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Trip Report Tulum Trip Report - Fall of 2013

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This is a long overdue trip report from October/November 2013. We visited the Tulum ruins as a side trip when we went to Playa Del Carmen about two years ago. Tulum impressed me as a small and relatively undiscovered gem. The beaches looked nice and they had small boutique style hotels which we prefer but I was concerned about the brackish water and lack of air conditioning at the hotels. I knew Tulum would be more off the beaten track than we were used to, but I thought I was ready for an adventure.

When we landed at the Cancun airport it was raining pretty heavily. We used USA Transfers again for a private transfer. This time they seemed a little overwhelmed by the large group of people waiting and it took us longer to get a car. I enjoyed speaking Spanish to the driver during our transport. We talked about our past trips to Playa and Cancun and it gave me a chance to practice my Spanish. I don’t think he drove people to our hotel very often because he had to stop and ask directions on the way.

Our ride on the road to the hotels in Tulum reminded me of the Booking.com commercial where the husband makes the travel arrangements. A husband and his wife are driving down a road that looks like there is a jungle with trees on both sides and the wife is uneasy. On the road to our hotel which was very similar to the commercial, I worried that I may have made a big mistake and thought “What have I gotten us into?”.

The Hotel

We stayed at the Hip Hotel. We looked at other places with air conditioning but decided to book with them. Due to the name, I was initially worried that we would be surrounded by young twentysomething kids listening to techno music, but my fears were unfounded. The hotel was clean and the staff was friendly. We were given a wonderful room that was steps from the beach and had a direct view out onto the water. The hotel was doing some renovations while we were there to add a few more rooms. It was the perfect choice for us.

The Hip Hotel is a small boutique style hotel that has free standing palapas as rooms. It is even more rustic than Mahekal was in Playa. This is not a bad thing. I would rather stay in rooms like this than rooms that look like every other bland hotel out there. These rooms have character and personality.

Our room at the Hip hotel shared a wall on one side with another room and the two rooms shared a roof. We only had a few steps to walk down into the sand and then it was a straight walk out to the beach. The room didn’t have air conditioning but it did have a ceiling fan that kept a nice breeze going. The bathroom had a huge walk in rainfall shower with stone details and two shower heads. The closet was a unique open design of cubes to place clothes in and had two rods for hang ups. The shower and the closet were huge pluses for the room. We had some gecko friends that stayed on the walls in our room. Surprisingly they really didn’t bother me that much.

When you walk into the room the bed is in front of you facing the front door and there is a wall behind the bed. You walk on the right side of the bed, past the bed to get to the toilet room and turn left behind the bed where the sink and shower are. There is a wall separating the bed and the bathroom but there isn’t a door to lock or close the area off so the shower is out in the open. It didn’t bother us as a married couple but if you are traveling with someone that you may want privacy from, it could be an issue. The room has a concrete floor and we soon learned why.

At about 2 AM on our first night I woke up, heard heavy rain and saw my husband walking around the room. Before he could say anything, I started to get up out of bed and immediately felt my feet immersed in a few inches of water. I was not a happy camper. It ended up that he was moving items on the floor to high ground.

I went to the window and saw what looked like a monsoon. We used towels as a dam to try to stop the water that was coming in through the windows. That night I actually asked my husband if we could check out early and transfer to a big All Inclusive hotel. Luckily he ignored me. The next morning I wasn’t able to use my hairdryer since there was still 1-2 inches of water on the floor of our room and I didn’t want to electrocute myself, so I had to go to breakfast with wet hair.

We didn’t leave. Instead we asked the front desk to send someone in clean up the water. While we were eating breakfast we saw the maid enter our room with a mop and bucket. About five minutes later she left the room and went for reinforcements. She came back with two other workers to help. That was the only time we had a flood in our room and I’m so glad that we didn’t leave. The hotel was a bit more rustic than I’m used to but the hotel was small and had personalized friendly service. There were days when we were the only ones on the beach. I’m someone who doesn’t like crowds and tons of people around so I loved this aspect of the hotel. They have a restaurant and have bar service on the beach which is a plus. The included breakfast was more than adequate and their huevos rancheros were great. I wouldn’t have wanted to have stayed anywhere else.

I wish the hotel would have had a CD of mariachi music to play at night in the restaurant. We enjoy hanging out and having a few drinks in the hotel bar or restaurant in the evening after we get back from having dinner out. It would have been festive to have mariachi or some type of Mexican music playing in the background even if on a CD.

We took a walk up and down the beach during the day on both sides of the hotel to check out some of the hotels that we looked at but didn’t book. We both agreed that the Hip Hotel was the perfect choice for us. It was small but it had the restaurant, bar and beach service that are important to us. We were even able to get a massage at the hotel and it was only $80 each, not including a tip.

We always do a beach walk on vacations. Before we left home, I was telling my Mom about Tulum and told her that the hotel doesn’t have AC, uses brackish water and the rooms are small huts on the beach. I think she was envisioning a small palapa similar to the ones you sit under in lounge chairs. I like to play jokes on her and tease her so on our beach walk we took pictures of dilapidated shacks and when we got home I told her that it was where we stayed. We had a good laugh about it and then I showed her the real pictures of the hotel which she thought were very nice.

To be continued.

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    I don't know if anyone is reading but here is the last section of my trip report.

