Tulum, Mexico

  • Visited February 2019

Tulum has become a prime spot in Mexico for tourists and for that reason I wasn’t sure if it was going to be my kind of place. Having spent months travelling round Mexico, enjoying places such as Guanajuato, San Cristobal and Valladolid, prior to my visit Tulum just sounded like an expensive tourist haven with nothing distinctive to offer me. Although having a good time in Tulum can be much more expensive than some of the other parts of Mexico, I did actually have a great experience and I’m glad I spent time here.

Your visit to Tulum can be tailored to meet your needs and your budget. If you are looking for a luxury beachside resort and don’t mind paying a premium rate for your ocean view, then you can easily find that here as multiple hotels and resorts line along the coastline. If you are travelling on a budget like me then you are likely to have to stay in Tulum town, an hour’s walk from the beach itself. Bikes are easy to rent here though (around 100 pesos per day) and most people use their bikes to access the beach and Tulum’s Mayan ruins – one of the most iconic images of Tulum is of the ruins perched overlooking the beautiful blue water. From Tulum town a taxi to the beach should cost no more than 150 pesos each way if you don’t want to walk or bike it. A minute walk from my hostel I was able to get a colectivo for 15 pesos.

The beach in Tulum consists of lovely golden sand though seaweed lining the shore is regarded by some as a problem. I didn’t mind it myself as it looks natural but high end beach resorts try to clear the seaweed away, leaving it pilled up in mounds, so their guests can capture unspoilt beach Instagrammable photos. One thing to be aware of is the lack of public beach access. The majority of places along the coastline charge for beach access so you will need to be careful about where you go at the beach if you don’t want to end up forking out an expensive fee. The Santa Fe entrance for a public beach is close to the ruins so this is a popular area. My favoured place to go was OM Hotel which is free to enter and you can buy cheap food (tacos, quesadillas etc) and drinks here – it gets very busy so go early to snap up a free-to-use sun bed. For those of you who don’t mind paying for ‘luxury’, you might want to check out Coco Tulum – on the day my hostel buddies and I visited, we were quoted 700 pesos just to access the beach! Shocking. As the weather was cloudy though, we were allowed to sit in the swing chairs for no charge, as long as we bought a drink. A glass of wine was 250 pesos and a beer was 120 pesos. Ouch. As lovely as this place was, my advice is save your money and just go to OM Hotel down the road (just keep in mind that this is a cash-only place and ATMS in the area charge ridiculous withdrawal fees so get your money out in town).   

Tulum town is quite compact. There are loads of eateries, bars, shops and supermarkets around so you will be able to find everything you need here and I really liked the street art dotted around the place, giving it some character.

My Itinerary:

  • Day 1 – Beach day – spent time at Coco Tulum and Om Hotel
  • Day 2 – visited Cenote Corazon del Paraiso (so-called as it is heart-shaped) organised by my hostel. Twenty of us went and we paid 250 pesos for entrance, food and all you could drink. Lots of fun!
  • Day 3 – A trip to the Mayan Ruins of Coba. See details below.
  • Day 4 – a trip to Akumal. See details below.
  • Day 5 – hangover day (free drinks nights in the hostel the night before…). Watched movies in a hammock all day.
  • Day 6 – Beach day – Om Hotel.

Visiting Coba

Coba is known for its large pyramid and it really is worth a visit.  My friends and I were told we could get a colectivo to take us there but we had problems trying to locate where to catch it. My advice is to take the second class bus from the ADO station in town (we took Mayab there – the bus was packed so we had to stand all the way there – and then Oriente back – 50 pesos each way). The drive time is around 45 minutes and you will be dropped off a minute’s walk from the entrance. You get the bus back from the same spot. Entry into the site is 75 pesos. 

Visiting Akumal

Akumal is a coastal resort about 25 minutes drive away from Tulum. My friends and I ended up visiting Akumal by mistake but it was a happy accident! We set out to go to the Gran Cenote and had been told you could catch a colectivo to it. We stopped several buses on the main street in Tulum town, were directed to keep walking to other stops and eventually a driver told us to get in. After 15 minutes he stopped and told us to get out – we were not at the Gran Cenote but another cenote on route to Akumal and Playa del Carmen. Not pleased to have been misled, we decided to continue on to Akumal, which is a really lovely beach and a great spot to snorkel with turtles. The colectivo was 35 pesos each way. We paid 100 pesos entry into Tsuuk Parque Natural and then paid 150 pesos to use a sun lounger all day. We were quoted 500 pesos to snorkel with turtles with a guide but were happy to just enjoy the beach. Definitely worth visit.

