We spent three glorious days in the paradise that is Tulum, Mexico, and I am scheming ways to get us back there. Three days was definitely not enough, and as cheesy as it sounds, I feel like I left a little piece of myself there. It was just totally my kind of vibe and I need to go back for at least a month!
That being said, Tulum is no longer the sleepy backpackers’ secret of the Mayan Riveria. Its powder-soft sand and pristine blue waters attract everyone from Hollywood starlets and boho-chic fashionistas to corporate yoga retreat-ers and hedge-funded hipsters. Prices have appreciated accordingly.
But if you hurry, you can still do Tulum on a budget and have a great time.
There’s just some things you should know…
There are really two Tulums, three if you count the ruins. Tulum Pueblo (the town) is about 4 km from the Tulum Playa (the beach and hotel zone) and is the more budget-friendly of the two. A meal at the beach can cost double what you’d pay for similar quality back in town. Beachside hotels also come at quite a premium.
We used Spirit miles to fly from Oakland to Cancun International during the last week of January, which we found to be a lovely time to go. From Cancun we rented a car for $35 USD a day ($10 + insurance). This worked out perfectly because Mark’s parents were with us, but next time we will likely take the bus from the airport at a cost of around $5-7 USD per person and rent a bike or scooter in town.
Rent an Apartment in Tulum Pueblo
We chose to stay in an Airbnb in Tulum Pueblo. We got really lucky with a big Mayan-style house with a thatched roof and loft sleeping area for $38 USD per night. There was even a hammock and a little patio out front so we could relax with a glass of wine or early morning coffee. So lovely!
Our first night there we just wandered through the neighborhood, which we found pleasantly vibrant and alive. There were dogs running wild in the streets, some just laying in the middle of the road. Kids played soccer well into the night under whatever streetlights they found still lit. Young couples pressed up against the sides of buildings whispering together and kissing. Men rode bikes with their wives on back and their children up front on the handlebars. Little juice and smoothie windows, tortillarias, and food carts dotted every street corner. Locals, expats, and visitors enjoyed the night together.
We went to bed that night to a symphony of clucking chickens, crowing roosters, barking dogs, loud music, horns honking, people yelling, but somehow I got the best sleep ever. (A beachside hotel would be the quieter option, but you’d be trading it for local flavor.)
Camp in Playa Tulum
Next time, we’ll stay a few nights in town, but also camp a night or two at Cenote Encantado in the hotel zone near the beach for $10-15 USD per night, depending on the time of year. It’s way less expensive than one of the pricey boutique hotels or resorts, but it still puts you in the same general area so you can walk to the same bars and restaurants and enjoy the same beaches.
Wander Tulum Pueblo Until You Find a Restaurant That Speaks to You
The main drag in Tulum Pueblo is rife with food and drink options, and the side streets have even more to choose from. We picked a random restaurant on the Cancun-Chetumal highway (don’t worry, it’s not too busy a road) called Restaurant El Capitan where we ate the tastiest and most tender octopus I’ve ever had and drank the freshest mojitos.
For a drink in town, we recommend Todos Santos for its young, hip scene — the kind so many bars in L.A. aim for but fail to recreate. The music here is trendy and the vibe relaxed. Mike, the manager, espouses the healing properties of artisanal mezcal, offering personal demonstrations if you sit at the bar long enough. DJ sets start after midnight, but before that hanging at Todos Santos feels like hanging at the living-room party of the coolest kids in town.
Grab a Bite from a Food Cart or Taqueria
Three delicious al pastor tacos and a liter of Coca-Cola at a nearby taqueria set us back about $4 USD. God, I love Mexico.
Get Fruit from the Fruit Market
Let’s not forget about the fruit markets! Pineapple, bananas, mangoes, papaya, watermelon are all grown in Mexico and are tastier than most you’ll find in the States.
Eat and Drink Local Specialties
Be sure to try some of the local dishes of the Yucatan Peninsula as well as traditional Mayan cuisine. We loved the different kinds of ceviches and mezcals, as well as the Sopa de Lima, Tikin Xic grilled fish, and pibil that we ate.
Breakfast on the Beach
We loved getting to Playa Tulum around 9am to get some breakfast and claim a spot on the beach. We ate yogurt with granola, fruit, and coffee both mornings we were there. Amansala (Eco-Chic Resort + Retreat) was our favorite because the continental breakfast was only $9 USD and included yogurt, oatmeal, granola, roasted flax seeds, toasted coconut, banana pancakes, Mexican-style scrambled eggs, coffee, and tea. We pretty much ate our fill among all the yoga babes and then retreated to the beach for the rest of the morning. Heaven, I tell you.
