Wednesday, August 15, 2018

My Recent Trip to Tulum (With Tips and Pics, Of Course!)

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Tulum sign, Jamie Allison Sanders, The Beauty of Life
I love traveling -- but I don't get to do it nearly enough. In fact, I hadn't traveled out of the country in four years and recently had to renew my passport after it expired (oops). But renew it I did, because I had the opportunity to go to Tulum for six beautiful, fun-filled days! Tulum has recently become THE travel destination. And with the beautiful beaches, intriguing history and delicious food, it's easy to see why. I'm sharing some pics, tips and highlights from my recent trip so you'll know what you need to do when you visit -- and yes, I say when, because going to Tulum is an absolute must.

I'm part of a few different blogger and influencer groups, which has been wonderful for many reasons -- mainly the opportunity to connect with other like-minded people in the industry. A few months ago, I saw a post on CABE Partners that immediately piqued my interest. It was promoting an upcoming trip to Tulum through a company called Wildflower Tours. Once I clicked on the link, I was even more interested, because it said the trip was only $475! I immediately emailed Christina Solis, who runs Wildflower Tours, to see if this was too good to be true -- and she wrote back basically just as immediately to tell me it was absolutely true! So THEN I texted my good friend Kristen with a link to the trip and asked if she'd be interested in coming along. Her response back? "UH, YEAH!"

So we were good to go. And after I basically bought every fruit and tropical printed item from both ASOS and SHEIN, my overflowing suitcase was ready to go, too -- along with four other girls we'd meet once we arrived. Here are the highlights.

Kristen and I woke up EARLY for our flight to Cancun -- our flight was at 7:45am! We flew direct to Cancun and then took a private shuttle from Travel Yucatan to the Airbnb booked for us through Wildflower Tours. The Cancun airport is very loud, chaotic and confusing -- and I definitely recommend booking a shuttle in advance so you don't have people running at you trying to get you to go with them. We loved our experience with Travel Yucatan -- the drivers are courteous and safely get you exactly where you need to go.

We entered the house to meet Christina and Kayla, who had already arrived. Christina and I hugged for about five minutes and we all became fast, immediate friends. We relaxed downstairs while we waited for the other two girls, Alice and Angie, to arrive. And then I passed out for a bit because I had been up since 4:30 and was exhausted!

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, NU Tulum
Our welcome dinner that night was at NU Tulum. NU is located on the Carretera Tulum Bocapaila Road, deep in the jungle of Tulum -- many beautiful resorts, shops and restaurants are located here. NU was the most wonderful place to have our welcome dinner -- Chef Cesar Castañeda's menu is full of unique, delectable creations that had all of us exclaiming. (I especially loved the duck mole.) The jungle-surrounded restaurant is lit by candles and features a large open-area kitchen where you can watch the cooks craft their handiwork. We loved every moment of our dinner here.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, NU Tulum
Dining in the middle of the jungle.

Our whole group on night one. I knew I loved these ladies instantly!

When you think of Tulum, chances are you think of the cenotes (pronounced seh-know-tay) -- naturally occurring sinkholes that result from the collapse of limestone bedrock, exposing the groundwater beneath them. And the groundwater is breathtakingly beautiful -- crystal clear, aquamarine, and yes, COLD. There are hundreds of cenotes scattered throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, and the Gran Cenote is one of the most popular. We woke up very early (read: left the house at 7:15am) to get to the cenote before it was too hot or crowded, and were among the first 10 people to arrive. While the Gran Cenote is definitely one of the more touristy cenotes you can come across, it's completely worth going to. There are many other cenotes I would have loved to visit, but for my first time in Tulum, I'm so glad I got to see this one.

Nothing could have prepared me for the beauty in store here. Not only did we see a turtle cove (replete with a baby turtle swimming on its mother's back!) and caves filled with flying bats (let's just say I swam like a bat out of hell away from those terrifying creatures), but we swam and snorkeled in the beautiful, deep water for hours.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Gran Cenote, cenotes
Heading down into the Gran Cenote. The water was so crystal clear even from this high up.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Gran Cenote, cenotes
Just look at that beautiful blue water!

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Gran Cenote, cenotes, Jamie Allison Sanders, Shein lemon print one-piece bathing suit
You guys, this water was COLD. I held onto the ladder for quite some time before fully immersing myself in it!

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Gran Cenote, cenotes
A baby turtle swimming with his mama!

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Gran Cenote, cenotes, Jamie Allison Sanders, Shein lemon print one-piece bathing suit
Can you tell how happy being at the Gran Cenote made me?

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Gran Cenote, cenotes, Jamie Allison Sanders, Shein lemon print one-piece bathing suit
One more pic at the Gran Cenote for good measure. See also: my obsession with this SHEIN lemon print bathing suit.

