Mexico: The Yucatan Pensinsula is full of Adventure
Every winter, I hear the palm trees calling my name. I love watching the snow falling softly onto the welcoming ground, but after a few months, the thought of walking barefoot listening to rolling waves sings to me. Last April, we decided to go to Mexico on a whim. When backpacking, we like to move around quite a bit and stay at various locations, but for this trip, an all-inclusive was perfect. The package was reasonably priced and it gave us a "home base" to travel from. When picking an area to visit, our priorities were: a beach, family friendly, and diving. After a bit of research we decided that a resort near Tulum, Mexico fit our requirements and so we booked into a generic 4 star resort.
Tulum certainly has a bit of something for everyone. Besides flight and hotel, we also booked a car, and a diving package prior to arrival.
On the first full day we went into the town of Tulum(a steep taxi ride or a super cheap bus ride- we chose the latter) to pick up our rental car. I was a bit nervous about the shape of the roads but they were in pristine shape. We only rented the car for 3.5 days as the last three days of vacation were dedicated to diving and relaxing. The Tulum ruins seemed like the perfect place to begin our adventures since it was on the way home. We had low expectations but were blown away by how interesting and beautiful they were. It's quite the a blessing to be able to see such a historic site intact sitting beachside. It was a great little visit but I would definitely recommend saving more time for this gem.
Snorkeling with Turtles at Akumal Bay
We were so excited for snorkeling with the turtles at "Akumal Bay" the following morning. It was about a 20 minute drive from our resort, but inquire at your resort if there is a bus, taxi, or shuttle. We each had our own snorkel gear and a lifejacket for Gaia but it is totally possible to rent gear right on the beach, along with guided tours. (Entrance to the beach and snorkeling is free if you provide your own gear) I have had friends who have booked the guided tours and loved it, but we just ventured out on our own. It is quite calm, and the turtles come within meters of the beach, there is no need to swim out too far. From my experience, it was tranquil beautiful water, and totally safe for our 5 year old to snorkel in. Gaia did start to get cold after being in the water for a while so we alternated between snorkeling and beach bumming before heading up to a restaurant on the beach for some lunch. Akumal is a super popular spot so if you are looking to avoid the crowds, I recommend arriving early in the morning (8am).
Snorkel Yal-Ku Lagoon
After swimming with the turtles, we found that we still had plenty of time to visit nearby "Yal-Ku Lagoon" (10 minutes by car). We were a bit hesitant to visit this lagoon as it had mixed reviews online but it was a fantastic time! The parking lot was small but we found a spot and the entrance fee to the lagoon was reasonable. They had outdoor showers and bathrooms and lockers for a small fee. I would recommend learning from our mistakes and renting a locker instead of accidentally taking your car key for a swim. The lagoon is where salt water and freshwater meet so there is a bit of a current here and there but nothing too strong. There were lots of little rock formations to weave in and out of and we managed to see quite a few different types of fish. I've heard that the lagoon gets pretty murky and overcrowded but our experience was lovely. With plenty of time to spare we headed back to the resort to lay back for the rest of the day.
Despite feeling a bit under the weather (of our own doing, those tricky pool bars) we wanted to make the most of having a car so when we woke up the following morning we hopped into the car and drove the 110 km to Selvatica Adventure Park. They prefer for you to book your tour in advance which includes pickup, so they don't disclose their location on the website, but a quick google search gave us the information we needed. They managed to squeeze us onto the next tour and we were flying! You could hear the children singing and making monkey sounds as they flashed by.
There are so many different options in this part of Mexico for ziplining but since we were solely seeking out ziplining, we decided on Selvatica. They were a great company with many different "adventure" options. Our tour finished off with a zipline into a cenote that even Gaia did! To be honest, Gaia took the plunge before I did, it took her quite a bit of convincing before I tackled the line. I wish that I had done it earlier because it was actually super fun!!
For our last day with the rental car we decided to drive to Coba to see the ruins that you can climb. We had tossed around the idea of driving to Chichen Itza but we had to have the car back by 4pm and it was quite a drive to Chichen Itza so we decided against it. It was a sweltering hot day in Coba and I was ever so glad that we had packed lots of water. Guides are available at the front gate, but we chose to wander at our own pace. It is quite a distance from one part of the ruins to the next but for a small fee you can rent some bikes to take you the rest of the way. There are also rickshaws (bike taxis) that fit 2-4 people. Gaia was riding a 2 wheeler by then so we just rented 3 semi-operable bikes and sweat it out. In hindsight, I would have biked to the large pyramid first, the heat was almost unbearable by the time we got there and the pyramid was crawling with tourists. This ruin is one of the few that is still climbable. Comfortable, sturdy shoes are an absolute must. We had running shoes and were so thankful.
The climb isn't recommended for small children or people with a fear of heights. I don't exactly love heights and with the heat I was feeling a little faint so my heart was pounding. I wasn't so much fearful for myself, but just wanted to make sure that Gaia was safe. We climbed up the sides which were a bit crumbly but less busy. There is a gigantic rope in the middle that could be used for either ascent or descent but we found the rock to be a bit more smooth and slippery from the years of visitors treading this path. Once on top we spent a few minutes collecting ourselves and gazing above the jungle floor before wandering back to our faithful bikes. With a renewed sense of appreciation for flat ground, we pedaled back to the entrance which doubled as an exit.
My favourite day of all was cenote diving day. Every day was jammed full of fun but it still didn't compare to underwater cavern diving.
The Yucatan peninsula is home to a huge underground cavern system of fresh water running through limestone formations. We chose the "Dos Ojos" cenote. I had never fresh water dove before so it was a bit of an adjustment getting my buoyancy right but once that was settled it was time to play.
Once you jump into the cenote you loosely follow a rope through a network of limestone, careful not to touch any of the fragile formations. The cool water against your skin is invigorating and the darkness wraps itself around you. Slowly you'll turn a corner and rays of sunshine will beam through, highlighting a whole section of towers and spires. As quickly as you came upon this section, you'll be engulfed in darkness again. The length of your dive is directly linked to the percentage of air you consume so breathe slowly and meaningfully to get the most of your dive.
Once we resurfaced, I found Gaia and Kyle went off for his turn while Gaia and I snorkeled around the cenote. There were a few little colourful fish and some beautiful formations, so even if you are unable to dive, I encourage visiting just for this experience.
We chose to dive with Blue Experience diving and Tim and his team were very friendly and accommodating. Dives came in 2 dive packages and Tim made it possible for one of us to wait on the beach with Gaia while the other dove, then switch out. It is pretty rare that we are both able to go diving on the same day, his company comes highly recommended by us.
One of our last full days in Mexico was spent back at Akumal Bay. We took turns going out on the boat and doing some open water dives while the other played on the beach with Gaia. The boat ride was under 15 minutes each way, and the diving was good. For someone who hadn't ever open water dove before, it's a must! We saw more turtles than I could count, along with a large selection of beautiful fish. While I did thoroughly enjoy it, it just didn't compare to the cenote dive (and I must admit, I have other prefered diving areas to go around the world, but this one was still very beautiful!) Any day spent diving is a good day.
Last but not least came more sunbathing and lounging by the pool. Despite the vacation sounding very busy, we actually had tons of time to relax because we would often wake up early(ish) and do something fun in the morning, leaving the late afternoon/evening for less strenuous activities. All in all I would claim it to have been the perfect vacation, uneventful yet full of culture, adventure, and tranquiltity.
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