Tulum, Mexico, Day 6: Grand Cenote and Ruins from the Beach


I realized too late that the kayak in Sian Ka’an people were out of business, so we missed that opportunity, but, after we packed about 90%, we set out for the Grand Cenote, which is very close to here. It was not anywhere near as great as Sac Aktun (which I think is also Dos Ojes) but it was well worth doing. But it made me even more aware that it was great to have Nick as a guide at Sac Aktun. This cenote is large, but has a big platform in the middle with three ladders. There were a lot of people there, but it didn’t take away from the experience too much. (At Sac Aktun, we saw two or three other people.) At Sac Aktun, the beautiful, eerie stuff was above us. I was often wondering why we were snorkeling. At Grand Cenote, the underwater stuff was the most beautiful and eerie and sort of instinctively scary.

It wasn’t nearly as big, but it had about three beautiful cave parts. A lot of the cenotes connect, so divers go down and go cave to cave. I could feel the allure of that but also the very basic fear of setting off into tiny spaces way under water. The divers are mapping the cenotes, one of the last places on earth that is not yet fully mapped. I see the attraction of that, but can’t imagine going into spaces where you don’t know where you’re going. I hope they are like Theseus, with lines to follow back! I’m sure they do do something like that.

We had lunch at the hotel restaurant,


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just nachos and a drink each. Then I had another drink, a piña colada, after I kicked people off the chaises reserved for our cabana.

I kept meaning to walk up and down the beach and this evening for the first time I had time and wasn’t complete2015-03-22 18.48.23ly exhausted. I wanted to see the ruins from the beach. It really is eerie seeing them, especial2015-03-22 19.12.18ly with beach volleyball, etc., so close by. I didn’t realize there was anything along that part of the beach, but it is much more plebeian than the other direction, which has yoga hotels and such, some of it a bit precious.

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I passed a restaurant pretty much right next door, Playa Esperanza, so we walked down there for dinner. It was so pretty, breezy, string lights in local balls made of basket weave. The food was much more 2015-03-22 20.31.562015-03-22 20.32.01imaginative than our hotel restaurant’s and the mojitos way better.

Flying nun or rabbit????

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Tulum, Mexico, Day 5: Punta Laguna, Spider Monkeys!


This morning, like all but one morning when we had to meet Nick before breakfast started, we had breakfast at the tables along the outside of the restaurant. Despite the thatched umbrellas, it’s a little hard to stay out of the sun, which is quite strong even early, but it’s really nice having breakfast right on the beach. A full breakfast comes with the room, yummy fresh juice, different every day, and a choice of pancakes, yoghurt and granola, or scrambled eggs with rice, beans, and guacamole. I think there’s an all-bread option also. And a plate of fruit with whatever you order.

I was trying to figure out how to get in touch with the people who give the kayak tours of Sian Ka’an, the nature preserve just south of Tulum. Their email permanently rejects and their phone doesn’t connect. I think they have a cell phone deep in the preserve and it just won’t connect, but it is really frustrating, because you can’t just drive there. It’s deep in the preserve and you need a Jeep at least.

So finally we decided to head to Punta Laguna instead. It’s a Mayan preserve near Coba, to the west. It took about an hour to get there and there was a time when we felt like there could be nothing on the road. It was just mile after mile of nothing. I was going to give it 15 more miles and then give up, but we got there. They offer rappelling into a cenote, zip line, canoeing, and other things, but they were all really primitive. What we went for was the monkeys. They have several families of spider monkeys, a few hundred in all, and some howlers. We paid our 70 pesos each plus 300 pesos for the tour guide, for what was supposed to be an hour’s tour to find the monkeys. (That’s about $26 total.)

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We met our tour guide, Jose, who has his two front teeth rimmed with silver. The place is completely Mayan-run. Jose didn’t say much, just started out through the jungle. The jungle is paved with limestone with crunchy leaves over it. It is scrubby and not all that dense, with what we use as houseplants here and there on the ground. We tromped for quite a while and then came to the deserted thatched shelter where the zip line was. 2015-03-21 13.45.38Jose told us to wait there while he looked for the monkeys. He was communicating on a walkie talkie now and then as well as stopping to listen, but he took off by himself for about 20 minutes while we waited at the zip line. We saw a hummingbird while we were there. Otherwise, we were just hot.

Jose came back and started us off after him again. Termites nest on a tree 2015-03-21 14.00.12 2015-03-21 14.01.02and chicle tree that had the chicle harvested.

