It was only
two (ok, three) months ago, but our holiday to Tulum, Mexico, already feels like a lifetime ago. It was unexpected (we only booked the time off work in January, planning the holiday in mid-February, traveling there in mid-March) and because of that my expectations weren’t low, per say, just non-existent.
Work has been so busy for both myself and M recently, that when I needed to use up some vacation hours, we thought ‘sod it’ and ended up having the most wonderful, relaxing time. It sounds like hyperbole but it really was a very special holiday, and a journey I hope we can repeat one day.
The appeal for Tulum, on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, was its proximity to the Caribbean Sea, and therefore great diving. M and I got our open water qualifications in Thailand a few years ago, and chose the Maldives as a honeymoon destination for that reason. It’s a totally different experience diving in the UK (most notably because of the temperature!) so the little research we did before arriving in Tulum was to seek out a decent dive shop.
We also knew we wanted to explore some of the Mayan ruins in the region, and my particular fascination was with cenotes, but more on those later.
After a smooth, five hour flight from San Francisco to Cancun, we picked up our hire car (a tiresome and frustrating experience that seems to be the case with hire car companies the world over) and drove 90 minutes south to Tulum. After the hire care debacle, it was already dark so on arrival we split some tacos and guacamole in our hotel’s restaurant before heading to bed.
We stayed at Hotel Poc-Na, in a bungalow overlooking the sea and it was blissful. The hotel itself wan’t as fancy as some of the hotels we looked at, but it fitted our budget and was a comfortable and convenient place to rest our heads. To go to sleep (and wake up to) the sound of waves lapping on the shore was incredible and I spent many happy hours in the bungalow’s hammock enjoying a view of palm trees and the azure water.
While we were snorkeling in a ceonote one afternoon, M coined the term ‘chillactive’ to describe the holiday and my state of being, and that’s exactly what it was, with mornings spent diving, swimming and exploring ruins and afternoons on the beach or curled up with a book in the hammock. It was just the right balance for us and although I developed a formally-lacking appreciation of beach holidays, I think we would have been restless only hanging out on the beach all day.
Which brings us to the cenotes, the natural wonders I was most keen to explore. Cenotes are naturally occurring limestone sinkholes of freshwater, either underground or in the open air. On impulse I bought a Lonely Planet guide for the region solely because of the cover featuring two people swimming in a cenote, and one of my favourite moments of the trip was seeing one for the first time. It’s hard to explain, but these swimming holes felt restorative to me – a calm and intriguing pocket of geography with all the colours of the Caribbean Sea, without the onslaught of waves and salt.
I’ve just finished writing about the cenotes we visited at it clocks up at over 600 words, so that might have to be another post altogether, but as this is a travel diary, I want to include a mention of our cenote dives here. Technically called cavern dives, the afternoon we spent exploring the underground waterways of Dos Ojos was unique, unexpected, challenging, spooky and beautiful. Imagine hearing nothing but your own Darth Vadar-sounding breath and only seeing as far as your torch will light ahead of you. Cover the torch, let your eyes adjust and you’ll be rewarded with rock formations appearing out of the shadows, and, occasionally, bright blue clusters above, where there is a natural light source.
I’m aware this post is getting pretty lengthly, but I can’t end it without mentioning the food. A highlight of any holiday we plan, Tulum did not disappoint. I must have been 80% avocado by the time we got on the flight home, and I’m pretty sure I had guacamole withdrawals for our first week back in San Francisco. Fish tacos, ceviche and the aforementioned guac made up the basis of most meals, but we also ate baked fish, and pasta and pizza, as Italian restaurants are very popular in Tulum. Notable mentions go to Zamas for their fish tacos and beautiful views, Mateos for delicious, fresh food with a side of live music, and El Camello Jr. for unpretentious, family-style cooking and atmosphere.
I could waffle on about Tulum for hours but for now, I’ll leave things here. In short, if you’re thinking about visiting Mexico, you won’t regret spending a few nights in Tulum.