I spent yesterday relaxing, researching the local attractions and visiting Playacar, a gated community just outside of Playa del Carmen with its own small set of Mayan ruins. Chichen Itza dazzled me so much I’ve decided to extend my trip another day so I can do a tour of Coba, another impressive but more remote Mayan ruin city. Coba’s pyramid, Nohoch Mul, is the largest in the Yucatan and is still open for public climbing. The resort guides said it may not remain open much longer and Coba’s less restored architecture make it a stellar site to visit.
Yesterday I secured a car rental and this morning I was up bright and early to drive an hour south to Tulum, a city of Mayan ruins perched right on the cliffs of the Caribbean. After doing some research and talking to the resort staff, they encouraged me to drive on my own and get there early instead of taking a tour. They said of all the attractions in the area, it’s the best to visit when it’s quiet and without crowds.
I picked up my little rental barely the size of a shoe box and off I went. When I pulled into the parking lot at Tulum there were only a few cars. I set foot inside and could hardly believe the beauty of this place. The setting is straight off a Caribbean postcard! Tulum was one of the last Mayan inhabited cities and survived nearly 70 years after Spanish occupation. The city is protected by 40 ft ocean cliffs on one side and a 10-16 ft high wall up to 30 ft thick and 1,300 ft long on the other. That’s impressive construction!
Walking in promptly at the 8am opening has its benefits and for a solid hour I shared the entire place with at most, 10 other people. I strolled the ruins, enjoyed the fantastic vistas, and relaxed in the peaceful solitude. I was grateful to the resort staff for telling me to plan an early morning visit. Right on cue at 9:30 the site was invaded with tour bus crowds. I continued to walk around and look at the ruins but it just wasn’t the same with all of the tour crowds. I finally exited and made my way into town to have some breakfast and drinks. I marveled over having spent over an hour inside Tulum alone, being able to take photos without interference.
I spent a few hours in town shopping, practicing my tiny Spanish vocabulary, and enjoying the beautiful sand beaches. Tropical Storm Alma just formed in the area, threatening Nicaragua and making the weather even more hot and humid. The surf was starting to churn and far off in the distance, storm clouds grew impressively. I started to worry that my flight home could be entertaining. My adventurous and impulsive side kicked in and part of me considered driving my little rental car to Belize. I mean, why not? I’m so close! I think about driving to the border, leaving the car for a bit, and then crossing to Belize just to say I did it but some locals tell me the drive might not be the safest for a single white female and that Federales routinely stop and search cars on the highway. Some Canadian tourists overheard my conversation and told me they’d just driven north from Belize and had several tense encounters and wouldn’t recommend it alone.
Not that eager to push my luck on my first solo trip, I decide Belize will have to be another trip and instead return to Playa and stop at the Aviary Xaman-Ha just south of town. They have beautiful parrots, flamingos, and toucans as well as several other interesting endemic and threatened species. It doesn’t take long for me to make friends with a little Toucan who keeps trying to peck at my backpack and steal my food. He’s quite a pushy little guy and every time I stop he comes over and makes his presence known.
That evening I enjoy a nice dinner on the outdoor deck and sign up for the resort’s free salsa dancing night. Who knew salsa was so easy and so much fun? I definitely need to enroll in classes when I get home. I pass on a resort-sponsored evening at Senor Frogs, the local watering hole, and instead retire to my room with Dos Equis to listen to the nightly mariachi band that plays on the corner. Tomorrow is my last full day and I look forward to the Coba adventure tour I booked, complete with zip-lining and rappelling! Hopefully the Tropical Storm stays away just long enough for me to get home.