We came to the lagoon, 2015-03-21 14.06.35and walked past it a little while and he pointed up, and there they were. Tiny little faces, long, long arms and tails, swinging, chomping on the little fruits. 2015-03-21 14.33.07 cropped 2015-03-21 14.33.07 2015-03-21 14.33.16 2015-03-21 14.45.44 2015-03-21 14.45.47After a while, Jose pointed out a mother with a baby clinging to her chest, That baby was about a month old and it climbed off and we could see it getting its own berries and eating them and trying different ways of getting to the berries. It was beyond cute. Then Jose pointed out another mother with a baby, and said that baby was probably about ten days old. Every now and then we could see its face, especially when Jose loaned us his binoculars. The adults’ faces are pretty tiny, the baby’s so much more so. Its little face was all black fur with little patches of beige for eyes and mouth.  I recommend viewing the videos in full screen as it was quite difficult filming something so high up.

We stood and looked and Jose showed us the cave where the monkeys hide during bad storms and where they go to drink, and then we stood and looked some more and some more. I don’t know how long we were there, but he didn’t hurry us one little bit. We finally indicated that we were ready to go. I had planned to give him 50 pesos as about 15% of the 300 for the tour, but I gave him 100 and thanked him profusely for working so hard to find the monkeys and letting us stay to watch them for so long.

Hand-made souvenir from Punta Laguna. 2015-03-25 08.34.10

We headed back and went back to the beach road in Tulum to find somewhere to eat. Almost every restaurant takes cash only and most of the ATMs on the beach road dispense US dollars. It is the weirdest thing. So we had a drink at a restaurant we had seen that looked well-populated and realized we didn’t have enough cash and the ATM was dollars only. It turns out it was something of a grill with very little fish or vegetarian, so it wasn’t really a disappointment to just have drinks. Isabel’s drink was sake and Grand Marnier and mint and grapes. It was fantastic. Have to try it.

We drove off and amazingly found a parking spot on the road and walked until we found a peso-dispensing ATM. We went back to a restaurant that we thought looked good and it was fully booked. So we went back to one that we had walked past, Cenzontle, “jardin secrete” (secret garden). We had this amazing octopus, pear, fruit paste appetizer, where Isabel learned she likes octopus, at least when prepared amazingly well, Then we had sea bass with some kind of leaf over it and lentils and fried coconut and pieces of plantain. It was amazing. Both of us had become somewhat resigned to the food being OK here, but this was fabulous. Vanilla ice cream with dolce de leche and fried carrots on top. Yum.

But the most delicious thing was Isabel’s drink. (I didn’t have another one because of driving.) It was called a Mme. Piaf and was made of pineapple, amaretto, coconut milk, marscapone, and rum. It was amazing. I don’t know if it’s unique to Cenzontle, but we’ll have to try to reproduce it.

Back to the cabana, showers, collapse!  Two towel sculptures tonight!

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Tulum, Mexico, Day 4: Snorkeling and Cenotes with Nick


Isabel and I were right on track to meet Nick, the guide we scheduled, at the supermarket parking lot when we got a call from him asking where we were. All the guidebooks and the phone — most of the time — indicate we’re in Central Time. Buuuut, Mexico changed the time zone for Cancun and Tulum a couple of months ago to Eastern Time to be better for business. Then they decided they would not spring forward at the end of DST. As Nick said, “Don’t try to make sense of it — this is Mexico.” (He’s from California.) So we were an hour late, but I don’t think it mattered. And he understood. And he really should have warned us. He said it has caused all kinds of problems, with irate diners coming for their reservations among other things. The time on the phone varies from correct time (Chicago time, an hour behind Eastern) and an hour earlier. I think it depends on the carrier. It is very confusing. I added Chicago to the list of clocks on my phone and I have to verify with that when I check the time rather than looking at the time the phone is reporting for the local time.

Anyway, once we got there, we headed to a government turtle sanctuary. The place where we were originally going to go, Akumel, gets busloads of people, so you have to go really early.

We got to this pristine (except for masses of seaweed) beach, no hotels, no nothing. We put on our gear and set out to swim to the reef. It was really, really choppy, fairly difficult to swim out against the current, and I started to get really seasick, really seasick. Who knew you could get seasick swimming??? Plus the choppiness was making the water fairly murky. It was not the crystal waters of the Caribbean you think about. We saw some trigger fish and some of those blue fish with the yellow outline (Isabel called them Dory fish from Finding Nemo), but it was certainly not spectacular, and I have to say I felt really awful. We came back in after 15 to 20 minutes and I had to sit and recover. I felt positively dizzy. I had my homeopathic anti-seasick remedies in the car, but hadn’t brought them to the beach because who gets seasick swimming??? I took them as soon as we got to the car and felt better immediately, placebo effect or otherwise.

