Tulum and Playa del Carmen 2014

November 4th to 12th 2014

 

It was time again for my annual November dive trip. I’ve been taking this trip since 2006.

In November my wife invites friends and family (all women) to our house. She says it’s to go Christmas shopping. I say it’s to get together and drink wine. Last year she had twenty-eight women in our house. We have a big house, but with that many women, it looks like a slumber party with air mattresses everywhere. I go to Mexico diving to avoid the potentially embarrassing situation that can happen if I am the only man in a house full of women.

I love Playa del Carmen but I had been there three times in the last four years so I wanted to try some place new. I considered Curacao but flights were a problem, there is no easy way to get there from Minneapolis. Also, tickets are about three times the cost of going to Mexico. I finally decided that I would try Tulum. Tulum was never on our vacation wish list because it is roughly a two hour drive from Cancun and the city doesn’t have the charm of Playa or Isla.

I was willing to take a chance on staying and diving in Tulum but I didn’t want to spend the entire week there in case I didn’t like it. It made the most sense for me to spend the first three days in Tulum and the rest of my vacation in Playa. Playa was a guaranteed good time

There are two areas in Tulum. The downtown area, or pueblo as the locals call it, borders both sides of highway 307 and runs for about ten blocks. The beach section is about one mile south of the downtown area and it runs along the ocean for several kilometers.

It seemed that staying downtown would be more convenient and there would be more bars and restaurants than the beach area. Also hotels were a little nicer and a little cheaper downtown.

It turned out I was partially right, there are a lot of restaurants in the pueblo area and my hotel was cheaper downtown but I didn’t factor in the ambiance.

There is nothing wrong with the pueblo area of Tulum but for me it doesn’t compare to the beach area.

My first day in Tulum I left my hotel in downtown Tulum (called pueblo) and drove down the beach road looking for a place to have an early dinner. I immediately knew I had stayed in the wrong area.

The beach road, hwy 109, is a narrow two lane road. Calling the road a highway is a misnomer, you’re probably not going to get much over 25 mph.

The road has topes (think speed bumps on steroids).It is shared by automobiles, walkers, mopeds, large delivery trucks and bikes. People are walking across the road and on the edge of the road. The delivery trucks patiently wait for everyone to get out of their way.

The best way to describe driving on hwy 109 is that it is a pleasant chaos. You have to drive slow and watch for walkers and bikes but the surroundings are beautiful.

As I traveled south on the road I had glimpses of the ocean and the beautiful Tulum beach. Most of the shops, bars and hotels are surrounded by jungle with quaint hand painted signs announcing the business names.

 

Getting to Tulum

I had a 5:30 am flight out of Minneapolis, a 50 minute layover in Atlanta and I got into Cancun about 11:30 am.

Because of my Italy trip I reached Gold Medallion status and I was upgraded to first class on the flight into Cancun. Nice!

I had previously rented with Easy Way car rental and had good luck with them so I booked with them again.When I left the airport the representative from Easy Way was standing there holding a sign with my name on it. He brought me to the office which is located just outside the airport and a short time later I was driving south on highway 307 towards Tulum.

I made my way past Puerto Morelos, Playa, Puerto Aventuras and Akumal. After getting a speeding ticket several years ago when we stayed in Cancun, reading all of the horror stories about Mexican speeding tickets on the Trip Advisor forums and listening to our Mexican dive masters complain about getting tickets, I swore that I would never rent a car in Mexico again. Unfortunately this was the best option to get around this trip. Taking shuttles and taxis would have been too expensive.

The car I rented did not have a radio to distract me so I paid close attention to the speed limit signs and they changed often. They went from 100 kpm to 45 kpm in school zones and up to 65 kpm, then 70 kpm and back up and down again.

 

The Hotel

 

Suites Nadet
Suites Nadet

I had to drive around the block a couple of times to find  Suites Nadet because, as you know, the hotel never looks as good in real life as it does on the website.

No one was in the office so I had to wait. It gave me a chance to walk to the nearest store and get a coke. The maid finally showed up and attempted to check me in. She did not speak English and my Spanish is limited to ordering beer and food.

She eventually checked me in and charged me a discounted rate from what I was quoted on the website. I paid it and went upstairs to unpack. While I was unpacking the owner knocked at my door. She spoke very good English and told me I had been charged the incorrect price and quoted the price that I had been quoted on the website. I had given the copy of my website receipt to the maid who checked me in but she must have missed the price. I was a little irritated because there was clearly a tourist tax.

 

Restaurants

 

Dusk at Ziggy Beach
Dusk at Ziggy Beach

 

It was dusk by the time I had unpacked and headed for the beach my first day. Ziggy Beach was one of the top restaurants according to Trip Advisor so I drove south on hwy 109 until I found it. I sat at a table near the ocean, ordered dinner and a beer. The service was excellent. I enjoyed the warm breeze as darkness settled around me.

