We almost skipped Tulum, as it looked a bit beyond our budget – what a mistake that would have been.
The main reason we were concerned about cost was that we thought we had to stay at the beach – after all the ruins are at the beach and well, the beach is there so why not? Well the accommodation was stupidly expensive there – think $50 per night to sleep in a concrete pipe or $20 a night to pitch a tent.
Eventually though the pictures of the beach were just too good to skip, so we took a chance and booked a hostel in the town (described by Lonely Planet as feeling like a ‘truck stop on the highway’).
We arrived at the bus station and upon exiting it really didn’t look too bad. OK so it was on a busy road but there were lots of budget restaurants and shops about, it looked fine. Again we remembered why it is rarely a good idea to listen to Lonely Planet.
There were 3 things we wanted to do in Tulum – see the ruins, see the beach and swim in a cenote. More on the last one later.
On our first day, together with another couple Victoria and Russ who we had met at our hostel, we ventured out to try to rent bikes to get to the ruins. They were only 5km or so away so it seemed easily doable to cycle. The bikes took a bit of getting used to, as they were fixed gear with no handbrakes, instead to brake you had to peddle backwards.
When we’d practiced a bit we headed out. The road was wide and busy but luckily there was a paved path leading all the way to the ruins so we only had to dodge other people instead of trucks.
After heading through the car park at the ruins you hit a confusing mini town full of restaurants and souvenirs, with no indication of where to buy tickets. It took us a while to realise you had to head straight through all this and walk/cycle along a road again for around 1km where we could lock our bikes up and buy our tickets.
When we got in our first reaction was WOW. Palm trees and grass surround the ruins which are spread out over a wide area, in various states of repair. Some are just foundations. It was easily the most beautiful ruins site we have seen.
We wandered over to the ocean side and saw this incredible beach, empty because it is reserved for turtle eggs, but still what a beach!
We hadn’t expected to be able to go onto any beaches or swim, but further down there were some steps down the cliff to a rather packed but equally stunning beach. After an hour getting rather hot exploring the ruins we couldn’t wait to jump it and had luckily come prepared.
All that swimming and sunbathing made us hungry though, and with no eating options inside the archaeological site, we hopped back on our bikes and followed a path along the seafront to the public beach.
This is when we realised we had made the right choice by not staying there. It’s a beautiful beach still, but there are only a few restaurants, with some bungalows behind them. There is nothing in the way of shops or conveniences here. It was great to visit for the afternoon but we wouldn’t have wanted to pay a premium to stay there.
We ate some slightly overpriced but very tasty Mexican food, washed down with a few Dos Equis (XX) beers, before cycling the few km back to town to return the bikes. A great day.
Our second day though was potentially even better. Ever since we had been in the Yucatan we had wanted to visit a cenote. What is a cenote? They are limestone sinkholes filled with crystal clear fresh water and lots of marine life. They are (as far as I know) unique to the region.
There are countless cenotes dotted around the peninsular but around Tulum they were supposed to be especially nice. The problem was, which to choose? A lot are famous for their caves and are best for diving, but as none of us dived, we just wanted to swim and snorkel.
For this reason, we chose Grand Cenote. Undiscovered gem this is not, it’s probably the Disneyland of cenotes. But it was supposed to be really beautiful and perfect for people who just wanted to swim like us.
The main problem was that it was around 5km north of the town, and this time we had no choice but to ride on the highway was dusty trucks crashing past at regular intervals.
However we made it, paid the rather over the top entrance fee of 150 pesos each and were soon getting changed and heading down the stairs into the hole. The middle has boards to relax on but all around is crystal blue water just begging to be jumped into.
Straight away the marine life was obvious – turtles swam in the water and fish were everywhere. Diving down there were vast black underground chasms – it was amazing. A truly unique experience, I wish we had visited more of them now!
When we finally got bored of snorkelling, there was still time for a last bit of beach action, although we had to cycle 8km to get there! We stopped at a supermarket en route, bought some snacks and beers and made our way to a different part of the beach this time.
It was a lot quieter at this end of the beach and we chilled until the sun started to set, before lazily riding back to town. A great end to a perfect couple of days. If only we’d booked more nights – Tulum is awesome.
We stayed at Tulum Naa hostel, a couple of hundred metres from the main road, with plenty of restaurants around and most importantly – an Oxxo opposite. The dorms were small, 4 beds and there was a small kitchen on site. We paid £7 per bed, a good deal for Tulum.
Bike rental was from Iguana rentals, don’t know what the standard price is but we paid 50 pesos per bike per day with a discount from the hostel, a good deal. The shop is located across the main road, anyone will be able to direct you there. We asked at some other places but Iguana was by far the cheapest.
We also rented our snorkels from here, which I think cost 30 pesos each. They were basic but did the job. You can rent them at the cenote but they cost a lot, lot more.