We walked from there to a small cenote, basically a round, clear, deep pond that is an opening to the underground river system. There is no fresh water source in this area other than the cenotes. When we were in South of the Border, South yesterday, we passed a place where several people had their feet in tanks of brownish water with little fish in them. Isabel knew what it was, had read about it in NYC. It’s a new beauty fad where little fish eat the dead skin off your feet. I find it hard to believe people want to put their feet into water where someone previously has had fish nibbling their dead skin off.  Well, these same little fish were in this cenote. When you sit on the edge, they come and nibble at you. It’s really weird. Nick said someone told him there was a whole-body nibbling option in Thailand. We were all in agreement that we would not be signing up for that. The little kids who were there thought the fish were hysterical.

Nick grew up near San Francisco, went to Waldorf schools, but when he went to study to be a Waldorf teacher, he decided it was all a bit too weird. His dad lives in an ashram in India, 6-7 hour drive south of Mumbai. A very sweet guy with a very sweet attitude on life.

The next stop was to the Sac Actun cenote. Sac Actun means white path in Mayan. We drove a few miles off the main drag down white unpaved roads. This cenote is privately-owned and very well maintained. Nick supplied us with shortie wet suits. The water was quite cold! But the whole swim was in caves. Mostly stalactites because the stalagmites won’t build up under water. The ones that are there were created before the cave was flooded, probably thousands of years before.

We didn’t bring our phones since we were in the water, but I got some photos off the net.

sac actun entrance1 sac actun1 sac actun2

There were quite a few bats, different kinds, some of them quite small. They flew around a bit, making their squeaky sounds. The caves were so beautiful, white to almost white formations, lit with plain white light. A few caves had little or no lite, but Nick had a waterproof flashlight. It was such an astonishing thing to be doing. The light when it came in from above was magical. I could have skipped the first two activities gladly, but this was just amazingly wonderful.

After that we went to the town of Tulum. We had only been to the beach road before. It was slummy chic or maybe just thatched slummy. But we ate in a really great outdoor restaurant. Lots of beggars and people selling stuff. Nick recommended the ceviche, which I thought would be a bit terrifying, but was actually delicious. We also shared shrimp fajitas. The food here has been good, but not completely amazing. But that’s fine, because I didn’t really have huge expectations. Fish tacos at a place on the beach road are the best thing we’ve had so far.

We asked Nick about what was safe and not safe to eat and he said the water comes from the cenotes and is purified, pointing out (as I had been thinking) that the economy is based on tourism, so it’s in everyone’s interest to keep the food and water from making the customers sick. So far, aside from when I’ve inadvertently eaten a flour tortilla, my stomach has been fine, knock wood, and we’ve basically been eating everything.

We read and napped when we came back. It had been a lot of exercise! Isabel fell asleep and then was annoyed that it was 7:30, so we just ate here, which is not a particularly interesting option, but we were both so tired.

I asked Nick about monkeys and he told us about a place I’d already read about on tripadvisor that has closed because the owner died. He told us the owner was killed by a camel sitting on him because the owner had given him Coca-Cola and the camel freaked out.

But there’s a spider monkey sanctuary and I looked it up, the Jungle Place, that was so perfect. But they only allow two tours per week and they get booked up months in advance. I emailed,, but there’s nothing the next two days. :-(

We’re going to see if we can book a kayak tour through Sian Ka’an, the giant nature preserve just south of here. Exotic birds, beautiful sunset. Have to see if they have room tomorrow or the next day. May visit another cenote we read about also.

Our towel sculpture of the day.

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Tulum, Mexico, Day 3: Ruins


I spent a long time this morning trying to research activities. It was fun, at first, over breakfast, but quickly became a real chore because the Internet wouldn’t work, the phone wouldn’t work, you name it. But I finally managed to get a guide who is very well reviewed, and he is going to take us to the reef in Akumal, where there is a somewhat more protected part of the reef which is supposed to be a haven for sea turtles.  He’s going to give us lunch and then take us to the cenotes, the underground rivers with openings providing access. We’re meeting him at 8 and we’ll be done at 2. We’re going to ask him for recommendations for other things, like perhaps going to the enormous nature preserve on the southern end of Tulum, which is not something you can realistically do in a rental car on your own.

Today, after all the Internet searching and phone calls, we went to the ruins. You go into a parking lot specifically for the ruins and come to a huge, huge set of seedy shops, like you set out for a high-tone archeological site and somehow ended up at South of the Border.

