Tulum in Thirds: The Ruins, The Beach, and Cenote Diving

Tulum is a bit of a tricky one. It is essentially divided into three parts. Tulum centro is on the main road. It’s a bit dusty, a bit heavy with traffic, but it is also filled with a plethora of yummy restaurants, hippy-friendly stores, and dive shops. Tulum’s beach is about 3 kilometres from town (most of which has a nice, dedicated bike/pedestrian path) and is much quainter and more laid back. All of the smoothies, beach bars, and bike rentals a person could need can be found on the beach. Finally, we have Tulum Ruins, several kilometres out of town, and one of the main tourist draws for the region.

The first morning after we arrived, we headed out to the ruins. We caught a taxi, and negotiated the price from 80 down to 40 pesos. You can also grab one of the collectivos heading towards Playa del Carmen, but the ruins are a way down from the main road, so it adds a bit more walking to the journey. The entrance to the ruins is crowded with restaurants, shops, and performers looking to capitalize on the tourist dollar. Entrance to the ruins is 59 pesos per person, and beyond the gates the crowds of hawkers disappears entirely. Tulum ruins are set in one of the most idyllic and unique places of many Mayan ruins: directly along the coast. They are not nearly as impressive or as grandiose as many of their inland counterparts, but seeing the blue waves of the Caribbean coast of Mexico alongside the ancient stone definitely adds an intriguing element. With this in mind, bring your bikini. There’s a staircase down from the ruins directly on to the beach, and it’s a welcome reprieve from the heat of the sun to jump into the sea partway through your tour.

Photo Credit: Tim Binks

Photo Credit: Tim Binks

The taxi back to Tulum will likely run you a bit more – the “official” posted rate was 90 pesos, which had recently been changed by marker from 70 on the sign. We refused to pay that, as it was a bit outlandish, and in the end we made it home for 70.

That evening, we spent a few hours (it turned into a bit more of a process than we initially imagined) researching dives. Tulum is well known for scuba diving: the cenotes that populate the Yucatan Peninsula have a high concentration around Tulum and Playa. A cenote is basically an inland sinkhole formed from the ground or bedrock collapsing and exposing the underlying groundwater. Cenote diving is one of the most interesting and unique things you can experience as a scuba diver. The issue is that there are so many cenotes. Each has its own characteristics, features, and attributes. It is a combination of many factors that contribute to the trip you may end up taking from Tulum: the cenotes themselves, trying to combine a variety of cenotes into the same day trip, depth, dive qualifications, the locations, the distances, the price, availability, visibility … the list goes on and on.

We have a friend that has spent a lot of time diving in the cenotes of the area, and he gave us four big names as recommendations: The Pit, Angelita, Calavera, and Dos Ojos. Other cenotes that will come up during the dive shops sales pitches include Gran Cenote, Casa Cenote, and Chac Mool, among others. My initial preference was to dive Calavera, which sounded like one of the most interesting options. Also known as The Temple of Doom, Calavera begins with a small opening and then opens up into larger, expansive caverns. There is a well-formed halocline layer (a blurry layer where sale and fresh water try to mix) in the cenote as well. Though all of the descriptions of the cenotes sound outstanding, for some reason Calavera was calling my name. However, we ended up speaking to one dive shop who said that in the last few months, the visibility in Calavera had become very poor, and that it wasn’t worth the dive. Nix that option.

It wasn’t an easy decision. In the end, we booked with Scuba Tulum for two cenote dives the following day. The plan was that Anna would do The Pit and then one dive at Dos Ojos and I would do two dives at Dos Ojos. The trip worked out well to accommodate different levels of divers, as diving The Pit involved going to around 40 metres, and an Open Water dive ticket certifies you to 18. As an added – and unfortunate – twist, Tim had been feeling rather under the weather since Cozumel and wasn’t sure if he’d be up to diving the following day. We booked the trip for Anna and I, with the possibility of adding Tim in the morning if he was feeling up to it.

Morning came along, and unfortunately Tim wasn’t doing any better. He’d been having pretty severe, shooting headaches, a sore and stiff back and neck, and had also been running a bit of a fever overnight. Since the majority of his symptoms had come on after his diving in Cozumel, we thought it could somehow be correlated to diving. That or he’d pinched a nerve or something along those lines, and needed to see a physiotherapist. With neither a dive doctor nor a physio on handy offer in Tulum, Tim decided (with some encouragement) that a trip back up to Playa to get sorted would be a worthy mission. Anna and I took a rain check on diving (Hers to unfortunately be much longer than mine, as she had an early flight to catch from Cancun the following morning and would be unable to return to Tulum to dive.) and the whole team made it back up to Playa by about noon. Anna set off for some shopping and beaching, and Tim and I visited Playa’s International Clinic on 10th Ave & 28th Street (It has a hyberbaric chamber and 24 hour emergency care, if need be). The clinic had an English speaking doctor, and we were in quickly. After having a thorough discussion, she put Tim on oxygen for about an hour, to rule out decompression sickness from diving (whereby his symptoms would improve after the treatment) and made us an appointment the following morning to have blood work done. We’d arrived on a Sunday, so the physiotherapy clinics were closed anyways, and we intended to go the following day as we both had a feeling it was something mechanical.

The next morning we arrived early, and had the blood test results back within an hour. Turns out Tim had brucellosis, an infection caused from contaminated dairy products. All of his symptoms were a product of the infection. Both surprised and relieved with the diagnosis, Tim accepted his prescription for antibiotics, paid the bill, and left. With that, we were free to head back down to Tulum and to diving. Along the way we also said our goodbyes to Anna, who headed back up to Cancun to catch her flight. We had an awesome week travelling with her, and invited her to rejoin on us on any leg of the trip, if she felt the need for another vacation.

We returned to the shop where Anna and I had booked (and then subsequently cancelled) and they honoured their promise to let us use our previous deposit for diving on a different day. We booked the same package and ate our way back down the street towards home, revelling in the cheap and delicious tortas, tacos, and quesadillas that litter Tulum’s streets.

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