 

Playa Kin Ha
Playa Kin Ha

 

I also had lunch at Playa Kin Ha.

 

Zamas
Zamas

 

I stopped at Zamas for drinks one day. It is another excellent beach bar. I sat next to a table of people that were there for a yoga retreat. They were older, a few of them approaching my age, and they seemed to be enjoying the retreat and Zamas. I understand why there are so many yoga retreats in Tulum, the beach is so beautiful that I think there must be some Mayan karmic vibe enveloping the area. Okay, I think karma and vibe are two of the most overused words and I hate to use them in one sentence but that is the best way to describe the Tulum beach.

 

Diving

I dove with Scuba Tulum. The shop is owned by a married couple, Marina and Paolo. Paolo took a student out so it was just Marina and I.

It was windy so we had to go through ten foot waves to get outside the reef.  The visibility was really bad. During the second dive Marina drifted about fifteen feet away from me and I almost lost sight of her.

Both dives were good even if visibility was bad. I hadn’t been underwater since June so even though I didn’t have perfect conditions I had fun.

 

It was windy the following day also so they went Angelita cenote. This was the third time that I dived Angelita. It is an amazing dive. Anjelita is a sink hole that is two hundred feet deep. The halocline is at 100 feet. The gas from the rotting fruit and leaves is trapped at the halocline and it creates a green mist. There are also rock debris and tree limbs at 100 feet. The effect is much like Dagobah, the planet where Luke met Yoda. I’m not a total geek, I had to google the name.

On the dive with me was a Brit. He worked for Google in London. We met a Scuba Tulum, piled our equipment and ourselves in a beat up Ford Explorer and drove a short distance down hwy 307 to the cenote entrance.

We quickly put on our wetsuits and setup our equipment. Since I was here last they had built a platform extending over the water so we could giant stride into the cenote. Before they built the platform we would take a ten foot leap in full gear into the cenote.

It was about 9:30 am so the sun was still low in the sky which meant that half of the cenote was lit and the other half was dark.  That is why some parts of my video look like I am on a night dive.

When I was descending I notice that I had a water spot on the inside of my GoPro case. It’s a little hard to wipe it off when I’m already submerged. You’ll notice the water spot in the video.

For some reason the dive master never took us below the halocline. That makes me zero for three when it comes to descending below the halocline. My first two dives my flashlight had weak batteries so I submerged below the halocline but I could not see anything.

Every time I’ve dive Angelita I feel like I am flying rather than scuba diving. The water is so clear it’s hard to tell that you are underwater. The green mist at the halocline resembles a swamp at dusk and the rubble and branches poking through the mist reinforces the mirage that it really is land that you are floating over.

The Brit and the dive master did the afternoon dive at Gran cenote. I am not a big fan of enclosed underwater areas so went to the beach.

My Last Night in Tulum

My last night in Tulum, after dinner, I drove to the beach. It was approaching sunset. I parked on one of the side roads.

Moon over Tulum
Moon over Tulum

A huge full moon was rising over the ocean. There was still many people walking and playing on the beach even though the sunlight was ebbing. It was a near perfect evening.

 

The Rocky Transition Day from Tulum to Playa

 

I loaded up my car and I locked all of my belongings in the trunk because I was going to stop at the beach on my way to Playa.

I walked all of the way north to the south side of the Mayan ruins. Just before the ruins there was a girl that was topless sunbathing. As I turned at the ruins and headed south again I walked at the water’s edge to give her a wider birth. We were the only two people on that part of the beach. I didn’t want to encroach in her personal space by walking too close. As I got closer she got up and ran past me and jumped into the ocean. I guess Midwestern manners don’t matter in some instances.

 

Tulum Beach
`Tulum Beach

 

My morning walk on the beach reinforced that I had made a mistake by staying downtown. The beach is incredible.                 

It was mid-morning but I had enough of Tulum and I was ready to head to Playa. It took me about an hour to drive to Playa while I carefully monitored my speed to be sure that I did not get a speeding ticket.

Coincidentally I had read a story on the NYtimes.com travel section the previous day about two people that were stopped by the Mexican police while driving down highway 307. I feel their pain since I had also gotten a speeding ticket in Cancun but their story was short on facts and high on drama so I didn’t have a whole lot of sympathy for them.

 I booked my stay in Playa at Dangelo’s Luxury Condos. It was only a few dollars more expensive than my hotel in Tulum but it is a much nicer hotel. It’s located directly on 5th Avenue. I had watched past it many times during my previous trips.

There was a small sign marking the entrance and I didn’t remember seeing any parking or a drop off zone so I called the hotel before I left Tulum. I didn’t think you could drive on 5th Avenue but I was told that I could park in front of the hotel to bring my luggage in.