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Click any picture to enlarge.

One guy called out after Isabel, “It’s you, honey!”, in his Mexican accent, waving a hat at her. She wanted to tell him that straight guys don’t say that. ;-) There were a million huge souvenir shops and a Subway and a Starbucks. I didn’t think there were ruins anywhere near that place.  We wound our way around, the shops eventually stopped, and we walked a few minutes towards the ocean.
Finally, the entrance. We hired a tour guide, a government, archeological site guide, nice guy, young, studied archaeology in Cancun.  Had a Brigham Young lanyard.  Very confusing, said his cousin went there.  Anyway, he was a great guide, and I’m glad I hired him over Isabel’s hesitation over the $560 fee (a whopping $35.00 USD).

The entrance through the wall that protected the land side of the site.

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One of the really fascinating things he told us is t2015-03-19 13.59.45hat the Mayans buried their dead in their houses. They found seven bodies basically under the bedroom floor of this house:2015-03-19 13.57.36

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Of course, it w2015-03-19 14.03.42as gorgeous and fascinating. And very hot and humid!

Tulum, formerly Zama, meaning city of dawn, was one of the last inhabited Mayan cities, at its prime from the 13th to the 15th century.

The smaller of the two temples has an very small opening at the back where the sun shines directly through the front opening on the solstices.2015-03-19 14.14.02

See the face straddling the corner of the pink buildin2015-03-19 14.41.20g? The eyes are und2015-03-19 14.17.12er one ridge, the
mouth under the lower one.

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Hot and humid and very windy, as you can see in the picture the guide took of us.

2015-03-19 14.25.00-12015-03-19 14.35.17cropped-2015-03-19-14-38-15.jpg2015-03-19 14.36.362015-03-19 14.51.01We saw lots of iguanas at the ruins.

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Today’s bath towel animal, 2015-03-19 15.50.49snake or turkey????2015-03-19 15.49.55

More pictures of our room and the hotel and beach in late evening.2015-03-19 15.50.15 2015-03-19 15.50.232015-03-19 19.09.122015-03-19 17.58.402015-03-19 18.00.14

Tulum, Mexico, Day 2: The Beach with Pina Coladas


Yesterday was such a long day and such a slog on so little sleep that we both collapsed into bed right after dinner.  It was 10:30 (Central Time) when I turned out the light and an early squawker (which turned out to be some kind of black bird) roused me about eight hours later.  We got up slowly, pottered around a bit, and went for our included breakfast: eggs, tortillas, rice and beans for me, yoghurt and granola for Isabel.  We both had a plate of fruit, watermelon, papaya, mango.  Isabel thought she didn’t like papaya, but found out she did.

beach at breakfast1

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These photos are our view at breakfast.  When we sat down, there were a couple of guys digging a giant hole on the beach.  I could not figure out why.  It seemed completely nonsensical.  It turns out they were burying seaweed.  There is a lot of seaweed that washes up on the beach, all along the coast.  When you go into the oce2015-03-18 09.55.03an, you have to walk over a swath a couple of feet wide and 6″ to a foot deep.  It’s a little weird, but not at all a problem, but I guess the hotel wanted to clear a path to the water right in front of the hotel.  They only did this the first day.  I think they realized it was a losing battle.2015-03-18 09.51.03  But it provided breakfast-time entertainment at least.

It is really great here, the room is right on the beach, so when I got hot on one of our two allotted beach chaises,view from porch I came up 2015-03-18 11.15.502015-03-18 11.15.37to the porch and read at the table for a while and then the hammock.    The first picture is the view from our porch.  The two chaises under the rightmost umbrella are our chaises, reserved for our cabana, just a few steps from our door.  The next two pictures are looking  left and right from our chaises.

We hung out most of the day, pina coladas mid-morning (Isabel opted for virgin, I did not) pina colada on the beachbut we still had no pesos, so around 3:00, not having had lunch, we went to the supermarket, which is only a mile or two away.  (I am sooooo glad I got a car!  We would be taking dozens of taxi rides and be so restricted if I hadn’t.)  It has several ATMs and the one we used charged us a whopping $2.00 per transaction.  I suspect there might be conversion charges as well, but it’s only Isabel who’s adding up every penny.  She started tallying how much we’ve spent so far and I made her keep it to herself.  I mean, dinner tonight was $30.00 before tip.

The grocery storechedraui had a tiny gluten-free shelf and we spent quite a bit of time at the candy area, of course.  peppers at chedrauiWe had a very odd collection of stuff in our cart!  They had an amazing pepper selection, of course, but we didn’t buy any, just admired.

