Saturday, January 26, 2013

Wanderings: Finding "Old Tulum"


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.


But the best thing about Tulum is the beach. Miles of fabulous, pristine, uncrowded beach. No large hotel developments have been constructed along the beach south of the archaeological zone, and I hope the situation stays that way. It would be a great loss if Tulum ever develops in the way of Cancun...and if the last of the rustic old-style beach accommodations is some day closed down.


16 comments:

  1. thats the life, I can only dream about. Looks inviting. More pictures please.

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    1. Well I hope that some day you can do more than dream, and come visit.

      I didn't take many more photos this trip, but you can see more by searching Google Images for "Tulum."

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  2. I'm across the sea from you at Trujillo, Honduras. We drove out on the cape today looking for the old coasta Maya that I remember from my 20s. We found a place where we could get over to the beach from the road in an easy walk. There was not one building or person anywhere in sight. Miles and miles of empty beach but then it is also 10 hours from an international airport.

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    1. Sounds wonderful, and a lot like what this coast must have been like decades ago. When I am in that area I will have to take a look.

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  3. I think I would also have preferred your accommodations Marc. Your pictures are really wonderful.

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    1. Yes, our little house was not fancy, but appropriate for the location, I think. It seems to me that many people being pampered in posh accommodations act as if the hotel is the destination, and miss much of what nature and local culture have to offer, except perhaps as a backdrop. Maybe that's what they are looking for. Not I.

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  4. It looks beautiful and you look very content in that hammock. It is high on my list of places to visit. Did you visit the ruins this time as well?

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    1. It is a beautiful spot, and one I am sure you would enjoy. We didn't do the Archaeological Zone this time. It was too nice on the beach. We preferred to stay put.

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  5. Looks like a dream vacation to me! :)

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    1. Yes, Leslie, but all too short. I plan to return sometime soon for another visit.

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  6. Thanks for reminding me of Tulum. A good friend and I went there in 1993 as a day-trip from Cancún, where we were celebrating the finishing of our MBAs. Tulum was beautiful, and largely untouched by the massive tourist trade we experienced in Cancún. We got there in a third-class bus, a micro really, and returned the same way. I'll never forget the beauty of the temples constructed above the shore, and the fabulous beach below.

    I'm glad that it remains relatively original. May it remain so forever.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we are thinking we'll have to get back to Quintana Roo and Yucatán some day soon.

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    1. Well it has changed a lot, but it remains a pretty nice spot. Time for you to make another visit.

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  7. I guess it is time for me to experience a different beach.

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    1. Tulum is quite different from your Melaque beach. I spent many months, over a period of several years, on the Barra/Melaque beach. Although I like it very much and will return for visits, I much prefer Tulum, for sparkling, clear water, wide, long, white beaches, and for the quiet. Come over for a visit.

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  8. Looks like a gorgeous, serene beach. I looked it up, never knew about the area. Would not have moved much from that spot myself--except maybe to eat.
    Beaches can be alike and different in so many ways, but for me they offer tranquility.

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    1. And we didn't move much except to search for food. Fortunately there was some pretty good food close by. We'd planned to visit the ruins, which we hadn't seen in years, but then decided it was nicer just staying where we were.

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