I had booked for us to go on a tour that included the Mayan ruins, swimming in a Cenote and turtle snorkelling! We had to be up at 6:15am for the early pick up, so I was able to watch the sun rise right out across the ocean in front of our room. It was seriously breath taking, one of those shit this is actually my life right now moments!!! After immense research I had chosen the company Absolute Adventure Mexico, I couldn’t recommend them more. Claire who owns the company was great over email, she helped work out the best itinerary for us so that we went to each destination when there were the least tourists!! Our private van picked us up with our driver and tour guide Arturo. He was in his late 20’s, had perfect english and was hilarious! The best part about this tour was that it was just us so we had complete control over our day!
The first stop was the Mayan ruins where were arrived around 8:15am to beat the crowds! Arturo organised our tickets and we were one of the first few let in! We came across a Ceiba tree which had particular significance to the Mayans being a pillar of their spiritual world, they believed it connected to the 13 layers of heaven with its 13 branches, but also connected to the 9 layers of the underworld with its 9 roots. The actual tree is hollow so the Mayans believed that this tree was a sort of vessel between the two. Arturo had such great knowledge of the site and the Mayans, explaining so many aspects that we would have other wised walked straight past! It was so impressive to learn how much they knew about astronomy and the ways in which it dictated their society. It was a fascinating experience learning about their customs and beliefs as well as how sophisticated they were as a civilisation! They even built one of the first ever hurricane proof buildings! We were there for a few hours and by the time we left it was sweltering hot with hundreds of people streaming in!
Our next stop was the cenote which was a short drive away. A cenote is a natural water pool that is exposed due to the limestone collapsing, creating these amazing underwater cave systems that can go for hundreds of kilometres underground!! This cenote was owned by a small Mayan village that still lived with such beliefs as praying for rain! Their village was very simple with timber houses and palm leave roofs, however there was a flushing toilet which was good!
Arturo gave us wetsuits and snorkelling gear so that we were buoyant and not too cold in the dark cave. The entrance to the cenote was down a steep staircase through a small opening. He showed us the old entrance which was a rope and pulley system into a tiny narrow whole in the roof (I would not have done well going in that way!). Once inside the cave it was 10 times bigger then I could have thought with the ceiling being almost 15 metres high!! Flood lights were stationed around the cave to give you visibility. There was a concrete platform created for easier access into the water. There was a small family in there with the same company as us but they left not long after we arrived.
We were given flashlights and an underwater camera and told to follow Arturo, being mindful of the stalactites above us and stalagmites below us. He also made me feel much better by letting us know that nothing lived in these caves apart from small tiny fish, this was due to the lack of light with the only source of food being from bat droppings!!! Being me I was imaging some octopus like create was going to grab my leg out of the depths! The cave was home to a few bats which scared me initially but they didn’t bother us at all. We swam around for about an hour in awe of the formations in the cave and the different holes and coves within it. The water was so clear it was incredible how far you were able to see. It was humbling to think this cave was thousands of years old and were a water source for people for hundred of years. It was the most peaceful place it felt like being in another world, we were so lucky to be able to experience this alone without anyone else! Arturo told us that the Mayan people still drank the water from this cenote but that it caused kidney stones due to the minerals! We were so lucky to have him there to take photos of us under the water and inside the cave! He pointed out one of the stalactites which he said takes 100 years per inch, this was a few meters long!!!!!
Once we were done we made our way up the steep stairs just as two small bus loads of people arrived!!! Thank god we had made it out before them, the room echoed enough with only us!! We changed out of wetsuits and headed to the traditional Mexican restaurant we were to have lunch at as part of the tour! The place was a cute little Mexican restaurant run by an old lady! Arturo said that if we wanted fish tacos he would have to check as they had to have caught them that morning for it to be available. Luckily they had and T got the fish taco’s as there was only enough for one serve, I ordered the chicken quesadillas which was sooo yummy!
After lunch we drove to Akumal bay where the Turtle sanctuary is located. The beach is open to the public however snorkelling with the turtles in strictly private. Due to many people exploiting the turtles and their nesting grounds the government was forced to shut down privately owned tour operations as it was impacting on the sustainability of the area. Luckily when I was researching the turtles I had read about the recent bands, I found that there is only a handful of companies allowed to work alongside the government to access the sanctuary. Government officials were even on the beach with binoculars to watch people. There are a few types of turtles found here with the green turtles being the ones that come close enough into the bay to feed off the sea grass.
Arturo walked us to the meeting point where we had a guide take us out into the water. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, the sun was out, the water was completely clear and there were hardly any waves! Ropes and buoys were set up to guide us around a big square u shape that lead us out into the water and back around to the beach. The guide told us that if he saw a turtle he would ‘shakka’ signal us which we thought was hilarious! He also said that we may see stingrays and fishes whilst out there! Touching of the turtles was not allowed and we had to stay horizontal as to not stir up the sediment on the sand bed, this was bad for the turtles! Our guide was good and was telling people off trying to swim in the turtle area which made me feel like at least they were trying to do the right thing by the turtles!!! We saw an enormous turtle within minutes, it swam right underneath us!!! Luckily our guide had our underwater camera and was very adamant about getting some good pictures for us, diving down to get the right angle, it was so lovely of him! We came across about 7 turtles along the way it was such a surreal experience! One turtle stopped so close to me to take a breath on the surface I almost bumped into it! We saw one turtle dive to the bottom of the sea floor and start using its front legs to pull grass towards its mouth- I had never seen anything like it! I thought the poor guy was confused and trying to dig a hole for itself. We rounded the corner to head back towards the shore and the guide started calling to me saying “lady stop!”. I looked and him and he pointed saying “barracuda, we swim around it!”. In front of me was this huge long fish, I was so close I could see its massive teeth sticking out!! We learnt that 1 in 1000 turtles reaches adulthood which is older then 15 years! Some of these turtles were 50+ years old and have seen more then I have in my short life!!! Snorkelling with turtles was one of the highlights of my trip to Mexico, it was such an amazing experience!
Salty and pretty exhausted we got dropped off at our hotel around 4pm! After a bit of relaxing we headed to Hartwood restaurant up the road from our hotel. This restaurant has been one of the most recommended since I started researching where to eat in Tulum. Due to its popularity they only accept walk ins, unless you come past that day to make a reservation! The chef Eric Werner comes from New York city where he has cooked in many renowned restaurants over the years. The idea behind Hartwood is to be totally sustainable, from the hand made wood fire oven, solar panel lighting to the 100 percent organic compost! The fresh produce is sourced from local farms and fisherman, meaning that the menu is dictated by availability and season. There is no set menu as it changes daily, so when you arrive the waiter has to translate the chalk board for you!!! The cocktails were amazingly intricate combinations unlike anything I’ve ever had before. We ordered octopus, wood fired fish and cinnamon sweet potato!! It was the most amazing dinner, with the busy atmosphere it was a great end to our insane day!