When I last posted, we were about to leave Bacalar, but I hadn’t yet described our time there. This post will cover our time in Bacalar as well as Tulum at the end of the month. In between it all we of course spent time exploring a little more of our home base city of Playa Del Carmen.
A few hour bus ride south of Playa Del Carmen is the village town of Bacalar, known for its clear, turquoise lagoons. Unfortunately, due to the tropical storms and hurricanes that disrupted the Caribbean throughout October, Bacalar’s beautiful lagoons were tinged brown.
This was to be expected, so it wasn’t as big a disappointment as it could’ve been. Despite the main lagoon not being transparent and turquoise, we still experienced the magic that makes Bacalar one of the renowned Pueblo Magicos.
Our first stop upon stepping off the Ado bus that brought us to Bacalar was to hit up a restaurant that Madison had wanted to visit called La Pina (The Pineapple). It was a small, semi-outdoor restaurant, and pretty much all dishes included a little bit of pineapple. I ended up ordering a pina colada to commemorate our arrival.
While waiting for food I learned that the restaurant didn’t accept credit cards, so I had to make a trip to one of the few ATMs in the city. During my trek to the ATM a massive rainstorm started, and the street I had been walking on turned into a literal river. So that was fun.
I made it back to the restaurant and ate a delicious meal. Since it was still torrential rainfall, our waiter offered to call us a taxi, who would end up becoming our tour guide for the rest of the weekend. Next stop was our Airbnb located a five-minute taxi right outside of town.
Our Airbnb was a jungle complex located right on the famed lagoon. Even though the lagoon wasn’t in ideal conditions, it was still incredibly picturesque. The Airbnb even had paddle boards, which we used later in the weekend.
Bacalar is a small but ever-expanding village due to increasing tourist attention over the past decade. Despite its growing popularity, tourists are still few and far between. Locals vastly outnumber anyone else, and the overall infrastructure and housing are rustic. This made for a pleasantly authentic experience.
In the center of town, close to the edge of the lagoon, is a public park where dozens of street vendors sell food and souvenirs. And right across from the park is the Fuerte de San Filipe de Bacalar which was built in the 1700s to defend against pirates.
This park, located in Centro, was where most of the best restaurants were and where we spent most of our time. Some good eateries were Mango y Chile, La Playita, and Pizzeria Bertilla y Luciano. Each of these had vegan/vegetarian options. Mango y Chile was by far my favorite, serving up “vegan comfort food” in the form of tacos, burgers, and more.
Even though the main lagoon was discolored, there were a handful of other areas further downstream that retained their pristine colors amid the hurricanes. One that we decided to visit was called Los Rapidos located about 30 minutes south of Centro. Los Rapidos was a beautiful day park with plenty of seating near the water and restaurant servers abound. Starting early in the afternoon we spent around 4 or 5 hours there. We also had the option to rent jet skis or kayaks.
Madison and I both agreed that Bacalar is a lowkey but top-notch weekend getaway. We decided that it’d definitely be somewhere we’d visit again, especially outside of hurricane season around January or February. After three nights there, it was time to head back to Playa Del Carmen.
Playa Del Carmen
Returning to PDC meant we’d be introduced to our new Airbnb. Our trip to Bacalar actually coincided with the last day at our first Airbnb, so we had to lug all of our belongings to and from there. In any case, our new Airbnb is where we’d end up staying for another month and a half.
The first thing we did at our new place was head up to the rooftop to gauge the pool area and its views. We were thoroughly impressed. It had a mesmerizing view of the ocean which was hard to capture with our phone cameras.
During our time in PDC following Bacalar, we didn’t experience any more hurricane weather. Hurricane season was effectively over! It was mostly sunny and always 80 degrees from then on out. We spent the two weeks before our upcoming Tulum trip exploring different sections of the city and revisiting old favorites like Playa 88, a less busy beach up north that mainly locals hang out at.
The U.S. presidential elections also took place around this time. We thought there’d be people here in Mexico interested in the U.S. elections, but we were somewhat surprised to see no sign of election coverage anywhere we went, and we hardly heard people talking about it in public. It was like a private event that only me and Madison knew about. Nonetheless, when Joe Biden won the election we definitely celebrated that night, finishing a bottle of tequila and eating at a touristy Thai food restaurant. Later in the night, we took our drunk selves to the beach.
For Thanksgiving, we booked a few nights in Tulum which would cap off a very pleasant second month in Mexico.
Tulum was a highly anticipated milestone during our stay in Mexico. Lots of people we’ve talked to about it have nothing but good things to say. And after spending a long weekend there, we understand the hype.
We took yet another Ado bus southbound on a quick one hour ride to Tulum. Immediately on arrival, we hailed a taxi which took us to our Airbnb, located about a 10-minute drive outside of the downtown area.
Our jaws dropped when we entered through the huge double-doors into the complex where white condos stacked two-stories high stood surrounded by greenery and walking paths. Two swimming pools on each side of the complex, a small gym with all glass-windowed walls, and a beautiful loft-style Airbnb with a modern interior. This complex was clearly pretty new, evident also by all the construction in the surrounding area.
After marveling at our Airbnb and making some Thanksgiving FaceTime calls to family, we decided to grab the two free bikes that came with our rental and explore a bit. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the bikes and later learned from the host that they’d been stolen just the night before. So he recommended we rent our own bikes and they’d compensate us. That was fine.
