I had initially planned a two week trip to Bonaire, an island in the Caribbean, and one of two locations in the entire world that offer a scuba PADI Certified Specialty course in coral restoration. When the fog rolled in to Juneau for the week, and visibility dropped to less than an 1/8 mile, no one was going anywhere! After rerouting and configuring and being weather cancelled day after day, the airline was unable to get us there in time for my course to start the following Sunday and ended up refunding us, and inevitably cancelling the trip.
Devastated, bags still packed, and nowhere to go, my husband and I scanned the world map. Where could we go with bags packed for the tropics, two kids under 4, and now only 10 days left of carefully planned time away? Croatia, St. Lucia, Columbia, and Belize were all considerations. Unfortunately this isn't the first time our travels plans have had to drastically change. In 2013 we had plans to go to Brazil, we made it as far as Mexico City before our flight was unexpectedly canceled. So, we now have an inside joke that when shit hits the fan, and we have to bag our travel plans, we default to Mexico. So, Tulum it was!
Turns out, Mexico is always a good idea! There's something about the wildness of the driving, sweet tequila, rum and cokes on the Caribbean Sea, and sand in your bag that just makes for salty and sweet times. I'd love to go back to the area and explore, I could easily spend weeks with a rental car chasing cenotes to mayan ruins, then beach to bar. I even heard one girl riding her bike through the string light lit alley way of boutiques and chic restaurants, say that, "this is the most magical place."
Itinerary - 8 days
- Fly into Cancun on Friday, and take a taxi to the hotel
- Overnight in Cancun for two nights to explore the area for a full day
- Rent a car and drive south to Tulum
- Explore Tulum for the week
- Eat breakfast in Tulum, drive to Cancun and hop on the plane!
Getting There - They have direct flights out of Seattle to Cancun, Yucatan that takes 5-6 hours. From Cancun you can rent a car, take a bus, or taxi down to Tulum which takes approximately 2 hours along a nice highway just inland from the coast.
Car Rental - Most of the resorts and hotels have easy access to car rentals. Cancun really caters to travelers so finding a car rental takes little time. And, it is possible to rent a vehicle with car seats!
Stay - We stayed at an all inclusive resort, Panama Jack, while in Cancun because we wanted to be at the beach, and it accommodated the kids while we got our bearings, which was important for us since this was a spontaneous destination!
Traveling with a Baby - you can rent almost anything for them so you don't have to pack it all with you! Baby Rental Cancun has strollers, car seats, and more!
What I Wore and Packed
I like to pack light so I have room in my suitcase for things I purchase for the shop, souvenirs, and also to keep things easy to move around! Plus if I pack light for myself, I'm still packing for two small children which adds to our bag count considerably!
In January the weather is 75-82 degrees during the day. We experienced a few days of rain showers. The humidity is 80-100% daily.
- One pair of jeans
- Two pairs of shorts
- Two t-shirts
- Three tops/tanks
- Two dresses
- One duster
- One chunky/cozy cardigan
- Two pairs of socks
Over half a million people live in Cancun! Most of the hotels are in the Zone Hotelera which is a spit along the coast. (I have a suspicious feeling that they built over Mangroves because inside of the lagoon there are Crocodiles, and Mangroves in areas that are not yet built up. This hurts my environmental heart to see resorts plowing over such sensitive habitat.) Most hotels in this area are All-Inclusive-Resorts which remind me of cruise ships ha! Even the food... So you get what you pay for in that everything is handed to you and you could literally live at the resort for an entire week without ever leaving. That said, it is NOT the real Mexico, but it still suited our needs for two days.
This place is crazy! Approximately 20,000 locals and travelers from the US, Europe, Columbia, Mexico City, and Argentina, make for a fun and divers atmosphere. There are two parts of town, the city, and the beach. Both have their charm, and both are about a 10 minute drive or a 25 minute bike ride apart.
The City - Great shopping by local vendors, fun and trendy restaurants and bars, yoga studios and a completely different vibe from the beach side. We enjoyed the town for their lower prices and more authentic feel.
The Beach - When we first arrived we drove down the hotel road and were blown away by the hotels, boutiques, and eateries we saw nestled into the jungle. Everything was lit by string lights and there was gorgeously designed architecture creating a beautiful blend of bohemian and modern vibes.
Eat - Everything in Tulum is SO tasty! You can find street tacos in the city, avocado toast on the beach for breakfast, vegetarian and vegan chic restaurants, ice cream and gelato, and delicious coffee bars. I wish there were time to eat my way through the city, every corner afforded another quaint and inviting restaurant.
Stay - From what I understand from the locals, young adults from Mexico City are building vacation rentals like there is no tomorrow! So AirBnBs are everywhere! A completely new subdivision, Aldea Zama is full of brand new apartments. You can spend next to nothing camping, find middle of the road places downtown, beautiful and new accommodation in Aldea Zama which is the halfway point between town and beach, or $2,000+ a night resorts on the beach! A budget for anyone haha.
Explore - There is so much to do here! Mayan Ruins, cenotes, snorkeling/scuba, beach going, eating, animal sanctuary, and so much more! You could spend several weeks in the area exploring, and finda spot to go back to for sure!
- Rent a bike - One of my favorite ways to explore is by bicycle! And with plenty of bicycle rental shops we snagged few bikes (and the rental companies even have baby seat attachments!), this was perfect because everything on the beach has very limited parking. The only road along the beach is narrow, and can be difficult to turn around if you decide to go back!
- Tulum Ruins - There are several you can visit. Within city limits are the Tulum Ruins which are amazing! An old port and still very much intact you can explore them over the course of a few hours. There is also a small beach onsite so bring a suit to play and bask in the sea while visiting!
- Coba Ruins - less crowded, and an hour's drive inland.
- Chichen Icha - a few hours drive away and is on my list for next time! If you have the time go see one of the world's wonders!
- Cenotes - there are over 6,000 limestone sinkholes all over the Yucatan! There are several close by, you can drive there or take a scuba/snorkel tour to many. You can swim in these, many of which are underground in caverns. Many of these are connected underground and simply jaw dropping.
Shop - The shopping is great downtown! You can find unique jewelry, handmade leather bags, pottery, blankets, hats, and more! They are priced for tourists so don't expect too many deals! Shopping near the beach is very different! Very boutique-esque and high priced! My favorite boutique was Laguna Collective which makes their own items ethically and sustainably. I have added them to my dream list of brands to carry! Luxe beach items, hand embroidered tops, textures, and love.
What I bought for the shop
*It's not a topical trip without riding a bike or moped in the downpour :)
* Sargassum Seaweed has been an ongoing issue since 2014. Washing up on shores across the Caribbean. The reason for the influx is unknown. The beaches are cleaned daily from it. This photo was taken after a two day storm that washed up an excessive amount.
Overall our Mexico backup plan turned once again, a good idea! Being able to visit the Caribbean Side of Mexico was truly a blessing. The water temperature is quite a bit warmer than the Pacific side, and Tulum showed us a wonderful blend of cultures, tastes, things to see and do, and a vibe all its own. If you're wondering if you should go, the answer is yes!
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