travel guide: tulum, playa del carmen, cozumel
TULUM TRAVEL GUIDE
where we stayed, shopped, and explored
My husband and I recently headed to Tulum, Mexico to celebrate our ten year wedding anniversary! It was our third time going to Tulum and we still haven’t felt like we’ve even touched the tip of the iceberg of things to do, see and explore! It is so rapidly growing and changing that every time we go there are new things also which Is both fun and bittersweet because so many of the things we loved to do are no longer there! We wanted to hop around hotels this trip so we really could experience all of the different cultures, food, and decor that come which each location. So I’ve included both our favorites things to do for a romantic couples getaway and if you scroll all the way to the bottom you’ll see our family friendly guide from last September as well so you have options for both the romantic getaway and the epic family vacation.
This is definitely my LONGEST most detailed blog post ever… but also my most requested haha!
First question a lot people ask: IS TULUM SAFE? The short answer is yes. The little beach village feels totally safe. Just like anywhere, exercise common sense about not leaving your belongings laying around, etc. It felt safe to walk and bike around even at night. The biggest worry you’ll have is getting hit by a car if they can’t see you at night, and even that felt a lot easier than I expected. The only time we were ever scammed was 5 years ago when the gas station attendant gave us the wrong change back for pumping our gas. But over the years its gotten even safer. Violence agains tourists is practically nonexistent in Tulum. But if you are traveling to Mexico, I suggest you check the US Department of State’s website for advisories in particular areas and read up on the current situation.
WHERE WE STAYED
Pros: This beautifully designed eco retreat is a little oasis in the jungle. From the second we arrived we felt like family and got to know the owner fairly well also! She was there in the mornings to put our orders in to the chef would cook in the little open kitchen right next to us offering us homemade chai tea lattes all with her dog in tow. There is a beautiful yoga area right above the pool and the grounds are so beautifully built and have the most calming vibes!
Cons: This hotel is in an up and coming area in the jungle right outside of city center in Tulum so although its getting built up, the roads are dirt with potholes and its somewhat hard to find. We loved spending a night here in the calm of the jungle but it is about a ten minute drive to the beach and a lot of the boutique hotel beaches that you would probably want to use require a $60 US minimum per person spent on drinks or food in order to use their beaches so it makes it hard to really hop around beaches unless you’re staying there.
Pros: This was my favorite hotel that we stayed at. Upon arriving they greet you with your own personal concierge that offers you some fresh pressed juice at their juice bar before taking you on a little tour of their facilities. They offer complimentary activities every day which range from yoga to sound baths to magnetic healing etc. Their rooms are all different, but the one that we stayed at had AC which was a plus and they left the sweetest greeting in flower pedals on our bed that spelled “I LOVE YOU” for our ten year anniversary. They also dropped off champagne and chocolates for us that night also. I felt like they went above and beyond to be friendly and accomading and it felt so warm and comfortable.
Cons: Their food was good, but not as amazing as some of the places we’ve stayed!
Pros: This hotel way by far the most crazy, beautiful, insanely artistically built hotel and if they changed just a few things it would literally be perfect! When you arrive they bring you to their spa and do a Mayan ceremony to cleanse you of your bad energy and then show you the facility and then bring you to your room. Our first day we were woken up really early with construction noise and hammering right outside our window and after a lot of persuading they finally agreed to move our rooms AND they moved us into THE most GORGEOUS ocean front room (it usually goes for around 2500 a night). We got to spend two glorious nights staying in this room, and laying out on the balcony that jets out over the ocean. Their food, restaurants and their cocktail hour “nests” over the jungle are AMAZING. We were blown away! They also have the most amazing art exhibit called the IK LAB
Cons: We didnt know it, but this hotel and its beach were “adults only” which apparently means “clothing optional” haha. That was just a little distracting for me to try to relax on the beach with a bunch of naked parts flopping everywhere. For some that may not be a con, but for me… it was just nasty haha. It was a bit pricey, we paid around 400 a night and some of the rooms are 2,000 and upwards a night. So when you pay that kind of money your expectations are a little high. Their staff was honestly not the friendliest and because they only allow their hotel guests to use most of their facility they have to keep so many instagrammers and people from trying to sneak in so it just creates a tension with the hotel employees always trying to make sure you’re staying there and scolding you for exploring etc. Its an eco-friendly hotel which means they don’t have AC and only have baths which is so great in theory but after a while I really have really used a good shower!
