For a quick tropical vacation and escape from the cold, my friend Tina and I visited Tulum, Mexico. In this crazy COVID world, it is remarkably easy to get to Mexico. No COVID test is required. It is actually harder to return to your own country! Though the Mexico resorts coordinate onsite COVID testing to facilitate an easy return as well.
Generally, when I go to Mexico, I fly directly into Cozumel to go diving, but with my non-diver friend we decided on the mainland as there are many things to do in Tulum. In fact, those that aren’t beach dwellers can still find lots of activities in Tulum which range from visiting nature preserves, exploring the ruins, swimming in cenotes and more.
Where to Stay in Tulum
With the COVID testing requirements and not being too familiar with the housing landscape in Tulum, I settled on an All-Inclusive Hotel called the Bahia Principe Luxury Akumal. The four-star hotel split the driving difference between Tulum where we wanted to visit and Puerto Aventuras where we went fishing. It was also a shorter drive to the airport from Akumal and a bit quieter.
While I am not a huge all-inclusive fan, the hotel grounds were nice with several restaurants, a beach and three pools. Most of the restaurants were only open for certain meals and required reservations in advance, while the main buffet remained open for each meal. The food was good, though breakfast was hard to come by with extremely early morning excursions.
As for the pools, one pool included all day activities such as Mexican bingo, water aerobics, and water volleyball which attracted many guests. The pool closest to our upgraded room catered to adults only. And the middle pool, next to the snack tent, was generally empty.
Our room, three floors upstairs, provided a partial view of the Caribbean. It was basic with the typical amenities. Our entertainment before we entered the room each day was to guess which towels we got for the day. Sometimes we got two hair towels and no washcloths. Other times we got two wash cloths and one hair towel. Once we got four bath towels. But we always managed.
We also had a game with the temperature no matter where we were. Outside, in the room, or in the car. A/C on, A/C off. Jacket on. Jacket off! Overall, however, we had a nice stay with limited pool and beach time as we were busy with other activities in Tulum, but always enjoyed passing by the resident coatis.
If we didn’t have to worry about COVID testing and I knew many of the housing communities were gated, I might have considered an Air BnB, but I did like the proximity of Bahia Principe Akumal to all our activities listed below.
Visit the Ruins
While visiting Tulum, it is hard not to miss the ruins as they perch on the cliff overlooking the beach. The Tulum ruins, one of the few Mayan cities on the coast, were important to the Mayans for trading. A visit takes little more than an hour unless you wish to relax on the below beach.
Chichen Itza is a 2.5 hour drive away from Tulum. Having been named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it is worth a drive out to see them. This complex takes a good two hours, and I recommend hiring an official guide as there are not many signs.
The guides are very good, but require being paid in cash, so bring it with you. It is best to go early and beat the tour buses which arrive around 10am. Afterward, you can grab lunch in Piste at Loncheria Fabiola and upon your return to Tulum visit some cenotes and go tequila tasting.
For more details on the ruins, see my post Tulum Ruins and Chichen Itza.
Swim in the Cenotes
There are many cenotes, limestone sinkholes fill with water, in and around Tulum. They are all shapes and sizes and activities at each one vary. Some feature stalagmites and stalactites. Others include a variety of marine life. And others are set up for platform jumping. As a result, different cenotes appeal to different people.
We preferred seeing the marine life and stalagmites, so we selected three cenotes to visit along our route to Chichen Itza and in between our hotel and Tulum. This list by Mexico Dave is helpful.
We visited Casa Cenote, also known as Cenote Manati, northeast of Tulum first. It is popular among SCUBA divers, snorkelers, and kayakers. Tropical fish take shelter in the mangrove roots, while blue crab scurry along the bottom. There are a few larger species of fish and a resident crocodile Ponchito that rests on the ledge. While he hasn’t bothered anyone, give him some space!
The entrance fee to Casa Cenote is $10. There are extra fees for lockers and to take pictures with any device other than a phone, so that was a drawback to us.
Yal Ku Lagoon
The second cenote we visited was Yal Ku Lagoon and Cenote. Yal Ku Lagoon is huge and may be visited from two points. We used the blue and white entrance as it is smoother and best for snorkeling.
After paying the entrance fee, around $14, we wandered along the dirt path through the trees to the boardwalk. The wet steps can be very slick, so take caution when slipping into the crystal waters.
While the visibility was a little cloudy with the mixing of fresh and salt water, we spotted several parrotfish, blue tang and other colorful fish. The larger marine life is by the ocean at the pink entrance where life jackets are required. We didn’t make it that far, as the cenote is large, and we only spent about an hour at the cenote, a portion of which we spent laying out on one of the wooden decks.
For a little variety, the final cenote we visited was one of three cenotes near Coba and on the way back from Chichen Itza. Choo-Ha is a cavern which features stalagmite and stalactites. This cenote was very small and took only about 15 minutes to visit. Others are also in this complex, but each require an entrance fee. Visiting three cenotes satisfied us, so after our brief visit, we continued toward Tulum and stopped in Valladolid for a tequila tasting.
Along the highway between Chichen Itza and Tulum stands the Mayapan Agave Distillery. We didn’t have plans to visit until we saw it. Then we made a U-turn. It only costs a few dollars for a tasting and a tour.
I always like learning about processes and enjoyed hearing about making tequila. The agave plant takes eight years to produce and all parts of it is used. The leaves are dried and used for sandal and hats while the heart is used or the tequila. F
rom start to finish, before it is aged, the tequila takes approximately two weeks to make. The agave plant is cooked, crushed, fermented and finally distilled. This small distillery did everything on site and produced 400 liters per month. Of the 0, 1 year, 2 year, 6 year, and 12 year options, both Tina and I both liked the six year best.
Relax on the Beach
After tasting tequila, the beach was calling our name. Pretty much every hotel has a sandy beach. There are public ones in Tulum as well. The beautiful coastline is one of Tulum’s biggest attractions. You’ll find people relaxed on the beach with tequila!
Anytime I go the beach, I automatically want to be on a boat. Well fishing in Tulum solves that. We had so much fun on our six-hour fishing trip that we added two more hours. There are several operators from which to choose. We used Thomas who may be reached on Whats App at 1-630-880-878.
We trolled, actively fished, and enjoyed some fresh ceviche. Given he has sonar on his boat, you are bound to catch something if you strike out on the big stuff. We pulled in grouper, porgi, snapper and some others which some great tutelage as we hardly knew the proper way to fish.
For more details on fishing, see my post Fishing in Tulum.
Just the aforementioned activities will fill up four days in Tulum, so plan accordingly. ETB