Tulum » Playa del Carmen » Cozumel
Our honeymoon & my first time in beautiful Mexico was one to remember, the good, the bad and the laugh until you cry moments, which there were plenty of. However, it also has me thinking of how grateful and privileged we are to live in a country where amenities such as a nice hot shower, air conditioned everything, safety, education, steady paychecks, a working vehicle & transportation options for most have come to be the norm, whereas in Mexico people are reduced to hard working conditions for very little money and no prospect of ever obtaining a higher education. Let alone a well paid job to secure a life for themselves and their children. But something we learned is that regardless of the circumstances, the people we came across are some of the most kind-hearted and generous we've ever met.
Tulum located in Quintana Roo, Mexico, yet still somewhat of a hidden gem has in the recent years become the “it” destination for many looking to escape the crowds of Cancun and the dullness of all inclusive mega hotels. Tulum’s unique character draws many to its eco friendly & chic boutique hotels and bungalows, white sandy and crowd-free beaches, crystal jade-green water, bar swings at every step, fuschia-colored facades and a laid back atmosphere. Tulum Pueblo itself can be somewhat of a culture shock and a deep dose of reality with makeshift homes, stray dogs and poor infrastructure. The nearby coast provides serene beachside bungalows and relaxing atmosphere where bikini tops are optional. We decided to experience both by spending time in town staying at Hotel Posada 06 and on the coast to enjoy the tranquility of the balmy breeze, smell of the ocean and salt in our hair coupled with the sound of waves crashing at night. We stayed at Dos Ceibas, a relaxing eco-retreat right on the beach. We stayed in one of their circular bungalows, which was adorned with Mexican Caribbean colors and the mayan textiles and decor. It had one of the best restaurants on the beach with a very simple menu and fresh breakfast that we enjoyed every morning right on the beach with our toes in the sand.
We arrived in Tulum after a bus and taxi ride from the airport when our shuttle failed to show. Feeling both physically and emotionally exhausted from the long day of travel and the culture shock of Mexico, we gathered up enough energy to get some much anticipated Mexican food before crashing for the night. We woke up early Sunday morning to dance music still playing somewhere in the distance from the night before, unexpected rooster call and unfamiliar bird sounds. It was quite the wake up call to kick off our week-long honeymoon in Mexico!
Tulum was one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya and the well preserved ruins situated a top of coastal cliffs are a must see. We visited the ruins on the same day as the National Holiday making it free for locals and incredibly packed. It was quite surreal to lay on the white sandy beach surrounded by cliff-side ruins and jade-green water that provided a much needed breeze from the hot sun.
PLAYA DEL CARMEN
For the second half of the trip, we made our way north to Playa del Carmen where we met up with my sister. A complete juxtaposition to Tulum, Playa del Carmen is a vibrant city full of energy of hustle and bustle and a popular destination for European tourists. Most locals assumed we were Spaniards, so they were quite surprised when we couldn't understand what they were saying to us in Spanish. The city is known for its colorful and primary attraction, La Quinta Avenida, which is a pedestrian only main street that runs parallel to the ocean. Needless to say, we were in walker’s paradise, so naturally, we stayed at a small yet incredibly charming hotel in the old part of town directly on 5 Avenida, Hotel Cielo. We were mere steps away from nightlife, daylife and everything in between. We ate nutella everything (from crepas and churros to gelato at Aldo's), walked for miles on end and enjoyed Argentinian steak, fresh seafood, Cuban music and dancing late into the night. Although we enjoyed the vibrant energy of La Quinta, the relentless badgering got to be a bit much and by the third day, it became tiresome to walk down the street without the consistent shouting of people trying to sell you something.
Our Cozumel adventure started from the moment we met the self-proclaimed tourist advisor Johnny at the ferry ticket booth in Playa del Carmen in the early AM. Still half-asleep & slightly irritable from the previous night’s stomach bug (side note: you haven’t experienced Mexico until you’ve contracted a stomach bug), we had little to none patience for Johnny’s off-the-wall energy as he worked hard to charm us into buying an adventure we’ll never forget. Upon seeing an image of a vintage VW bug, my eyes instantly lit up and in my mind I imagined us, the three amigos, cruising around the island half car top off with the ocean breeze in our hair and listening to some Latin beach tunes. We handed over the cash & our new friend Johnny took a photo of us to send to his business partner who’d be waiting for us at Cozumel (interesting way to do business we thought but said nothing) reassuring us that we were about to have the most relaxing day ever on the island and off we went on our way to Cozumel!
As it turns out, our day at Cozumel was everything BUT relaxing. As Mr. Johnny promised, there was someone waiting for us as we got off the ferry. He took a photo of the three of us, which was sent back to Johnny, I presume and a group of us were escorted to the car rental office where in half-English/half-Spanish we were given instructions to sign a piece of paper claiming all responsibility shall anything happen. We watched a family of five cram into a similar car looking for seatbelts where none existed, as ours pulled around the corner. Jason’s terrified face was priceless, as he hadn’t driven a stick shift in 20 years, let alone in a foreign country where the rules of the road are somewhat ambiguous, and where the streets happen to be shared with pedestrians, horses, scooters, bicyclists, dogs and basically every other mode you can think of.
We piled into the car full of excitement and the car stalled right away. After some tinkering with the stick shift, Jason got it to work and we were on our way, vámonos amigos! We tried to take a right but the blinkers didn’t work, so we kept going straight only to stall again at the first stop light we came across. I tried to keep back tears of laughter as I waved people to go around us. We soon learned that the north and south traffic keeps going straight and east and west has to stop at every intersection, so trying to figure this out was no easy task without GPS, unmarked street signs or stop lights for that matter. To make matters more comical, the busy streets all have speed humps on them, so we stalled almost at all. Half the time we weren’t sure weather to laugh to the point of tears, cry or just leave the car in the middle of the road and walk. Other drivers were pretty forgiving as they went around us and waved.
Thankfully, pretty soon after, we exited the city proper and all of its street madness, and were in cruise mode down the scenic highway with big happy smiles on our faces and the wind in our hair. Our first stop was for lunch and then the village of El Cedral to see the oldest Mayan Ruins in Isla Cozumel dating back to 800 AD. An older funny gentleman helped us park the mess of a car we had inherited and in exchange we said we’d take a look inside his store where we soon learned the old fella also had a dirty sense of humor. Our next stop was the white sandy beach on the southern part of the island with a beachside Bob Marley inspired café. We got out and the car started to roll back. Jason had to quickly jump in the car to break and stop the car from getting away. Turns out the emergency break was no bueno. My sister laughed hysterically as other tourists watched us in bewildered amusement.
Not to be outdone, when we were on the other side of the island, cruising along, nothing around (only about 6% of the island is inhabited) it started to downpour. In a related development, we soon learned that the windshield wipers did not work, so we all huddled under a towel on the side of the road waiting for the rain to pass.
Almost an hour later, we were finally back in town where we did the countdown of how many streets we had to go as Senka cheered Jason on and at the same time laughed at our entertaining journey. At the final street we had to make a turn, and a nearby pedestrian had to help us out since we couldn’t see anything from the oncoming traffic. Needless to say, tequila shots were had as soon as we returned the car. Somehow, I sense that next time Jason may not be as keen on my future brilliant ideas such as this one, but after all that, we have a pretty funny story to tell and an experience we will never forget.