The Mayan Riviera is known for its beautiful beaches so we knew we had to check it out. We based mostly in Tulum but also checked out nearby Isla Mujeres.
Although I have seen pictures of the Mayan Riviera I was still blown away by the beauty of the beaches in Tulum. Pristine white sand, crystal clear turquoise waters, and perfecly leaning palm trees. The beaches were absolutely stunning. Surprisingly they were also not too crowded – we visited in November so just at the end of hurricane season but before peak season.
We arrived in Tulum by bus from Valladolid – an easy and comfortable bus ride taking approximately two hours. Whilst there are many resorts on the beach (“the hotel zone”) these were not within our budget and we decided to stay in the town centre – about a 15 minutes’ drive from the beach or half an hour or so bike ride. We stayed at Amorcito Corazon Tulum which was OK but expensive for what it was but then you do pay a premium for being on the Mayan Riviera.
The town centre is basically a stretch of highway lined with shops and restaurants. Off the highway are a number of side streets full of boutiques, cafes, bars and more restaurants. It is not the prettiest town but there were plenty of good food options which kept us happy.
If you don’t have a car you can catch a taxi or ride a bike to the beach. There is a bike path which runs pretty much from the town all the way to the beach so it is very safe. On the beach itself you can either find a stretch of sand or hire lounge chairs. We found a quieter stretch of beach, rented a couple of chairs (I don’t recall the exact price but from memory they were quite reasonable) and spent two very happy days swimming, reading, drinking coconuts or cervezas and eating some tasty guacamole. It was awesome!
We did take some time from our busy beach schedule to visit the Ruins of Tulum, one of the main tourist attractions in the area. Again you can easily get there by bike from town, which was what we did. The ruins are very popular and the site gets packed by late morning so to avoid the cowds it’s best to go there either first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon. We opted for first thing in the morning so that we could later ride and spend the rest of day at the beach. It was still fairly quiet when we arrived but steadily got busier and by the time we left in late morning it was heaving with people. Whilst the ancient ruins were interesting for me it was really all about the location – the Mayans chose an incredible spot to build their city.
Aside from the guacamole, we ate all our meals in town. One of our favourite places was Burrito Amor, so fresh and tasty we went back twice. Burritos are not traditionally Mexican food but rather TexMex and Burrito Amor was clearly targeted at tourists but when the burritos are so good who cares?! For seafood we liked the cheap and cheerful El Camello Jr. For coffee Ki’bok Coffee Tulum, this was also where we discovered mollettes an open sandwich with beans, cheese, egg and avocado. Such a good breakfast! For margaritas, we liked Batey (next door to our coffee place).
For a change of scenery and in the hope of seeing some sea turtles we did a day trip to the nearby Akumal Beach. This beach is about a half hour’s drive from Tulum and you can either get there by taxi or by collectivo. As we were slow in the morning we took a taxi there but on the way back flagged a collectivo which was super easy and a much cheaper option. Akumal is known for snorkeling with the turtles and was much busier than the beaches near Tulum town. The area is protected so there are certain parts where you can only snorkel with a guide. We were originally just going to hire snorkel gear and snorkel in the areas not requiring a guide but at the last minute decided to do a tour. This was definitely a mistake – the tour was crap! Although we did see a few turtles and a big fish having a sleep on top of a turtle(pretty cool!) it just wasn’t worth the money. As we could keep our snorkeling gear for the rest of the day, we snorkeled in the free areas which was heaps better. We saw some beautiful coral, colourful fish, a turtle and a stingray and for the most part it was just the two of us. Sadly, we didn’t have our Gopro with us at this point and the pics from our guided tour were not the best. Hiring snorkel gear is quite cheap and you usually also get also locker for your valuables so I definitely would recommend this option rather than an overpriced tour.
Although we spent most of the time being beach bums, there are cenotes and various other ancient ruins that you can visit as day trips from Tulum. We both agreed that the area requires more time for exploring, and for our next visit we would need a hire car next and a higher budget. Tulum has its share of boutique hotels and cool restaurants and would definitely be a nice place to splurge a bit and enjoy some luxury.
From Tulum we jumped to Bacalar (more on this in a separate blog) but as we were flying from Cancun to Boston (a last minute decision to visit family) we returned back to the coast.
Isla de Mujeres and Cancun
From everything we read and heard about Cancun, it sounded busy, super touristy and not particularly nice. Whilst we had to spend a night in Cancun to catch an early morning flight to Boston this was more than enough time for us.
We did however spend two nights on Isla de Mujeres which was busy due to its close proximity to Cancun (about 20 minute ferry ride) but still pretty nice. We spent our short time on the island on Playa Norte chilling under the shade of palm trees and swimming in the warm crystal clear waters. As we only had a day and a half we didn’t get to explore the rest of the island but it is common to hire golf buggies and cruise around the island.
We stayed at Elements of the Island which was off the beach but only a short walk to Playa Norte and had a cute little cafe at the bottom serving simple but tasty breakfast. There are many restaurants on the island and we had some decent food but nothing worth recommending.
I don’t think Isla de Mujeres is a place that I would return to but I would definitely recommend it for a night or two if you flying in or out of Cancun.
Next: we head to Colombia via a short stop in Boston to see family and friends.