After we got our fill of the cenote (which was difficult, as we definitely could have spent the entire day frolicking there), we went back to our neighborhood to explore Tulum Avenue, one of the main streets in Tulum with shops, restaurants and hotels. I loved seeing this street because it felt very authentic and genuine -- while it was filled with shops selling dreamcatchers, Day of the Dead figurines, guacamole bowls (of which I bought one), Mexican blankets and the like, it also was so colorful and REAL.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, street art, Avenue Tulum
I kept seeing this raised street art during our drive back and forth on Avenue Tulum, so of course I had to snap a picture with it.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Mexican Coke
Let's just say I had a few Mexican Cokes. Okay, let's actually say I had about 20 of them. I LOVE MEXICAN COKE.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Casa Colonial Vintage Hotel
Christina had been corresponding with Ali Caine Hung, the owner of three connected businesses on Tulum Avenue: Casa Colonial Vintage Hotel, Campanella Cremerie and El Patio. She was able to put together a meeting for us with him that afternoon. While we all relaxed in El Patio and enjoyed fresh lemonade, Ali gave us a history lesson of Tulum and recommended various spots we had to hit during our time there. We all greatly enjoyed our time with him (and it's not just because he gave us free gelato from Campanella Cremerie!) -- and he would come to be very important to us during our last day in Tulum.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Casa Colonial Vintage Hotel, El Patio Tulum
Ali Caine Hung imported the tiles from around the world to create this beautiful tiled floor at El Patio.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Casa Colonial Vintage Hotel, El Patio Tulum
We spent such a delightful afternoon at El Patio (and ended up having dinner there a couple nights later)!

We finished the evening with a stroll along the beach and a delicious dinner at Gitano, one of the best restaurants back on the Carretera Tulum Bocapaila Road.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Gitano, restaurant, best Tulum restaurants
Gitano is another restaurant cut straight out of the jungle -- and I enjoyed one of the best sweet potatoes of my entire life here!

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Tulum beach
We strolled along the Tulum Beach at sunset. The brown covering you see is sargassum (AKA seaweed), which has unfortunately been covering the beaches so much due to global warming that it can't be removed quickly enough. I didn't really find it to be overwhelming or annoying while I was there, but some people have had issues with it overtaking the beaches.

This was our earliest wakeup call of the trip! We wanted to visit two different ruins sites and get an early start, since our first stop involved a jungle walk (yes, another one!) and a pretty hefty climb. We left our house at 7:15am to head to Coba, an ancient Mayan city which was settled as early as 50 BC and built up between 100-600 AD. Although at one time Coba had around 50,000 inhabitants (and a staggering amount of structures and white roads connecting them), it was abandoned when the Spanish conquered the peninsula around 1500 AD.

There are still a lot of the structures and pathways (through the jungle of course) that are open to the public. The white roads are called sacbes, and they equal about a kilometer and a half walk until you reach the tallest structure, Ixmoja. Ixmoja is 42 meters (138 feet) tall, and was the heart of Coba. AND YOU CAN STILL CLIMB IT. Well, until the end of this year anyway, because they're closing it to the public in January 2019. Ixmoja features timeworn stone steps (some more worn away than others) and a rope down the middle that you can hang onto for dear life as you climb.

Tulum, Tulum Travel Guide, travel, Coba Ruins, Mayan Ruins, Ixmoja, The Beauty of Life
This is Ixmoja. I made it halfway up before I looked back and thought, OH NO, I AM NOT GOING UP ANY HIGHER. Those steps are NOT for the faint of heart.

Tulum, Tulum Travel Guide, travel, Coba Ruins, Mayan Ruins, Ixmoja, The Beauty of Life
My view once I started to climb down. I scooted down all the stairs on my butt and held onto that rope for dear life.

Tulum, Tulum Travel Guide, travel, Coba Ruins, Mayan Ruins, Ixmoja, The Beauty of Life
This is the La Iglesia structure, which was the lookout point of Coba. I had to be a lookout, of course! (Also, I threw away those sneakers at the end of the trip. They got REAL gross.)

Tulum, Tulum Travel Guide, travel, Coba Ruins, Mayan Ruins, Ixmoja, The Beauty of Life
The gals at the Coba Ruins!

After we hiked through Coba, we were HUNGRY. We found a delightful restaurant just outside the ruins where I ate chicken that had been wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in coals in the ground (and had another Mexican Coke). My meal was $9 and so delicious I couldn't contain myself -- the chicken was flavorful and fall-off-the-bone tender.