Foodie Recommendations:

As with Tulum itself, you can find multiple food options to suit your budget in the area. Here are some places I particularly enjoyed in Tulum town:

  • Sabor de Mar – fantastic seafood place. The shrimp salad and shrimp tacos were amazing! I ate here a couple of times.
  • El Rincon Chiapaneco – budget-friendly and very tasty local food (located next door to Sabor de Mar).
  • El Mariachi Loco – very touristy and not cheap but the food and service were both excellent.

*Note – I was surprised to be charged 560 pesos at the airport when leaving Mexico. I was expecting to pay an exit fee but I had apparently not been given the correct visa when I entered Mexico from Belize. Tourists usually receive a visa with an allowance of 180 days which is what I had been given when I entered the first time at the airport. This time I had entered by land, after taking a shuttle from Flores, Guatemala to Chetumal, Mexico (via Belize) and had only been given a 7-day visa. I’m told it is at the discretion of the officer at the border as to how much allowance you are given. At the border, the official was on the phone the entire time, did not speak to me at all about how long I was staying and nowhere on the visa slip did it say I only had 7 days allowance. This meant when leaving Mexico I was charged for over-staying my visa as I had spent longer than 7 days in the country. Lesson learned. Always check what time allowance you have been given rather than assuming you have been given the 180 days you are entitled to.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Bacalar, Mexico

  • Visited February 2019

Bacalar is an open secret – I confess I hadn’t heard of it until I began travelling around Mexico but once in this amazing country, it’s clear that this lakeside town is an essential must-do on any Yucatan coast traveller’s itinerary. Located beside Laguna Bacalar, also prettily known as the Lagoon of Seven Colours, the town itself is cute and compact. There is a fort to visit, Fuerte de San Felipe, which is now home to a museum, and a town square with a few bars, restaurants and shops dotted around. The real star of the show though is obviously the lake – it is absolutely stunning! Find yourself somewhere to stay with a dock, hammocks, and prepare to spend your days watching the light dance on the waves of the lake, enthusiastic paddle boarders and kayakers traverse across the vast multi-hued blue waters, and various boats shuttling tourists around on pricey boat trips.

I made food for myself during my stay at the second hostel as it was not conveniently located to the town but I do have one foodie recommendation for you – Mango Y Chile, a vegan restaurant, that makes burgers, tacos and smoothies. My falafel burger was huge, delicious as well as healthy, and I loved my mango smoothie. Go treat yourself!

Another highlight for me was the street art dotted around the town – see pictures below.

*there are only a few ATMS in Bacalar and they don’t always work so keep that in mind when you come, especially if you have to pay for you accommodation in cash on arrival like I did. There are two ATMS in the town square and one in the OXXO.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Street art pictures:

Mérida and Valladolid, Mexico

  • Visited December 2018

Mérida (the capital city of the Yucatán state) and Valladolid (pronounced Vaya -do – leed) are both ‘Pueblo Magico’ – considered magical places of Mexico. If you have read any of my other posts on Mexican destinations, you will have realised that there is more to Mexico than its beautiful beaches. In an attempt to encourage tourists to visit other parts of Mexico, the tourist board came up with The Programma Pueblos Magicos – a list of special places recommended to visit. These places all have something unique about them, such as natural beauty, cultural richness, cuisine etc.

Mérida and Valladolid both have well-preserved architecture in the colonial-style which makes them picturesque though, for me, Mérida has more to offer the traveller for a longer stay. Valladolid is a lovely place to stay for a night or two to explore the stunning cenotes (pronounced sin-o-tays) in the area (you can do a cenote day trip from Mérida but it can be pricey) but it’s worth allocating at least three nights to Merida to explore the town and any trips you may want to do.

Mérida

Day 1 – explore the town. Key sights include the cathedral, the main plaza Plaza de la Independencia, which is a great spot for people-watching and the venue for traditional dance shows Monday to Friday at 9pm, Parque Santa Lucia, and the Paseo de Montejo, which is where you will see some glorious architectural gems. You could also visit a museum – the contemporary art museum (MACAY) or the Mayan museum are highly recommended (both closed on Tuesdays when I visited unfortunately).

Day 2 – a day trip to the fishing village of Celestún is a lovely trip out of the town and has the star attraction of flamingos. An trip with a tour company can cost you upwards of 900 pesos – expensive for what the trip includes so I would just find your own way there (see the photos below with a list of how to get to various places from Merida provided by my hostel).

Day 3 – Some travellers like to visit Chichen Itza from Mérida but again, an organised tour is pricey and it’s cheaper and easier to visit Chichen from Valladolid.

