Yes, it's as beautiful as you can imagine. Tulum is still, absolutely, an unspoiled paradise. There's less hustle and bustle, here, and everyone is friendly and warm. Lots of people choose to ride a bike, rather than drive, and there are bike paths everywhere.
When you get to main city, there's a street that will take you to the beach. There's a huge grocery store along the way, and we stopped to pick up a few supplies there, including bottled water and some snacks. The store has a full bakery as well as clothing, and even household items. It's about as large as a Target store would be back home in the US.
Here's the quasi-famous roadside area where you can check which way to go. Most of those hand-painted signs tell you where to go in order to find a hotel. Most of the beachfront property has been purchased by hotels and they have been building like mad.
Happiness is a Choice in Tulum
We saw this road sign in Tulum on the way to the beach, and it hit us SO HARD.
We have chosen to spend the last two decades working at a 9-5 job, toiling in a big city. And now we're surrounded by palm trees and so much beauty.
"Ser Feliz es Una Decision"
"Happiness is a Choice"
Here's our obligatory beach picture. The water seemed even bluer in Tulum. We went swimming the same day we got there. It was always warm and inviting. No big waves, just beautiful, calm ocean breezes.
We saw a small sting ray near the beach, in the shallows. It was so clear that you could see easily down to the bottom without a mask.
Tomorrow we are going to explore Tulum some more.
Today, more exploring and a fantastic swim in the morning. The water here is incredible. I've lived near the beach in Northern California, and the water was so cold that nobody ever went swimming without a wetsuit. It really puts a damper on Summer fun. That's not the case in the Mexican Riviera.
The ocean was warm, warm, warm! We hopped in every day without a single gasp.
This is how close we were to the beach from Hotel Cielo. Less than two blocks away. I saw lots of "For Rent" signs right along the water, which was a constant temptation for us. We wanted to just call them up and stay for good!
Can you imagine swimming every morning in the beautiful water of the Riviera Maya? You can?
Yeah, that's what we want, too.
Roadside Stands and Pitaya
We took a road trip after our morning swim, and found an exotic fruit, different from anything that I've seen. This one is called Pitaya in Mexico, and it's more commonly referred to as the dragon fruit. I had to look it up because I'd never seen anything quite like this in the stores back home. This one was called "White Pitaya" because it has snow-white flesh with tons of tiny black seeds inside. We bought a huge bag of them for 20 pesos (about 1.50 USD) and started to eat them in the car. Delicious! There's roadside stands like this selling fresh fruit and vegetables all over the place in Playa Del Carmen and the outskirts of Tulum. You'll see them all along the highway. It pays to stop, because the fruit is the freshest you can buy (often picked the same morning) and the prices are cheap. Plus you are helping the locals, which is always nice.
Now it was time to explore the restaurants and food in the region. We ate at tons of places, and had great experiences everywhere! Some places were nicer than others, and some were diamonds in the rough, but overall everything was universally great and we had a fantastic time enjoying lots of varied food in Playa Del Carmen and a few little towns close by.
We had fantastic food (usually breakfast) at the little restaurant inside our hotel, Hotel Cielo.
I've gushed about this place before, but honestly it was great. Great service, we got to sit outside and watch the main drag. They always had high chairs for the kids, and the food was reasonable and good. I had the best octopus dish that I've ever had in my life here.
My only compliant is that they don't accept credit cards--no Visa, no MC, no Amex. Only cash. This isn't unusual for the region, but it is for a hotel.
Carboncitos in Hotel Cielo
Still, I couldn't complain too much about that. There were ATMs literally on every corner in Playa, so it wasn't like cash was hard to come by.
Breakfasts were 50% off for hotel guests, so we had breakfast there each morning before we started our daily exploration.
It seems like a minor thing, but the orange juice was fresh-squeezed every morning, and the coffee was great, too. This is something that's hard to find except in the best restaurants in the US, but in Mexico it's fairly easy to get a "licuado" of real, fresh, delicious fruit with your breakfast. It's something that I really miss coming back to the states.
