Tulum – paradise & magic village – my honest opinion…
I’d been looking forward to go to Tulum – so much. Before I headed off to Mexico I could sit for hours just procrastinating searching for Tulum on Pinterest.
The images made my whole body tingling!
One of the so called Instagram worthy photo spots – Matcha Mama – this one in particular, however, was in town, and is not as frequently photographed as the one on the beach. And I really should’ve been sitting on the swings, looking awesome, but well, you know me…
Tulum reminded me of a lost Thailand, a place I miss deep in my soul. That feeling when you could walk barefoot on HaadRin without cutting your feet on all the broken glass or ruin your feet on the asphalt.
Back in the day where there was no asphalt on my favourite beach!
I booked my stay in Tulum pretty late, so I had to settle, basically take what I could get. I had decided to stay in Tulum for both Christmas and New Year’s, so there were very few affordable places left.
I really liked all the lovely signs, encouraging you to become your very best self. However, it’s sad some people feel the need to vandalise them… I did not find the best of them all, the one you see all over the internet – “FOLLOW THAT DREAM” – but, I don’t know, it’s hardly original anymore… no matter how inspiring…
The place I booked was, of course, incredibly pricey – I paid about 2000 usd for 1 month in town!
Staying on the beach was what I really wanted, but I couldn’t find anything below 3000 and I felt that was slightly exaggerated!
Even 2000 was way above my budget, but since it was Christmas and New Year’s I suppose the prices went through the roof. I comforted myself with having a kitchenette so at least I would be able to eat cheaply.
Besides, thinking I was definitely worth it managed to silence some of the worst anxiety over the steep price!
I was lucky enough to be in Tulum when the last full moon of 2018 slowly rose above the horizon. It was one of the largest and most beautiful moons I’ve ever seen. Such a shame my moon photos rarely reflect its true beauty…
All over the internet you read about the internet/Wi-Fi being sporadic on the beach and I did not feel the urge to spend an entire month with a connection coming and going (mostly going), so that of course too, affected my decision to take the “cheap” option.
When I finally arrived in Tulum, that tingling feeling disappeared.
This is also Tulum…
At once I felt as if I didn’t belong. The people hanging out in Tulum are the hip, boho-chic people, youths mostly. Those very few who actually are in my age (I might have seen a couple of them) are so hip and appropriately dressed (or undressed), it’s totally fine! They blend in!
Me…? Not so much!
When it’s sunny outside I usually walk around with a cap. So I had been on the hunt for a hat, which is such a popular Instagram thing nowadays, as you probably have noticed. However, I wanted a hat that was ME and not some random straw hat they all so happily wear.
The hat clearly had my name on it!
I did manage to find one in Tulum, in the expensive shop “Wayan”, which is a shop I rather don’t like at all, but there it was – a piercing bright green hat!
There was no point in denying it was calling me…
With this hat I was even more an outsider. Colourful clothes should be long and sweeping with patterns that reminded more of the hippies from the 60’s, than someone from the happy 80’s!
Here I was with my Tokidoki stuff, a bright green hat and some other random bright colours – who did I think I was?
Well, all jokes aside, it’s more about how you feel and how you connect to the vibes in a place, isn’t it? I didn’t have to let myself be swept away with the fact that “my” people wasn’t in Tulum at all. Instead I could’ve enjoyed the place on my own. Like I usually do…
Tulum is full of colourful houses (which is the norm in Mexico) and full of beautiful and inspiring street art – graffiti. I have to admit this is one of the most positive things of the town.
I tried to head out to the beach, cycled up and down, back and forth. Tried to find something nice, something special and something I enjoyed. Something that made that tingling feeling return.
Raw Love is a café on the beach where they’re serving raw food (obviously!) – an incredibly lovely place – ridiculously tasty food and juices to die for. A must visit!
I tried to get in here and there, but it was so crowded everywhere.
“Do you have a reservation?”
Sure, Tulum is full of cozy cafés and restaurants selling acai bowls, wonderful smoothies, juices and other healthy options. But the prices are insane.
All the cozy places are completely swamped with people, too…
“Do you want a seat? Well, you should’ve made a reservation a few weeks back, then, before you knew you were coming!”
I also tried to rent a bicycle, because you just have to have a bike in Tulum – everyone does! I almost fainted when they told me they wanted over 100 usd for a rental bike for 3 weeks!
The week before I had been out and about, asking around, got a cheaper price actually, but still closer to 100. Stupid and cheap as I was (or am), I didn’t take it, because I thought I would find something much cheaper! As if!?
There were basically no bicycles left, so they could charge whatever they pleased! Christmas and New Year’s…
I completely lost it and bought myself my own bike! Feeling the apparant shame when I so blatantly opposed that trend, which is of extreme importance in Tulum.
You know, “that” (actually truly sane) trend of consuming less and leaving behind a smaller carbon footprint.
But I was so pissed off I couldn’t control myself. That’s pure and utter usury! How is it even possible it’s cheaper to buy a new bike than to rent one for 3 weeks??
When I was in China (2017) I rented a bike for 3 months for less than a 3rd of the price they wanted for 3 weeks! Absurd!
Sadly the beach did not impress me either.
It wasn’t that it was full of seaweed; they’ve had some kind of trouble with this for quite a while now. It was more the fact that the entire beach, which is over 20 km long, is private for the hotels located there. There aren’t many public spots.
I have a really hard time with such idiocy…
Just like I had when I was in Fiji during my backpacker-career in the 90’s, and there were privately owned islands, where you weren’t welcome at all. How rude!