Some recommendations:

  • La Negrita – cool Cuban bar with live music 6 – 9 pm every night. Closes at 10 pm.
  • Chaya Maya Restaurant – good place to try local speciality dishes. Two venues.
  • Mercado Santiago – decent choice for local eats in a less touristy area. I spent a nice evening here having dinner with a friend watching various local dance groups practise their moves.
  • Restaurant El Trapiche – located near the main plaza but offers tasty food at decent prices.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Valladolid

Day 1 – Take the 10 am tour at Casa de los Venados. An American couple bought an old casa, renovated it and over the years have created an impressive collection of Mexican art which they open to the pubic daily between 10 am and 1 pm. The tour is insightful as the guide didn’t just discuss the art on display (which includes a Frida Kahlo themed room) but talked about various aspects of Mexican culture. The tour is free but the suggested donation is 100 pesos and this goes to local charities. After the tour, grab a coffee and a snack before hiring a bike to cycle to some of the stunning cenotes in the area. The Zaci Cenote in the centre of town is actually one of the prettiest to photograph and only costs 30 pesos to enter. The other cenotes tend to cost 70 – 80 pesos to enter. Each one is unique – for example the Uxman Cenote has a rope for swimmers to swing on to jump into the water – so it’s worth visiting a few. You will need swim clothes and a towel. If you are not a strong swimmer, you will be able to hire a lifejacket to allow you to access the water safely. Other cenotes you could visit are Samulá and X’Kekén.

Day 2 – Many travellers choose to visit Chichen Itza from Valladolid. It’s easy to get a collectivo to take you there. Instead of paying for a guide, you can download the smartphone app instead. The entrance fee is 250 pesos.

Another recommendation for Valladolid is to catch the nightly light show which is projected on to the convent at 9.20 pm in English (the publicised time is 9.25 pm but we went it began earlier). The show is free and explains a bit of Mayan history as well as the history of the town. It lasts about 20 minutes.

*note about safety: the cenotes close at 5 pm and we found that it got dark very quickly when we left the last cenote. The bikes we hired did not have lights on and the route we were supposed to cycle back on was not lit. We ended up finding our way back to a cenote and asking security there to call us a taxi to take us into town. We felt like stupid tourists but were told that it happens all the time. If you are cycling back, make sure you leave in plenty of time or check that your bike at least has lights on it if you don’t mind cycling in the dark.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico

  • Visited November 2018

San Cristóbal de las Casas, a highland town in the Chiapas region of Mexico, is the perfect place for travellers looking to learn about Mexico’s indigenous population whilst exploring the natural beauty of the area and enjoying art/culture/good food. Many travellers who come here find themselves captivated by the charms of the town and stay longer than they intend to, myself included. Aside from the usual sites that can be found in most Mexican towns and cities, such as plazas, churches and museums, San Cristóbal invites visitors to become involved in the local community and here you are free, and encouraged, to develop your cultural side – whether that be by taking an arts and crafts-based course (learning Macramé is popular), joining a music/dance class or visiting an arts collective. It’s a town where hipster meets local tradition which makes San Cristóbal a very progressive and engaging place to be.

A free walking tour is offered daily, at 10 am and 5pm, in English and Spanish (meets in Plaza de la Paz). This is an excellent introduction to the town and it was also lots of fun – we were taken to a restaurant for local soup, a coffee shop to taste local coffee and a bar to try pox – pronounced posh – the local alcoholic spirit. I’m not a fan of the traditional pox but the flavoured versions are delicious! There is a very good Posheria on Calle Real de Guadelupe if you want to try all the different flavours.    

There are several beautiful churches in town but unfortunately most of them are closed to the public due to earthquake damage (from the earthquake in September 2017), including the iconic yellow-facaded San Cristóbal Cathedral, which is a shame. However, if you walk all the way along Calle Real de Guadelupe, you will find a set of stairs leading up to the lovely Iglesia de Guadelupe. The Interior is pretty and you can take great photos of the view overlooking the town from the top.

Continuing the theme of churches, a must-do when in San Cristóbal is a visit to the nearby town of Chamula and a look inside the San Juan church – this is unlike any other church you will have seen before. In the town you will see locals dressed traditionally but don’t even think about taking photographs. Locals are wary of foreigners and don’t appreciate being photographed – you could even find your camera being confiscated if you do attempt to take photos! Taking photos in the church is completely forbidden. You have to pay a fee of 25 pesos to enter and inside you will find walls of mirrored saints, no seating, with locals sitting on the floor, surrounded by circles of hay, lighting candles on the floor, chanting, drinking fizzy drinks to allow them to burp out evil spirits and possibly the odd chicken or two. Chicken sacrifices do take place but not when I visited – though I did see a dead chicken being rubbed on the wriggling body an infant, a practice meant to cleanse the body and heal it of illness. Like I said, it is unlike any other church. You can get to Chamula by taking a collectivo van (costing 20 pesos).