We walked instead of biked and scouted out some stores and bike rental shops to return to the next day. As night approached, we set out again to get some Thanksgiving dinner. There was a Thai restaurant a short distance from our Airbnb we decided to try. Although it tasted incredible, we realized it was in a resort restaurant, and the portions were small and the bill was a tad more expensive than usual. No problem though.
Further into the downtown area, we searched for some happening places to spend our Thanksgiving. Given that we were unfamiliar with the area we didn’t notice much at first on the main street, so we decided to hail a taxi and see what was going on further along the beach strip. Anyone who has been to Tulum knows that the real action happens near the beach. Downtown, closer to where we were staying, was about a 15-minute car ride northwest of the beach.
An expensive taxi dropped us off randomly on the beach strip and we got to walking a bit. Soon enough we realized it was a bit of a mistake to go down there at night without a plan. The beach strip is extremely long, and with no bike or car, it’s almost pointless to be down there unless you know exactly where you’re going. So, after failing to find anything to do in the immediate vicinity we got another expensive taxi back to downtown. Money wasted, but a lesson learned.
Upon arriving back downtown we had the taxi randomly drop us off in the center where it was busiest. We walked up and down a few streets until finally we found a really festive street lined with street vendors and restaurants. Now we were getting somewhere. Liking the vibes on this street, we popped into a semi-outdoor restauraunt/bar and grabbed some drinks. There was so much revelry going on and it was pretty entertaining. Eventually we decided to order another meal — Thanksgiving dinner, round two — and this time it consisted of tacos. While eating, a huge group of performers dressed as Mayan natives performed a crazy fire dance routine that went on for about 20-minutes. Great way to spend Thanksgiving.
On our first full day in Tulum, we decided to rent bikes for the weekend and hit up some tourist hotspots. First stop was brunch at a burrito joint called Burrito Amor. Delicious! After that, we biked 30-ish minutes to the Gran Cenote.
Cenotes are basically fresh groundwater caves that have eroded into nice swimming holes for tourists (heh). Gran Cenote’s waters were crystal clear and cold, perfect after the long bike ride in the heat. Turtles were swimming about as well, and buoys marked underwater tunnels that we could swim through. Altogether we spent about two hours here before heading out.
Next stop was the beach strip where we had prematurely gone the night before. This time we were prepared with our bikes and some daylight. It took about 30-minutes to get from the Gran Cenote to Tulum Beach. Once we got there we pretty much just biked for another 30-minutes down the beach strip, taking in the chaos and jungle vibes. Dozens of restauraunts, shops, and resorts were built into rainforest. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park. It’s hard to describe the insane variety that the Tulum beach strip has to offer.
Finally we popped into a random beach club so that we could walk the beach and grab some food. When entering the beach we learned that the beach clubs are really just small gateways into the hidden city on the beach. Once on the beach, you can walk to any number of other beach clubs up and down the stretch. We walked a few minutes from the beach club we had entered and found another with a live DJ playing some Indian-tinged trance music.
As we people-watched from the outdoor restaurant we were eating at along the beach, we realized that the best way to describe Tulum’s style was “boho-chic,” a term Madison was familiar with. She described Tulum by saying that it’s as if the Coachella music festival was located in a tropical rainforest on the beach.
By the evening we decided to head back to our Airbnb.
The next day we would hit up the Tulum Ruins. These are massive temple ruins built on a beach-side cliff overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Despite being skeptical of such a massive tourist destination, the Tulum Ruins were actually an incredible sight, more than worth the small fee to get in.
Between the 11th and 16th centuries, what is now the Tulum Ruins was actually a well-fortified city of temples that acted as a hub for trade. Tulum, we learned, is a city dedicated to the goddess of the planet Venus.
If it weren’t for the heat (and the fact that I really needed to use the bathroom) we probably could’ve hung out at the Tulum Ruins for a little longer than the couple of hours we were there. There’s tons of history to be learned, and it was fun imagining what this city looked like at its height in power. Early explorers viewing it from the sea must’ve been mind-blown. In fact, we were offered a package deal that would give us a chance the view the Tulum Ruins from a boat, but we declined. Maybe in the future that will be something to do.
Since the Tulum Ruins are situated at the northern-most end of the beach, it’s really easy to hop on a bike and continue down the beach road and back onto the famed beach strip. Now that we had a good idea of what the beach strip had to offer, we hit up some of the areas we had wanted to see the day before. We visited a really popular art installation and went back to the beach club we ate at the day before too.
Sunset hit around 6 pm and we took to walking the beach for the remainder of the day. Tulum’s beach really comes to life at night. Beach clubs turn on their lights and the nighttime festivities begin. I can definitely see how much of a party Tulum could be if it weren’t for the pandemic. Although there were some clubs packed full of people, Madison and I steered clear of those places out of caution. Instead, we walked along the beach taking in the colors and got to see a fire dancer do an entrancing performance under the full moon.
For dinner, we headed back downtown and ate at a really good Japanese noodle joint. While we were eating I noticed someone whom I follow on Instagram and we had some good conversation.
Back to PDC
And that concluded our first two months in Mexico. As I’m writing this, it is now month four. I’m in the final Airbnb and am making plans for just a couple more weekend trips (Isla Mujeres and maybe Mexico City).
My mom and sister visited for Christmas and it was super fun showing them around my new hometown. My dad will be coming in mid-January and I’ll be able to show him around as well.
So where am I headed after Mexico? A couple of weeks ago I bought tickets to Medellin, Colombia for the end of January. I plan to stay at least a couple of months there. Now that vaccines are on the way, I can start planning shorter trips to more places heading into the second half of the year. Stay tuned for more digital nomad adventures!