Monday, June 17, 2013

I grew up taking trips to American beaches on the East Coast.  The beaches of my childhood were forty story Holiday Inn's across the street from a four hundred yard stretch of sand, populated by twenty rows deep of day camps for extended families.  Each had every available float, game, squirt gun and snack.   Don't get me wrong, I love American beaches; boardwalks with saltwater taffy and carnival games, driving into town for mini-golf and a movie when the family got too sunburned on the third day to stay in the water a minute longer.   In January we took a trip to Tulum and my idea of what a beach could be was fundamentally changed.
If you haven't been yourself, Tulum is likely the place all of your friends have been telling you to get to over the last couple of years.  The water is a five shades of turquoise and so clear that you can take a kayak or paddle board out to the reef and see straight to the bottom.  Everyone that goes turns into a devoted evangelist, and for good reason.   We loved it so much that we went back for a short three day trip in June.   While it's a region you could explore for a lifetime, you can still pack a fulfilling and relaxing trip in just a few days.
It's a short flight into Cancun.  A taxi will cost you about $100 each way and you can get a car for around $150 for the week.  Beyond the obvious savings off the top you will find yourself needing to restock water, bug spray and sunblock at the supermarket in town, so having a car is super convenient. I would recommend just doing a carry-on and grabbing toiletries at the supermarket as well.  You'll be in a swimsuit all week and every restaurant is casual so you can pack light.  You'll get through customs much quicker and be on your way in minutes.

We loved Mezzanine so much that we couldn't imagine looking for another hotel this time.  The entire staff of the hotel and restaurant was the same between trips, which in an industry with such high turn-over, speaks volumes about the place.  From your amazing two story room you'll get a view of the jungle from one side and a jaw-dropping beach on the other.  The design of the exterior spaces of the hotel are absolutely perfect.  There are several small vignettes that are connected but seem completely private.   The restaurant is, hands down, the best Thai food I have ever eaten and their breakfast and beach fare are on par too.

The sunrises are stunning and absolutely worth waking up for.  Mezzanine delivers a basket of delicious coffee to your door every morning which makes the wake-up even easier.  I recommend taking a walk up the beach after your sunrise coffee.  There is a corner about quarter of a mile north after which you'll see a Mayan temple on a cliff over the ocean.  I take that walk several times a day and it never loses its magic.
If you are there in the summer the heat is pretty intense.  The ocean is so warm that it only provides marginal relief but luckily the entire region is dotted with cenotes.  Cenotes are these magical swimming holes created where a network of underground rivers opens in various places.  They are bathed in light and surrounded by lush jungle vegetation.  You typically pay someone who mans them a few pesos to enter.  Each one is so different that it's really worth traveling around and viewing as many as you can.
La Zebra is a hotel and restaurant run by the same folks that own Mezzanine.  It's great traditional Mexican food, and I would highly recommend it as a lunch stop.  Other noteworthy dining options are Posada Margherita which serves up fresh (as in they start making the pasta when you order) Italian.  Our favorite pick for drinks and dinner has got to be Hartwood.  Everything is cooked on a wood burning oven or grill in an open air kitchen with local, fresh ingredients.
The height of summer is technically their slow season so if you go in the summer you'll find the beaches absolutely empty (as opposed to mostly empty) and several of the restaurants are closed.  Personally I feel like the restaurants that can bring in enough business to stay open during the off season (or still demand a wait like Hartwood) are the ones worth going to anyway.
Day two you'll probably want to check out the Tulum ruins.  To be honest, they are pretty underwhelming.  You can't really go on or through anything and it's somehow 20 degrees hotter than the rest of the city.  But it's close and it's one of those things you feel like you should do since you're there even though I am telling you not to, and it doesn't really take very long, so why not?  If you have more than a few days there are some really amazing Mayan archeological sites in the area that are worth seeing.  
We were taking a walk along the rocks one day (in January) and met this dude.  He is one of the raddest dogs I have ever met.  You'll see a lot of sad dogs wandering along the highways and felt like this sweet boy probably had a similar life, but then the next morning we saw him running up the beach with his owner and got the sense that he had a pretty awesome life.  He joined us for our walk and I was really excited when we crossed paths again this last trip.   If you meet him, say hi for us. 

The beach road ends at the Sian Ka'an biosphere.  There is one hotel down there, situated on strip of sand between the bay and ocean.  They have a roof top bar where you can take in a pretty incredible sunset overlooking the bay.  
While everything is off the grid and powered by solar or wind, wi-fi is still surprisingly fast and available.  If you are in an industry where you can work remotely it's a wonderful and inexpensive place to change your workplace scenery for a bit.  We are already planning a third trip down, maybe we'll see you there. 

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