We had raced the sun and lost. Now our search for our hotel was made even more challenging by the bicyclists, taxis and pedestrians that emerged from the twilight every few feet or so onto the slender strip of asphalt that runs alongside Tulum’s beach, blissfully unawares of the flow of traffic. Even at 7pm on a Tuesday in the off-season this tiny Mexican outpost was bustling. The taxis hurried us along as we hoped our headlights would next illuminate the sign to our hotel, not another sunbronzed blond. 

After a hot, stormy and restless night, I woke up expecting last night’s crowds to be redoubled. But the beach was sparsely populated. And spectacular.

Tulum’s beaches don’t require any photoshop tricks to make them picture-perfect.

 

We had been told that Tulum was a great place for kids. It is and it isn’t. Prices for lodging, meals, activities and even souvenirs are on par with what we’d pay at home in the Bay Area. And surely the lithe yogis and honeymooners who flock to Tulum to get their om on hadn’t included the yelps and yowls of young children into their vision of a boho beach getaway. 

It’s true, the beach is pretty near perfect for kids. The water is blissfully warm. The sand is so soft, so fine and brilliantly white that it feels much more precious than something you shoo off your feet when heading indoors. The shallow surf breaks close to shore so adept young swimmers can play in the water for hours while parents keep a close and watchful eye from the sand, not necessarily having to wade in.

If you can pry yourself away from the beachside palapas, there’s weeks worth of outdoor adventures in the area. We chose to spend one afternoon exploring an underground cenote. These freshwater underground caves are all part of the area’s vast underground waterways, including the world’s largest underground river. The cenotes all have their own personality. Some run deep, others wide. Some you walk right up to and dive in, others are only accessed via jungly paths or steep staircases. We chose one close by with easy access. Entering and exiting was a breeze, but the strong current made exploring it all the way to the end quite a workout. Most cenotes have equipment rental at the entrance, but the goods are often old and leaky. A smart traveler would bring their own snorkel and mask and rent the bulkier (but still necessary) fins and life vest on the spot. 

Another day we headed north a bit to the beachside town of Akumal for some saltwater snorkeling. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. Fitted out with still more sub-par snorkeling gear at the dive shop, we skirted the crowds and made a beeline for the far reef. Satisfactorily awed by the array of fish, we paddled over and headed up the center of the bay as Tom at Las Palmas Maya had instructed us to do. Skimming over the expanses of seagrass, we were within arms length of several wild turtles. Seemingly unperturbed by our presence, or any of the other tourists and locals in this heavily-snorkeled area, it was amazing to be up-close and personal with these graceful creatures.

seagrass
image credit
nmlc

After returning our gear and showering off at the dive shop (the showers were a perk that didn’t quite make up for the shoddy rentals but did soothe the pain a bit) we headed up the beach about a kilometer to La Buena Vida (another great suggestion from Tom). Sadly, the treehouses were closed so we didn’t have the chance to have our bebidas delivered via pulley and bucket system, but we did settle into some spectacular bean bags and hammocks on the sand. La Buena Vida was quite a bit more laid-back than our other favorite beachside dining experience at Las Ranitas, but equally memorable. And try as we might, even begging the owner to open, the huge storm that hit the night of our arrival had taken out all the solar power at Hartwood, closing it for the entirety of our stay. We were deeply disappointed. I had loosely considered catching a yoga class during my visit—yoga is part of Tulum’s claim to fame after all—but eating at Hartwood was a must.

“Tulum is great for kids
precisely because it’s not
overrun with with them.”

As we packed up our car and headed back to the airport in Cancun, we decided that Tulum is great for kids precisely because it’s not overrun with them. Despite all the hype Tulum still retains a bit of its insider status. Easy to get to, but off the beaten path, it’s a destination that’s as fit for families heading for fun and sun as renegades looking for a quiet spot to get lost for a while. A modern-day Ernest Hemingway wouldn’t decamp for Key West, he’d head for Tulum instead. And so, we hope, our family will again soon.

 

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