It’s the must-do town that practically everyone is visiting lately. Whether or not that’s a good thing depends on which local you speak too. More tourists equals more money but the lure of mucho dinero invariably entices mo’ problems – as Biggie would say.
It seems everyone has an opinion on what’s going to happen to this still pristine hideaway that’s the small-town antidote to nearby club-loving Cancun.
But we can assure you that the mega-resorts are still somewhat far off and if you go now you’ll be able to claim that you were there before it was big (or bigger than it will be).
Follow our no-fools guide to taking on Tulum and we promise you pristine cenotes and beachside bodegas without the crowds.
1. DON’T: Rent a bike.
We know, it seems like a great idea, Tulum kind of oozes that lazy cycle-friendly hippie vibe that makes pedaling seem so romantic. Or so we thought.
If your hotel is along the shoreline of Tulum’s Beach Road, you’re going to find yourself riding a hell of a long way if you plan on visiting the main town or a cenote.
Imagine two of the sweatiest gringos, panting ‘just…after this… corner’ over and over again and you’ll get close to what awaits you.
RATHER: Rent a car or scooter.
Just do it. The cost will cover your sanity and save your trip.
Once you’re in the driving seat every single cenote is only a 5-10 minute drive in any direction. They literally dot the countryside and the local owners usually have signs up visible from the road.
THE BEST CENOTES IN TULUM INCLUDE…
Cenote Dos Ojos or (Two-Eyes): Your entry fee here gets you into what seems like a entire reserve full of cenotes. Most of the major tour buses just head straight for Two-Eyes BUT there are a number of small hidden pools around that you can claim as your own for a few hours.
Cenote Calavera: Leap into its black depths and swing on the rope ladder as the sun warms you up. Magical.
Grand Cenote: By far the most heavily populated by tour buses but if you visit early in the morning you’ll be fine. The buses normally drop the tourists here after a long day at Chichen Itza, so come early, rent a snorkel and just marvel at it all.
A car also affords you the freedom to road trip the nearby town of Valladolid – one of Mexico’s most scenic and historic towns. Make this a must-do while in the area or stop there as you head back from the Mayan Temples of Chichen Itza.
2. DON’T: Believe ‘Eco’.
Because the white-hot cool factor of Tulum vastly out-grew its infrastructure MANY so-called ‘Eco-Resorts’ have popped up, claiming low-impact lodgings with 5-star luxury – with the price tag to match.
Unfortunately, many of these establishments have cut huge corners and the self-rating culture means there’s nobody around to police things.
Sometimes these ‘Eco-Retreats’ have gone as far as building their structures out of concrete, (which is illegal along certain parts of the Beach Road) only to disguise themselves in thatched bamboo (so stealthy).
In one hotel we spent upwards of $300 to sleep with a duvet without a cover. Essentially sharing the bed with the last guests (and we’re sure the 40 before that).
On the most part though, everyone tries to do their best to maintain the environment, which means trucking sewage in and out of Beach Road.
Which brings us to another point, make sure your room isn’t above the communal waste cistern.
RATHER: Do your research.
We know that the above sounds gloomy but that’s just a small part of the town. There are number of truly luxurious and responsible hotels.
Talk to friends. Spend a lot of time online reading reviews. And insist on a duvet cover.
3. DON’T: Swim with your keys.
A sensible call 24/7 but especially when you’ve just paid a deposit on a moped.
We eagerly jumped into the cool waters of the deserted Cenote Car Wash (approximately 10 minutes from town) and enjoyed an hour of sun-baking and swimming through its seaweed forests only to step out and realise that our keys were somewhere in the sandy deep.
It’s probably testament to how clear the water is that we spent a further hour believing that we would be able to spot them by just diving into the seaweed and hoping for the best.
Eventually we chilled with our with your feet in the water until a pair of cave divers emerged. They offered us a lift back to town and the inside knowledge that Cenote Car Wash is also home to a number of freshwater crocodiles. So there you have it.
RATHER: Just hide them.
Nobody is going to steal your keys. We wouldn’t leave them out for all and sundry but a marginal effort to conceal them will ensure you’re not risking diving head first into a poor unsuspecting freshie*.
*They’re more scared of you than you are of them. But still.
4. DON’T: Be TOO fancy.
There are a number of incredible restaurants in the area, started up by stylish New York expats looking for a sea change.
Put the ultra-hip Hartwood and the romantic El Tabano on your must-try lists. Both boast romantic Spanish design and open kitchens, so you can sip a mezcal cocktail amongst the trees, listening to lazy salsa music and watch the awarded chefs book your wood fired pork to perfection.
RATHER: Live like a local
The beauty of Tulum is all about the getting in tune with the energy of the locals. That is, chilled out and down-to-earth.
One of the best tacos we had in Mexico were under a tarp by the the side of the main highway, just next to a 7 Eleven.
Sure, it’s not high-end then but you can’t beat those moments when you sit down with some locals and swap stories in broken Spanglish (ours mostly).
To read and see more about COTW in Tulum click here. Be sure to view our photo shoot in town featuring We Are Handsome and Leroy Nguyen.
Agree or disagree with our tips? Or, have you had an amazing meal or hotel experience in town? Let us know below.
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