Mexico

Best of Tulum: Coba

Coba is an ancient Mayan city 30 minutes from Tulum. I wanted to visit Coba because the highest pyramid, the Ancient Pyramid can still be climbed unlike El Castillo in Chichen Itza. The steps are not in the best condition, they can be a little slippery so wear footwear with good grip. I climbed straight to the top refusing to stop for breaks, at 42 meters or 137 feet it is comparable to the Santa Monica Stairs (111 feet), but still far below the Culver City Stairs (342 feet).

We opted to rent bikes in Coba to cover more ground quickly. There is an option to hire bike peddlers just past the entrance or you can hire them further inside. I would recommend renting bikes as the city is quite large and I think biking through an ancient Mayan city is a unique experience.

There’s a “fish spa” in the parking lot. For $10 USD you can have little fishies nibble away at your feet. I’ve never tried it before and I decided to give it a go. At first it feels like there’s a steady stream of electricity running through your feet but you get used to it. I figured if there was any dirt and grime to be found the fish would nibble it away.

Best of Tulum: Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza was once one of the largest Mayan cities. Today it is a UNESCO world heritage site and plays host to over one million visitors a year. In a worldwide poll it was voted one of the new 7 wonders of the world.  On any given day Chichen Itza is packed with tourists. We went on a Monday and there was a constant stream of tourists. We hired a guide ahead of time, but it’s possible to book a guide at the entrance. From watching the other guides I could tell everyone was basically reading off the same script. Our guide made sure to stop us to take photos at his unofficial designated photo spots. At first we were kinda of like, uh why does he keep making us pose for pictures, but after reviewing them we realized he knows what he’s doing. You don’t really need to get a guide, but I think we got more from it then if we had just winged it on our own, and we had a personal photographer! Unlike other Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza is more commercialized than I expected. There are vendors inside Chichen Itza selling souvenirs.

El Castillo (the castle) is the photo most commonly found when searching for Chichen Itza online. The temple stands about 30 meters high, since 2006 it can no longer be climbed. Most everything is hands off at Chichen Itza, that’s not the case at all Mayan ruins. Coba is nearby and you can still walk the stairs of the highest temple.

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Best of Tulum: Swimming with Sea Turtles in Akumal Bay

Akumal Bay is just north of Tulum, half an hour by car. We opted to stop at Akumal Bay on our drive south towards Tulum. We flew a red-eye so had plenty of time before the check-in time for the hotel. If you bring your own goggles you can go without renting anything additional or going without a guide. When you drive in you will see tons of rental shops and guides will be trying to sell you tours. We didn’t go with a guide so I can’t say anything about that. We did have someone talk to us and follow us to the beach, but we decided to check things out before committing to anything. There were snorkelers in groups everywhere! I was surprised just how many people were there. We walked along the beach and sat down at the edge of the private resorts. We jumped in the water with our goggles and almost immediately ran into a sea turtle! We didn’t get to see many turtles that day. Someone we talked to said the day before the sea turtles were everywhere, so I guess it’s random. The guide who tried to sell us a tour previously found us again, but by then we were fine with just goggles so we declined again. 

Best of Tulum: El Pez Hotel

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at El Pez. Our room fit four friends comfortably with a king bed and two twin beds. The wi-fi worked well in our room and throughout the hotel property. It is a tad slow, but only if you’re trying to upload videos on social media. We had what seemed like an endless supply of hot water, it allowed the four of us to take back to back showers. We had direct access to the beach but we didn’t spend much time at the beach by the hotel because it wasn’t really easy to swim in because there was a reef all around. We drove less than 10 minutes south to Paradise beach or we could have hung out at the beaches of any of the spots we ate on the beach. We thoroughly enjoyed the included breakfast and for coffee drinkers, they deliver a kettle every morning at 7 am. Despite not being able to swim at the beach by the hotel I would stay there again. The staff was friendly and tried to accommodate our needs. 

   
    
 

Best of Tulum: Hartwood

We arrived at Hartwood about 10 minutes past 2 pm on Friday and there was already a line. If your party is less than 8 you need to make reservations in person. They start accepting reservations promptly at 3 pm. The wait wasn’t bad, if you’re lucky to be in the front you can sit on the stone wall that borders the restaurant otherwise you will be stuck standing. There are boutique shops around Hartwood. If you’re waiting with friends you can take turns checking them out. We were given the option between 5:30 pm or 8:30 pm for dinner reservations for our party of 4 and we decided to go with the earlier reservations hoping to eat while it was still light out and take photos.