Tough Life: A Week in the Yucatan

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LAST MONTH, I SNUCK IN ANOTHER VACATION, this one a weeklong mother-daughter event. Destination: Tulum, Mexico, on the Caribbean edge of the Yucatan peninsula, a place I’d first heard of years ago when it was a laid-back beach town known for yoga retreats and lack of electricity. It’s no longer quite as laid back, with development proceeding apace, and I had the feeling we got there in the nick of time.

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We flew into Cancun and taxi’d south, spending the first two nights in Akumal, about half an hour north of Tulum. There, we could afford a hotel right on the calm, crescent- shaped Bay of Akumal, top, above and below, known as a sea turtle habitat and very popular for snorkeling (to the detriment of the turtles).

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We stayed in a stone bungalow, below, at the Hotel Akumal Caribe, a circa 1970 all-inclusive resort that was the first-ever in the area.

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Now, the sole highway between Cancun and Tulum is lined with much glitzier hotels, but we loved the funkiness of the Akumal Caribe, and the convenience.

For two days, we found all we needed on the hotel property, including a yoga studio, below, and good food in several on-site restaurants of varying degrees of casual, all with views of the water.

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There’s a scuba dive center on the hotel grounds, and my daughter, Zoë, a scuba pro, went out to the coral reefs one day; another day, she dove at Dos Ojos, a nearby cenote, or cavern, of interest mainly for its geology. See her spectacular photos, below.

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On Day 3, we decamped for Tulum, a $20 taxi ride due south, and settled in for the next few nights at Posada Luna del Sur. We loved our studio apartment with its own lush garden, and the breakfast served on the hotel’s rooftop each morning.

The charms and limitations of Tulum immediately became evident. The seven-mile-long strip of beachfront, justifiably renowned for its beauty, is lined with low-rise resorts, architecturally modest and nearly hidden in jungle foliage, but with prices commensurate with their waterfront location ($400-500/night).

Like many visitors, we stayed instead in the pueblo, or town, where the real folks live, about three miles inland. The pueblo definitely has its own appeal and a slew of inviting open-air bars and restaurants. The main drawback is that one is beholden to taxis. They’re plentiful enough, and the drivers are polite and trustworthy (the hotel provided a helpful list of official prices). But the beach is just too far away to walk.

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Tulum is known, too, for its superb Mayan ruins, below, 800-year-old remnants of indigenous culture right at the water’s edge. Once painted bright colors, with fires atop the main structure to signal passing boats, the buildings are now weathered and populated mainly by iguanas. It’s a must-do in Tulum, and we did, on the first morning.

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We spent much of our remaining time at the beach clubs lining the sandy rim of the sea. All the beaches are public; each hotel has its arrangement of chaises and palapas (thatched umbrellas).

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You can settle in at any one of the beach clubs for the day, ordering from young waitstaff who run hither and thither to bring you towels, drinks, snacks. For lunch, we’d go to one of the many more or less interchangeable beachfront restaurants, to gaze out over the water while consuming our cocktails and shrimp fajitas.

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Had we not had our swimming and snorkeling time in the tranquil Bay of Akumal, we might have been more disappointed that the waters were too rough and the days too windy for us to swim in Tulum.

We got a lot of reading done and walked on the beach and along the boutique- and cafe-filled beach road, below.

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Our most special meal was at a restaurant called Kitchen Table, below, on the jungle side of the beach road.

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We left relaxed, satisfied, fulfilled. Yay for the Yucatan. Yay for vacations.

About cara

I blog for fun here at casaCARA, and write about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites. My recently published posts and articles can be found here: https://casacara.wordpress.com/recent-articles/
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6 Responses to Tough Life: A Week in the Yucatan

  1. melanie charnas says:

    Ah, as always, your post takes me away.

  2. Julia Mack says:

    Yes, here’s to vacations in Mexico! My fav is still Oaxaca – no beach but easy access to amazing ruins and great shopping.

  3. Diana says:

    Thanks Cara, a beautiful reminder of my two Yoga/Pilates retreat visits to Tulum a few years ago! Gorgeous beach and wonderful food!

  4. coppermaven says:

    I felt like I was there again!

  5. Steph says:

    Spent a week or two in the Yukatan 20 years ago. Akumal was sleepy and cheap. A trip to that area has to include Chichen Itza. We rented a car and drove on a deserted highway (deserted because there was a toll — the free road was probably crowded). In Chichen Itza, we stayed at the Mayaville Hotel which may now be The Lodge — small bungalows in a rain forest. Was incredible, at the time. Chichen Itza is life-changing. Be sure you get a private tour. We also drove to Merida, an authentic Mexican town with few tourists. Great part of the world. Maybe I’ll go back one day but it will be hard to see the gorgeous Caribbean coastline now developed…

  6. cara says:

    hi Steph, thanks for sharing your experience. Yes, you would no doubt find that coastline changed. Akumal is still fairly sleepy and cheapER, perhaps because it has been eclipsed by glitzier resorts. I’ve heard good things about Merida and would like to go there — and I’ve read about another city called Campeche which has virtually no tourists and sounds like it has a lot to offer. Next time!

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