The Town and Beaches of Tulum
Getting to Tulum
Driving 81 miles south of Cancun on Hwy. 307, you come to a stoplight, with a well-marked turn to the right for the ruins at Coba or to the left for the many postcard-gorgeous Tulum beaches. The San Francisco Supermarket will be on your right.
The Shopping Scene
To visit the local residential and “commercial” portion of Tulum, don’t turn off Carretera 307; just continue straight for about 8 blocks. I like to plan my travel to enjoy this quaint strip, which makes for a nice evening’s exploration. It has a more authentic atmosphere than Playa del Carmen’s main drag.
Turn left (north) at the “T” and drive a few miles (very slowly). You’ll encounter virtually deserted Caribbean beaches with white sand like in a dream. As your travel guide, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there is an abundance of beautiful home rentals along this road. If you’re travelling with a small group, this is the most elegant and even least expensive option for lodging. Many come with a maid and chef. That’s what I call easy travel.
The Happening Scene
Heading back to the intersection, now turn right (south) at the “T” as most people do and drive thru a fascinating beachfront area with high end restaurants and hotels built practically in the waves. Not much public beach access here, but good food available and a fascinating narrow road thru a multi-national tourist area.
If you survive the bumpy dirt roads (I’m not kidding here–they left me with a hole in my panties), you can kayak thru narrow channels between mangroves, swim in a crystal clear cenote, and go dolphin and turtle watching (out of Punta Allen). Greater than 300 species of birds and a plentitude of plants and other animals inhabit the reserve. Oh, the beauty of roosts filled with frigate birds, boobies, and ganets!
The Archaeological Scene
You didn’t think we were going to forget to mention the Mayan Ruins at Tulum, did you? What kind of travel guide would we be?! A tidbit of travel news: in the vast Mayan Empire, this is a remarkable site in that it is the only ocean-side city located with a strategic cliff overlook advantage. The ruins are overwhelming in their sheer beauty of setting. A must-see!
Beach at Tulum Ruins
Oceanview from Tulum Ruins
Tulum Beach Fence
Guardian of the Ruins
Beach South of Tulum Ruins
Beautiful Beaches and Town
Here the costs range from free to exorbitant—your choice. Incidentally, it is not too much further down Carretera 307 to Belize from here. About 150 miles on a good road. Be aware that you can’t take most rental cars across the border. A bus is the budget travel option of choice.
Where’s the Bathroom?
If you need a bathroom, just when you turn right, on the left side of the road is a little kite store with a fresh juice bar next to it. You don’t have to pay, but it’s nice to buy a juice from the nice folks operating this hutch. They’re just trying to make a living. Consider it seriously, because there are few other public facilities in the area.
The Beach Scene
To head to the beach and expensive beach bungalow area (including yoga and Buddhist retreat centers all packed in one on top of the other), turn left at the aforementioned light. Go past all the new housing construction (big development project for the Mexcian Dept. of Tourism), until you come to sort of a “T” intersection.
Drive a little further on the left-hand route, leaving the crowds and what most city-bred folks call a “road” behind. It’s dirt, with ruts, potholes and the occasional critter, but still navigable with a 2 wheel drive rental if you don’t rush. You will arrive at a nondescript parking area for the wonderful Tankah Tres Beach and Cenote Manatee. We can’t recommend it highly enough.
The Wild & Natural Scene
Continue along this road past all the development and eventually you come to the gateway to Sian Ka’an, a 1.3 million acre Biosphere Reserve (1986). It was also designated a UNESCO Heritage of Humanity Site in 1987. Sian Ka’an supports a diversity of habitats: beaches, coral reef, tropical forests, wetlands, savannas, dunes, cenotes, and both freshwater and brackish lagoons.
The reserve is an amazing place for eco travel, with the added bonus that the locals are serious about conservation.
In the ancient Maya language, Sian Ka’an means “where the sky is born.” Savor a sunrise or sunset here and you will understand the name on a visceral level.
Where History Meets Beach
When you visit the Tulum ruins (which are usually hot and humid), be sure to bring a bathing suit and towel. In the midst of the ruins, there’s a long set of wooden stairs down the cliff to a beautiful cove where you can swim. [No changing rooms, or bathrooms at the site, however]. It’s fun to imagine yourself as a Mayan prince or princess, bathing in anticipation of a ceremony. Mostly, it’s a refreshing relief.