Cancun and Tulum, Mexico

December 2008

Mexico happened to us by accident. We had originally planned to spend our winter with 1 month in Hawaii and 6 months in Southeast Asia. This was the first long term overseas travel for either of us and we had spent months reading up on various destinations in Southeast Asia and had passed on winter jobs. As our time in Hawaii was wrapping up massive protests in Thailand shut down the Bangkok airport. Since we were “in transit” on our plane tickets we could not reroute to another destination in Asia (thanks United). Instead our only option was to fly back to our starting point and figure out new winter plans. After a couple days of scrambling we decided to go to Central America for the winter. I spoke some Spanish and plane tickets were cheap so we bought a ticket to Cancun with a return from Panama City 5 and a half months later. Our trip planning consisted of buying a copy of Lonely Planet’s “Central America on a Shoestring.”

We landed at the airport near Cancun and got a taxi driver to take us to a hotel we had chosen out of our Lonely Planet book. We stayed in the city of Cancun which was a little grubby but was cheap. We had an amazing breakfast of huevos rancheros with handmade tortillas before we caught a bus to Tulum on the Maya Riviera. We got a taxi ride to the beach where we walked around until we found a cheap hut to stay in for a few nights. The view was amazing:

The beach at Tulum

white sand beaches, turquoise water and few tourists as most in that area stay trapped in their all-inclusive resorts.

We were a short walk down the beach from the Mayan ruins.

Mayan ruins near Tulum at sunset

The ruins at Tulum were called the City of Dawn as they faced out East over the Caribbean. This was an important hub for land and sea trade and although the ruins were compact, they sported awesome artwork. We went early in the morning to avoid the buses full of tourists and had the ruins to ourselves for a couple hours.


Iguana at Tulum
Iguana taking in some sun at the ruins

Tulum was an easy place to navigate, the center of town had a placard with all the taxi rates for each destination set ahead of time. No haggling with taxi drivers there! The town itself also had amazing fruit stands and restaurants, including the best chili relleno I’ve ever had with cheese so rich and meaty I thought I’d been given chicken at first.

Tulum is known not just for beautiful beaches and Mayan ruins but also for freshwater cenotes. The Yucatan Peninsula is relatively flat and is underlain by limestone through which rain waters trickle leaving behind a vast network of caves and tunnels. Gran Cenote is probably the most famous and is popular with cave divers and snorkelers.

The clear, fresh water of Gran Cenote

We caught a taxi to the less visited Carwash Cenote and had it all to ourselves, accept for a cormorant that decided to dive for fish as we swam around. IMG_0705_7259

Without having had much of a plan before arriving in Mexico we were really blown away by how incredible Tulum and the surrounding area was. We were finding our way on our travels, this trip and its beginnings in Cancun and Tulum influenced the rest of our journey through Central America and all our travels later down the road.


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