Tulum was the most relaxed place I've ever been on a trip and my brain and soul sincerely needed a vacation away from real life. It was difficult coming back. I know that I sound like a broken record, but it gets more difficult every time. I have my friends and my hobbies to come home to, but without a dog and being on my own, vacation is just such a nice escape. It is a challenge to not feel lonely these days and I need whatever social activities my introverted self can handle to try and not be lonely.
If I have one major takeaway from this trip it is that I truly enjoyed staying in a hostel again, for the first time in, 15 years. I last stayed in one on a trip to Europe with 2 other friends and my sister after we graduated from college and high school. I think I'd be okay traveling Central America alone if I stayed in hostels. The hostel community works well for solo travelers. I'm actually staying in one in Banff when I head there in June, but since I'd originally planned to run the full marathon there, I booked a private room so I could get some sleep and not be disturbed. But more on that later, this is about Tulum!
Coba ruins - about a 40 minute drive from Tulum town are the Mayan ruins called Coba. I'd rented a car and my friend and I had planned to use it at some point other than to and from the Cancun airport. We settled on Coba and I'd invited a girl from our hostel (Nigelle, originally from New Zealand but a permanent resident of Canada) two days before when we chatted at breakfast and then I saw her on the beach later and we hung out and chatted a bit. The morning of, I chatted with another hostel guest at breakfast and as we were walking out the door, I asked him if he wanted to join us. He had no other plans and the four of us set off for the day!
Marc, the fourth traveler in our group, was from Amsterdam and had a Lonely Planet Tulum book, so we made him our official tour guide. While we all got to know one another in the car better, I drove and noticed all the places to buy crafts along the way. There are not a lot of places to eat though, and locals told us we were better off coming back to town. We set off around 9 in the morning and arrived before the crowds and tour buses. We waited in a short line to buy tickets and then walked into the park, where we rented bikes for about $5 each to ride around the park and ruins.
The pyramids and temples and ruins all around Coba were so interesting and it is crazy to think that they were all built by people without modern technology however many hundreds of years ago. Our favorite part of the tour was definitely riding the bikes around and climbing the pyramid, but also examining the game court that we named murderball.
Cenote Escondido - my friend and I also rented bikes on this trip, we rode around town and to the beach but the most ambitious of our bike rides was to the Cenote Escondido about 4 km out of town on a highway and Mexican sidewalks. What an adventure! I'll say that I felt safer riding without a helmet, in flip-flops and a skirt over my swimsuit on a Mexican highway than I have ever felt riding on the streets of Chicago. I am going to try my hardest to not feel scared riding my bike here but the cycling and car communities do not mix well here. I need to get my bike fixed but I am determined to ride my bike around again this spring into the fall and not be scared.
Kelly and I rode our bikes out to the Cenote Cristal (which has the ticket booth) and then pedaled across the highway to the Cenote Escondido, which we heard was better. Your small entry fee pays for both, but we spent all of our time at the beautiful Escondido side, which was completely different than the other cenotes. Escondido was above ground, had a lot of scuba divers around, and was spacious with two entrances. There was also a small cliff with a rope swing to jump off of or swing off of, and we did. It was very fun and relaxing. Many people bring snorkels, our hostel loaned us one. It was fun to swim and meet other travelers and look at all the fish in the water. I highly recommend this one and going to Gran Cenote - we didn't' go to that one, it is more crowded and we'd planned on it but ran out of time. I do think it is a must. I want to go back to the area and see more of Mexico and Gran Cenote will definitely be on my list.
Beaches - After a morning of swimming at the Cenote Escondido, we rode back into town, ate tacos and drank beer, and then pedaled out to the public beach - which took about 30-40 minutes. It is mostly on sidewalks and then once you get to the beach road, you're riding on a busy but SLOW MOVING road with cars, scooters, and pedestrians. It is safe and slow-moving though and we never felt in danger. We came to the public beach easily because there were SO MANY bicycles parked by the entrance. It is free and beautiful and very close to the ruins in Tulum town (we also skipped those, more on that later).
The private beach we went to was at the Zebra Hotel. Anyone can go to a private beach if they're not actually staying at the beach, just be prepared to order food or drinks. We chose the Zebra because we'd been to the Mulberry pop up bar the night before and it was at the Zebra. The beach was beautiful if not a bit windy. Kitesurfing is very big there! It was fun to watch. The water was lovely as well.
Cenotes Mariposa and Chen-ha - On our drive back from Coba, the plan was to stop off at a Cenote, but we didn't really have a plan as to which one. Thus, we pulled off on some very rocky dirt road and I feared for the rental car's life. Then we paid about 200 pesos per person to some woman behind a gate who told us to keep driving and it was close. We drove by what looked like a retention pond, hoping that it was not the cenote and we'd been swindled. Thankfully, it wasn't.
We kept driving and finally came upon a cenote that was halfway enclosed in a cave. Out of nowhere, a young guide pedaled up named Francisco. Marc and I spoke to him in our limited Spanish and he encouraged us to go in, I did a little bit but it was kind of shallow and the water had a dusty film on top of it. We sat on the steps for bit and enjoyed the cool water before moving on to the Chen Ha Cenote, which we've deemed the Chinese Cenote because of the name (haha).
Then, Francisco led us on a 5-7 minute walk with his sweet dog, Pantera, and we came to Cenote Chen Ha. The cenote was completely in a hole in the ground and very little daylight made it inside. Francisco thankfully had a waterproof flashlight with him and we were able to swim, and snorkel, and swim to the edge of the cave and find a little sandbar in the cenote, because it was deep! It really was special to have a guide for these cenotes since there were only 4 of us there. It was deserted except for us, which was amazing. How often do you go to a tourist site and the only people there are the ones you came with? Not often.
Anyway, as you can tell, I had a great time in Mexico. I feel like I saw a lot but I also want to see more. There are so many places in Mexico that I want to go now: Oaxaca, back to Tulum and the Yucatan and Quintana Roo state (just maybe not Cancun or Playa del Carmen), Mexico City! And I want to go to Bacalar! Our new friend Marc went to Bacalar after Tulum and was sending us photos and we were super jealous that he was still in Mexico. Google it, you will not be disappointed. I don't know how soon I'll return since I have so much going on the rest of this year, but I want to make 2019 the year of less expensive locations: Myanmar, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, an Amazon cruise in Brazil, perhaps Mexico again?