Three Days in Tulum (or Our View On The Riviera Maya)

We spent our first days in Mexico in a little town known as Tulum. We had heard about Cancun being nothing but hotels and beach, so we decided to move on straight from the airport getting a bus to Tulum. On the bus we met an American girl named Kathleen who gave us some tips and told us to meet that same night at our hostel (she never showed up). The journey was the confirmation that the Riviera Maya is completely spoiled, full of hotels and all sorts of terrible resorts for rich people, most of them owned by Americans and Europeans.

Nuestros primeros días en México los pasamos en el pueblo de Tulum, ya que habíamos oído que Cancún estaba repleto de hoteles. Tomamos un autobús directo desde el aeropuerto y en el viaje nos dimos cuenta de que toda la Riviera Maya está llena de hoteles y resorts para ricos, regentados en mayor parte por norteamericanos y europeos.

I don’t know if it was because our first Mexican experience happened in Tulum that we grew very fond of this place. Although its current name is Tulum, Mayan for ‘wall’, it used to be called Zama, Mayan for ‘dawn’. Even if the town is quite touristy, it still retains the charm of Caribbean Mexico, which is obviously very different from the rest of Mexico. The main street may have been full with restaurants and shops aimed at tourists, but it was enough to walk a couple of blocks to get away from all the white faces.

Quizás es porque fue nuestro primer contacto con México, pero la verdad es que Tulum nos gustó mucho. Tulum significa ‘muro’ en maya, pero su nombre original era Zamá (amanecer). Es un pueblo turístico pero con todo el encanto del Caribe mexicano. Basta con alejarse un poco de la calle principal para deshacerse de los demás turistas.

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The main street of Tulum.

Our hostel was called Casa del Sol and Eric, the owner, works there literally 24/7. He must be around 30 and we never saw him leaving the hostel, he was always there when we went to sleep and making breakfast when we woke up. The showers had warm water (which is not that usual, really), the rooms were clean and the breakfast was yummy and included in the price. There is a free bike hire service, but you needed to wake up really early to reserve the bikes because there are not so many of them. On the first day we were only able to get one bike (that was funny!) and the second we got to use two (which was a bit safer than the first day).

Nos alojamos en el albergue Casa del  Sol, cuyo propietario, Eric, trabaja todo el día (cada vez que estábamos allí, él también estaba). Hay agua caliente, las habitaciones estaban limpias y el desayuno estaba rico. Si uno se levanta prontito puede usar las bicis del albergue gratis, pero el primer día tuvimos que compartir una porque no quedaban más… Fue divertido, pero al tener dos el segundo día nos sentimos más seguros.

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On the way to the beach and the ruins, with the one bike we shared that day.

What most people do in Tulum is visiting one of the cenotes, but somehow we run out of time to do that. We have heard different opinions about them, the most extended one being that the closest ones to town were mostly too expensive and crowded. I am sure, however, that it is possible to find some worth visiting; we just didn’t find the time to do it. What we did instead was to walk around town, going to the beach (we had to take advantage of the Caribbean sea, didn’t we?) and visiting archaeological sites.

Aunque mucha gente visita los cenotes, a nosotros no nos dio tiempo de hacerlo. De todas formas, escuchamos que los que están cerca del pueblo son demasiado caros y concurridos, así que nos dedicamos a visitar el pueblo, la playa y las ruinas.

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The beach is 5 km away so you need a ride or, preferably, bikes to get there. The road is mostly straight and perfect to cycle in and there’s a tiny bike park just in a part of the beach that is really not crowded. If you avoid the parts with hammocks, beach bars and that sort of thing the beach is quite nice. The sand is white and soft and the water really clear. When we got there it was not that warm, but we could not help it: we had to get in! It was cold but absolutely enjoyable.

La playa está a 5 km, así que lo mejor es ir en bici. El camino es bonito y hay sitio para dejar las bicis justo en un sitio donde no había mucha gente. Si uno no se queda en los chiringuitos, la playa es bonita: agua clara y arena blanca. A pesar de que no hacía mucho calor, nos metimos y la disfrutamos mucho.

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Taking a look at the map, we thought that we could reach the ruins by following the beach. If you’re ever there, DO NOT TRY IT. It was a 30 minutes walk after which we got to an abandoned house with a European girl who was scared of iguanas (and rightly so, they were pretty but huge) and had to walk back to go get our bike and cycle to the ruins.

By the time we got to the ruins we were exhausted and sunburnt, but it was really worth it. The entry ticket costs 70 pesos (around $3,5) and the ruins are like a park or an open air museum, as opposed to other ruins we’ve visited which seem to be extending through the jungle, and there were many informative posters explaining every building. It was a bit full of tourists but it was alright, we enjoyed the ruins and the view of the sea very much.

Por experiencia sabemos que no se llega a las ruinas por la playa… Tuvimos que caminar media hora para terminar dando media vuelta y recogiendo la bici para ir por la carretera. Aunque llegamos destrozados y quemados por el sol, nos encantaron las ruinas. La entrada nos costó 70 pesos y vale totalmente la pena.

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That building is known as “El Castillo” (the Castle) and it’s the biggest and most impressive one in the whole site.
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El Templo del Dios del Viento (Temple of the Wind God).

We spent the evenings exploring the town. There is a road going through the town, which is where all the restaurants and touristy shops are located, and the only Mexican people seem to be the shop owners trying to convince you to get in to buy an overpriced poncho. I had the feeling that Tulum was a bit more than that, and I was right. We started exploring the surrounding streets and could see the churches, shops and fast food restaurants aimed solely to Mexican people, we could taste the real, amazingly cheap and tasty Mexican food and got to experience the actual quiet vibe of the streets.

Pasamos los atardeceres y noches explorando el pueblo. Salimos de la calle turística y encontramos tiendas y restaurantes para gente local, iglesias y parques donde pudimos sentir el ambiente tranquilo y catar la deliciosa (y muy barata) comida mexicana, de la que os vamos a hablar con más profundidad en un futuro.

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To get away from main roads is our usual strategy, and we strongly recommend it, no matter where you are. The most surprising and delightful things are almost always out of reach of the tourists, and so is the taste of real life in a foreign country. This is Samu’s view on Tulum:


El niño que emula en su juego
a los orígenes que le trajeron a la tierra.

El imperialismo que cura
sus heridas naturales
en la sonrisa de la juventud.

Yo os digo
que los americanos
van a venir y han venido,
que los letreros te envolverán
y los pedales te guiarán
hasta los límites del mar.

Entre huaraches, panuchos y gringas
se derretirá el cielo de tu boca,
y llorarán tus labios horchata de palmera
mientras iguanas surgirán
de los montes de tu cintura ardiente.

Olas transparentes
llenarán de sal tu pecho
entre reflejos de minería.

Quemaduras de pirámides
que flotan entre las ceibas.

Rozaduras en la noche
de pitidos y farolas.

Samu S.


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