There are loads of bars and restaurants here and you can party late into the night if you wish. My friends and I spent many a night in La Viña de Bacco, a cool wine bar where you can get a decent glass of wine from 20 pesos and you get free tapas for every drink bought. If you want live music, another favourite of ours was Café Bar Revolución – a great vibe in here every night of the week, a fun place to dance the night away. A good place to taste pox is La Espirituosa. Bangcook offers very tasty Thai food but it’s not cheap so a nice option for a treat meal. For coffee lovers, I can recommend Namandi and Amor Negro Cafe.

You can do many day trips/tours from San Cristóbal but the one I recommend is the day tour to Sumidero Canyon. I booked this with my hostel for 350 pesos and this included pick up from the hostel, a boat trip in the canyon, being taken to two viewpoints for spectacular views and a visit to the town of Chiapas de Corzo for lunch (not included).

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Puerto Escondido, Mexico

  • Visited November 2018

After nearly 6 months of travelling and a nasty dose of bronchitis, I was in need of some rest and relaxation. Puerto Escondido was the perfect place for me to live life at a slower pace, relax, top up my tan and just be. This was some much needed vacation time so I’m only going to share a few holiday pics and recommendations for you for this destination.

  • Most popular beaches: Playa Zicatela (for partying) and Playa La Punta (for surfing).
  • My favourite beaches: Playa Coral (very quiet and unspoilt) and Playa Carrizalillo (lovely beach with sunbeds to rent; reachable via around 160 steep steps).
  • Decent eats: El Cafecito (two branches – one near Carrizalillo, one in Zicatela) – Mexican and International food for inexpensive prices). Open from 6am for a post-partying breakfast. Pepe’s Tacos – a well-kept secret in Puerto Escondido – best tacos I’ve ever eaten.
  • Suggested activities: Learn to surf; Do the turtle release (5 pm every evening at Playa Bacocho); visit Laguna de Manialtepec to swim/see glowing plankton.

*If coming here from Oaxaca, most people take the ADO overnight bus which takes 10 – 11 hours but I took the mini-van shuttle booked through my hostel which was cheaper than ADO and took 8 hours. I can recommend travelling through the day as there is some amazing scenery but the shuttle takes a very windy route through the mountains so if you get carsick, then this is not the option for you.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Oaxaca, Mexico

  • Visited November 2018

Oaxaca (pronounced wa-ha-ka) is a foodie’s paradise. From street food to fine dining, pulque to mezcal, a visit to this region is a gourmet treat fest. Come prepared to try anything and to eat/drink plenty!

Things you should try when in Oaxaca:

  • Chapulines – grasshoppers are a popular snack here. Dried out, and flavoured with lime and chilli, these protein-filled insects are actually very tasty on their own or added to Tlayudas (see picture below). They can also be found in a popular gelatine-based sweet.
  • Mezcal – Made from any type of agave plant (Tequila can only be made by law with the blue agave), Mexicans take mezcal very seriously. Unlike Tequila, mezcal is meant to be savoured rather than knocked back in a shot. You can find it everywhere though I would recommend going to a mezcal tasting session. I did one as part of an organised day tour and I enjoyed learning about the making process and then trying the different varieties.   
  • Pulque – an alcoholic drink that has been prepared in this region for over 2,000 years. Made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant (a type of agave) it has a distinctive flavour.
  • Tlayudas – traditional to Oaxacan cuisine, a basic tlayuda consists of a large, thin, fried or toasted tortilla, filled with refried beans, unrefined pork lard, lettuce, Oaxacan cheese. The tortilla is folded and then topped with an ingredient of your choice e.g. beef, chicken, chapulines etc. 
  • Mole – there are 7 types of mole from Oaxaca: negro, rojo, coloradito, amarilla, verde, chichilo and manchamantel. Challenge yourself to try them all!   
  • Oaxacan coffee – coffee lovers rejoice! You can find lots of lovely cafes in Oaxaca that serve freshly ground local coffee. Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s primary coffee producing states.
  • Oaxacan chocolate – eat it or drink it, consuming the local chocolate needs to be done. You can actually watch the chocolate being ground at Chocolate Conchita, a chocolate mole cafe, before trying the wide varieties of chocolate they offer.

