Travel Diary: Soaking In The Magic of Tulum (Part 1)
And so the adventure continues! Krystal and I left our sweet little jungle abode in Playa del Carmen feeling well rested and excited to take on the next leg of our trip. We threw our bags in the back of a cab and jumped in, cruised along Highway 307 for less than an hour, and then hit beautiful, breezy Tulum.
If you’re going to be in the Yucatán, you can’t miss Tulum. I have to imagine anyone reading this would have already heard of its magical white sand beaches and chilled out beach town vibes—to speak nothing of the incredible and enigmatic ruins overlooking the ocean—but I’m here to confirm that the rumors are true. This place feels like paradise.
We chose Tulum as the last destination in Mexico because we wanted to stay there the longest. It’s all 55 minutes from Playa Del Carmen (which is an hour from Cancun) so we mapped out the trajectory accordingly.
Looking back at these photos, it’s a bit strange. Because while all signs point to the perfect vacation, the truth is I have been having a bit of an emotional time lately. Traveling is one of my favorite ways to clear my head and shake things up, but the troubles you have in your mind don’t dissolve just because you’re in a beautiful place far from home. In some cases, the stuff in your head and heart may be amplified.
It was easier to ignore my emotional tendencies in Playa del Carmen and Cancun because we stayed just a few days and were busy doing this and that. In Tulum, we slowed down and soaked it all in. So my mind had a chance to race. Without getting too soapy, I’ll just say that I’m life is complex and I’m an emotional Libra. But I’m so glad I took this trip with my best friend to remind myself how much I love little adventures, drinking out of coconuts, and writing for hours on end.
If you haven’t been to Tulum, you owe yourself a trip. You’ll hear people complaining that it’s “over”, that it’s too crowded, that it’s overdeveloped… all of those things might be true to those who fell in love with it years ago (and yes, it’s actively being developed now) but it’s still a magical place. Apart from the occasional drunk spring breaker trying to remain upright on a rented bike, things were fairly chill the entire time we were in town.
There are countless shops, restaurants and alcoves to explore. There’s live music and entertainment any night of the week. The locals are warm and friendly, the food is incredible (I mean, Mexican food is some of the best in the world) and once you see that insane aqua water and sprawl on those white sand beaches, you’ll never want to leave.
I definitely didn’t want to leave… so I purposely missed my flight! But more on that later.
Our chipper taxi driver dropped us off on the main drag and we trekked a few blocks out to our Airbnb. It was tucked away on the inside of a small commercial plaza, reportedly owned by a much loved local politician. our hostess handed over the keys and we settled in.
We had a private apartment for the duration of our stay. The place was minimal, but bursting with character and charm. From the cheery colors to little plants in a row outside of the front door (including aloe that we could slice off and use on sunburns), I felt like I was right at home.
After doing a bit of exploring, we found an exterior staircase leading to laundry lines on the roof. From there, we could see the sun rise and set, watch chickens run around the neighbor’s yard, and soak in daily life. We didn’t have a fancy beach-side resort or anything, but I was so content with our little abode.
One of the coolest things about our rental was a hammock swinging right from the center of the kitchen. It made me wonder: shouldn’t all kitchens have a hammock? It would certainly make waiting for the kettle to boil more fun.
This is the small table where Krystal and I spent early mornings and late nights writing, powered by snacks from Oxxo and Modelo Especial. We left the kitchen door open so an evening breeze would waft through the room—along with a few mosquitoes… but what can you do?.
It was so nice to have a little digital nomad home base to come back to between adventures. Krystal was working on ghostwriting projects and her own creative endeavors and I wrote for clients and dabbled in fiction as well. I won’t pretend Tulum is the easiest place to focus on writing (I mean, being on the beach with a margarita in hand is a very real temptation), but we found a nice balance between having fun and getting things done.
In general, Tulum is one of the most chill places I’ve ever been. Though we arrived at the height of tourist season, it wasn’t really crowded. Apart from the occasional drunk college girl struggling to stay upright on a rented bicycle, things were really calm.
We spent a lot of time on the main drag, Avenida Tulum, where there are lots of cute places to shop and eat. We basically ate five meals per day and looked for more food in between. I ordered ceviche for almost every meal—and, naturally, they all came with a festive cocktail.