3 times I had to try to find a public path to some public part of the beach. I finally found it, it was through the hotel Akiin, so it was kind of hard to locate.
The wind was quite rough on the beach – all the time while I was in Tulum – so lounging around everyday on the beach wasn’t really an option for me.
If you’re planning on heading to the beach in Tulum and you’re not staying in one of the fancy places on the beach, I can recommend the public beach Playa Pescadores (and Paraiso) – lovely beach!
It was really weird, too, but everyone seemed to be welcome – boho-chic or not!
However, you’ll find the “cozy” Tulum a bit further down south – you know, the place that made my body tingle, but when I finally saw it… well, asphalt for example. Cars in 2 lanes, meating traffic. Combustion. Traffic congestions. Not really the paradise I had in mind.
The asphalt and the cars wasn’t really ON the beach, but close enough to affect the coziness factor.
What also makes the beach a little bit dull is there is not a true centre in Tulum. It’s all scattered amongst a coast line over 20 km long! Sure, there are “colectivos” if you don’t have a bike, but still, it dampened the atmosphere a little further.
What about the restaurants then? How was the food in Tulum?
The food scene in Tulum is nothing to complain about. At least I’m not complaining anyway.
At first I felt a bit down, since the only places I managed to find were the more expensive restaurants where the bill easily could run off to about $200mxn every time. After having been there for a while, exploring town, I found those golden places – the shacks – those with cheap, local food!
You’ll also find lots of restaurants (and options) for vegans and vegetarians.
And a lot of smoothies, juices and other healthy options.
This cute and happy juice comes from “Del Cielo”, which was my neighbour, and one of my favourite places, in spite of the pricier menu. Amazing place!
The only thing I didn’t like with the restaurants was that you were expected to make a reservation (yes, this again – it really bothered me!), if you wanted to dine in one of the nicer places on the beach.
You know, “those places”, from where you’ve seen those beautiful images you’ve been drooling all over. Those images where people are lying in nets in the tree tops gazing out over the most incredible views.
And no, that is not me either. Making a reservation I mean…
Sure, there’s nothing wrong with making some sort of plans for the evenings, but for me it made the whole stay kind of gloomy. I’m on vacation, I want to be impulsive!
Besides, wouldn’t it be kind of lame reserving a table for 1 –
“I’m planning on having a dinner date with myself on Monday at 8 p.m.”
The price tags on both hotels and restaurants on the beach are horrendous! Who, besides Influencers, can even afford to put down all that money on a fracking room or a dinner?
Glamping seemed to be very popular too, and they charge several hundreds of dollars for one night! To stay in a fracking tent! I don’t get it.
And it still seemed full!
The only thing I really appreciated in Tulum were the ruins (wow, isn’t that surprising!). I did however have to try several times before I finally could go inside, because the queue was insane every time I came by.
Thus I went early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
The road between the parking lot and the entrance to the ruins is lined with tourist restaurants, shops, etc. – a tourist trap I feel is worse than Chichen Itzá.
I, however, wasn’t that bothered by it. It was on the outside and when you finally arrive at the site, there wasn’t a salesman in sight. And, besides, you all know I have the power to zone them out had I needed to…
By the end of my stay in Tulum I finally took a swim in a cenote.
What’s a cenote?
A cenote is a natural sinkhole in the ground, formed by collapsing limestone. The sinkhole was then filled with groundwater, i.e. from beneath – the underground. Totally natural and a very common feature in Mexico, especially the Yucatán.
At first I took my bike to Cenote Calavera, paid the entrance of $100mxn. I asked if they had any lockers for rent inside, but got the incredibly blue-eyed answer:
“There are only tourists inside. They won’t touch your things.”
Yes, well, because no tourists are thieves…?
However, in my opinion, if you don’t dive, you can skip this one. Crowded and only the smallest little hole to jump into. A pure introvert’s night mare! I mean the people, not the hole…
So, no swim for me in Calavera, and mostly because I didn’t have a place to lock up my stuff, or at least that’s my excuse. It was probably because there were too many people on a too small a space!
I trampled on to Gran Cenote – the largest in Tulum.
The entrance fee here was a little bit pricier – if my memory serves: $180mxn. There were also plenty of people here, but the cenote is much larger, so it wasn’t that annoying. I also managed to lock up my bag + camera (yey! they had rental lockers!), as well as renting myself a mask + snorkel, and swim around.
I swam with tortoises and bats!
Well, the bats might not have swum that much with me, but they were hanging there from the roof of the cave, and that was just so cool. I can really recommend this – in case you are in Tulum! Gran Cenote!
Only a couple of days ago I read a blog describing Tulum passionately, babbling on how much it’s NOT overrated, and how authentic it is, and how it doesn’t feel cliché or spoilt by tourism!
Authentic? Not cliché? Not spoilt?
I feel as if we haven’t even visited the same place…
The point is, Tulum, and I know I’m swimming against the current here, but I did not fall in love with you when I met you.
I wish I’d met you several years ago when you still had an immense charm and the ability to remain something truly unique, but today… no!
For me you’re just an empty shell with absolutely no substance. I felt no magic, it was just an exaggerated excessively expensive vacation spot.
The tourists and the demand has totally wrecked this magical village of Tulum. A true tragedy!
Have you been to Tulum? When did you go and what did you think? Please, feel free to share in the comments below…
Edit 190125: I just saw a documentary about Tulum, which is really worth your time. Just half an hour of your life… They’re saying here the Sargasso seaweed, which has been a nuisance for Tulum for about a year now, is caused by an excessive amount of fecal matter in the water… NICE one, Tulum!
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