After you’ve sated your appetite, give yourself plenty of time to explore everything this lovely city, and surrounding region, have to offer. There is much to do to please the culture junkie or nature lover. The hostel I stayed in did a free walking tour every other day and it was an excellent introduction to the city – we toured local markets, trying chapulines, watched chocolate get made, visited an ice-cream cafe and explored the areas around the Zocalo and Santo Domingo. This is a very easy and compact city to get around by foot.

Suggested activities:

  • Explore the main city sites such as the churches – the interior of Santo Domingo is particularly beautiful – galleries/museums (I can recommend the Museum of Contemporary Art MACO) and markets.
  • Take a day tour exploring the region – I did one for 200 pesos booked through my hostel which included Santa Maria el Tule (home of a tree over 2,000 years old), a weaving workshop in Teotitlan del Valle, Mezcal tasting at a distillery, the ruins of Mitla, a lunch buffet, and the highlight of the day: swimming in the natural pools of Hierve el Agua. Entry prices were not included or the cost of the buffet so make sure you have cash with you. It was 10 pesos for the tree, 70 pesos for Mitla, 60 pesos for Hierve el Agua and 150 pesos for lunch.
  • People-watch in the zocalo or Parque Llano (I visited on a weekend and found tasty street food here and a dance festival taking place).
  • Have a coffee at Cafe Brujula.
  • Have a meal at La Casa de la Abuelo – excellent service and the food was great. I had quesillo a la plancha (Oaxaca’s famous white cheese with refried beans and guacamole) followed by a cup of chocolate de aqua, made with Oaxacan chocolate.Tip: sit at a table by the windows for views of the zocalo.
  • Take a 40-minute bus ride to the well-preserved ruins of Monte Alban

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Guanajuato, Mexico

  • Visited November 2018

Guanajuato, a university city a few hours drive north of Mexico City, is an absolute gem of a place. Getting here is easy and comfortable with Primera Plus buses (which can be booked online, unlike ADO buses in the south). I had read about the colourful houses stacked up the hillsides that make this city so picturesque and instagrammable before arriving but only allocated two nights to explore the compact historical centre – you can get around the main sites in two days but with hindsight I really wished I’d given myself more time to spend here as I was so charmed by it, and actually liked Guanajuato more than crowd-pleaser San Miguel de Allende.

The historical centre is stunning and primarily arranged around one long main street, two popular plazas – Plaza de la Paz, which is always packed with tourists and tourist-priced restaurants, and Plaza de San Fernando, a great spot for people-watching and enjoying food at more-reasonably priced eateries, plus the Jardin de la Union, opposite the beautiful Teatro, with its hoardes of tourists. Though you will want to take a look at these areas, the real beauty of Guanajuato is to be found amongst its narrow alleyways where you will find art galleries, boutiques, bars and street food, and by exploring its hillsides.

I saw my first Mexican funeral procession here in Guanajuato – a musical affair that entails a mariachi band and the mourners following behind the funeral car in a parade around the city. What I love most about the Mexicans is their passionate celebration of all aspects of life – birth, marriage and death – and the funeral parade is a public celebration of the life of the soul lost. Mexicans live life in colour.

There are lots of great places to eat in Guanajuato – my advice would be to avoid the main tourist areas to find the best food at good prices. I was recommended TragaLuz for breakfast (especially the chilaquiles) but as my hostel breakfast was so good (and free), I didn’t try it out for myself. I don’t often focus on negatives in my destination posts but I am going to make an exception in this one – do not bother eating at El Canastillo de Flores. Don’t be fooled into eating here as it looks busy, that’s just because of the prime location. I experienced terrible service and mediocre food at an inflated price. One to avoid.

Must do experiences in Guanajuato:

  • Take the funicular up to La Pipila monument for spectacular views of the city. It only costs 25 pesos for a single ride (you can ride back down if you wish or walk down) but you will see the whole city in all its glory from here. There are also lots of street food trucks to be found at the base of the monument if you want to relax and spend some time up there.
  • Visit Museo Diego Rivera – Guanajuato was the birth place and childhood home of this celebrated Mexican artist. His home has been lovingly transformed into a modern museum that showcases work from Diego and other Mexican artists. On the bottom floor of the museum you will find restored rooms from the family home.
  • Visit Alley of the Kiss, a narrow alleyway with a romantic history – the Mexican Romeo and Juliet.
  • Visit Museo Iconografico del Quixote – Guanajuato was Cervantes’ Mexican home and the city pays homage to Quixote in this excellent museum.
  • Visit Museo de las Momias – this museum displays the mummified remains of the city’s inhabitants. Under local law, if families do not maintain payments for grave plots, then bodies can be dug up and put on display in this macabre museum.

Selection of pictures from my stay: