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Travel Diary: Las Ruinas & Big Decisions in Tulum (Part 2)

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This is part two of my Tulum travel diary—and this is the face of a girl who doesn’t want to leave Tulum. Our trip was winding down, though, with just a week or so left in paradise. We managed to make the most of it by visiting hidden outdoor clubs in the middle of the jungle, seeing the stunning Mayan ruins, and eating a lot of ceviche.

This is the only snapshot I took of our little adventure into the club at the center of the jungle. A DJ booth was set up in tree and everything was outdoors. To access it, you had to walk through a maze of partially lit trees. If you walked far enough, you’d hit the ocean. We could hear the waves crashing under the music. And I know it’s not novel to Tulum regulars, but this was one of the coolest setups I’d ever seen!

You can’t see Tulum without seeing Las Ruinas. This is the third most visited archaeological site in all of Mexico after Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza. This place has over two million tourists traipsing through it per year. I was pretty surprised that there weren’t that many people around during our visit, but it was a brutally hot day and the sun was pelting us from above. Completely worth it, though.

Tulum was a hub for international trade in its hey day, reportedly dedicated to the planet Venus. It also served as an astronomy school, which I think is so fascinating. The stars could be studied from the astronomical tower, which was build with obsidian mirror walls that reflected the sky.

When we finally saw the ruins, I was completely mesmerized. This was once an ancient Mayan port city that dates back to the 13th century. Near the seaside, you can see a watchtower, the templo de las pinturas, and the smaller cobá pyramids. You definitely feel something powerful when you walk through the stone passageway (which is eerily quiet) and into the ruins.

A path from the ruins leads down to a “secret” beach—not so secret, considering it was the most crowded place we saw—which is definitely worth a trip no matter how tired you are from being pelted by the sun in the open fields. If you do trek through the roped off paths of the ruins, you’ll be rewarded by this view. Yep, this is the view everyone posts on Instagram.

I would rather not focus on anything negative here, but we did see a ridiculous woman ask a mom and her child to move out of her way so she could get a scenic portrait taken on the beach. If you do travel to Tulum, don’t be that person. Everyone wants their magical photo at the beach, but that’s not the point of coming to a place like this.

The beach here as so beautiful that it almost didn’t quite feel like we were on earth anymore. The cliffs behind us had these magnificent otherworldly rocks jutting out aggressively into this pristine, scenic shoreline with the brightest turquoise water I have ever seen. I kept asking myself how something like this is even possible. But mother nature is the most intense and unexpected artist in the universe.

Sunny and blissed out, or overthinking everything in my life? I’ll let you guess. (Hint: It was a little bit of both.)

I bought this black onyx necklace from a jewelry maker who was hawking his wares on the beach. I felt like it was calling out to me somehow, and I wore it around for the rest of the trip. It became a nice little token to remind me to stay grounded and present.

After a long day in the sun, we sought out shelter in the shade and ordered—you guessed it!—more ceviche. The next few days would be much of the same: soaking up the sun, wading into the aqua waves, and sipping cocktails in tree house-looking outdoor establishments.

On the morning we were supposed to leave, I did something somewhat uncharacteristic of me. I woke up and told Krystal to leave without me. I’m not someone to strand myself in a foreign country alone, but I just wasn’t ready to go. Also, my decision wasn’t entirely careless. I was familiar with the town, knew I could find accommodation for another night or two, and had made a local female friend who I could call if I needed anything.

Krystal nodded, hopped on a plane to Panama to continue her globe-trotting trip, and left me to my devices. I felt so at peace with zero plan (despite losing money on a plane ticket). I just had a really good feeling about extending my adventure even slightly, and felt like I needed the alone time to clear my head and think some things through.

Having an extra couple of days in Tulum filled me with creative inspiration. I charged up my laptop, checked out of the Airbnb, and wandered around looking for a hostel with an open room. I found one just a couple blocks over, and even though there was no AC and the light didn’t work properly, I knew it was the perfect space to get some writing done.