    Activities

    I read about the Sunday night salsa dancing at Zebra and wanted to check it out. The dancing at the Zebra salsa party is on a raised platform on the beach. They have a lot of local dancers who are very talented at salsa dancing. We felt a little too intimidated to get up there. We stayed for a while, had a drink and then started back for the hotel.

    I wanted to take a taxi home since it was pitch dark, but my husband said that it was a short walk, so off we went. We always carry a small flashlight with us and he puts new batteries in it before every trip. I was carrying the flashlight and we were about half the distance between Zebra and the Hip hotel when the flashlight suddenly went out! He told me to stop playing with the flashlight, which I wasn’t.

    I handed him the flashlight, but he couldn’t get it back on either. Luckily I always keep a tiny flat flashlight in the bottom of my purse that I use in the parking garage at work when I’m trying to find my keys. It has a Guiding Light emblem on it and I got it at one of the annual GL fan club conventions that I used to go to. It’s an old flashlight and only has small amount of light. We walked arm in arm in the darkness with the small light shining at our feet, but it was enough to get us back to our hotel. Thank you Guiding Light for saving the day (or night)! When we got back to our room he was able to fix the broken flashlight with a new LED.

    We saw several land crabs during the evening that were crossing the road in front of the hotel. I thought it was odd that they were on the road not the beach. I always kept a lookout for them so I wouldn’t step on them in the dark.

    We like to buy souvenirs on vacation to decorate our home. This time we bought a piece of art that is on a piece of tree bark. We still haven’t gotten it framed. Another fun souvenir that I bought was a Day of the Dead coffee stirrer with a skeleton head on it.

    We were in Tulum around Halloween and on the night of 10/31/13 we saw several children in costumes trick or treating at local establishments. The hotel had cute decorations of ghosts hanging in the trees for the holiday which made for cute pictures.

    Restaurants

    The restaurants in downtown Tulum had better food at a cheaper price than the ones on the hotel road. The downtown restaurants seems to have more authentic local cuisine and I enjoyed them more.

    We visited Tulum in the past on a day trip from Playa Del Carmen, our taxi driver took us to Pollo Bronco. I was initially unimpressed since it seemed like a small divey place, but the food there is very good. We were excited to return. Their chicken is moist and has a great taste to it. I especially liked the twice baked potato with manchego cheese. Pollo Broncho closes early in the evening so get there early if you want to try their food. We ate there for lunch while shopping for souvenirs.

    We like to have at least one fancy meal per vacation. This one was at Celti in downtown Tulum off the mail road. I had pollo with mole sauce and platanos and my husband had a mole chile stuffed with raisins. They had Day of the Dead skeleton decorations in the restaurant and had the cutest little skull shaped sugar cubes that they serve with their coffee. They also give out a free plate of cheese bread and sauces with their meals which was a nice touch. We spoke with the owner who was very friendly and explained the dishes. This was a very special meal.

    We kept returning to Panna e Cioccolato which had authentic Italian gelato. We’ve been on a quest for real tasting Italian gelato since being on our 1999 Italy trip. Most gelaterias that we’ve tried outside of Italy have disappointed us. This one was delicious. The chocolate picante was a mix of chocolate and spicy that was perfection. I always got a second dip of a fruit based gelato to balance out the spice. Some of the unique flavors that we tried were corn, cinnamon, pistachio, dulce e leche and coconut. We went there for dessert 4-5 times during our trip. Panna e Cioccolato is so good that they even have two of them in the small Tulum town.

    My favorite Tulum restaurant was El Capitan. I ordered an octopus dish with coconut milk and mixed seafood that was the stand out dish of the vacation. They give free chips and salsa which is always nice.

    The biggest disappointment downtown was El Camello Jr. I had their octopus, but it was slimy. Their restaurant is open air like most in Tulum but it was so humid. It was also at the southern end of town and it was a long walk to anything.
    We also ate at El Mariachi Loco and Don Cafeto. We were downtown one afternoon shopping for souvenirs when it started to rain a lot so we ducked into Trattoria Romana just for drinks.

    We had dinner at a restaurant called Simple on the hotel road. It was anything but simple. We sat down and the menu was confusing. They had us go up to a counter to see what they had available that night and we had to pick from there. I didn’t like it. Just give me a menu or even a chalkboard nightly menu to decide from. I would not return even though the red snapper dish was good.

    On our first night we ate in the hotel like we always do. We had a whole fish dish, a Mayan pork dish and shared a caramel crepe dessert. Their food was really good and they even brought in some decaf coffee especially for me in the mornings since they ran out.

    I was disappointed with my meal at Matteos which is on the hotel road. It was crowded and loud and the service left something to be desired. We tried to eat at Puro Corazon on the hotel road but they seemed to be closed for the ten days we were there from 10/25/13 to 11/3/13. I wonder if they have re-opened.

    I read about a honey and anise liquor called Xtabentum that was made in the Yucatan. It was surprisingly good. We bought a small bottle of it and had it for nightly drinks. I wish we would have brought a bottle home because we can’t buy it from our local stores or on the internet.

    Tulum was an off the beaten track vacation for us. I enjoyed the Mexican/Mayan style food and the beautiful quiet beach, but it isn’t for everyone. If you need a large fancy resort, you will be disappointed. The personalized service and uncrowded beaches and restaurants appealed to us and we would definitely return. I don’t think I would have liked it several years ago when I was impressed by large fancy resorts. I was very hesitant to write this trip report because I don’t want too many people to find this small gem. I want the masses to still go to Cancun!

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