Then we went to dinner at a place called Mateo’s that we had noticed had a good crowd when we went up and down the beach road yesterday.  mateosMy fish tacos were amazingly good.  Isabel got vegetarian fajitas, which was mostly peppers, so I didn’t have any of that.  We ate tomatoes (non-peeled vegetables) and had drinks with ice.  We did ask, and they said everything was washed with and the ice made with purified water.  It’s a little freaky always wondering if things are OK, but I look around and see other Americans eating and drinking in these places and figure life’s too short to restrict ourselves from eating anything.  So far so good….

We went souvenir shopping across the street from the little restaurant and picked up a few things.  wooden animal souvenirsThen, because I forgot to bring my hat (doh!) we stopped at another souvenir place and we bought some more things.  (One of the devil-skeletons is for Jane because I immediately thought of her when I saw them.)  I think we’re done with the souvenirs. :-)  Then bags and keychain souvenirsmore souvenirsback to the supermarket for more pesos!

When we got back, this was the towel animal.  day 2 towel animal A pig?  No, maybe a dog because of the ears.towel animal day2

Tulum, Mexico, Day 1: Travel and Arrival


Jim dropped Isabel and me off at the airport, leaving the house at 5AM.  I had gotten about 3.5 hours sleep , but slept here and there on the planes.  Luckily it got me through about 18 hours of travel.

I successfully navigated the Hertz counter, trying not to get soaked for more money than my reservation had promised.  Luckily, I can drive a stick, because that was the first thing they threw at me, and I just said, “Fine.”  They did add liability insurance, which upped the price, but it was still quite reasonable.  And we ended up getting an automatic that was much nicer than the basic car I had reserved since they had no gas in their pumps and had to distribute the cars that had at least a few gallons in them.  Second hardest part of the trip navigated successfully!  (The first hardest was getting to the Hertz office, which was just across the street from the airport, but finding the path to get there was not obvious, at least not to someone who’d had 3.5 hours’ sleep.)


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The drive to Tulum from Cancun is a straight shot down the coastal highway, about an hour and a half.  The road was very well marked, but we had our first encounter with Mexico’s apparent love of “topes”, speed bumps.  There are stretches of highway without them, but there are stretches where they are fairly frequent and some of them are like small Mayan temples stretching across the road, about a foot to 18-inches high.  The others are like half-buried cannonballs.  Another novelty was the presence of police huts with road blocks three or four times along the way, complete with several sets of topes each and police with machine guns.  They weren’t stopping anybody, just making their presence known, I guess.   The road was very well marked, absolutely no problems getting gas and getting to Tulum.

Once we got there, we went south on the beach road instead of north, not having found the hotel on the map.  The beach road has hotel after hotel on the ocean side and restaurants and shops on the land side.  The road is narrow with lots and lots and lots of topes, including the Mayan temple variety, and lots of people walking and biking in the road since there are no sidewalks.  The taxis overtake you if you’re not going at least 20 km over the limit, so it is rather stressful, particularly if you’re looking for the name of each place as you pass.  But we got a fair idea of what was available for future dining needs.  We didn’t know what we had come to when there was an arch at the end of the road, but found out later that it is the entrance to Sian Ka’an, the huge nature preserve.

We were wending our way back when Isabel saw that the hotel was north of the turn-off.  Our hotel is called La Vita e Bella (life is good in Italian).la vita e bella reception  It consists of huts along the beach and a few further back from the beach.  We had a beach-front cabana, which was a standalone room with bath.  It was dark when we got there, so the open-air reception desk was not manned, but someone came and led us down the paths, all incredibly soft, white sand, to the room.

Every day there was a different animal/person or two made from our bath towels.  swansswans closeupThe ones on our arrival, swans, had our beach towels (blue) incorporated as well.  There was a twin bed as well as the king and a bench all around the outside wall.  The closet had a safe, which was a really nice feature.

This is the entrance, a sliding glass door.  The room is a standalone unit, nobody above, below, or beside us.

room at arrivalThere is a wraparound porch with a hammock and a table and chairs.  Lovely to sit on, very breezy and nice.  Even though the cabanas are close together, they are very well designed in having the windows look out on thecabana roof beach, not onto the other cabanas.porch on arrival

The bathroom has a Mexican sink and an open shower with nice tile.  I will include more pictures with daytime views in later posts.

We had dinner at the hotel restaurant, which has a sand floor.  Food good, but not amazing.  We looked at everyone else having ice and vegetables and decided we would riskrestaurant it and were perfectly fine.

bathroom sink

bathroom sink