Blitzing down the best paved road in Mexico, past the rip off Paamul campground we’d shunned previously, we hit Tulum town in no time, a nondescript place where the Pemex, again, conveniently had the card machine down. Sarah makes the walk to the ATM to again get spanked with fees to pay for gas. This no machine business has to be bullshit and is a convenient way for the guys running the pumps to screw you out of money when they don’t reset the counter to zero (always make sure they do this, there were a couple of times our numbers didn’t add up…ie. our tank doesn’t take that many litres, or we just put half a tank in yesterday…..?).
Playa Tulum is a nice rustic place with a lack of the high rise malarkey happening up north to ruin the Yucatan’s beautiful white sand beaches, and we found a suitable shady camp site at Camping Chavez (without power hookup). They run an eco-generator for an hour a day and there’s limited evening lighting in the outdoor communal kitchen and dining area at night, but there’s a great community vibe here. A massively hippy area compared to Playa del Carmen, this place has a really mellow feeling, set amongst lofty palm that give perfect shade, and whilst strolling the beach you can barely tell the difference from the front of the rustic hippy campground and the 5* B&B’s. One of the only differences further up the beach towards the ruins is that the higher end hotels can afford to pay staff to dig huge holes and bury the seaweed in the sand every morning.
Deciding to stay a couple of nights here chilling on the white sands, we took the bikes out for a cruise up the leafy main street. That night we swung at Ziggy’s bar with an American couple, one working with the Olsen twins and the other working in international IT systems. Conversations ensued and we were soon on our fourth Mai Thai. Funny thing was they were standing up another Aussie bloke that she thought was an arrogant twat! The twat turns up and has a moan and she’s rolling her eyes.
Matt struck up a conversation with the guy and yep, turns out he’s a twat. Anyway they leave and we finish our drinks and get the bill. They’ve only gone and paid for all our drinks too, the only thing left for us is to sort out the tip. We were stoked as we’ve heard that the bar staff can try to charge you double for your drinks and will walk off with your change at this place. We encountered slow service and when it was only 15 minutes to the end of happy hour the bar man simply disappears.
Moving on, we earlier noticed a new opening called the Shiva bar. This place was cool. The bar right on the roadside does the trick, enticing you to it wooden seats. Starting on a fresh cold beer, the barman wasn’t short of a chat so we jumped at the opportunity to practice some more of our crap Spanish. The service here was also good and one of the waitresses gave us some spiced pineapple pieces and other tapas, free!
Next morning, early, the heat was really starting to make itself known (earlier and earlier each day), so we tumbled out of the van and headed for the sea waters. Matt took a run along the beach then rode 10km all the way back to town to get some breakfast supplies…only to find out later there was a small shop only two minutes the other way. If we read or hear about a backpackers hangout we usually avoid them, as the prices can be high and the service terrible. This is not true of the gorgeously located La Zebra. An open sided roof with multiple levels overlooks the white beaches, and at times you feel that you’d be able to jump in the waters right off the edge. The young and attentive staff aren’t on your case to buy more as soon as you glass or plate is empty, and we enjoyed an afternoon chilling here, along with the best nacho’s to date (Sarah’s favourite was still the Moab Brewery ones, but these were Matt’s).
Having succeeded in doing squat the previous day, we woke early to head up to the ruins of Tulum. Another classical Mayan site it was of specific importance as a seaport for the trading of jade and turquoise. You’ll pass through one of five doorways that are unique to Tulum, as it’s surrounded by a wall that is up to 7 meters thick which helps to explain its preservation. Arriving early we started at the furthest end to hopefully capture an uncrowded shot back along the limestone cliffs.
Boom, success. Hearing that it’s possible to swim on the beach under the ruins, we were disappointed that the stairs were roped off, most probably due to the heavy seas thrashing the beach. The Mayan’s certainly know how to choose a spectacular location and Tulum turns out to be the only coastal city they produced. Walking around and eavesdropping on some of the tour guides, we found, as with every other Mayan site, that this one too is of astrological importance with interesting points and decorations displayed in the observatory Temple of the Frescoes.
Having missed out on a swim at the ruins, we pulled up next to Playa Parasio where parking was free and a police officer was attending the carpark. The beach was spectacular and if you’re lucky you can score a shady spot under the swaying palm trees.
As the sun heated things up we departed from the site and hit the road southbound for our final few days in Mexico before making our big entrance into Central America via Belize. We knew we weren’t far off when a toucan flew across the road, giving us a tempting glimpse of the tropical jungles to come. Stopping to spend the night in the cute little town of Bacalar, we finally found somewhere to park under the pissing rain, at Tribu Camping. For a really reasonable amount they let us park up out front and use the outdoor kitchen and bathrooms.
The owners Marco, the self confessed Rasta pirate in a previous life, and his young wife and baby, have obviously spent a lot of time on this place and it’s really aesthetically pleasing, right down to the little rope and wood shelves and padded seats in the toilets. The artistically built stone tap is something else too, and the perfection with which the palm frond roofs have been put together is amazing. A great stop on anybody’s list, and make sure to spend your sunset down on their private dock taking a deep in the gorgeous lagoon.