Then it was time for our second ruins site of the day -- the Tulum Ruins! I would classify this ruins site as much more touristy -- it was flanked by a huge market that literally featured the only Starbucks in all of Tulum (Kristen was so excited she basically ran to get coffee there). We needed help finding the entrance to the ruins and asked at the information desk, at which point we found out that for only $25 we could not only gain entrance to the ruins but would also get a boat tour around the island and have the opportunity to jump into the Caribbean Sea. Even though we hadn't brought swimsuits, four of us jumped at the opportunity (pardon the pun) and forked over our pesos.

Then it was time to enter the Tulum Ruins, which was a seaport and walled city on the Caribbean Sea that traded in turquoise and jade and was at its peak between the 13th and 15th centuries. The ruins are still in fairly good condition and are, of course, beautiful, as they overlook the stunning Caribbean Sea. But I think in comparison with the Coba Ruins, they actually fall a little short only because of the more touristy/generic feel to them.

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Some of the still standing structures of the Tulum Ruins.

Tulum, Tulum Travel Guide, travel, Tulum Ruins, Caribbean Sea, Yucatan Peninsula
The view from the Tulum Ruins was breathtaking.

Tulum, Tulum Travel Guide, travel, Tulum Ruins, Jamie Allison Sanders, The Beauty of Life
Don't mind me, just enjoying my new home!

Our boat adventure involved a 20-minute walk to the beach -- and then, paradise. After sailing around the island with the Caribbean Sea spraying in our faces, we came to a stop in the middle and were all given snorkeling gear. I just took the mask (I hate the snorkel part) -- and, one by one, we jumped directly into the warm water wearing only our underwear and a life preserver. We snorkeled and swam for about 45 minutes, in which time we saw stingrays and sea turtles!

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Tulum Ruins, snorkeling, boat tour, Caribbean Sea, Yucatan Peninsula, Jamie Allison Sanders
This was by far one of my favorite experiences of the trip because we had no idea it was going to happen. It was pure, heavenly bliss.

After we got back to our Airbnb, we changed and then had dinner at our new favorite restaurant: El Patio, of course! We finished the night at Batey, an amazing mojito bar located off of Avenida Tulum. The whole small street is filled with restaurants and bars that have music playing and people dancing late into the night -- and into the street! We had an incredible time (and even more incredible mojitos) and even watched them cranking sugarcane out of an old car right in the middle of the bar.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Batey Mojito Bar, mojito, Shein Pineapple Purse
One of many mojitos our group downed that night at Batey. I had to snap it next to my SHEIN Pineapple Purse!

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, sugarcane, Batey Mojito Bar, VW Bug
The old VW Bug that has the sugarcane contraption built into the top. You can see the handle on the left.

We had one free day built into the trip. Kristen and I decided to make SANARÁ TULUM our home base for the day, mainly centered around the fact that they offered morning yoga and an array of miraculous sounding massages. SANARÁ is located right on the beach, so everything you do involves watching and hearing the waves of the Caribbean Sea lapping on the shore. We began our day with a Vinyasa yoga class -- and while I love doing yoga, it had been awhile, plus my ankle was acting up after so much activity the previous few days. But I did my best throughout the class and just tried to stretch out my limbs as much as possible.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, SANARÁ, beachfront yoga, yoga studio
The beachfront yoga studio at SANARÁ. Is this divine or what?

After yoga, we walked to Raw Love, Tulum's #1 raw vegan cafe, to have breakfast. Okay, I say we walked there. What actually happened is that we not only got caught in a jungle downpour but we couldn't find the restaurant and ended up walking about 15 minutes out of our way! Luckily a nice cab driver took pity on us and got us to Raw Love, where we enjoyed smoothie bowls and green juices (I had a cucumber mint one that was out of this world delicious).

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Raw Love, vegan restaurant, smoothie bowl, cucumber juice
Enjoying a smoothie bowl and cucumber juice at Raw Love. Yes, it was as delicious as the picture would have you believe!

Then it was back to SANARÁ for our afternoon massages! Their treatment menu has so many fabulous options that it was hard to choose, but I finally went with the Crystal Healing & Massage. I really didn't know what to expect, since I'd never done a crystal reading before. The treatment involved a 70-minute massage (in which I fell asleep on the table), and then a 20-minute crystal reading where my masseuse put crystals on all of my chakras and talked about what each one meant. I will admit that I was still half asleep while she was telling me about my chakras and their accompanying crystals, but I did learn some interesting things about myself -- mainly that my chakras are all in the process of opening and that I have to treat myself like the queen I deserve to be. (Yes, she said that multiple times.) It was definitely a unique experience and one I would recommend trying, especially if you get massages a lot and are looking for something different!

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, SANARÁ, spa, massage, crystal healing
My massage room at SANARÁ. More ocean views, of course.