Eat at the Hartwood – Screw the budget!
On our last night in town we were determined to eat at the Hartwood, located on the jungle side of the beach road. Not the most budget-conscious choice, but we were celebrating two years of marriage after all and needed to splurge. We heard so many good things about the food we needed to taste it for ourselves. We got there at 4:30pm to stand in line to make a reservation for a seating, as instructed by so many people on the blogosphere. They start taking reservations at 5pm, with the first seating at 5:30. We got the 6:30 seating (score!), so we wandered across the road in search of a drink to kill some time. Our bartender Fernando told us, “If you come to Tulum and don’t eat at the Hartwood…don’t come to Tulum.” So we knew we made an excellent choice. The entire menu is organic, the fish are spear-caught, and they use only a wood-burning grill and oven for cooking. As far as the food goes, I doubt there is a bad thing on the menu. Some of highlights were the Tomate Milpa Salad, the Costillas al Agave (pork ribs), and (by far the best) the Caribbean Ceviche. Order two of those, you won’t be sorry! Oh, and we saw BJ Novak from “The Office” get turned away for a table. Worth mentioning, I think.
DO / SEE:
Walk Down Tulum Beach Road
The road that runs through the center of Playa Tulum separates the beach from the jungle. It’s rocky in some spots, dirt in others, and overhead is a canopy of palm and other trees making you feel like you’re walking in some sort of enchanted tropical forest. I promise, it’s magical. Just walk along the road and scope out the restaurants and shops.
Go to the Beach
Ah, the beach. The perfect beach. The turquoise, crystal clear water, the flour-like white sand. You really can’t go wrong when it comes to beaches anywhere in Tulum, but there are a few spots that are better than others, in my opinion. I can’t say the exact locations, but if you walk far enough along the water you’re bound to find a spot you like best. What I love is that the public beach north of the hotel zone is just as beautiful (if not more in some spots) as the “private” beaches.
So, the trick we learned is this: Just walk down the beach, snag a lounge chair in front of a hotel or restaurant, and order a drink. Then you’re cool to stay there as long as you like, guilt free!
Visit the Tulum Ruins
The ruins of the Pre-Columbian Mayan walled city are about a five-minute drive north of the beach and offer the most spectacular views of the Caribbean. There’s also a nice place to swim, so make sure to bring your swimsuit. Admission is cheap —somewhere around $5 USD.
Snorkel in a Cenote
Everything I’ve heard and read about these underwater caves sounds incredible. We were planning on visiting Gran Cenote since it seemed to be the closest to our apartment, but we never made it. Too little time is my excuse. Also, tearing yourself away from the beach to do anything is always next to impossible. Do us a favor and make it your top priority.
Wear as Little as Possible
Bikini tops seemed more or less optional, bottoms tended to be minimal. I never thought I could feel overdressed in a bathing suit, but my high-waisted ASOS swimsuit was definitely one of the most conservative on the beach. My advice would be to pack light. A few sundresses, a beach cover-up, an itty bitty bathing suit, a pair of sandals, hat, sunglasses, you know the drill. Dudes, if you can rock a speedo like my guy can, you won’t be alone out there. But there were plenty of regular swim trunks too — don’t worry.
Tulum, I need to get back to you. I feel it in my soul now. The people, the town, the beaches, the air, the roosters, the food, the life! It truly is a magical place and I want you all to see it for yourselves. Now go!
We left our hearts in Mexico, you guys!
Our airline miles were burning holes in our pockets so we decided to book a quick trip to Tulum for our anniversary. We flew out on a Saturday and I was back in Berkeley Thursday night, Mark continuing on to Miami for school. His parents were meeting us Friday night so we didn’t want to stray too far from the airport and decided to spend a night in Playa del Carmen. We stayed in a studio apartment we found on Airbnb in a neighborhood close to the beach. We were looking for lodging with no door to the bathroom so we could really bring our marriage to that next level, ya know? Boy was I glad we found it! Nothing says romance like having to put on your headphones while your significant other does their bathroom business, am I right? (I’m totally kidding. The apartment was lovely and the lack of door to the bathroom didn’t bother us a bit. I just thought it was funny to point out. The headphones part is true, however.)
