Travel Tuesday: Tulum, Mexico

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In keeping with the spring break theme, this Travel Tuesday’s feature is Tulum, Mexico and its surrounding areas. If you’ve picked up any travel magazine or read any travel website lately, you’ve probably noticed that Tulum is getting a lot of attention recently as a food, nature, and luxury resort destination.

Tulum is located in Riviera Maya in the Quintana Roo territory of Mexico. Situated about an hour and a half south of Cancun, Tulum is perfect for those looking for a more “adult” (aka calm) spring break getaway. There is plenty to see in and around Tulum (within 30 minutes), including sparkling white sand beaches, ancient Mayan ruins, and natural swimming holes. Unlike Cancun, the beaches aren’t stacked with high-rise flashy resorts. You’ll find more secluded, boutique hotels.

I visited Tulum in March 2012 and had a phenomenal trip. The natural beauty of the area is breathtaking and we enjoyed the serenity of the beaches.

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What to Do

Tulum Ruins:
This is one of the main tourist destinations in Tulum, but it’s an absolute must-do. It’s the archeological site of a Mayan city, and it’s built on a cliff overlooking the ocean so the views will take your breath away. You can also see the Voladores de Papantla, which are men who perform a traditional Mayan routine where they spin down from the top of a high pole (kind of like a may pole).

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Gran Cenote (natural swimming hole):
Gran Cenote is about 10 minutes from the Tulum ruins and it was one of my favorite things we did. A cenote is basically a natural hole in the ground that caved in to expose natural underground water. Cenotes are known for having the purest, cleanest water, so they make you shower before going in if you’re wearing sunscreen, lotion, etc. The water is fresh water and it’s crystal clear. You can swim, snorkel, or scuba in the pool. There are caves you can swim through and there are little fish and turtles but nothing that will bite ya. It was the most peaceful, serene thing I’ve ever experienced.

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Coba Ruins:
These are a little further (about 45 mins from Tulum), but another neat sight to see. It’s another Mayan archeological site but it’s in a huge national park. You can rent bikes for $2 (which is what we did) and bike around the park and through the ruins. There is also a large pyramid that you can climb to the top of. (You can’t climb any ruins at Tulum or the famous Chichen Itza ruins).

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Snorkel with sea turtles at Playa Akumal:
This beach about 20 minutes from Tulum is known as Turtle Beach. We went snorkeling here because I wanted to see sea turtles and it was the best snorkeling experience of my life. You can rent snorkeling equipment and snorkel close to shore, but we went out with a guide ($10 per person) who supplied equipment and took us on a boat ride farther out. We got to swim beside huge sea turtles and it was amazing. We saw about 6 total, and 3 of them were bigger than me. It’s amazing to watch them swim underwater because they’re so graceful and it looks like they’re flying. We also saw schools of tropical fish and even a few stingrays.

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Where to Stay

We stayed at Al Cielo, a boutique hotel with 4 suites and 4 villas, about 20 minutes from Tulum in Xpu-Há. All of the buildings have thatched roofs and dark wood beams, giving it a natural feel. The resort is beachfront, so all we had to do was step out our door to enjoy pristine white sand and bright turquoise water. Guests can take advantage of the cabanas and lounge chairs set up on the beach.

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The hotel has also gotten high regards for their culinary program, headed up by renowned chef Francisco Morales Tress. Each morning, we had fresh fruit and breakfast pastries in the open air cafe, and each night we dined on the beach on dishes such as paella, piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese, fresh shrimp, and marinated crab salad. My absolute favorite thing we ate was the ceviche of white fish, shrimp, and octopus. We literally ordered it every day on the beach as an afternoon snack served to us in our cabana. It was so fresh and flavorful, and served with homemade tortilla chips.

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I would highly recommend Al Cielo to anyone looking for a quiet place to stay with great service and even better food, and Tulum for a beautiful beach vacation that can be as relaxing or as activity-filled as you want it to be.

(Keep in mind most of the prices on these linked sites are in pesos, so things aren’t expensive as you might think at first! For example, right now 100 Mexican pesos is about $6.50.)

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