We ended up doing a lot of walking, including long walks on twisting trails that led to the beach and the ruins. Whether we were headed for a day of lounging in the sand or checking out historical sites, it felt like every time we left the apartment we had a magical day. And yes, Krystal became one with the local shrubbery.
I even found a vintage and second-hand clothing store next to our Airbnb. When I ran out of clothes (at this point we had been traveling for weeks, after all, and salt water only cleanses sun dresses so much) I ducked and found an adorable dress in my size. To clarify, it wasn’t this one on the mannequin, but I would have rocked that wig if it was for sale!
Everything in Tulum is fairly close by. Anything you can’t walk to from Avenida Tulum can be reached in a matter of minutes by cab—or by bike, if you rent one. Just be sure you’re sober enough to ride it, unlike some of the jovial tourists we witnessed. 😉
I don’t really know what to say about the color of this water. I mean…
To quench your thirst, you can find coconut vendors pretty much anywhere. We bought one almost every time we passed someone selling them. They’re so incredibly refreshing—and you can chuck them into the wilderness (not the straw of course) when you finish.
Some vendors make little performances out of how quickly and efficiently they can chop coconuts open for you. I tend to cringe and look away when machetes start flying, but it was pretty fascinating stuff.
Apart from coconuts, we also had a particular weakness for tequila and live music. I also discovered that after drinking enough tequila, I developed yet another weakness for drop-in musicians and performers. I found it hard to send someone away when they randomly showed up at our table with any kind of instrument, offering to play a song.
Locals and more savvy tourists politely declined, but I found myself busting out my pesos and begging for more. I guess I’m their target customer!
One particular night, after visiting a few bars, Krystal and I decided to follow a faint, but powerful undercurrent of cumbia bassline that was wafting through the air. We followed it off the main avenue and into the center of a busy local street fair. Did I mention that cumbia is another one of my weaknesses?
In the middle of it all, this stage was set up and bands were performing. As we approached curiously, two security guards offered us VIP wristbands to get into the gated area… if we danced with them. Obviously we said yes. And mannn, did we dance.
After we had some fun and got twirled around for a while, a few people on the street thought Krystal was a celebrity and they started asking for photos with her. I told them they could take one photo but it would cost them a beer! #managermom
Anyway, that was a night to remember for sure. And however wild our nights were, we could always find a pair of beach chairs to laugh about it the following day.
This is one of many places where we sat down with the intention to cause a ceviche deficit in the Yucatán Peninsula. While some of the beaches have “beach club”-like setups, others are adjacent to simple outdoor restaurants. Everything is designed to blend with the surrounding jungle, so it almost always feels like you’re hanging out in a tree house. This is one of those magical things about Tulum. Your surroundings are never dull because natural beauty is everywhere.
Be still my raw-fish-devouring heart.
When it was actually time to get some work done and we didn’t want to sit in the house, we parked it at Charlie’s for hours on end. This partially outdoor cafe was the perfect place to hang day or night. Maaany pesos were spent on entrees and margaritas while we clattered away on our laptops. Their menu includes ideal hangover breakfasts that are spicy, delicious, and life-affirming (and I can’t pretend that wasn’t our goal sometimes).
One day after working hard in the back yard of Charlie’s, our waiter decided we had earned some tequila with a scorpion in it. And that’s not the kind of honor you turn down.
Here’s me deciding whether I’m going to drink scorpion tequila—and whether the little guy in the bottle died happy.
Back at the house… this little friend would often stop by and hang out with us. The number of stray dogs in town is quite high, so it’s not unusual to wake up to a few pooches outside the door. Many of them are social and friendly and will keep you company while you’re chain smoking and over-thinking your life choices. But I digress.
Because we spent a considerable amount of time in Tulum, the days sort of blended together into a hazy, beachy dream. I felt a mix of being blissed out, far too in my own head, and guilty for not being more present in my surroundings. But we also had a solid good time and plenty of laughs.
Want some more beachy eye candy? Check out part 2 of my Tulum travel diary.
And in case you missed them, here are my Cancun and Playa Del Carmen travel diaries, too!
Have you ever been to Tulum? What was your favorite part about visiting?
P.S. If you’re wondering how I travel and work online, I actually teach writers how to do it! Check out Day Job Optional for more info.