Tulum, Valladolid & Chichen Itza
States : Quintana Roo & The Yucatan
For the non spanish speaker: “Bye-ya-dough-lead”
Spring break 2016 was spent on the sunny, clean and picturesque beaches of Tulum, Mexico – Tulum is about 2 hours south of Cancun. The small town is filled with protected archeological Mayan ruins and sits among a protected World Heritage Site, the Sian Kaan Biosphere. Sian Kaan meanings “Origin of the Sky”…visit yourself and you’ll see why…
Finding beaches that are stunning – picturesque with perfect sand is relatively easy to do. Finding that picturesque beach with perfect sand, without garbage and overcrowding is another task. The Tulum beaches were amazing – I will say, we were there the last week of February/first week of March before the bulk of Spring breakers arrived (maybe this helped). The beaches were incredibly clean (we were told people were hired to clean the beaches at night) and there was hardly anyone at the beaches – as in the majority of Beach chairs were open all day! When in Tulum, we went to the beach across from Turquesa Jungle Camping – so a lot further south than the Tulum Archeological Ruins & Beach, which will be packed with people because tour busses drop off there. You can actually walk all the way into the Sian Kaan biosphere from the part of the beach we were at – a nice, relaxing morning or late afternoon stroll. We really enjoyed the town of Tulum as well – filled with shops, great food and small enough to cover in an afternoon – although the bargainer could spend all day here. Taxis are everywhere, and they all run on a set pay system based on what zone you are going to and from.
The futball stadium is further back, mixed into the neighborhoods and the locals all meet there at night to play. They love it when tourists show up to join in!
Good Eats in Tulum:
- Antojitos La Chiapaneca : (Prices are excellent, tacos are great. Open at night, located in town on the main road)
- Tacoqueto (Great food for a traditional lunch; They do not speak English, so go in with a patient attitude. Whatever you point at will taste delicious. Open during the day, located in town on the main road)
- Simple : Wonderful – some of the best fish I have ever eaten (Prices reflect an upper scale tourist restaurant, but the seafood there is amazing; On the beach road)
- La Onda : Because sometimes in life, you just need pizza. Actually we never eat Pizza on vacations outside of Italy, New York, Chicago, etc., but people were raving about this place. They have a stone oven, live Italian/Mexican music and the whole deal. The Margharita pizza was delish – and the chef is making everything in the middle of the restuarant.
Accomodation: We stayed at Turquesa Jungle Camping. We loved the experience – the setting is beautiful, and there is a mattress in a large size tent, making it very comfortable. You are forfeiting the benefits of a warm shower, space to get ready, and there are mosquitos – if you go in knowing these things, it will be more enjoyable/less of a shock. It’s right across from the beach, which was very convenient. There are many small hotels located up and down the beach for a less rustic experience.
How to Get Here: From the Cancun airport, walk outside to the chaotic taxi/bus section. Ignore everyone asking you for a taxi, unless you want to spend $100 to get to Tulum. Walk towards the busses lined up on the right (I believe it is station # 4) and buy a ticket to Playa Del Carmen on the Ado Bus. Once in Playa Del Carmen, you will get off the bus and buy a ticket to Tulum (Sometimes the Airport will let you buy your ticket straight through, but you still have to transfer). The bus to Tulum will pick you up at that same station. You may have a few minutes to grab a snack/view the water in Playa Del Carmen, or the bus may be there right away. The next bus will take you to the Ado station in downtown Tulum. From here, you can walk to your hotel if it is in the downtown area, or grab a taxi (the ADO station is right off of the main road, where all the taxis are) to your hotel on the beach road. It sounds complicated, but is super easy.
Day 1: Flight to Cancun; Bus to Tulum
Day 2: Visit the Tulum Mayan Ruins & Hang out at the Beach
- Try to get there in the morning to escape the crowds and heat (it is not very shaded). These Ruins are touristy, but they are worth spending an hour at because the views are breathtaking. There are also markets at one entrance filled with blankets, hammocks, handmade items, etc.
- The beach that is accessible at the ruins is beautiful, but packed. Leave the ruins and as you are walking down that road, you will see an entrance to a public beach. This beach is much larger and has lots of beach cafe’s and bars to grab lunch & a drink at.
Day 3: Beach Day ! Check out the beach near Aura & Agua restaurants (The Guacamole at Aura is heavenly).
- Take a walk down to the Sian Kaan Biosphere via the beach
Day 4: AM – Vist the Gran Cenote (Sac Actun) & PM – Bike/Drive to the Sian Kaan
- Take a cab, drive or bike. There are other larger cenotes (Labna Ha and Dos Ojos) and smaller cenotes to visit as well (If you head all the south on the beach road, there are 2 small cenotes before entering into the Sian Kaan). Gran Cenote was incredible – coming from a snorkeling perspective. You can rent lockers to put your valuables.
- Bike or drive to the Sian Kaan biosphere via the beach road. The road goes all the way to Punta Allen, so pick your transportation according to how far you plan to travel.