To be completely honest, we figured out that Playa del Carmen was not for us pretty quickly, and it wasn’t the lack of a bathroom door that did it. We wandered around the neighborhood, got some so-so lunch at a restaurant down the street from the apartment, and went to the beach, which was crowded and reeked like sulfur. For dinner we went to the super touristy area on Avenida 5 to a restaurant called Yaxhe. The food was good, but not spectacular. The area definitely caters to tourists – there’s even a giant Forever 21! We went back to the apartment kinda defeated and ridiculously tired.
The next day was our 2-year anniversary, so in keeping with tradition, we woke up with one goal in mind: massages. My very first professional massage was on the morning of our wedding in Costa Rica, my second on our one-year anniversary in Napa, so naturally it’s become a tradition. We searched high and low, passing all the spartan, very clinical-like $18 one-hour massage offerings until I saw it: Zen Spa. It looked like a tree house with white billowy curtains, mini waterfalls, and a koi pond below. For $33 each Mark and I both got the one-hour relaxation massage and it did NOT disappoint!
Breakfast was had, nothing special to report there. Unless you care that I made the total rookie move of not ordering huevos on my chilaquiles. If you’re wondering what chilaquiles are without eggs I’m here to tell you: fried tortilla, cheese, and salsa. Not inedible, but not the satisfying “I’m in Mexico and I’m eating chilaquiles and I’m loving it” experience I had imagined.
We spent the next few hours wandering around town peeking into shops and building up our appetites. These guys were hanging out on the balcony of a hostel across the street from where we were taking pictures and had to run inside to grab their soccer paraphernalia. Ha!
I did say we left our hearts in Mexico, didn’t I? This post is obviously not a love letter to our border sharing neighbor, so what the heck am I talking about?
TULUM, mis amigos!
Tulum was so wonderfully fantastic that it deserves a post all of its own. So, until next time. Adios!
We cannot say it enough, spending the month of June 2013 WWOOFing on Nalolicious Farm in Hawaii was one of the best experiences of our lives, hands down. We got to learn all about organic aquaponic farming, met a group of really amazing people, and explored the stunning island of Oahu for little more than the cost of airfare.
I feel like we came to the farm pretty well prepared considering it was our first time WWOOFing and we didn’t quite know what to expect. However, in hindsight, there are a few things we could have brought with us that would have made our experience a bit easier and perhaps more enjoyable.
We’ve been asked a number of times what gear is necessary to bring along with you. Unfortunately it’s impossible to say with 100% certainty what you’ll need since every farm provides different accommodations and the climate of the farms vary significantly. We can, however, provide a list of items we brought along with us, as well as some things we really wish we would have thought to bring. This list just might save you from spending a month sleeping on an inflatable pool raft. We’re not knocking it, since it was actually quite comfortable, but we would have definitely preferred a more durable sleeping mat.
So, without further adieu, here is our list of ten items we recommend you bring with you on your WWOOFing adventure. It is very specific to Hawaii’s climate and the farm we worked on, but you get the point.
1) Sleeping Bag:
If you are someone who tends to get hot at night, might consider the ALPS Mountaineering Summer Sleeping Bag. It’s super lightweight at only 2lbs 7oz and meant for temperatures of 55+. On Oahu the temperature usually dipped down to the low seventies at night, so it was still pretty warm in our tent. You may only want a light covering, so this is your best bet.
However, if you like a little more fluff to your sleeping bag, the Coleman Clear Lake Warm Weather Sleeping bag is a little bit heavier at 5.4 lbs, but is insulated better than the ALPS bag.
2) Sleeping Mat:
As far as sleeping mats go, a self-inflatable, lightweight mat would be the best choice. Look for a mat that is around 2 lbs or under and rolls up for easy packing. The Fox Outfitters Ultralight Self-Inflating Mattress would be an excellent choice.
3) Battery-Operated Fan:
A fan is not necessary. We got by fine without one. But there were a few hot nights spent lying on top of our sleeping bags wishing we would have thought to bring one. If you’re one of those people who needs to be cool as a cucumber while you sleep, we strongly recommend a clip-style fan like this one.
A flashlight will do in a pinch, but a headlamp will come in handy on early morning harvesting days and sunrise hikes. OR, if you’re crazy enough to climb the famous Haiku Stairs, or “Stairway to Heaven.”
5) Gardening gloves:
Organic farms obviously do not use any pesticides, so that means WEEDS! You’ll spend a lot of time weeding beds, so bring a pair of gloves that you don’t mind getting really really dirty.
