Winter to us means Find someplace warm! It can get very cold and uncomfortable in New York in the winter, something we’ve especially noticed as we grow older. To compensate, we, like the birds, head south for a few weeks.
Last year we went to Mexico’s Tulum-by-the-sea—which seemed like the Mexican Hamptons to us. Fabulous beaches, excellent restaurants—often with amazingly inventive and yummy dishes at VERY reasonable prices.
Located at the southern end of the Riviera Maya on the Yucatan peninsula, Tulum’s famous and impressive Mayan ruins directly overlook the Caribbean Sea. A 1984 discovery suggests that the tower of El Castillo was a lighthouse that guided ships toward this major port into the Maya kingdom.
The Mayans called their city Zama, the Place of the Dawning Sun. The present-day name of Tulum means “trench” or “wall” in Mayan, and it’s one of the Maya’s few walled cities. Exposed as it is on a cliff above the sea, the inhabitants of Zama built the walls to keep out not only seafaring invaders, but also the possibility of invasion from fellow Maya.
We also visited Coba, with two of the infamous ball courts where, perhaps, the leader of the team who lost the game was sometimes killed; yet some historians believe it was the winning team’s leader who made the “most perfect” sacrifice. The Maya believed human sacrifice was necessary for the success of their agriculture, trade, and overall health. Coba required a bit more walking than Zama, which is all on level ground and very easy to get around in.
But enough of ruins. The beach—ah, the beach! Perfect water, beautiful white sand, free parking. I’m talking about the beach called Playa Maya, with dive shops, massages, snorkeling trips, lively music, tropical cocktails, and even healthy smoothies—all in one warm and glorious place! It’s north on Route 15—which leads to the beach from the Yucatan’s major through road, Route 307, and then runs along the beach from the ruins at the northern end to the Sian Ka’an biosphere at the south.
Some of the best spots we found were on Route 15—the beach, the restaurant at Hotel El Pez (we went back a second time), the restaurant at Hotel Diamante (very appealing hotel with small cabanas) that caught our attention with a sandwich board announcing Pizza on the Beach. At Piedra Escondida, where the food was delectable, we had the added pleasure of being serenaded by Sariela Camargo, a young lady with a very distinctive, intriguing voice. She has a Facebook page and an album, Mar Adentro.
Where did we stay? In the main town of Tulum, in an adorable Airbnb; there were many first-rate restaurants right nearby. But you may prefer the beach and the pleasure of jumping out of bed, slipping on a swimsuit, and strolling out for a dip in the ocean. Especially when the temperature was 84° every day and the water was soooo inviting. And both are full of options, from rustic to mucho elegante. Town? Beach? Either way, you can’t go wrong.
Tulum town itself is in a tremendous state of building up, building out, building more. So is the beach. It is no longer the town where tales of staying in simple palapas on the beach are the norm—though some spots still offer palapas or rooms that offer the same ambiance, if that’s your preference. But no question. The beach at Tulum is a bit of Paradise. So if, like us, you find that your old bones crave warmth at this time of year, we can highly recommend Tulum!
CUTLINES — PHOTOS BY JOHN LAUDANDO:
The Grand Palace was the largest residential building in Tulum and was inhabited by the upper ranks—nobles and spiritual leaders of Maya society.
The view as we sipped margaritas and munched on exotic morsels at El Pez—food for the body and for the soul!