Next on our restoration tour was time on the beach. The Caribbean Sea beckoned, and we answered! We spent about two hours soaking up the sun, sand and waves, and of course taking some pictures in the surf along the way.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Jamie Allison Sanders, Warby Parker Riley sunglasses, ballerina bun, Caribbean Sea, beach
Somehow I gave myself the perfect ballerina bun. It hasn't happened before or since.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Jamie Allison Sanders, ASOS Curve bikini top, JustFab bikini bottoms, body positivity, Caribbean Sea, beach
I'm working on body positivity. I might not be fully there, but I certainly did enjoy wearing this ASOS bikini top at the Caribbean Sea.
After a quick change in the yoga studio bathroom, Kristen and I headed to an early dinner at Hartwood. OH. MY. GOD.  This was seriously one of the best meals I've ever had in my life. The menu changes daily, based on what's available from the sea and land -- it's written in chalk on a chalkboard that the waiters carry around to each table, where they explain in detail about each item you can order -- it's like a mini performance and made me want every single thing. Kristen and I split a beet appetizer, snapper and beef short ribs. Everything was absolutely delicious, but the beef short ribs were, without a doubt, the most delectable I've ever tasted. They were fall-off-the-bone and melt-in-your-mouth tender, and so smoky and flavorful that Kristen and I each took a bite and then sat back in our chairs oohing and ahhing.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Hartwood
The menu at Hartwood.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Hartwood
Is that not the biggest beet you've ever seen?

By the end of the day, we were covered in the following elements: sweat, rain, mud, massage oil, sand, seawater, sunscreen and bug spray. And you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way.

We woke up very early on our last day to head to Xel-Ha, a water exploration park in the Riviera Maya. Xel-Ha lists so many activities on their website that your head will spin -- snorkeling, inner tubing, ziplining, a waterslide, the chance to swim with dolphins, the list goes on! And everything I just said? I DID! I even conquered some fears, because I've never ziplined before and I'm kind of terrified of waterslides. But I did both and I both survived AND thrived!

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Xel-Ha, Wildflower Tours, inner tubing
Some of the ladies enjoying time in the inner tubes. This is about when I got sunburned. Oops.

But my absolute favorite experience that day was the chance to swim with dolphins. This was an added expense of $50, but one that four of us happily snapped up. Our dolphin's name was Tuul, which means "Prince" in Mayan -- and what a prince he was! We got to pet him, swim with him and kiss him, and I loved every single second of it. And Tuul seemed to love me, too, because he definitely swam near me more than anyone else in our group!

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, swimming with dolphins, Xel-Ha, Wildflower Tours
Tuul splashing all of us before we said goodbye.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Wildflower Tours, swimming with dolphins, Xel-Ha, Jamie Allison Sanders
Tuul was a very good kisser.

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Wildflower Tours, swimming with dolphins, Xel-Ha, Jamie Allison Sanders
Don't mind me, I'm just posing with my new boyfriend, Tuul!
Then it was time for us to go to our farewell dinner, which we did at a cute spot in town. (I don't remember the name of it, but I do remember that their service was REALLY bad.) The rest of the girls wanted to go out that night, but since I had to wake up at 4am to get to the airport, I decided to stay in -- especially because we spent the last night at our all-time favorite hotel, Casa Colonial Vintage Hotel!

Tulum, travel guide, what to do in Tulum, Wildflower Tours, Casa Colonial Vintage Hotel, swan towels
The divine hotel room at Casa Colonial Vintage Hotel. Look at those adorable swan towels!

If I could do this trip all over again, I absolutely would. I had the best time, met the best people and did the best things. Yes, it was the best! Tulum is a true jungle paradise and deserves to be seen and explored. I cannot be more grateful for the experiences I had during my trip or the people I got to meet. Wildflower Tours may just be beginning, but Christina has a bright future ahead of her for sure. Now we just have to plan our next trip!


  1. What an amazing trip, and the price is just incredible! Your pictures make me wish that I was on vacation right now!

    1. Thanks Helen! I seriously couldn't believe the price -- totally a steal for this incredible trip!

  2. Wait, that trip was $475??? Even with airfare and fun extras it was still a steal! What a great time you guys had!

    1. Yes it was! Can you believe it? We had an amazing time!

  3. This is a truly phenomenal trip. Beside the not to be believed price it sounds amazing to have all those trips built into the experience. I'm so glad you had such a great time!

  4. Wow. What a blast and what a deal. Memories are priceless!

  5. Soubds like your trip was awesome. I'm so glad you had an amazing time! I love Mexican Coke too so I can totally relate.

  6. I've been snorkling at the Gran Cennote and it was a wonderful experience. I didn't get to swim with the dolphins and I am sad about it! I have to back!

  7. It looks so beautiful out there! I can't believe the whole trip was under $500. Amazing deal!