6) Environmentally Friendly Bug Spray
Protecting yourself against mosquitoes, ticks, and other potentially disease-carrying insects is always a smart move. While working on an organic farm you may find that dousing yourself in DEET is quite frowned upon. It’s your own personal health and safety, so you do what you think is best, but just know that there are some environmentally friendly options out there. When we were visiting the North Shore our host made us a bug repellent of citronella and lemongrass essential oils and olive oil and it worked fantastically! Mountain Rose Herbs is a great source for essential oils, if you’re into mixing up a batch.
If you’re hesitant to go the DIY route, try a bug spray with Picaridin. According to Good Guide it is a safer alternative to DEET.
7) Organic Sunscreen
Again, it’s always a good idea to stay away from chemical-laden products, sunscreen included. This Badger SPF 30 ranks high on Good Guide (As you can probably tell, we trust them as a source for personal care products.) and is lightly scented with organic lavender oil.
8) Reusable Water Bottle
This actually should be the number one item to bring. On the farm you go nowhere without your water bottle. It follows you to breakfast, stays with you throughout your farm chores, and sits by your side at the dinner table. We’re big fans of Kleen Kanteen. This 40-ounce bottle will certainly keep you well hydrated throughout the day.
9) Quick Dry Clothing
We opted not to purchase any quick dry clothing, but you may want to if you mind the occasional soggy t-shirt. Our farm did have a washer and dryer, but hand washing and line drying was the preferred method. After a big wash day I often found myself grabbing some still damp clothing from the line. It wasn’t always the nicest feeling, so maybe a quick dry t-shirt or two would have been nice to have.
10) A few “non-farm” outfits to wear when you want a night on the town
After a week of wearing the same shorts and t-shirt every day, it felt nice to dress up a bit and hit the town. The majority of your time on the farm will be spent shoveling manure and digging in the dirt, so we’d suggest bringing only one or two nicer outfits.
Other items to note are a hat, beach towel (one that can double as bath towel) a day pack, flip flops (or slippers, as they’re called in Hawaii), and hiking shoes.
If you’d like to learn more about WWOOFing, there are some great books available out there. We recommend:
The Practical Guide to WWOOFing: Volunteering with W.W.O.O.F by A. Greenman
Growing with the Organic Movement: Perspectives from WWOOF Farms in the USA by Camille B. Glenn
WWOOFing Adventures Down Under: Living and Working on 36 Organic Farms in Australia and New Zealand by Steffen Mirsky
Farming Around the Country: An Organic Odyssey by Brian J. Bender
I hope this helps answer some of your questions about what to pack for your first WWOOFing adventure. If you’ve WWOOFed before, please weigh in below and help fill in anything we may have left out.
Last weekend our friend Greta kidnapped us for a few hours and dragged us to Port Costa. Totally against our will! (Juuuust kidding!) We had no idea where it was, what it was, or why we were going, but boy were we surprised when it turned out to be the kitschiest and teeniest little town we’ve ever seen!
Our first stop was Port Costa’s only coffee shop, which is located inside the town’s only hotel, The Burlington Hotel. Greta introduced us to the owner Earl who, for all we know may be the town’s only Earl. I wouldn’t doubt it. Earl made us three glasses of his delicious pour over coffee. Caffeinated, of course, because the town refuses all decaf coffee, a ban that has my full support! What’s the point in decaf coffee? I will never understand, nor do I want to try.
The cafe serves just a few things: pour over coffee, tea, hot cocoa, pound cake and cornbread drizzled with honey made by Earl and his partner, and (OMG) bacon. What more could you really need, right?
Earl was nice enough to open the hotel for us so we could poke around.
The 130 year old hotel was rumored to have once been a brothel, hence the ladies’ names on the door. And double hence my inviting stance in the photo above. If I were an old-timey lady of the night I’d totally be raking in the dough with that ankle cross.
Next door to the hotel is the Bull Valley Roadhouse, also owned by Earl and his partner. I really wish we could have eaten here, but Mark had a shoot to get to later in the day so we weren’t able to stick around for dinner. We’ll be back for brunch though because, well, I’ll just copy and paste some of the menu items here for you: fried chicken tenders and cheddar waffle, honey butter, maple / cornmeal and rye waffle, fuji apple, toasted almond, sea salt caramel, whipped cream / slow roasted llano seco pork stew, bloody butcher corn polenta, tomatillo, guajillo chile, sour cream, fried egg. Need I say more?
