Me at Mayan ruins of Tulum and the beach in the background
Even if the splendid cover picture doesn't really convey it: I will remember Tulum as the biggest disappointment of Mexico. Read here why!
High expectations of the paradisaic city
After a short stop in Chichén Itzá my Mexican friend and me reached Riviera Maya after a 2.5-hour bus ride in the evening. I had the highest expectations of this place, as it was praised so exuberantly on the Internet. It is described as an alternative to the tourist hot spots Cancún and Playa del Carmen as it doesn't have any clubs or hotel skyscrapers. It is even known as a "Hipser paradise". The joy rose more and more inside me. After all the sightseeing of the (ancient) cities in scorching heat I just wanted to swim in the crystal blue water of the Atlantic Ocean.
I had booked a total of four nights in an Airbnb apartment and this time even paid more than for my previous accommodations. The name of the apartment Mucho Bonito and the beautiful pictures on the website promised only the best. In addition, the owner gave me a lot of information beforehand and she seemed extremely friendly.
When we arrived in Tulum by bus, there was already some disillusionment. Not paradisiacal beach houses and posh beach promenades, rather we arrived in a very dry city, here and there a hotel. Our apartment was also a little far away and at a crossing. Accommodations directly on the beach, which is about 15 minutes from the city, cost at least three times what I had paid for.
Nothing worked in this fucking place
The owner of the apartment had already told me that she would not be there when I would arrive, because she was in another town in the afternoon, but would leave the key in a lock with a numerical code. So far, so good.
As we entered the room, we were struck by an oppressive heat that almost took our breath away. So we immediately switched on the air conditioning to cool the room down to a pleasant temperature. The air conditioner whispered softly, but what it did NOT do: cooling
Luckily, there was also a ceiling fan with 5 speed settings. The only trouble was that only the first stage worked so the fan only stirred up a little bit of dirt. I was fed up and hit the sack. With the reek of the stinking blanket, however, I only stayed on the bed for a short moment. Now I needed to cool off in the shower. The soap was also missing here. On top of all that, there were spooky noises. Where did they come from? Oh yeah, someone just flushed the toilet.
The apartment looked like it had been left completely alone for a month. Everything was missing. Not even flowers adorned the room as in the picture on the Internet. In any case, it was a completely different room than indicated. Its atmosphere reminded more of a dark cellar room. Spending four nights in this stuffy place would have been torture. So I had to act quickly. I called the owner.
She told me that she was in Playa del Carmen, a tourist mecca about 2 hours away, and she would not be coming in the next days. I expressed my dissatisfaction, for which she at least had understanding. We agreed on a total cancellation. Nevertheless I lost money because the reservation fees at Airbnb are non-refundable. It was the only time an Airbnb apartment in Mexico had left me disappointed.
Let's get outta here
The next problem was to book another accommodation for the next night. It was almost 10 pm. Tulum is an extremely touristic city, many accommodations are already booked out days in advance.
After some searches on the internet I found a reasonably affordable hotel, which also had very good ratings. I didn't want another flop. But the hostel costed more than double the price of my original accommodation. But it was worth it, it was extremely clean, very new and comfortably small. Furthermore, the hotel was not far away from our location. Curiously, it had the same name as my Mexican friend. The small boutique-Hotel Ginger can be recommended.
Driving to the beach with a cunning cabdriver
The first destination the next day was of course the beach. Many beaches in Tulum are private and can only be entered as hotel guests. You can cycle from the city to the beaches, but my Mexican friend was struggling with the heat. So we took a cab.
Also here occurred a disappointing story. The taxi driver drove us to a public beach. The trip cost about 100 Mexican pesos (about 5 €), but I only carried a 500 peso note along. The driver "by coincidence" had no change and said that he couldn't give out the remaining 400 pesos and that we should find a smaller bill somewhere or change at a shop. He drove us to an ATM where my card was unfortunately not accepted.
It was starting to become ridiculous and I let him know that it was his job to have change. Finally, he drove back half the way to a gas station to get change. But the madness did not stop: there was no change either. The next one capped it all off: the taxi driver actually drove us back to the place where we originally got into the taxi! And - what a miracle - here the Mr. found his change and then drove us back to the beach immediately. Totally cumbersome!