WHERE WE EXPLORED
Tulum is home to the largest underwater cave system in the world. There are over 6, 000 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula alone. Cenotes were sacred to the Ancient Mayan people, who used them not only as a source of water but also for sacrifices. Cenotes are still sacred to the Mayan people today, meaning most cenotes are closed off from public use.
Pro: This little cenote pool is very close to town and easy to get to. It wasn’t too busy when we went around 11:00 am. It was a really fun challenge to try to get up into that swing from the water… So beautiful! The price was $5 to get in.
Cons: Usually the cenote locations require each person to rinse off before they enter the cenote… this one did not so i’m assuming its probably not as clean as some of the water. It was a lot smaller than some we’ve been to.
A few more that we’ve been to: Cenote Dos Ojos two 70-meter sinkholes connect by a 400-meter passageway, which gives the appearance of two eyes. $200 MXN pesos general entry fee / $380 MXN pesos scuba diver entry.
Gran Cenote (Grand Cenote or Great Cenote) is one of the most popular cenote in the area. It is a large connection of a series of smaller caves more than one giant cenote (as the name suggests). All of the sections are connected by wooden walkways, laid down on the jungle floor. It boasts such crystal-clear water, that fish and turtles can be seen swimming around without the need of a snorkel! $180 MXN pesos normal entry
THE CITY CENTER
This is the main area to shop for all things “Tulum”. Hammocks, woven chandeliers, wool stuffed animals, wooden toys, The prices are cheapest in Cancun when you first fly in but the shop owners here in Tulum are always willing to negotiate the price down which is one of my favorite things! I love practicing my Spanish and taking the shop owners sales tactics and flipping them back on them and I’ve even had a few people give me things because they loved my negotiating tenacity haha!
Deer Tulum: The cutest shopping and coffee spot in town
Gypsea Market: Great healthy food options if you need a grocery store or lunches you can pack into a picnic if you decide to see the Mayan Ruins etc!
WHERE TO EAT
For Breakfast: Del Cielo, Matcha Mama, Ki’Bok Coffee and Raw Love
For Lunch: Charly’s Vegan Tacos and Macondo at Nomade, Burrito Amor
For Dinner: Rosa Negra, Hartwood, Kitchen Table, and Posada Margherita, Arca, Kin Toh
FAMILY FRIENDLY TRAVEL GUIDE
Tulum, Playa Del Carmen, Cozumel
Sept 24, 2018
School starts so early these days for us (first week of August!) and we were already missing summer so we decided to pull our oldest kids (ages 8 and 5) out of school and take them on their first trip outside of the U.S and head to…Mexico! It was so hard to leave our baby Crosley but as the trip went on I realized it really was so much easier with the older kids than it would have been with the babe.
We booked our stay in Playa Del Carmen at the Mahekal Resort if you search for the resort on google they show you which website has the lowest price in the sidebar and I also recommend checking travel zoo and trevago etc to double check if you have the best deal! I fell in love with the Mahekal online with its thatched roofs and jungle feel of the hotel grounds and it really was even better in person! It was the perfect middle ground with kids because we wanted the authentic Tulum vibes that we got when we stayed at the “Be Tulum” a few years back but most of those spots in Tulum were adults only. So this still gave us lots of pools for the kids to chose from etc. without a super “touristy, mega-resort” feel. They provided breakfast and dinner everyday and it worked out perfectly because we actually really loved the food (I think it was honestly my kids favorite part of the trip haha) and it was the part I was honestly the most worried about!
We rented a car before we left through EuropeCar (we have used Sixt also and it was a little cheaper with the add on of insurance which we wanted and recommend in case anything happens to the car.) The insurance we bought through EuropeCar was another $200 dollars but we are so thankful we ended up buying it because they found dents and stuff when we returned that were covered with the insurance. We saw people thoroughly videoing the car up close also so that could be an option if you want also!
