Tulum, Mexico: A dive vacation that wonâ€™t break the bank
By: Renee (scubagirlfriday), Seaduction Charter Member
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Nestled along the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula in the heart of one of the hottest diving destinations in the Western Hemisphere, Tulum, Mexico, has been named one of the top 10 vacation getaways by Forbes, but you don’t have to be on the magazine’s annual list of billionaires to enjoy a week’s diving here. In fact, you can pull off a memorable vacation here for less than US$1,000 per person.
The Riviera Maya region is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world, stretching from the Yucatan all the way to Costa Rica. It offers classic Caribbean reef diving with healthy corals and the usual collection of reef fish in addition to sea turtles, eels, tarpons, and graceful southern stingrays. Warm, clear Caribbean conditions allow year-round diving and there are plenty of good sites just a short boat ride away. Best of all: Local dive shops are kind to your wallet, offering a day of diving offshore for less than US$75.20
Tulum is also home to some of the best cenote diving in the region. These water-filled caves and caverns lead deep into the limestone bedrock of the peninsula, and were considered sacred passageways to the underworld by the ancient Mayans. Dive into one you’ll soon see why. Filled with astonishingly clear fresh water and lit by brilliant beams of sunlight shining in through cavern openings, these flooded caves will take your breath away. Unless properly trained and equipped for cavern or cave diving, you’ll need to hire a guide from one of the local dive centers in order to safely explore the cenotes, but the experience is well worth the cost. Don’t miss such popular cenotes as Temple of Doom, Gran Cenote, Carwash and Dos Ojos.
Between dives, you can hop a bus and take the short and inexpensive (US$3.50 per person) ride from Tulum to Playa Del Carmen and enjoy a rich myriad of art, culture, entertainment and shopping. For a true local experience, venture up Juarez or 10th Avenue and try any of the small eateries. If you brush up on your Spanish, you’ll find the locals are always eager to give you the ‘inside scoop’ on cultural events and festivities.
In Tulum proper, kick back, relax and refuel at any of the smattering of restaurants dotting the beaches without worrying the dent in your wallet. A romantic walk on the beach will take you to a variety of casual dining options where most meals cost less than US$5. Nicer spots, such as Diamante K won’t bust your budget, since a quiet candlelit dinner for two will only set you back US$25-$45. The local specialty is “Pollo asado al carbon”, which is quite simply, marinated grilled chicken -- but, there’s nothing simple about the flavor. The local grocery store, San Fransisco de Asis, also has a terrific hot buffet daily and it’s a major score for the cost conscious diver.
There are accommodations that cater to everyone from the scruffy backpacker to those in need of such luxuries as a hair dryer and en suite coffeemaker. My recommendation is Tribal Village a secluded collection of beachfront cabanas just beyond a short stretch of jung le, right off the coastal highway. The thatched-roof cabanas offer breathtaking views of the sea and allow gentle breezes to flow through, keeping the temperature pleasant, both day and night. Most rooms contain a queen sized bed, suspended from above and enclosed in flowing white netting. Cabanas for two are just US$25-$35. The beaches here are uncrowded and meticulously kept, and the palm trees--some which have been hand painted with murals by local artists--bearing handmade hammocks for your afternoon siesta.
For a more active afternoon, don’t miss the namesake Mayan ruins of Tulum. Built on a bluff facing the Caribbean and overlooking its own small beach, this ancient walled city (tulum means “wall”) is remarkably intact. I also recommend the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. This remote, protected park is a sanctuary for native jaguars, howler monkeys, crocodiles, turtles and manatees. The biosphere also includes 27 of its own Mayan archeological sites. Kayaking is one of the many activities the biosphere offers, and US$20 gets you a kayak and all of the necessary gear for three hours of paddle-powered exploring.
At the end of the day, stroll down the beach to Mezzanine, a beachfront hotel, restaurant, and ultra-trendy nightlife spot where you can lounge poolside on woven mats, chill to live music, and sip a cool, top shelf mojito. The lounge, located above the restaurant, is a stylish setting with a pool table and colorful rattan seating . On Friday nights you can catch performances by local artist and guests DJs from London, Ibiza and Mexico who spin the latest house beats form 9 p.m. until 2 a.m.