The Port Costa Village Hat Shoppe. I don’t wear hats, so this place did little for me. You might wear hats, so it may be worth your time. Also, secret bottles of liquor seem to be placed around the shop. You might be into secretly drinking liquor AND wearing hats. If that’s the case this is the shop for you, my friend!
Walking into the Theatre of Dreams really was like walking into a dream world. The best way I can describe it is part Nightmare Before Christmas, part Mary Poppins, part Big Fish, part Wizard of Oz. Does that make sense? Probably not, but just trust me on this one. I wish Mark would have taken more pictures but he was sort of scolded by the lady running the shop for attempting to do so. Apparently the artist is afraid of people not giving her proper credit and ripping off her designs. So let me just say, Wendy Addison of Theatre of Dreams in Port Costa, California: your shop is fantastical.
Next we headed over to the Warehouse Cafe. This biker bar/restaurant/tiki shop/arcade/vintage store is pretty….well, over-stimulating is one way to put it, I guess. There’s a 16 foot stuffed polar bear on display in a giant glass case and they have over 300 different kinds of beers. So bears, beers, bikers. This place has it all.
Port Costa, you totally weird town, you. I can’t wait to kidnap a group of unsuspecting visitors and drag them back here!
It sure has been a while since I posted. It has also been a while since we went on the trip to Big Sur I’m about to share with you, but oh well. Things have been busy with Mark’s school things and my work things, plus freelance things we’ve both been picking up on the side. The dream of living a simple life far away from this rat race is definitely calling our names louder now than ever before. Get. Us. Out. Of. Here.
Soon, guys. Soon. Seven months left in his program and then we can plan our next big adventure. Who knows where we’ll go, but you can bet we’ll go! Can’t stop, won’t stop, and all that crap.
Anyway, a long weekend escape to Big Sur was just what we needed. A chance for some peace and quiet away from the traffic, the buses, the people, the dull roar of everyday life here in Berkeley. There are times when I think this is such a quiet town, but other times when I can’t seem to drown out the noise. (Like, do people ALWAYS have to rustle through our recycling bins EVERY Sunday night?? Arrgggh!) I know at times like these I really need to get away. The thought of going high up in the mountains always appeals to me when I start to feel like this. Being surrounded by redwoods, where the air just feels so clean, is exactly where I long to be.
And so, we went! We found a last-minute campsite in Big Basin and camped our little hearts out. We cooked over the fire, hiked to a waterfall, slept under the stars. All that good stuff that makes a person feel alive. We breathed in deep because that air just feels like it must be curing you of something.
Poor Penelope wasn’t allowed on any of the trails, so we improvised with this way-too-small pet carrier. Technically she was hovering over the trails, not actually on the trails. Muah-ha-ha. We’re so rebellious and badass. Can’t tell us what to do with our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
The next morning we drove through Big Sur, stopping whenever the hell we felt the urge to take in the incredible views. It bums me out a bit because these photos just don’t do it justice! Unfortunately, it was overcast while we were there, but still! Still it was breathtaking! There’s something so wild and untamed about this landscape. The jagged rocks, the looming cliffs, the violent ocean, it just makes you feel alive and free!
We saw four California Condors perched in a tree on the side of the road! These became extinct in 1987, but a few were reintroduced to the wild in 1991. They are one of the world’s rarest birds, which we learned after some furious Googling what the heck they were.
Now this was probably my most favorite view of the whole trip: McWay Falls. I’m a sucker for turquoise water and anywhere it looks like mermaids might live, really.
A friend recommended we check out Limekiln State Park as a potential campsite. Unfortunately for us it was completely booked, but we took a look anyway. The site is directly beneath a bridge, which you’d think would make it horribly noisy, but it wasn’t at all. Honest. The sound of the waves crashing against the rocks is so loud it drowns out everything else.
After everyone but Mark and I got stung by Portuguese man o’wars in Hawaii I have had serious anxiety about unidentified sea creatures. This dude made up for it by being so pretty, but still, we’re not friends.
On our way home we stopped at Rocky Point Restaurant in Carmel. We were hungry, there was a sign, we turned. We honestly weren’t expecting much. We asked if they had a patio that allowed dogs, they said yes, we walked around to the back of the restaurant and BAM! The most amazing view of the ocean EVER. And it was all ours. We had just spent the past two days eating nothing but hot dogs and s’mores so oysters and champagne seemed like the perfect way to end our trip.
There you have it. Our escape into the alternate reality that is Redwood Forestland was just what the doctor ordered. The healing powers of roasted marshmallows and beer in cans have been proven effective by me.