Bright and early Tuesday morning, Aaron and I packed our bags and checked out of Gumbo Limbo, our Airbnb in Caye Caulker. We were supposed to be at the water taxi dock at 6:30 a.m. Luckily, we scored a golf cart taxi almost immediately, so we didn’t have to lug our bulky load too far across town.
The water taxi took us to San Pedro first, where we had to clear Belizean immigration. It was pouring rain off and on, and the line moved at a snail’s pace. One man input our passport information into his computer, another woman took our $20 US exit fee per person, and another man stamped our passport to indicate we had left the country. There was a separate line for each – a study in inefficiency if you ask me.
When I purchased the tickets to Mexico, the woman working at the water taxi had told me that we had to pay the $20US Belizean exit fee and a Mexican entry fee of $25US. We learned on the way to San Pedro that she had told us the wrong amount for Mexico, so we had to quickly locate an ATM to get more money so they would let us into Mexico. Of course, in typical Belize style, the first one we found was out of order. Luckily, the second one was up and running.
Back at immigration, the line was nearing an end and almost everyone was ready to board again. We lined up, shuffled on, and off we went.
I don’t think that the water taxi ride is ever totally smooth sailing, but the water was especially rough due to the front end of Tropical Storm Franklin heading toward us. For nearly two hours, we rode what felt like a roller coaster while leaky windows dripped on passengers.
When we finally reached Chetumal, Mexico, we had another line for Mexican immigration. This one was far quicker and far more efficient than the one in Belize, and we soon paid our 500 pesos per person entry fee and were cleared. We scored a taxi for around the same price as the bus would have cost us, and settled in for a nearly 3-hour ride to Tulum.
I began to get an inkling of how much less expensive Mexico is than Belize on the ride to Tulum. We passed several vendors selling pineapples on the side of the road, and most were 5 or 6 pineapples for 50 pesos – which equates to around $3US. In Belize, we typically paid anywhere from $2-3 for a single pineapple.
Our accommodations also reflected this pricing change. The brand new, large, nicely appointed one-bedroom apartment was cheaper than nearly everywhere we stayed in Belize, and definitely the nicest place we’ve stayed on the entire trip.
Tulum pueblo (the town) dazzled us right away with its abundance of restaurants, shops, paved roads, streetlights, and artistic flair. While plenty of the type of bare-bones structures you might picture in Mexico do exist there, Tulum has equally as many new, modern, architect-inspired buildings. Murals line many of the streets, and an eye for décor and design is apparent. Tulum feels more like Europe than it seems related to any Mexican border town I’ve visited.
We rarely ate in restaurants in Belize, but the abundant establishments and the low prices of Tulum were too much to resist, so we typically ate out for a meal a day. These culinary delights included chile and egg stuffed and rajas (strips of poblano pepper) and cheese stuffed gorditas (like a stuffed thick tortilla), cream cheese stuffed and hard boiled egg stuffed tamales, loads of tacos al pastor for Aaron (like shawarma made of pork), quite a few vegetarian tacos for me, and a delicious stuffed pepper that was probably the best I’ve ever eaten. Most meals, including tip, were $5-10 for both of us together. Amazing.
I actually did do some shopping in Tulum, even though I try to keep my possessions minimal. My one pair of earrings had broken, and I just can’t stand to not wear something in my ear holes, so I picked up a nice new pair in a local shop. I also lost my sunglasses, so those were replaced as well. I am so grateful that I was in Mexico when I needed to make these purchases, as they would have been so far more expensive, or even impossible to even make, in much of Belize.
Our first outing in Tulum was to the beach, and it was breathtakingly gorgeous. Jungle-enveloped cliffs tumble down to some of the most beautiful waters I’ve ever seen, crystal clear and turquoise. The rocky shoreline reminds me a bit of California’s coast, but obviously the tropical temperature makes taking a plunge into the water a whole lot more inviting.
We couldn’t leave the area without visiting the Mayan ruins that sit atop the cliff along the sea, so one day we took a cab to this attraction. It’s immediately apparent that these ruins are the reason Tulum pueblo is here, and every person trying to sell tourists something within a 20-mile radius seemed to be on the scene to take advantage of the multitudes.
The blazing heat and big crowds at the ruins made our time there a little less enjoyable, but we made the best of it. I was excited to see a coatimundi just inside the entrance, and the views of the sea from atop the cliff were spectacular. It’s always amazing to think about what it must have been like to live in such a place, and to walk where these people walked, lived, loved, and worked.
One of the most enjoyable excursions during our time in the area, though, was a jaunt of around 3 miles west to the Grand Cenote. A cenote is basically a sinkhole cavern filled with freshwater. The Grand Cenote was home to a plethora of bats, fish, turtles, stalactites, and stalagmites. The water was jarringly cold, but we quickly became used to it. The gorgeous blue water was a great place to snorkel, and it was really intriguing to peer down into the dark and mysterious depths and see the formations.
We had planned to leave this morning, heading to Playa del Carmen, but it appears that our adventurous eating has gotten the better of Aaron. He’s on the mend, but we’ll be in Tulum one more day while he recovers. Meanwhile, I’ve had time to craft this write-up!