Day 5: Sian Kaan Tour
- We used Sian Kaan Community Tours for our tour into the Sian Kaan. We chose the tour that focused on the mangroves – the 45 minute float down the mangroves is so peaceful! We were on a small boat with one other person and our 3 guides, and drove all over the Sian Kaan – around the lake, the different colored mangroves to see crocodiles, and even into the ocean to see the color changes. We saw crocs, manatees, countless species of birds and more. We only ran into one other boat our entire day – the tour was incredibly serene and beautiful. The day started and ended with a delicious, traditional Mayan breakfast and lunch (all provided with the tour package). We originally were going to go the DIY route and take the bus down to the forest side of the Sian Kaan, but are very happy we decided to book this tour due to the convenience, information we gained and our overall enjoyable day.
Day 6: Am – Beach & PM – Bus to Valladolid
- Take the Ado Bus from the Tulum station to Valladolid (The time schedule is online at Ado Busses )
- Explore the town if time- the central plaza is beautiful (Plaza e Parque Francisco Canton)
Day 7: Explore Valladolid – We fell in love with this city! The colorful building, architecture and people were all so unique, and really allowed us to feel like we were in Mexico. Michael made friends with the locals and played futball for a few nights at the local field.
- Catedral de San Gervasio
- Stop in Casa de Los Venados (A really cool art museum – definitely worth checking out)
- Check out the shops – there are a few local chocolate shops that give tours on how the chocolate is made with tastings!
- Hop in a cab and ask the driver to take you to the Church Uayma (Why-ma) (about a $10 cab ride there and back – ask them to give you 10 minutes to walk around the church) – A beauitul, but very unqiue Church to Mexican design
- Visit the Convent de San Bernardino de Siena
- Walk around to the shops, etc.
Day 8: Chicken Itza
- Hop on the ADO bus to visit Chichen Itza (about a 45 minute bus ride). There is a cenote near Chichen Itza called Ik Kil if you have not had your fix yet 🙂 Chichen Itza was underwhelming. Something to check off the bucket list if you are in the Yucatan, but don’t expect a Macchu Picchu or Angkor Wat…. (Check out day 9 for our favorite set of ruins)
Day 9 : Ek Balam & X’Canche Cenote
- Ask a taxi driver to take you to Ek Balam (about 20 minutes outside of Valladolid). You will find ruins tucked back in the jungle in their natural setting. The grounds are beautiful, and even more beautiful when looking over all the ruins from the top.
- After visiting the ruins, check out the cenote (the entrance to the cenote is just before the entrance/exit of Ek Balam) – It was the most beautiful cenote we visited…and there were only 2 other people there! There were giant catfish swimming all over – really cool to watch! Allow at least an hour to float and relax in this magical place.
Day 10: AM early ADO Bus back to Cancun International Airport
- ADO saves the day again – if you do not see a time that fits your schedule, ask at the office and there is a good chance they offer a small mini-van type bus at very early hours, which is not listed on their website. The ADO busses were always on time, air conditioned and comfortable. I would highly suggest using them to travel Mexico.
Accomodation in Valladolid: Hotel Meson del Marques
- I would not suggest any other hotel in Valladolid – Hotel Meson was excellent! A spanish inspired hotel overlooking the central plaza, accompanied by a delicious breakfast, beautiful grounds and very helpful/friendly staff.
Other places to check out: Have more time to spend?
- Take a day trip to Rio Lagartos to see the flamingoes (This was on our agenda with the day trip to Ek Balam, until I got the wonderful Travelers Sickness. I stuck it out and still made it to Ek Balam, but decided we would avoid the long drive to Rio with my 103 degree fever.)
- Coba & Punta Laguna Nature Reserve (Half way in between Tulum & Valladolid) (Also on our agenda, but we loved Valladolid so much, we decided we would come back next year to hit the rest of the ruins)
- Merida – a colorful city with a lot of life & Campeche Beaches
- Celestun – Another great spot for flamingoes
- Laguna of Bacalar (A drive south from Tulum), also passing through Punta Allen (A quaint fishing village)
- Isla Holbox for a relaxing, quiet beach trip without the Cancun scene
I spent a week in Cancun when I was 13- with all of my younger cousins, aunt & uncle. Children in Cancun?! Like any other destination, places with notorious college spring breakers gain negative reputations as family spots- but that reputation does not hold true year long. We had a wonderful, relaxing family vacation in this scenic oasis- the ocean has warm crystal clear water, lots of lush sand and plenty of sunshine. The resorts are filled with pools and night time entertainment (from karaoke to bands to trolleys providing transportation to bars/clubs). Staying at an all inclusive resort in Mexico provides your family with a stress and hassle free week- the drinks and food are all at your hand- you literally don’t even have to get out of the pool. These resorts offer various restaurants to choose from- from fancy upscale dining to poolside tacos.
We left the resort one day to rent Jet skis at a nearby facility, which was a blast and they had other activities (parasailing, etc) as well. Most hotels also rent snorkeling equipment, boogie boards, etc. Now, all you need is that margarita you just ordered, while floating in the warm pool with the sun shining down on you 🙂
I loved this trip as a teen because the hotels are very large, providing space to explore (but not leave the grounds), there were plenty of activities that included those under 21 and there were tons of other teens to hang out with.
We stayed at the Omni Cancun and had a great experience, but there are many great hotels- I did not pick the hotel so I can’t recommend one over the other.
Cancun is not somewhere I plan on going back to, but people Love it!