2017 was quite an active year for travels. Before our trip to Paris and Amsterdam that summer, we visited Tulum, Mexico in the spring. Neither one of us had been to Mexico before. Cancun just seemed not that appealing with its party-city reputation. Since my boyfriend and I have a thing for ancient civilizations, we figured Tulum would be a great option since it wasn’t too far from Chichén Itzá and was on the coast.
Our Humble Lodging
We stayed at the cozy Tulum Bay Eco Beach hotel. Google maps describes it as “shabby-chic hotel with private beach.” After any easy check-in with the staff , we settled into our modest bedroom. It was a mostly white interior, accented with blue curtains and a painting reminiscent of Van Gogh’s Starry Night hanging on the wall. Our white bed had a much-needed mosquito net.
We had a small balcony from the back of the hotel facing the beach with a view somewhat obscured by a couple of palm trees. It was a kind of chilly afternoon with overcast skies. Not exactly the setting I expected our first day in Mexico. I really didn’t mind the shabbiness of our hotel. It was a clean place to rest and shower that was steps from the beach and also on the main road, close to many bars, restaurants and cafes. And it was enough for me.
Stopping by Valladolid
The day of our Chichén Itzá tour had arrived. After waking up at an ungodly hour, we made our way to the pick-up point at another resort. About 1.5 hours into our 2 hour drive, we stopped in the town of Valladolid, a popular visitor destination before the famous Mayan ruins. Notable for its Spanish colonial architecture and nearby cenote. At the center of town is the Cathedral of San Servacio o Gervasio, an impressive structure with simple interior decor, drawing your eyes toward the altar.
Across the cathedral we had a chance to enjoy a stroll through Francisco Cantón Rosado park.
Then we hopped back in our tour van towards Chichén Itzá. After about 20-30 minutes, we finally arrived.
At the entrance of the complex, we saw a packed marketplace that contained numerous stands selling hats, trinkets of native art, small pyramid replicas. Our tour guide told us to hang out for a few until he takes care of our entry tickets. It was a hot sunny day, with barely any clouds. With no shade in sight, I was grateful for my hat. I can see why there’s no shortage of hats at the marketplace.
Temple of Kukulkan / El Castillo
Just yards away from us we could see the famous Mayan Temple of Kukulkan (the Snake god), also known as El Castillo (A UNESCO World Heritage site). The city was occupied from around A.D.600 to 1200. A dominating structure, 181 feet at its base and 98 feet tall, built with phenomenal precision. It has a total of 365 steps, correlating to the days of the year. During the summer and fall solar equinoxes, one could observe the illusion of the snake body moving down the side of the staircase. Fun fact: If you stand in front of the staircase and clap, the pyramid echoes back the chirps of the quetzal! A sacred bird the Mayans regarded as “god of the air.” How did they do that?! If this was done on purpose, then the Mayans were acoustic geniuses.
The Grand Ball Court & Skull Platform
Here, there would be ceremonial games, where the players try to hit the ball through stone hoops on the wall, 30 feet above the ground. Competition was pretty fierce as the losers were put to death by beheading (Talk about playing like your life depends on it…yikes!)
Subsequently the skulls would be placed on the Tzompantli (Skull Platform). At first glance, it can be a bit unnerving seeing all the skulls’ carvings and knowing so much death took place here.
Temple of the Warriors
Temple of the Warriors, a 4-platform pyramid surrounded by 200 columns depicting warriors, also known as the Temple of a Thousand Columns. Though we couldn’t climb to the top of it, there is a a statue of Chac Mool. Chac Mool is a reclining figure, considered a messenger of the gods, holding a plate on its stomach where sacrifices were offered, perhaps including human hearts (but this is just speculation).
After this fascinating tour of these ancient ruins, the tour took us to the nearby cenote X-Cajum to cool off. Cenotes are natural sinkholes, vertical shafts of limestone formed from collapsed bedrock, exposing the groundwater below. Some of these cenotes are associated with Mayan sacrificial ceremonies.
Before setting off to the ruins, we stopped by La Creperia for some morning pick-me up. A small, colorful cafe with beautiful weavings hung on the wall and this wonderful sign providing pearls of wisdom in living your best life. (I recently found out that this cafe has permanently closed. Not sure if it was from the pandemic or before. But it saddens me that it’s no longer there.)
Just a 10 minute car ride north of our hotel is the Tulum Ruins. This site was built as a seaport fortress (circa 1200-1450 A.D.), with its own array of various temples and homes of high ranking officials. We did a self guided tour since there were plenty of signs/plaques that explained the different areas. The place started getting crowded already around noon so if you’re trying to get those people-free pics in, be sure to arrive before then.
Aside of the many stone structures, there was local wildlife to be seen. Iguanas were ALL over the place. These prehistoric-looking animals add a certain je ne sais quoi that somehow made the place seem more ancient.
We also came across this interesting creature, known as a coati, that is part of the raccoon family.
Let’s not forget the not-so-secret beach with the famous lone palm tree and the photo-op
Back near the hotel, we went for a walk on the beach, taking in the beautiful skies and enjoying fresh coconut water straight from the source. Yum!
The next day we explored more of the coastline on rented bicycles. With no helmets nor a particular destination in mind, it was a carefree and chill ride.
We found this cute vegan place called Raw Love. I dig the bohemian vibe to it with colorful paintings and a swing! It had a variety of fruit smoothies, healing health shots. We ordered the Portobello Burger and Living Pizza, which were surprisingly good.
At this point in my life, hard-core partying wasn’t all that appealing anymore. Why do it when you’ll spend half the time recovering the morning after? Kind of a waste, right? I’m glad we didn’t waste any time here. Tulum is a great option for those that want to see ancient ruins and enjoy the laid-back vibe of this underrated beach town.