Starbucks and Haagen-Daaz is everywhere, for those of you who need their North American coffee-fix. We avoided these
El Caguamo Tacos
We found "El Caguamo" within a few blocks of our hotel, and ate there twice. Not much selection, but super-cheap tacos that everyone enjoyed. All four of us ate well, including the kids, for less than 10 dollars. There's a wide selection of salsa and chiles right on the table to choose from.
It was SO HOT on this day, that's the thing I remembered most. We walked for a little while and then returned to the hotel until the worst of the heat had passed.
Fresh fruit stands are common everywhere, especially right outside the main city. Here's my hubby (already charred from the sun) arguing with a lady about the price of coconuts. We were so dehydrated from the heat during the day, and we wanted coconut water, but could never find a vendor to sell us one and crack it open. We tried to explain that we didn't have a machete available in our rental car, but they were not sympathetic. My husband even offered to pay extra, but no dice. American money can't buy everything! Especially a coconut with a straw, it seems. Tomorrow, on to Tulum!
Today was exploration day! We walked through Playa Del Carmen, which has a lovely downtown center with tons of shops, eateries, and little beautiful hotels. Everything you need is within walking distance, and there's so much to see that it's impossible to do everything is one day.
We explored another little downtown hotel named Casa Lunata with a beautiful hacienda-style garden right in the center. We saw two patrons in the garden and they raised their drinks at us. The whole atmosphere is very relaxed and laid-back, with most people walking around in sandals and bathing suits.
There's lots of neat street art and plaques that describe the local art and history, every bench seemed to have a sign like the one on the left, describing some myth or something else of local interest.
These little signs were everywhere along the main streets, and most of them had English translations. We kept stopping to take pictures and read them. My husband got several fantastic shots.
We saw fantastic street art from local vendors, and also some great funky stuff that looked like it was created specifically for tourists, like this life-size Day of the Dead statue.
The Aztec warrior below was found in an art gallery, selling for approximately 6,000 USD. It was silver and bronze, and incredibly heavy. Some of the local art is stunning, and some of it is obviously created for tourists. If you want to spend lots of money here, you can certainly find a way to do it.
Many of the clothing shops sold traditional clothing, and there was a lot of sheer, gauzey cotton clothing that was designed to be comfortable in the oppressive heat. This little shop sold only white cotton clothes, and many of the dresses were quite beautiful. We were on a strict budget, so I didn't indulge. I took a picture of the outside of the shop because I thought it was lovely.
You can walk around all day and not see everything that's worth seeing, even just a few blocks from the hotel. I wish we had more time to explore this wonderful city, it's a real gem just outside of Cancun, where you have all the comforts of home, but in a tropical paradise.
So we hopped in our little rental car, a slightly shoddy automatic Chevy Aveo with a right speaker so noisy that we had to disconnect it (the buzzing noise actually continued even though we turned off the radio, it was like a zombie speaker).
We got lost at the Cancun airport, drove in circles for a while, and finally made it out to the main road heading to Playa Del Carmen.
It was a beautiful drive, with lots of trees and lovely landscape, even thought it was a major highway. There was a weird thing, though... Along the highway, there were these massive stone archways, after passing several of them, We figured that they were entrances to Cancun resorts, like the "all-inclusive" type. All of them were surrounded by forest, so we didn't see any actual people. Later during the trip my curiosity got the best of me and I ended up peeking in at one of those places,( but more about that later).
Playa Del Carmen is only about 45 minutes outside of Cancun, so we explored a little before going down there. It started raining and by the time we reached downtown Playa (after getting lost a few times, again--it made me realize how dependent I am on my smartphone's GPS).
We ended up having to ask a taxi driver to escort us to our Hotel, which was a wonderful little Boutique hotel named Hotel Cielo.
Our room was great! This little hotel was affordable and in a fantastic location, especially compared to the other hotels in the area, it's a true bargain and worth every penny. The hotel itself is small and has less than 20 rooms. No Amex is accepted at the hotel, so reserve online or you won't get travel points. We made our reservation online so we were able to book the rooms using American Express. It's important to us, because we use our points to help pay for our flights. Hardly any businesses accepted Amex in Playa, and most refused to accept any type of credit card at all. You need to have cold, hard, cash.
