Riviera Maya – Day 4: Tulum

8 Jan

On the morning of our fourth day in Playa del Carmen, we were sitting down and having sweet breads, coffee, and juice in the lush back garden of our hotel for breakfast when a couple from Vermont sat across the table from us and started munching on empanadas they had brought with them on paper plates.  Even though I was enjoying the freshly baked sweet breads, I was enviously eyeing those empanadas, especially since I just had those wonderful chicken empanadas the day before at Rancho San Felipe.  The couple kindly explained to me that they found a street vendor outside the Banorte at 10 Avenida and Calle 6 with an enormous line and decided to try out the empanadas themselves.  The Vermonters couldn’t stop praising the empanadas so I knew I’d have to visit the stand myself (I know, I couldn’t believe I was taking advice about Mexican food from northerners either).  A short two block walk later, I had found my target.

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For 50 cents I got a ground beef empanada (they were out of the potato ones).  And boy it was delicious.  It was a bit greasier than the ones from the Mayan village but they were also more flavorful (some sort of spice in the ground beef mixture?  Tasted like bay leaf but I’m not certain).  My first official encounter with street food in Mexico (Senor Tacombi doesn’t count since it has a permanent address and seating) caused some concern on the part of my companion, who offered me the pink stuff as a preemptive strike.  I was feeling brave (and satisfied from greasy, delicious, deep fried goodness) and refused. 

We headed south for Tulum.  Many travel guide books say that the Tulum ruins aren’t worth visiting because they aren’t as grand in size, large in area, or have as much historical significance as some of the other ruins.  After visiting three Mayan ruins on this trip, I would disagree.  The Tulum ruins are unique because they are built right on the coast.  The ruins offer some fantastic scenery contrasting the gorgeous colors of the ocean, sky, tropical lush, with the texture of the stone pyramids and structures.  The small size and proximity to Playa del Carmen makes it a manageable day trip without feeling overwhelmed (though we did stay in Tulum on this trip).  Besides, would you really want to miss out on seeing this in person?

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Dying of thirst on the way out of the Tulum ruins, I stopped for a coco frio (cold fresh coconut) from a man waving a sign in front of his cooler.  $2.50 bought me quite the show and refreshment.  The man pulled a fresh coconut out of his cooler, wacked away with his machete, and presented me with a heavy coconut with two straws.  I’ve never been a fan of canned coconut milk (too sweet and too rich) so I was skeptical, but fresh coconut was surprisingly refreshing.

We continued to drive into town and decided to have lunch at Don Cafetos right on the main highway through Tulum.  Don Cafetos is another Frommer’s recommendation and offers sidewalk seating (though I have to say the street scenery along the highway in Tulum is not quite as appealing as Quinta Avenida in Playa).

We started off with two licuados to cool down on a hot day.  I had a watermelon licuado (with water) and my companion a papaya licuado (with milk).  Both came in very large cups, and that was handy.  Don Cafeto’s salsa, with large chunks of habanero pepper, was some of the spiciest I’ve ever had, so I drank all of my licuado in no time to calm my burning tongue.

We were feeling lazy so we just asked what the waiter to bring one appetizer and one entree platter that he recommended.  The appetizer was queso fundido, served with flour tortillas.  The queso was really greasy.  I didn’t enjoy this appetizer much except for the few chunks of chorizo in the queso.

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The main entree was called the Mexican platter.  It was basically a combination plate of various Mexican specialties: enchiladas with ground beef in red sauce, enchiladas verdes with chicken, chicken flautas, and cheese quesadillas, with a scoop of guacamole.  In my opinion, nothing on this plate stood out, it all seemed very average.

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Perhaps our waiter just made safe recommendations because he saw that we were tourists so we were not able to enjoy the Don Cafetos the way everyone else seems to rave about, but other than the extra spicy salsa and the large refreshing licuados, I didn’t find this meal particularly memorable.  And at $22 for the entree, appetizer, two licuados, and tip, it was very average in price as well.

After lunch, we drove down Boca Paila to find our oceanfront cabana.  The beaches in this part of Tulum were my favorite on this trip (and perhaps favorite of all trips).  The beach is kept natural with the exception of small beachfront hotels.  The area provides the feel of a private beach since there are so few people.  The sand is the softest here.  It was shell-free, jellyfish-free, and even seaweed-free to an extent.  It felt like you were running your toes through 6 inches of baking flour, amazing. 

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Strolling along the breathtaking beach, we noticed a sign advertising happy hour at Posada Dos Ceibas.  We couldn’t resist.  Oh, to have an extra limey margarita on the beaches of Tulum every day, that would be the life.

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Since Boca Paila is such a narrow, dark road with so many speed bumps, we decided against venturing back into town for dinner.  The restaurant at our hotel only serves breakfast and lunch, so we drove half a mile to Zamas for some ocean front dining under a giant palapa roof.  My camera’s battery was dying at this point (and all the hotels in this area only have electricity during restricted hours since they operate on their own generators) so there were no photos from this meal.

The atmosphere at Zamas was lovely, a live reggae band jamming with the crash of the ocean waves in the background. You can run your feet through the sand while enjoying your dinner at the candle-lit table.  But Zamas is overpriced, and the food is only average.  We started out ordering a pineapple licuado and a chaya water (tasted like grass) and they were tiny, about one third the size of the ones from Don Cafetos.  As there’s no concept of refills, these tiny 8 oz cups didn’t last through the meal well.  The salsa at Zamas was bland and flavorless.  I think it was just diced tomatoes with a few chopped up onion pieces thrown in.  The entrees were better.  I had the Chaya crepes, filled with shrimp, spinach, and seaweed.  It had a buttery garlicky flavor that I enjoyed.  My companion had the grilled tequila fish, which we thought was passable but not spectacular.  I think our $45 could’ve been spent better elsewhere. 

Tulum, the most scenic part of our trip, didn’t offer us much luck in dining.  Maybe we followed bad leads, maybe there just isn’t as much good food in Tulum since it is not as developed as Playa or Cancun.  Even with the average food experience, I wouldn’t trade sitting on the porch of that ocean front cabana watching the stars in a perfectly clear sky (practically no pollution or lighting near us) and falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean on the hammock.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt more relaxed.

Oh, and I never got any digestive discomfort from those empanadas from the street vendor.  This “survival” opened new doors for dining options in the next couple of days.

Onto Day 5

Back to Day 3

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3 Responses to “Riviera Maya – Day 4: Tulum”

  1. Lyn Never 11/08/2007 at 3:52 pm #

    I know I’m commenting on an old post – got here from the Moles y Mas post, but I had to tell you: if you ever get back, two doors down from Zamas is a tiny hotel called Luna Maya. The owners are Spanish, and the paellas are fantastic, as was the fried goat cheese salad. We saw another almost tabbouleh-like salad that looked awesome, but we never got around to having. We went up and down Boca Paila for meals, and I’m kind of sorry we didn’t just have all our dinners there because everything else we had was lackluster.

  2. donnaaries 11/08/2007 at 9:22 pm #

    Lyn, that sounds excellent. I would love to go back to Tulum soon, but it looks like I will have to wait at least a couple of years. Will keep it in mind, thanks!

  3. Sebastian 03/11/2009 at 7:38 pm #

    there are lots of new restaurants in Tulum, on the beach check “El Tabano” and “Playa Azul”.

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