I met a fellow Canadian at a market yesterday and asked him what he’d been doing in Cancun for three weeks. “Drinking and partying” was his answer.
“We need to get out of here,” Was probably the third sentence I said to my brother following his landing in Cancun.
Kevin was barely off the plane when I began laying out the options I had half concocted for the three weeks we’d be spending together. On the bus from the airport and while having our first lunch together, we decided on a plan that would start with leaving Cancun that afternoon.
In all honestly I hadn’t planned much at all, but rather decided on a direction of travel not all that different from my grand plan for the trip – we would go south. An abundance of time and Kevin’s relaxed attitude did not lend well to preplanning his trip. As we went along, we learned that a bit of planning would have gone a long way.
Playa Del Carmen
Later that day, we arrived in Playa Del Carmen and snagged ourselves a hostel ; we booked two nights as we expected to go diving the next day. Walking the strip just up from the beach that evening, it was immediately apparent we’d made a poor decision.
Playa Del Carmen was a far cry from the tranquil relaxing atmosphere I had just come from on Isla Holbox two days prior; it was the opposite as far as beach towns go. The main drag is lined with Haagen Daz icecream shops, a Starbucks, a selection of high end clothing stores, a barrage of kitschy overpriced souvenir shops and anything else the one week package vacationer’s heart desires.
Our plan to go diving fell through and the fact that we had walked into the heart of a resort town became even more apparent the next day as we walked the beach. A single ten meter strip of coastline contained more people than the entire beach on Isla Holbox. It even made Puerto Esconditio look like a graveyard in comparison. The Yucatan Caribbean was not turning out as we had anticipated, so we had to get out of Playa Del Carmen.
Early the next morning Kevin and I boarded a bus headed for Tulum and met three lovely ladies heading in the same direction for a day trip. Laura, a dive instructor, gave us a rundown on Acumal (a location halfway between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum) renowned for sea turtles. That gave us a plan… for the day at least.
Kevin and I dropped our gear at the Weary Traveler in Tulum then headed for Acumal. This reef protected little bay does indeed have an abundance of turtles which we saw while swimming in the turquoise waters. We also managed to come across a few sting rays, a variety of corals and reef fish.
Our most startling encounter though was coming across a barracuda that was a long as either of us is tall and likely weighed much more. The barracuda was just there, chilling out, suspended in the water, opening and closing its mouth while showing off its huge teeth. We learned later that had it faced us and shown its stripes we could have been in for a world of hurt.
As a testament to the tourism business of Acumal and the gouging that takes place in the Yucatan Caribbean, the price of renting a set of snorkel gear is nearly the cost of buying your own at 180 pesos. The Lonely Planet Central America from just a year ago listed it at a mere 75 pesos. Thankfully we managed to split the rental price with the ladies we had met on the bus who conveniently showed up just as we finished with our snorkel.
Cenotes of the Yucatan Caribbean
It took a few days, but Kevin and I finally managed to get ourselves organized enough to go on a diving tour of two cenotes. Our day included exploring the caverns of Dos Ojos and The Bat Cave, two connected cenotes just a short drive north of Tulum.
If you can brave the slightly enclosed spaces and the lack of light in some areas, I highly recommend adding cenotes to your list of diving adventures. Even if all we had done was sit on bottom and watched the rays of sun dance through the clear water of the cavern, the trip would have been worth it. The video below of the light dancing above the surface barely does justice to the subsurface conditions.
Finding yourself deeper in the caverns feels like flying as you swim over stalagmites, under stalactites, and between columns.
Perhaps the most magical experience in the cenotes was when you looked up at the ceiling. Any location where the bubbles from a diver’s regulator collected looked like a pool of mercury or a mirrored gateway into another world. I half expected T-1000 to materialize out of it at any moment. Only when your own bubbles joined this reflection did it become apparent it was simply a small pocket of air.
Tulum and the Ruins
We stayed in Tulum long enough to take a walk through the Mayan ruins. Although they are not the most well preserved or spectacular ruins I’ve ever encountered, their cliff setting just above the magically coloured Yucatan Caribbean ocean made for a wonderful sight.
However, the town of Tulum itself leaves something to be desired as far as beach towns go. If you stay down on the beach things are a bit pricier. Up in town can be a bit cheaper, but it is several kilometers from the beach.
I think the thing that would have saved Tulum for me would have been a regular bus to the beach. The local taxi collective (or mafia as it was hinted as) has managed to thwart the possibility of a public bus for the time being. Given our activities and plans for future stops, Kevin and I didn’t manage to make it to the beach in Tulum, however if the beach at the base of the ruins was any indication, I’m sure it would be very nice as well.
I have to say that between the high end shops, the crowded beaches and the vibe, we were less than enamoured with the Yucatan Caribbean coast and more than happy to be moving onwards to Guatemala.
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