This is of course a trick, surprisingly often taxi drivers in Tulum are short of change. The taxi driver had hoped that we as tourists would not get involved in these games and simply give him the change (four times the value of the journey). No, not with me that way!
brown sea weed plague on the gorgeous beach
At the beach of Tulum we experienced the next disaster. While the beach was still clean and white, the sea shimmered disgustingly brown. Many people do not even dare to go into the water. Because to be able to swim, you have to get over countless brown sea plants, which have spread like a plague in the shallow sea section. They are brown algae (so-called Sargassum) that not only stink like rotten eggs, but also attract annoying beach fleas.
You just feel a bit like a cloak diver dipping into a brown broth. But hey I was in the Atlantic again! Swimming further out is also not recommended because of the strong current that drives you to the open sea.
This brown plague may be caused by warmer sea temperatures and changes in ocean currents due to climate change or the increase in nutrients and pollutants that are washed into the water - e.g. fertilizers with a high nitrogen content and sewage.
It is not only spoiled tourists who suffer from it, but also nature. Small fish populations are destroyed and even freshly hatched turtles perish at their first entrance to the sea in the thicket of the brown algae.
The Mayan ruins of Tulum
Near the beach are also the Mayan ruins of Tulum. The ruined city itself is not as impressive as Teotihuacán, Palenque or Chichén Itzá, but due to its picturesque location it can impress. Directly from the ruins you look at the sandy beaches and the white-brown water of the Atlantic - wonderful!
Here, too, an enormous number of beach vacationers arrive. There is even a small tourist train, so that the lazy tourists don't have to walk so much. But it is understandable, because the sun is burning inexorably. Often we have to go to a shady place to avoid being fried by the sun.
Afterwards we visited the beach again, the Playa Pescadores. This time in another place which we liked better. Not only because it was bigger but also because a lesser amount of brown algae had spread there.
Swimming in a freshwater cave
For the last day we visited one of the famous cenotes, these are grottos or holes, which were created by the collapse of a cave ceiling and filled with fresh water. On the Yucatán peninsula there are more than 1000 of them. The term originated from the Maya and means Holy Source. The Mayans regarded them as entrances to the underworld and often used them as religious places of sacrifice. Researchers found human remains here. These are considered signs that the Maya sacrificed humans here to make the gods merciful.
The Cenotes are connected to the probably largest contiguous underwater cave system on earth. The two longest cave systems extend over a length of over 200 kilometres.
We explored the Gran Cenote, the big cave. It is only 4 kilometres from the centre of Tulum. After all the disappointments in Tulum before, we really liked it here. The entrance fee is about 150 Mexican Pesos (about 8 €). The water is pleasantly cool, almost cold.
If you want, you can rent snorkel diving equipment on the spot to observe the fish world better in the crystal clear water. Lockers to leave your belongings are available. You can enter the natural pool from 2 different entrances. If you swim through a small, long cave you reach the entrance opposite each other.
Highest expectations become the biggest disappointment
The city of Tulum, as already said, is absolutely not worth seeing. The main street with all its restaurants and shops attracts all the tourists, the majority of them from the US. Nevertheless, it is better to take a hotel in the city, because here the restaurants and hotels are significantly cheaper than those directly on the beach. Moreover, Tulum is definitely no longer an insider tip, as some opinions on the Internet had suggested. No hipster paradise. Only well-earning tourists can have a good time here.
Of all the cities I have visited in Mexico, it is the most commercialized city. People everywhere want to take money from you. I haven't seen it like this in other Mexican cities. The other tourist strongholds of the Riviera Maya, Cancún and Playa del Carmen, bring it to the boil. Good thing I ignored them. The Riviera Maya I would not want to visit again. Also the beaches had disappointed me.
I was told good experiences from the Mexican beaches of the Pacific in Oaxaca or Mazatlán. I myself felt the beaches of Costa Rica and the coasts of Honduras as the most beautiful of my whole trip.
As if I wasn't disappointed enough, I felt miserable in Tulum the last night and had to throw up constantly. I probably ate or drank something bad. Until then I was surprised how well my European stomach had digested the Mexican cuisine anyway. I must have gotten sick here with the fruit Mezcal, of which I had drunk a little the evening before.
The next morning, me and my Mexican friend parted ways. Both we drove together to the bus terminal where she went to Mérida to fly back to Mexico City. I continued my journey south to the Mexican border town Chetumal.