Tulum Travels: Part 3
On my last night in Tulum, I took the advice of someone I had met at my Tulum hostel and check out the Papaya Playa Project hotels. It was a bit more expensive ($180 with taxes) than Uno Astro Lodge but I think I had lucked out with my tent at the first resort. Papaya Playa is a grouping of cabanas with straw thatched roofs and mosquito-net-enclosed, canopy beds that go for about 3/4 of a mile along the beach. I believe it's technically in the jungle of Tulum and getting to your cabana requires walking through a windy, rocky, path through a canopy of trees. My cabana was towards the opposite end of the bar / restaurant and beach resort. The beach seemed a bit less remote than my previous resort, but with a coral reef near the shore. It seemed less free-spirited than Uno Astro with a few topless bathers despite the prominent sign reminding beach-goers to wear clothing. I was surrounded by couples and gay men - dashing any hopes of finding romance in Tulum.
The restaurant and bar had a stunning view of the ocean. It's modern, slightly rustic interior and fashionable clientele reminded me of some of the more upscale bars of Williamsburg. The food was delicious and slightly more affordable than restaurants closer to Uno Astro but the wifi was frustratingly unreliable. I suppose one shouldn't be on wifi during a Tulum sunset, but such is the downside of not having planned the next leg of my journey.
My final day, I connected with some expats - a dancer / fitness instructor / writer who previously lived in New York but now switches between L.A., Portland and Tulum. Tulum seems like the perfect place for those wanting to carve their own unique path - one that involves the serenity and beauty of the ocean with the culture and opportunities that a growing destination affords. She mentioned that her competition as an instructor has increased once word got out that you can teach yoga in Tulum. She also told me about the complete disparity between the beach area and town. I saw this contrast from my cab ride to the bus station, as the driver drove a few blocks East of Tulum's main street, through rows of small shacks, a reality that seemed the polar opposite from Tulum's securely guarded beaches.
I took the two-hour bus ride to Cancun and stayed at a lodge called El Rey del Caribe near the bus station recommended to me by someone else in my Tulum hostel. [Side note - you haven't lived until you've seen a Vin Diesel movie in another language. Once you've seen one.. you've seen them all.] The accommodations were fine but finding a suitable restaurant for my last meal in Mexico was a whole other story. The guy recommended a semi-fast food joint a few blocks from the hotel - not what I imagined my last meal to be. I recognized Americans from the hotel who sternly informed me that the food sucked and I should hightail it out of there. So at the advice of the hotel receptionist, I headed to what he said was a five minute walk (10 minutes) across multiple two-lane highways in the shady part of Cancun, at night, to the most touristy establishment ever. I bravely sprinted across the streets wondering what my mother would say and lived to tell the tale. The food was gross but at least there was a mariachi bands (Olay!).
All in all, there is no question that I will be back. It seems like a no-brainer, easy to reach, vacation destination that offers the perfect balance of escapism with a bit of culture and nightlife. It's a great spot to go alone, as a couple or even as a family. And was the right amount of Vitamin D to help me get through what seems like our never ending winter. Tulum will always hold a special place in my heart.
If I could have done things differently, I would have spent my last night in Playa Del Carmen instead of Cancun. The airport is actually about a half hour south of the main Cancun city and Playa is only 45 minutes south so you're better off getting one more day at the beach and better food in Playa.
And as adventurous as it was to not plan ahead, in the future, I'd at least book a hotel for two-three nights instead of one. Some major beach time was lost as I moved from one hotel to another. On the other hand, maybe that's why I managed to avoid getting sunburned.
It was an amazing solo vacation but, especially near the beach, very expensive - a cost that would be better split in two.