The number one draw in Tulum, besides the gorgeous beach, is undoubtedly the ancient Mayan ruins at Tulum. I have been to a few of the other Mayan ruins in the Yucatan peninsula including the spectacular pyramids in Tikal, Guatemala (definitely worth the trip) and the interesting little ones like San Gervasio on Cozumel island. By comparison, the Tulum ruins are more expansive than I expected and the setting is by far one of the most picturesque. Think of ancient ruins atop a cliff, or the Big Sur of eastern Mexico. Walk amongst the ruins and imagine what it must have been like at the height of the Mayan empire; it is simply awe inspiring.
It is hot. Especially in August, you will feel the heat while walking the paths between the ruins. Make sure you 1) wear a hat, 2) bring sunblock, 3) bring water, 4) bring a small towel and 5) wear your swimsuit under your clothes so you can jump in the ocean at the end of the tour. There are no changing rooms on the beach, but there is a free and clean bathroom right at the entrance to the park.
There is a little train/trolly car that takes people to the front entrance of the ruins. It is only a few dollars and it is definitely worth it, especially in the heat. The ruins are quite a ways up from the parking area where all the tourist trinket shops are located. It is a round trip ticket.
All of the sites have little placards of information in English and Spanish.
It is a good trip for kids and families of all types. I saw several older folks walking through the ruins. Note, again, you should plan ahead with drinks and hats. There are some shaded areas, but there is no vending inside the actual park for water or sodas or to cool off. A small tourist shop selling sodas is at the entrance to the park behind the ticket counter.
Finally, if you’re lucky, when leaving the park, a man with a small cart might be there selling coconut, strawberry and lime paletas (Popsicles!) for about a dollar each. They are delicious!
The gorgeous, turquoise water and intrigue of ancient ruins at Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico are worth seeing and can be done as a day trip from any of the major resorts along the Riviera Maya. Alternately, if you have more time, spending a few nights in Tulum would be ideal since there are plenty of outdoor activities for every skill level and age. In this post, I’ll cover a few lodging options on the beach.
City Zones: Town vs Beach
Tulum beach is relatively off the beaten path. It is a the southern end of the Mexican part of the Yucatan peninsula, just north of Belize. Tulum beach has a distinctively boho, San Francisco-yoga-type-people vibe,in a good way, and especially if you like that kind of thing. In fact, only a few of the hotels along Tulum beach have air conditioning and potable water must be brought in. The downside: be prepared to pay a comparably steep price for a rather bare bones room, especially if you want air-conditioning. The upside: waterfront rooms on low key, relaxed, secluded beaches which are decidedly opposite of the mega resorts in Cancun.
My advice is to visit during a time of year when it is not blazing hot and a palapa on the beach will be pleasant without air-conditioning. Alternately, you could stay in the city part of Tulum and find a good hotel at a better price, including A/C. The drive to the beach from Tulum town is only a few minutes.
Overview: This is where my Mom and I stayed. We arrived in Tulum with no reservations and no idea what to expect. Our first choice was to stay by the beach. It is a direct shot off the main highway. Once driving along the narrow, two-lane coastal road you will begin to see the signs and palapas of the various lodging options. We stopped first at Maya Tulum, asked about air conditioning then proceeded to spent a good hour and a half checking all the other places out. We came back to Maya Tulum as it was by far the nicest for the price in the area. Maya Tulum Resort and Spa is comprised of several palapa style rooms, all free standing with a couple of main buildings including a restaurant, yoga room, reception and shop. It caters to the yoga crowd, and you will receive a yoga schedule upon check in. The yoga classes run about USD $12 per class.
Rooms: We were shown two rooms, one in a small four plex room set back from the beach and the other a freestanding palapa right on the water. We chose the palapa so that my Mom could hear the ocean while we slept. But, as it turned out, my prediction that we would be listening to the ocean while lying awake in the heat was more accurate. Again, this was early August, a very hot time of year, and for one night it was fine, but I definitely would not be able to hack more than two days with no a/c. The palapa seemed fairly new: the beds were firm but comfy, outfitted with mosquito netting, a ceiling fan, side fan, screened windows, small safe, two sinks, separate bath and shower rooms. The fans made it bearable for me and shockingly mosquitoes (normally, I get eaten alive) weren’t a problem under the netting and while using some regular bug spray. Bottled water in the form of a large jug with a pump was provided in room. The shower was surprisingly hot and had good shower pressure.
Hotel Amenities: The restaurant served a huge buffet breakfast which looked good, and seemed very popular along Tulum beach hotels as it filled up rather early with the toned bodies of American and European yogis in their post work out gear. The hotel staffers were very friendly and not overbearing in the least. Another perk was the ample, included parking lot across the street from to the hotel. The beach was picturesque and not crowded at all. A stand of hammocks and some shaded chairs are along the beach for guests use. The turtle nests were marked and protected, and no lights were shining on the beach at night which was wonderful to see (compare: Cancun beach lack of protection for turtle nests and habitat). There is no pool, and I am fairly certain that none of the hotels along Tulum beach have pools. A security man was patrolling the beach at dusk and I presume all night long, though I am not sure. Finally, the sand walkways were raked in the morning with little Zen-garden like circles and the tropical landscaping throughout the hotel grounds were immaculate.
Overall: I would definitely stay at Maya Tulum again. If given the option, I would go during a cooler time of year (any month other than late June – September, early October a/k/a hurricane season) due to the lack of air conditioning. However, part of the charm of Maya Tulum and Tulum beach in general is that hordes of tourists stay away precisely because of the eco-ness of the amenities. I hope you can also experience it before Tulum becomes overrun and spoiled by further development as all beautiful, remote beach towns eventually do.
Ana y Jose Charming Hotel and Spa – This place looks very nice from the outside, and is one of only two or three Tulum beach hotels with air conditioning. But, one huge caveat is the price! We were quoted USD $570/night for one room for two. It took all the willpower in the world not to yell, “Are you kidding me?!” I mean this is Mexico, not freaking Tahiti. I was offended to say the least, and for that price you could stay at one of the luxury, gourmet all inclusive further up the Riviera Maya. Or, you could probably pay someone to build you a custom-made palapa. In fairness, we did not stay here because of the price, so this is where my review of Ana y Jose will end.
In my next post, I’ll include pictures of the Tulum ruins and information about snorkeling in one of the Mayan cenotes: Dos Ojos.