 

Entrance to D'Angelos
Entrance to D'Angelos

 

I turned on 5th Avenue to get to the hotel. I was almost to the hotel when one of the street vendors stopped me and told me I was going the wrong way and if there was a cop at the end of the block I would get a ticket.

I immediately turned around, went around the block and parked on 38th just north of the hotel.

I checked in and dropped my suitcases in my room. I wanted to get rid of my car as soon as I could. I called the Playa office of Eazy Way and got their address. The woman working at the front desk of D’Angelos gave me directions to the Easy Way office.

The drive from D’angelos to drop off the rental car was incredibly stressful. There are many one way streets in Playa and they had a lot of construction. To top it off it took me several trips around the block before I finally saw Easy Way office.

The man working the office was a nice guy. He located my paperwork, checked out the rental car for damage and I was off to unpack.

 

Playa Del Carmen

D’angelos Luxury Condos

The hotel is located on a quiet part of 5th Avenue at the north end of town. The entrance might be a little hard to find. The hotel is marked by a small sign above the entrance. You have to walk a few steps from the street to a metal gate. If someone is in the office they will buzz you in otherwise you need a key to open the gate.

 

My Room at D'Angelos
My Room at D'Angelos

 

My room was large with a big (for Mexico) flat screen TV. The furniture was in good condition. The mattress was very firm, typical for Mexico. My only complaint was the sheets were scratchy. This issue usually isn’t on my radar but these sheets had a thread count of about ten.

The front office was fantastic. Elena was friendly and helpful. She told me where to find the ATM with the best exchange rate, recommended restaurants and had many other good recommendations.

I would definitely return to D’angelos but I don’t think I’d bring my wife here. It’s the nicest hotel that I have stayed at during my November trips but it’s not quite up to her standards.

 

Restaurants

I didn’t expand my restaurant horizons this trip. Every restaurant I ate at I had tried on previous trips. I’ve been to Playa enough to have favorite restaurants and I saw no reason to stray from that list.

 

Breakfast

Breakfast was not included with the hotel like the last time we were in Playa so I bought bananas and yogurt for breakfast. I am not a big breakfast person and since I was diving I didn’t wake up early enough to have breakfast at a restaurant.

 

Lunch

 

Fusion Beach Bar
Fusion Beach Bar

Zenzi and Fusion are your average Playa beach bars. The food is decent and the view is great. I also ate a Canibal Real, and Casa Adele. Casa Adele was my favorite.

 

Dinner

I ate at That’s Amore, Piola and one other restaurant. I had pasta puttanesca at That’s Amore. It was very spicy and I like it that way. I like the pizza at Piola and one of the dive masters said it was his favorite pizza restaurant.

 

Diving

 

Dive Mike
Dive Mike

 

I have been to Dive Mike enough that they know my name. When I walked into the shop everyone that worked at the shop welcomed me back and Jorges remembered my name (or he read it off the dive board). It’s amazing because they meet thousands of divers every year.

All of the dive masters are really nice people. My dive master was Hanis, he’s Finnish. Among the people I dived with was a retired navy office and his two sons and a hotel owner from Mexico City. He told me years ago he had been kidnapped and held for ransom in Mexico City. You meet interesting people when you dive.

 

 

I dived all of the usual Playa dive sites. My favorite is still the Mama Vina wreck. I dived Sabalos, Tortuga and others. The diving in Playa is fun and easy and there are good beach bars to have lunch at afterwards.

 

Return to the airport

I intentionally dropped my rental in Playa because you don’t need a car in Playa, everything is within walking distance. The better reason for dropping my rental car in Playa is so I can take a taxi on my return trip to the airport. It is much quicker and easier to take a taxi than to drop your rental car at the near the airport.

I have read several posts on Trip Advisor about people getting pulled over on the way to the airport and the cop demanding $200 for the fine. He threatens to take them to the police station and make them miss their flight if they did not pay. I prefer to relax in the back seat while the cabbie does 110 kph on the way to the airport.

 

Recap

 

Tulum

My initial impression about Tulum (the pueblo area) was correct, it lacks the charm of Playa or Isla. I don’t think Tulum Pueblo is a bad place to stay but the beach is much better.

The Tulum beach is beautiful. There are many little shops, bars and restaurants in walking distance along the beach road.

I’ve considered going back to Tulum for my November trip next year. I think I could spend the entire week at the beach. I saw several dive shops in the area and there are more than enough places to eat and have an after dive cerveza.

I am not a yoga person, I’ve done one class with my wife, but I can see where the vibe of

 

Playa

I still like Playa. The beach, the restaurants, the bars and the diving, it’s all good. However, I have been to Playa enough times in the last several years that I think I need a change. I have dived all of the dive sites at least several times.

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