Once we landed in Cancun we took a EuropeCar shuttle over to their rental location and got all settled with our car and drove about 45 mins from Cancun to the Mahekal in Playa Del Carmen. I couldn’t believe how amazing it was to get there and explore the hotel, get our hammocks all hung on our porch and Marleys favorite climbing Palm Tree was on the beach so she would climb up it and jump off. We ate our first dinner in Mexico at the hotel next to the pool overlooking the water and then headed to bed!
We woke up, headed to breakfast and then took off to explore Tulum! We headed to the city center first and bought a few things from the market: they have pretty hammocks and leather goods and got some cute handmade wool stuffed animals and little jumper for Crosley, a woven purse, a Mexican dress for marley, a carved wooden shark for lennix and a few other little trinkets. Then we drove a tiny bit further to the hotel strand along the beach and got some iced coffees at a cute little roadside shack called the matcha mama and the kids got gelato at an ice cream stand. We explored a few hotels in Tulum that Ive been dying to see also which i’ve pictured below:
Coco Tulum: This is a fun black and white swing bar where we got chips and salsa and drinks and played on the beach
Playa Playa Project: We did the jungle art walk after relaxing on the beach for a bit and found a little sign that said “be what you dream” where you write out your dream on a little piece of paper and attach them to the trees in the jungle. The kids wrote “ that they dream that everyone in the world be happy”. This place also has hundreds of cats that roam which the kids liked looking at from afar too! update: as of may 2019 this secret dream walk area was torn down for the expansion of their hotel!
The Azulik: giant nets suspended over the jungle with pretty views and amazing wood stick ceilings, it has a restaurant also that looked amazing but this place was adults only so Bryan hung outside with the kids while explored a tiny. So beautiful, and definitely a must see.
Pablo Escabars Mansion: these curtains! And they usually have couches on these swings but they had to bring them in because it started raining!
We wanted to see different Mayan ruins than we saw on our last trip to Tulum, so we decided to head out to Chichen Itza. It was almost a two hour drive but we found some amazing cenotes on the way to break up the drive a bit. We took some bread and meat from our breakfast at the Mahekal and got to-go containers and made little lunches for a picnic along the way. Our first Cenote we stopped at was called Cenote Suytun. It was THE most beautiful underground cenote with crazy rock formations and this amazing light beam that shot through the dark cave and illuminated everything. The water felt super light and full of minerals. We brought snorkel stuff and there were a few tiny fish in there for the kids to swim around looking at.
We packed up and drove the rest of the way to Chichen Itza and explored the ruins, it was thunder storming and the skies were a little and moody so it was a very cool, almost eery experience to look up at these giant ruin formations. We were wishing we had done a tiny research before to make the experience a little more informative for the kiddos also so that could be my little tip on doing the ruins with kiddos!
We headed out to our last Cenote of the day, a little more populated and touristy but still soo worth it. We stayed until closing and it cleared out a TON! This spot has you shower off before you enter to keep the water more clean and then they have a jump spot if you want to jump off the high rock into the cenote, which our daughter Marley loved and our son, Lennix took a hard pass on haha.
We decided to take a little 25 min fast boat over to the island of Cozumel. We bought tickets from a local right next to the ticket booths on the pier because they get a local discount and sell them for a bit cheaper so for our family of four to island hop we spent about $30 bucks roundtrip. The boats leave about every 30 mins. Cozumel was BEAUTIFUL. The water is amazingly turquoise and clear and the snorkeling was stunning. We were wishing we could have spent a little more than a day there and maybe taken a snorkel cruise or something! We rented a car for $55 bucks for the day through a car rental company called ISIS (that name though ahahaha… but they were really nice and had great reviews) We drove the car along the coast near the hotels and stopped off at the San Franciscan which was really fun for the kids and had a big inflatable waterpark that’s free if you order drinks or food! The pier there was super pretty to jump off of and snorkel and the water was so beautiful! We headed down to Playa Palancar which was a beautiful beach with turquoise water and pretty stretches of beach.
We spent this last day just relaxing at the Mahekal and enjoying the pool and resort. We ordered drinks and played before heading home. We were sad to leave but so excited to see our baby! It was really cute to see how much the kids really missed him and talked about him 24/7. They really loved getting some time to hike and explore and be on the go without a babe though.