A December 2000 trip
to Tulum by El Gallo
Quote: Tulum is a great destination, an impactive day trip...and a perfect hub for exploring other parts of the Mayan Riviera.
Oh, yeah, the bad news: it''s the most expensive of the cabanas on this stretch of beach and the despair of the shaggy eurotramps that flock here: $30 to $50 U.S. a night, depending on accommodations. The good news? You could pay 8 times that in Cancun for a much lesser situation. What price Paradise?
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 6, 2000
Down by the ruins
The ruins at Coba are only 47 klicks out of Tulum, and, even without the dropdeap stunning beachfront real estate, are much more impressive. Easily reachable by highway bus or even taxi. You could even hitch, actually.
The limestone bedrock on the area (in fact, of the entire Yucatan) is riddled with sinkholes, which they call cenotes. There are dozens of them near Tulum, many on the highway with "Another Roadside Attraction" signs pimping in business, some hidden out in the jungles, some the site of quiet restaurants with diving available. Very recommended--diving in the still, shaded, green waters of a cenote is very different from sea diving. The very setting has a feel to it. You can easily see why cenotes were revered the Mayans. (And from there it's just a jump to realizing that it would be a good idea to kill virgins and dump their bodies into the water laden down with gold idols--you just sort of get that feeling). These are really cool places, and they are all around. Dos Ojos on the highway to Cancun is pretty fully developed and has a diving/snorkeling program. The Grand Cenote is on the road to Coba. Cenote Manate is on the coast just north of the Ruins. If you become a cenote freak, you will find all sorts of willing guides.
The various "ecoparks" are all within a quick bus ride, or you can visit the Sian Ka'an Biosphere, which actually IS an ecological park.
In face, it's only 63 Km. up to Playa del Carmen, if you wanted to check that out. Tulum makes a pretty good base of operation for people comfortable with beach lodging in the $20-30 range. And Xcaret, a huge "nature" disneyland place with everything from snorkeling on reef or underground river to jetski "ecotours" and a sound and light night spectacular, is right up that way as well.
It's a mere 15 Km. to Xel-Ha, which is more my idea of a good time. This is an incredible place, where spring water bubbles out through undeground caves and tunnels, mingling with the ocean in a big estuary. This might be the ultimate snorkeling anywhere. Xel-Ha has become an "Eco Park" lately, sort of the king of them, with maybe Xcaret as a rival. For more comment on that, see my entry on that subject.
You can also get about any kind of diving tour (sea or cenote) you can think of or check out the Casa de Cultura. Ask around, especially in the Weary Traveler in town. You can laze your brains out on the beach here, but it's also right in the middle of some world-class interesting stuff.
Imagine, then, your feelings at getting off the bus at Tulum and looking across the street to see a sign that says "The Weary Traveler: Backpacker Info Center". Now that's more like it.
It's hard to describe exactly what this place is. But a good start would be to say that it is air-conditioned. That's about as much atmosphere as the bus-weary tropical traveler needs for the first five minutes. As we say in my country: "Whew!"
At which point you might want a fruit smoothie or iced coffee, which are also available. A little more air-conditioning, hanging loose in one of the hammock chairs, and you might even go for an espresso or cappuccino.
With that out of the way, you notice that they have BOOKS! In ENGLISH! And other languages, even. Sale of swap. Real books. Yow.
They sell discount phone cards and allow you to make phone calls without charging you just to call. Send or receive faxes. They have a very fast internet connection (you can contact igougo and read up on Tulum! oops, wait a minute...you already are doing that, aren't you?) and don't even charge for use of less than five minutes.
The rent bicycles. But mostly they provide information. Where is the nearest bank, the cheapest room, the best Italian food, the diving, the shopping? What is the deal in Guatemala or Belize or further into Mexico? They tell you. For free. God knows how they make any money.
The Weary Traveler is run by backpackers, and they are a very sweet bunch of folks. You feel better just sitting there. They'll even give you a cool map of Tulum and let you use a bathroom that actually still has the seat on the toilet.
They're on Hiway 307, right across from the bus station, next door to Hotel Maya. Call 52-987-12-461. Email at email@example.com and even a website.
One thing's for sure, these are some way beautiful parks.
Xel-Ha, the first big privatization, is very close to Tulum and absolutely worth a visit for anybody who ever liked what they saw though a diving mask. An incredible place that has been totally exploited without being totally ruined. About $19 admission. Check out their website. The same folks took over the National Park at Garrafon, on Isla Mujeres, which is a good place to visit for a decent price, around $10 US for a day.
Xcaret is the best known of the parks, and the most flamboyant. Anything I've said here goes double for Xcaret. Mayan wonderland, jungle safari, undersea wonderment, dance shows, you name it. $39 US gets you in, but it'll cost a lot more before you get out. Hell, be REALLY ecological, skip the tour and just check out the website.
Tres Rios is similar, and has more natural gifts. Three rivers come into the sea there, and it's full of cenotes and underground swims. They have jet ski tours, horseback riding, trained manatees doing soft shoe in top hat and tails.
There are lots of other such parks, such as Dolphin Discovery (Swim with dolphins! Live with dolphins! Get kinky with dolphins!) , Yalku (a smaller, out of the way non-commercial lagoon), Aktun Chen (caves), and they will be flogged on you everywhere. I'd say, try Xel-Ha and see what you think. Then try more if you have the taste and budget for it. Just don't tell me how freakin' ecological it all is. These parks probably appeal most either to people who can con themselves into thinking it's ecotourism or a wild adventure, or to those who don't give a damn and just want to do something bitchin' to kill a day. Or maybe to somebody like yourself, who can see what it is, and enjoy it for that.
Monkey Junction, Afghanistan