Oh—did I say “adventure” up there? Because what I was excited about was working on my ebook, doing some writing work for clients, and just… thinking. Yep, I’m a bit of a nerd. But I knew this would be good for me.

The hostel I found, Casa del Sol, was blatantly under construction with planks of wood all over the place. But it had that cool tree house vibe and plenty of young travelers hanging around. Most of them were younger than me, actually, but I was too sun-burnt and proud of myself to feel self-conscious. I later learned that this hostel was being constructed (even as I slept in it) using traditional Mayan techniques. I’m guessing many of the buildings I admired were created the same way.

Anyway, this place had a charming open kitchen, a spare room, and WiFi, so it was perfect. I checked in and got a key, dropped my bags in the room, set up my laptop, and collapsed on the bed. The weight of the entire month of traveling began to sink in. Usually, being alone gives me anxiety and sends my head spinning. But for once, I felt calm. I felt proud of myself for being spontaneous and doing something just for me.

The bed was kind of stiff and cardboard-feeling, but I didn’t even care. I passed out cold while watching the afternoon sunlight filter in through the colorful windows in the wall.

When I woke up later that afternoon, I grabbed a pack of Modelo beers and opened up my laptop for a major writing session. All of my creativity and thoughts came prouing out. I ended up writing over 5K words in the extra days I stayed, which was truly an awesome feeling. I still haven’t published the book I’ve been working on, but that’s okay. Sometimes it just feels good to experience something like this—to let yourself go on paper (or in a Google doc) and remind yourself that you’re capable of creating something great.

That night, I texted Cora—remember her? We met in Cancun and she ended up in Tulum about a week after we arrived. She was down for a night out, and I felt like I had to see some live music before leaving, so we went to one of the bars we’d been meeting up at during our stay. We spent the night sipping mojitos and getting lovingly hypnotized by a flamenco performance.

Between songs, this guitarist (who’d limped onto the stage using a cane moments earlier), knocked over his water. I was sitting close, I ducked onto the stage and cleaned up the spill, scared that he would potentially hurt himself if he tried to do it himself.

After his set, he came over to my table to thank me for the gesture, and we had a spontaneous conversation about music and travel. He was so friendly and warm, with such an amazing smile. It was a simple moment, but it reminded me how incredible it is that you cross paths with so many different souls when you travel. Imagine all of the people out there waiting for you to jump on a plane and have a tiny, meaningful moment with them…

Finally, on my last afternoon, I was nursing my final Tulum hangover on the beach with Cora and we saw this beautiful rainbow. It extended all the way to the other side of the horizon—my photo only captured half. Seeing it stretching across the sky felt so meaningful, like it was the unconscious reason I had stayed behind. This moment stayed with me and I remember it vividly.

As I’ve mentioned, lately I’ve been struggling emotionally. This rainbow felt like a sign that it’s all going to be fine. I mean, I know this is just a photo on my blog, and it probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but it was just one of those moments in life where you realize how lucky you are, and how incredible life is.

I’m so glad I hung back for an extra couple of days to see yet another one of pacha mama’s pieces of art.

Whew! So that brings us to the end of the Tulum travel diary. That was longer than I anticipated, but Tulum is an amazing place and even 100 photos couldn’t capture what it feels like to be there. I was surrounded by a whirlwind of blissed out sensory experiences, from the salty air by the sea to the tacos al pastor being served up by late night vendors on the street.

Even though there were moments where I felt that familiar confusion, heartbreak, and existential dread creeping in, Tulum always brought me back into the embrace of its natural beauty and warm atmosphere.

I wish I’d stayed even longer and done more, like seeing more ruins, swimming in the cenotes, and maybe seeing more live music. But I got a nice taste of this place, and I’ll definitely be back for more.

So long, Tulum. You’ve been hospitable, magical, and lots of fun. I will absolutely see you again.

In case you missed them, here are my Cancun and Playa Del Carmen travel diaries. You can also check out Part 1 of my Tulum photo diary for more beachy eye candy.

Travel Diary: Soaking In The Magic of Tulum (Part 1)

Have you ever been to Tulum? What was your favorite thing about it?

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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.

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