The rooms were spotless, and the mattresses are all premium pillow-top mattresses. After staying on dozens of terrible, terrible beds in Mexico, (even in nice hotels) this was a nice change.
The A/C was strong and worked great, it was very hot while we were there in August, IT was hot and humid and we slept comfortably in the room.
The little restaurant below is owned by the same owner and the food was great and affordable, especially breakfast, where hotel guests get 50% off--we got a huge breakfast for 4 people and it was all less than 20 bucks (with the discount).
It's literally just 15 seconds from the beach, it's only one block away. We went to the beach several times a day, just walked across the street and there it was.
There was FREE, CHILLED bottled water on every floor. You can just refill your bottles on your floor. I've never seen this perk at any other hotel in this area, and it's great. No going to the store late at night just because you want a drink. It was quiet throughout our stay, and we had no problems with drunks or noise.
My main gripe was that there was no street parking anywhere nearby, or garage parking at the hotel, so we had to pay for parking our rental car a few blocks away at a private lot. It added a little over $10 a day to our expenses.
I loved this hotel, and for the price, it was worth every penny. It was the best place we stayed at during our trip, and we stayed at several hotels throughout the region.
Room Tip: The downstairs rooms are nice because you don't have to walk up so many flights of stairs, but the top rooms probably have spectacular views.
We arrived at the Cancun airport in the late afternoon, and although the weather was hot, we left the plane with frozen feet and hands. The flight was booked through Delta, which offered us thin, disposable red blankets to combat the freezing temperatures inside the plane. The flight was long, and difficult with our two kids. But we were happy that we arrived safely.
I watched the landscape passing by through the plane window, and the closer we got to the Mayan coast, the more beautiful it became.
By the time we arrived at the Cancun airport, my mouth was open with awe. It was simply gorgeous. The green landscape expanded outward as far as the eye could see, and there were beautiful trees and lush, thick foliage everywhere! The whole area is a mass of beautiful forests (more on that later).
We rented a car through Hertz at the airport, which unfortunately, was a horrible experience. We made the original reservation through our American Express Travel account, which was easy enough. Then we arrived in Cancun and went through customs. Right outside the customs area is the rental car area. We went to the counter and they said we had to go to the office. A man directed us to a marked shuttle, which drove us to the rental location along with our bags. All of that was fine, and the shuttle operator was friendly and talkative. The Hertz office is just outside the main airport terminal, but still within the airport grounds.
The trouble started when we got to the rental office.
The representatives at Hertz were SO AGGRESSIVE about everything. Get an upgrade! Get insurance! When my husband declined the insurance (it's included with our Amex Platinum membership, and one of the main reasons why we have an Amex account), the counter employee became very irate, arguing with him about all the horrible things that could happen.
During this time., the lines in the office were huge, snaking to the door. We were hot and uncomfortable, and even though we kept saying no, no, no! They wouldn't stop trying to sell us upgrades.
The counter employee threatened to charge our card $1,600 american dollars "as a deposit, just in case of an accident." I told her to go ahead and do it, because at that point, we were fed up. In the end, we had to initial a long contract saying we would be responsible for damage, which we would have been happy to do at the beginning, but without all the additional threats.
Then, the worst of it, they said to "complete our reservation" we had to talk to another woman outside, in the rental bay. The woman was dressed like a Hertz employee, so we just expected this to be the final step in the reservation process (which had already taken over an hour).
We went outside, expecting the car to finally be pulled up. My husband spoke with the woman, who was evasive and talking strangely. He kept asking about the car, and she kept saying that we needed to get some "free tickets" to breakfast, but the tickets were "through Hertz." She had a bunch of official-looking paperwork. After several minutes, we figured it out. They were pushing a timeshare scam. At the rental car office!
The "timeshare girl" was so incredibly aggressive (even more than the girl at the counter) that she chased after us in the rental car bay, screaming, "What? You don't like free stuff?!?!"
It was unbelievable. But, as you'll see from my posts, it was the only genuinely negative experience we had on the trip.
Tomorrow, on to Playa Del Carmen!
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Just a middle-class dad and mom with three young kids, looking to escape the rat race. This is our journey!
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