BY BETHANY FRAZIER
One of the many things my breakup left me was the choice of what to do with our beautiful vacation to Tulum, Mexico. My ex and I went back and forth, deciding whether we’d refund the trip, keep the tickets and try to reunite our love in Tulum or bring a friend in one of our places.
Eventually, our trip was cancelled. However, my inner voice urged me not to refund my plane ticket, to take this opportunity and go solo. So, in a week, refunded our beautiful and romantic all-inclusive hotel room at the swanky Dreams Resort for a cheap (and very different) alternative, camping in the Tulum jungle for $40 a night.
Once I arrive in warm Cancun, Mexico, I get on a shuttle to take me along the two-hour journey along the Mexican coast to Tulum. A mother and daughter from Canada ride with me. The daughter is going to be the maid of honor at her friend’s wedding in Playa del Carmen. After talking to them for a bit, they discover I am traveling alone. They seem uncomfortable at the thought of a woman doing it solo in foreign country. I didn’t tell them my story — what had brought me here and what I would gain here.
After dropping off the Canadian ladies to their mega resort, I hop in the front seat next to the shuttle driver, Johnny. For an hour, we talk about his children, working at Buffalo Wild Wings (which we both had done), and his stressful job as a shuttle driver. I had met a friend, someone I would have never known if I wasn’t traveling on my own.
I say goodbye to Johnny as I check into my campsite, Turquesa Jungle Camping. The friendly and fabulous host walks down a winding tree-lined path to show me to my orange tent, surrounded by thick palm trees. I tell him “gracias” and sit in my tent, suddenly immersed in unfamiliar silence. I wonder how I’m here, in the jungle, in one of the most beautiful places on earth, alone.
I walk to the beach, look into its clear waters, search for some inner peace. I don’t find it so I find dinner instead at an amazing seafood restaurant called Simple Tulum. The bartender and staff make me feel warm and welcome. Through a few cervezas and amazing grilled mahi, I realize my experiences on this trip will be just what I need. That night, I walk the dark tree-lined road back to my tent.
The next day, I rent a bike to take a 10-mile ride to the mystical Mayan ruins. Unfortunately, I’m not thrilled by history or monuments. However, people-watching (especially tourists), I am a huge fan of, so the ruins made an excellent place for one of my favorite activities. Tulum is a place for any kind of person — families, newlyweds, gays, and plenty of sexy Europeans. It’s one of those place where no labels exist. Everyone seems to be enjoying just being free.
Hell, this is the kind of place where you can avoid “boob jail” and go bra-less all week, hold hands with your lady without a stare, go topless on the beach, or let your kids play naked in the ocean. This is why I adore Tulum.
Enough of the emotion of why this place is spectacular. Let’s get to the activities.
Beautiful and dream-like, these underground cave-like bodies of water (around five in Tulum) are filled with crystal clear water. They’re not to be missed. Not all of them are under the earth’s surface, like my favorite one, Casa Cenote. Take a paddleboard and snorkel trip through this one and it might become one of your favorite vacation memories.
I can’t stress enough how delicious the food is here if you eat at the right places. Hartwood, Casa Jaguar and Gitano are all sexy places (think candlelight outdoor dining, fresh farm to table food and drinks, with a dash of hot hipsters), but they’ll cost you a pretty penny. Stray from the hotel zone to downtown Tulum for great and cheap food that’ll knock your socks off. My favorites are Taqueria Honorio (only open during the day) and Antojitos Mexicanos for tacos, El Camello for seafood, and the famous Flor de Michoacan for popsicles, juices and other sweet treats.
Vegan or health nut? I stumbled upon a hidden gem after yoga. A raw food stand nestled in a pink hut on the property of the Ahau Hotel. Adan, who owns it concocts a smoothie of passionfruit, pineapple, ginger and other good stuff I can’t remember. He tells me about their new dairy-free coconut yogurt he makes along with their handmade chocolates and pizza. He even shows me to the garden where I find myself under a structure that holds beautiful passionfruit vines.
Tulum is home to yogis, shamans and free spirits. Many hotels and spas offer yoga in the mornings for around $12 to $20 per class. The class I took at Ahau Hotel was mind blowing (the gorgeous instructor had something to do with this, I’m sure). Actually, it was the best yoga experience I’ve had so far. There’s also a chocolate, wine and yoga event at Ahau on Wednesday nights at 6pm. Don’t say no.
I recommend pampering yourself with a Mayan clay massage. Both times I’ve been to Tulum, I’ve gone to Mayan Clay Spa. Mayan clay, indigenous to the region is used as a detoxifier, regenerator and healer of the skin. It might feel a little weird to have someone slap and massage clay over your body and hair, let it harden and wash it off, but I promise it feels amazing. Not only will it make your skin soft, it heals acne, diminishes wrinkles, helps sunburns and conditions the hair.
Crystal clear waters? Soft white beaches? Tropical flowers and palms? Check. Many people walk or run the stretch of beach, some let their dogs play in the salty waters, others frolic with their lovers in the waves, while many women shed their tops and let it all hang out. However you do it, the beaches and scenery here is lovely. If you’re staying at a hotel on the beach side (unlike my tent resort on the jungle side), you’ve got it made with lounge chairs, beds and food and drink service.
If you’re not staying at a beachfront hotel, Aura Beach (around five miles down the main hotel road) lets you rent chairs and umbrellas all day under $15. They also serve booze and food, so you’re good to go!
My own trip to Tulum was quite an experience.
Most people I met on my journey told me how admirable it is that I’m traveling on my own. Women with their significant others exclaimed they would be doing the same if they were single. I don’t want to toot my own horn but, looking back I can’t believe I did what I did, from experiencing raw moments in the hot jungle, finding happiness in conversations with wonderful people and facing post-breakup pain on a vacation intended for a completely different purpose.
This wasn’t my first time in Tulum. I went last September with friends, this time alone, and am already planning for another adventure later this year. One day, I’ll have the amazing experience to bring my future partner and family here.
I could go on forever. Tulum is this good. For me, it was healing and everything I needed to take a nice time out.
It’s an uncomplicated place, full of positive energy, beautiful people, and simplistic grace. Can you tell I highly recommend it?
If you’re going to Tulum, here are a few travel suggestions:
- Get pesos or pay with your card. Paying in American dollars lands you a crappy exchange rate and incorrect change back. You can do this at the two ATMs on Tulum Avenue (Scotiabank or HSBC). Also, the ATMs along the hotel zone are not safe and charge you an arm and leg in fees.
- Rent a bike or a car. Taxi fare will add up, if you’re getting out of the hotel area on the regular. Biking will make you look cute anyways. Plus, it’s a great workout.
- Sunscreen (lots of it). It’s easy for your pasty American ass to get caught up in the Mexican sun, but the next day it’ll hurt like hell.
- Don’t drink the water. Enough said.
Born a true Texas girl, Bethany U-Hauled to the beautiful, history-drenched city of Richmond, Virginia, for long distance love that eventually ended. In addition to obsessing and writing about Richmond’s food scene (restaurants, festivals, and trends), she’s a connoisseur of painting, aromatherapy, indie music and English accents. Find her stuff at Grub Like A Girl and One Check Or Two.