Tulum Trip Report - Yucatan

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Trip Report: Tulum Area of the Yucatan
3/1/98 - 3/5/98
Meg & Dan

Sunday ...

My wife, Meg, and I flew from Houston to Cancun via Sun Country, arriving around 3:00. This was the first time we had ever flown this particular airline, but we couldn't pass up the $150 RT fare. Normally, we fly down via Continental. No problems, and customs went very quickly as usual. We picked up a Volkswagen bug at Thrifty, and started our drive down to Tulum.

As per information received from various sources, we decided to go to an ATM in Playa del Carmen to get our pesos. We stopped at the Banamex bank, and after figuring out their ATM system, we were able to get the N$1000 pesos we wanted at that time. The charge from my bank will be $2.00US for utilizing someone else's ATM machine, plus whatever the current exchange rate was at that time, which was about 8.4 pesos per dollar.

After passing the Tulum ruins, but before we reached the pueblo, we turned left on the Tulum-Coba road, and drove a couple of kilometers, where we then headed south for our first night at Zamas cabanas. One out-of-place sign at the crossroad was for the "Internet Cafe". Here we are, basically in the jungle, miles from Playa del Carmen, and we see that they have directions to the "Internet Cafe" in the Tulum pueblo. Pretty amazing...

Our main reason for this trip was to get video footage for my wife's new company, and the Tulum area is the first location that will be offered. The web address is listed at the bottom. So we decided to stay at a few different locations to get as much footage as possible. As we have three kids, ages 6 to 14, we could only be away for a short period.

As was stated above, our first night was spent at Zamas, which is located on the Boca Paila road that leads south from the Tulum ruins. It is between the Piedras Escondida and Osho resorts.

According to the information we had on Zamas it was supposed to have a very good beach. Well..., that wasn't really the case. The beach was VERY rocky, and full of a lot of seaweed. Now, that doesn't mean that it wasn't a nice place to be--it's just that it didn't have a good beach. The Zamas cabanas were pretty rustic, but clean; and the bathroom even had running hot water, though the pressure was low. The restaurant, Que Fresco, was okay, and we ate dinner and breakfast there the next morning. The cost was $65.00US per night. Not too bad, but it really would have helped to have a good beach (which is a major prerequisite for Meg.)

Monday ..

The next day, Monday, after eating breakfast, we checked out, and got some more video footage of the general vicinity. We then drove down to the Las Ranitas resort, which means 'little frogs'. This is located about 9k south on the Boca Paila road. Note that this is much further down than either Ana y Jose or Cabanas Tulum, which in the past have generally been at the end of the line.

Las Ranitas was originally the vacation home of a French family, but it has grown up to be a full-fledged resort. We spoke with Manuel, who was very helpful in our filming by letting us into the different types of rooms they had there. The resort has very nice landscaping, a pretty good beach (which was nearly deserted), very nice rooms (no matter what the size or style), and a decent restaurant.

This place opened in December, 1997. It is a joint venture between the French family and Ana y Jose's. Since Ana y Jose's was booked solid the whole time we were there, we ended up staying at Las Ranitas for two nights. We ate dinner there on Monday and Tuesday nights.

There are two gentlemen who seem to run both Las Ranitas and Ana y Jose, one of whom is Paul, and the other whose name I can't remember at this time. There were French and Spanish (I don't know if this was Mexican Spanish or Spain Spanish) visitors besides ourselves--i.e., we were the only norteamericanos.

Our room was $120US per night. This is not your standard Tulum-road cabana resort. I predict that within the next 3-5 years this place will be to Tulum what Shangri-La is to the Playa del Carmen area. Recommended.

We spent the afternoon at the beach, which at the time was pretty windy; but it was warm so it all evened out.

Tuesday ...

We drove up to Ana y Jose's and ate breakfast at their restaurant. We both had very good meals, and Meg really liked the sand floor of the restaurant. The last time we had eaten at a sand-floor restaurant was when we were in Xcalak back in '93 and ate at Adolfo's. We then filmed the inside of some rooms at Ana y Jose's and outside at the resort next door--Cabanas Tulum. Both places seemed to be fairly decent. I believe standard room prices were $50 - $60US.

After filming at Ana y Jose's and Cabanas Tulum, we drove up the dirt road to Don Armando's Cabanas. The turn-off doesn't say that's where you are, but the next one up is El Mirador, and that is the last resort before the ruins. We drove up the sand path to the restaurant and parked there. There were a number of taxis waiting there for the visitors who did not want to hitch-hike back to their cabanas or where they were staying.

Once you walk past the restaurant, it opens out to a very large beach area. The cabanas at Don Armando's are each named after some location there on the coast, such as "Isla Mujeres" or "Playa del Carmen". I guess that is easier to read than just a small identifying number. It takes a few minutes to walk past the cabanas because of all of the sand dunes that surround the area. We did not film the inside of these cabanas, but did get plenty of photos and video of the outside, and associated areas.

The beach was wide open, and there seemed to be more people here than at any of the other beaches that we had visited to this point. South of the beach at Don Armando's were a number of RV's. Most of the people there seemed to be in their 20's, and then up. There were no children present while we were there, which was different from all of the other beaches we had visited. There were about half a dozen or so who had decided to take full advantage of the clothing-optional aspect of this particular area. Meg and I ended up setting down our beach towels closer to the north end of the beach near El Mirador. You could see the Tulum ruins from our spot on the beach.

The military helicopter (an old Huey) flew by 3 or 4 times during the 2 hours which we were present. In fact, it seemed to fly the whole Punta Bete - Tulum corridor 4 or 5 times every day. Neither Meg nor I remembered it being that way when we were there in July, 97.

We left around 2:30 in the afternoon to go back to Las Ranitas (you'd be amazed at how long it takes to drive 7 or 8 kilometers along that road) because we had run out of Hi8 video and 35mm film.

After getting everything we needed, we drove back up the road, and this time turned right up the path which leads to El Mirador, which is the last cabana resort before you reach the ruins. We parked our car there, next to the restaurant, and then walked the 1/2 kilometer past the road-block to the ruins. We purchased our admission ticket, and our permission slip to use the video camera. Each admission was N$14, and it cost N$30 to bring in the video camera.

Both Meg and I really enjoyed our visit at the ruins. We had read that it was best to get there either very early in the morning, or around 4:00 in the afternoon to avoid the tourist buses from Cancun. We actually arrived at about 4:15, and it was starting to clear out pretty well around that time.

We decided that we will bring a picnic basket this summer when we bring the kids, and eat at the little beach between a couple of the ruins. It was very pretty there, very informative, and was worth the time and effort. Recommended.

That evening we ate dinner at Las Ranitas, and the food was better than the night before. The flan was very good.

Wednesday ...

We decided to get up and check out early, because we were going to visit the ruins at Coba, and then head up to Playa del Carmen for our last day. We wanted to beat the crowds but ran behind a little from our original plan. We decided to eat breakfast again at Ana y Jose's, and enjoyed that meal once again.

We picked up a Mayan woman in traditional clothing and her daughter or granddaughter, who had waved us down for a ride. We don't know a lot of Spanish, but found out that their names were Soledad and Isabella, and that they were wanting a ride to the Tulum pueblo, which was about 7 or 8 kilometers away. After we dropped them off, we started up the Coba road. From Tulum, it is 47 kilometers. I had meant to get gasoline, but forgot, and hoped that I wouldn't run out on the way back to Tulum. We didn't, of course. I've just never gotten used to the kilometer-miles ratio difference.

We arrived in Coba before all the buses and decided not to hire a guide for the Coba site since we were really in a hurry to get up to Playa. Once you purchase your ticket, it is about a 2 kilometer walk up to the big ruins. Well, guess what--they had archaeological digs going on in a number of places, and they don't let you climb to the top like you have been able to in the recent past. Bummer. Oh, well, it was still interesting.

On the walk back along the path, we were met by a little Mayan girl of about 3 or 4 years old, who was begging for pesos. Except for her skin and hair color, she looked just like the little kid in that one Mad Max movie with Mel Gibson. Her older sister was in the woods somewhere but we couldn't see her. Meg had our keys on a chain around her neck. They fascinated the little girl and she forgot what she was there for. She just wanted to see the keys. I could kick myself for not having taken a picture of that incident.

We both needed to use the bathroom before we left and they had men's and women's banos behind the admission building. It cost a peso for each of us to use, but it was worth it.

On the road back to Tulum, we counted no less than 11 tour buses headed towards Coba. Good timing. We figure that if you get to Coba by 9:30 or 10:00am, you'll do fine.

We filled up at the Pemex just north of the Tulum-Coba road and 307, and headed up to Playa del Carmen. They were working on the roads a lot around Playacar, and so it made for some slow going since there weren't any remaining shoulders. We arrived at Shangri-La right at about 1:00pm.

Since we couldn't check-in for another hour or so, we went ahead and got our towels from registration and headed toward the beach, which seemed to be nearly deserted of sunbathers. As happens sometimes, the clouds filled up the sky so there was not much sun to be gotten at that time. We checked into our room and filmed it and the surrounding area. By the time we had had our afternoon snack of things in our Tupperware container brought from home (remind me some time to tell you a related story about bringing food to the Quintana-Roo coast without proper storage containers), the sun had come out full force, so it was back to the beach.

After a couple of hours, we walked down to Playa along the beach. They were building a very large resort hotel at the punta just north of the Blue Parrot Inn when we were there in July. Well, that resort is now finished, and it actually looks very nice. However, the beach on which it sits it full of rocks. I guess they figure that people will go use the beaches elsewhere. The area just to the north of that punta was very dirty, and there was a lot of broken glass in the sand. It was not like this back in July. Oh, well, so much for progress.

After spending a little bit of time window-shopping, and a Cristal Grape-fruit soda (I'm hooked on those things), we walked back to Shangri-La, our home away from home. Dinner that evening was very good, and it was nice that a few of the staff remembered us from our visit back in the summer.

The clientele was very different this time. We were the only Americans that we saw when we were there in July, as it was mostly French, German and Italian. This time, there were a lot of well-off Americans, mostly aged 50+, and there were a lot of 20-ish single Germans. Obviously, there were others that fit into other categories, but this was our main impression.

Thursday ...

After breakfast at the restaurant, we got in some more sun time at the beach. Today, the beach was pretty full. Meg went to the management office, and was able to get into some other rooms for filming. I was also able to get film of the new north section of Shangri-La.

We checked out at 12:30, and headed back up to the airport. About 10 kilometers before we got there, I found that I had turista. Fortunately, I had gone to the doctor before we left, and he prescribed for me some new anti-biotic for turista that does not make you sun-sensitive. I popped one as soon as we got to the airport after we turned in the car, which turned out to have some scratches on it that wasn't there before we rented it. That cost me N$500 pesos, which AMEX should cover since it was on my personal card. I'll let everyone know how that goes.

Our Sun Country flight left early, and we had an uneventful flight back to Houston. We were going to stay with friends that night (we live in Louisville, KY), but our daughter, Olivia, was in a spelling bee on Friday, and Meg wanted to attend the contest in case she won. Meg got a ticket on Continental back that night. Good thing to, since Olivia won the whole thing for her district!

All in all, a very good trip--always too short, as usual. We'll be back with the kids in June or July to get film of the family and kid oriented places along the Mayan Riviera. Adios!

By: Meg and Dan