stomped off down the beach further to get away from the guys flogging the tours and to have a think. After assessing the area we realised we could easily swim 100 metres down the beach further avoiding the groups. There was even a few other rebels with snorkels already out in the water. So we took off without flippers or life jackets into the water to see some fish. We find that swimming without a life jacket is easier to manoeuvre and dive down for a closer look while still being able to float. The flippers seem to cause people to kick coral as they are unaware of where their legs end.
Even though we had been told that there were only things to see within the roped off area we were very happy to find out that this was wrong. We saw many different fish and a few stingrays but no turtles. So we retreated to the beach for a rest where we struck up a conversation with a German couple. They said they had seen heaps of turtles and gave us great advice. Turns out we had been in the wrong places, the turtles were closer to the shore in the grassy areas instead of the reef areas we had been swimming in. So we drank some water and went back to search for turtles. It only took about 15 minutes before we found our first. They are lovely, peaceful creatures that I really enjoyed watching as they chewed sea grass. After our first sighting we ended up seeing about half a dozen. When we dove under the water you could actually hear them munching on the sea grass which was I thought was pretty cute. Soon we found that we had swum quite close to the roped off area and were in the vicinity of a few tour groups. Once the group (comprising of mostly females) found the turtles the area was ruined by the high pitched screaming and screeching in delight. That signalled the end of our time at Akumal so we headed back to find a colectivo. The beach in the end had been a nice visit and we got to see some interesting marine life, without spending money on a tour.
Our next adventure was a day trip to Coba where another Mayan archaeological site was located. An hour on the bus took us back inland to the entrance where we politely declined offers of guides, bike taxis, bike hire and paid our entrance fee before heading into the jungle setting of the site. Coba was constructed between 400 and 900 A.D and has a lot of stelae as well as a decent sized pyramid named Nohoch-Mul. At the time we visited we were able to climb the 42 metre pyramid which was a collection of uneven stairs with a rope for support. In 2016 the site is apparently closing access to this pyramid for reconstruction so the view from the top as well as the fresh cooling breeze will no longer be accessible to the public. At this site there was a distance between the different areas of ruins (hence the bike hire) and the walk through the jungle was nice as well.
We left the site with two and a half hours before the bus was due back for our return trip. So after a short consultation with a taxi driver we jumped in the car on our way to a nearby cenote. This cenote was one of a number in the area and we trusted in our driver’s recommendation. He took us to Multum Ha which was a beautiful underground cenote. A spiral staircase descended down to where a cool blue pool was located. We think a dip in a cenote is the best thing after a sweaty walk through any archaeological site. With the sun starting to set we arrived back in Tulum; it was a nice and full day.
Overall our remaining time in Tulum was a touch on the lazy side, we really didn’t need a full week there but used it as a chance to refresh and organise ourselves before finally departing Mexico for the rest of Central America. We did a lot of research and planned a rough route for the next month or so. Although looking back I don’t think we used any of the lists we made, we had a rough path organised but we would have to see what the other countries offered as well.