It had been ten years since I'd stayed in Tulum. When my visiting friend Paul suggested we drive over and spend a couple of nights there before he headed to Cancun to fly north, I wasn't sure what to expect. Tulum has changed a great deal over the years, and I was not sure I'd like it.
I am not terribly interested in fancy vacation hotels, and my budget does not allow for frequent expenditures of this sort. I enjoy myself, better appreciate a place and find I meet more interesting people when the accommodations are simple. I was afraid that this would be hard to find in modern-day Tulum.
I needn't have feared. Although fancy and expensive resorts have spread like a fungus down the Tulum beach, pockets of "Old Tulum" still exist.
By "Old Tulum" I mean what I remember Tulum to be when I first visited years ago. Of course "Old Tulum" means something very different to local residents who remember the place before tourism became the basis of the local economy. But my memories of Tulum are of a quiet, casual place, where most visitors carried backpacks and slept in hammocks strung between palm trees or in rustic Mayan-style cabañas. The cabaña we rented years ago had no electricity and a "path to the bath." When we checked in we paid about twenty dollars, if I am not mistaken, and were handed matches and candles. It was an idyllic spot.
It can be idyllic still. Using the internet, Paul found a rustic rental identical to my memories of the "hippie-in-a-hammock" days. We were right on the beach, used candles at night, and the bathhouse was twenty steps down a palm-lined, white sand pathway. It was just about perfect.
The most noticeable difference now was that to both sides of us, naked Europeans were paying hundreds of dollars per night to lounge on queen-sized platform beds placed on the sand, and to have their umbrellas adjusted, pillows fluffed and drinks served by armies of attendants while they languidly ignored everyone around them. These tourists were entertaining. What I found even more delightful was the fact that we were paying a small fraction of the cost to enjoy the same world-class beach, warm, crystalline water and beautiful weather.
Certainly we lived differently from the package tourists; our accommodations (picture above) were just a notch or two above camping. We kept our drinks and snacks in an ice chest. There was no maid service and showers were cool. But we had a fantastic time and I would not have traded our place for one of the others.
One thing that time has improved in Tulum is the choice of restaurants. Some are very expensive, but good, reasonably priced meals are still to be found in the area. The thin-crust pizzas at OM, on the beach, are delicious. Back on the highway, El Camello, located on the east side of the road on the southern outskirts of Tulum, provides generous servings of economically-priced, delicious seafood. The mixed ceviche at El Camello is hard to beat for price and portion size.
And there were other nice details, like the young man where we stayed who would climb like a monkey up a nearby palm, knock down some coconuts, whack off the ends with a machete, and present them, straw inserted and ready to enjoy, for a few pesos.