Sunsets in Tulum aren’t your traditional watch-the-sun-dip-down-into-the-sea kind of sunsets.
Looking out from the beach, you can’t even see the sun setting behind you. Instead, you’re faced with an immense, angelic pink sky and a glassy, deep purple ocean, spreading out before you without a single ship light on the horizon.
I hadn’t planned to go back to Mexico. I’d spent a month there already, and I’d moved on to Belize with plans to head down deeper into Guatemala until my flight home for the holidays from Guatemala City.
But when the Brit called and told me he’d been given the week of Thanksgiving off and wanted to meet me in Tulum, I knew I’d have to throw my itinerary out the window.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you’ve probably guessed that the Brit and I are, in fact, a couple. We met in LA working in TV and have been together on and off for a few years now.
He is wonderful, and endlessly supportive of my obsession with long-term travel, despite not having it himself. We have a somewhat unconventional relationship – we’re used to spending long periods of time apart and we are both very independent.
However, when we are together, it’s a close to perfect as it gets – we laugh hysterically, we share our dreams and plans, we rarely argue, and our combined spontaneity and adventuresome spirits bring out the best in each other.
He sent me off on my travels in October with nothing but encouragement, happy to see me following my dream. We promised to meet each other when we could, where we could. While we miss each other greatly when we’re apart and it’s not always easy, but we keep in constant contact and look forward to each reunion with excitement.
So of course, I said yes to Tulum, without hesitation. I could easily lose a week in Guatemala if that meant I could spend the holiday with someone I love, in a new destination for both of us.
But having only been to nearby, uber-touristy Playa del Carmen and the nightmare-rave-you-can’t-escape known as Cancun, I wasn’t sure Tulum would be the right place to reconnect with my favorite fog-breathing redcoat after six weeks apart.
As far as Caribbean beach destinations go, Tulum is a rare gem. Unlike it’s nearby more developed neighbors, Tulum still retains much of it’s quiet beach town atmosphere.
This is partially because of the cliff-hugging Mayan ruins that are just north of the beachfront, surrounded by a small reserve that prevents most major development. Near the ruins, you can still find long stretches of soft sand with calm, turquoise water quietly lapping the shore.
Sure, there are a handful of big, obnoxious resorts in Tulum. But the waterfront road is mostly made up of eco-hotels, healthy restaurants and small beach cabañas that allow a peaceful night’s rest – the kind of rest you won’t find in Playa or Cancun, unless you sleep easily with techno music thumping loudly from the club next door.
We stayed in La Vita é Bella, a small Italian-owned hotel right on the water. Every morning, we sipped coffee and watched the sun rising slowly over the water. We slept soundly at night, tucked into our mosquito netted bed in our small cabaña, listening to the chirping of insects and lizards in the surrounding jungle.
Tulum isn’t short of things to do – we visited the ruins and went snorkeling with the sea turtles in nearby Akumal, like the rest of the people who visit the area do. We sampled some of the best street tacos in Mexico at Antojitos la Chiampaneca in Tulum Puebla and did a day trip to inland Valladolid for a more authentic Mexican experience.
But it was the unexpected discoveries that blew us away the most.
On the suggestion of a local, we drove up the coast to the near-deserted resort of Caleta Tankah and paid 100 pesos for the privilege of having a pristine beach pretty much to ourselves. Here, the fresh water from an underground river leaks into a crystal cove, offering up a chilly place to take a dip.
We popped on our snorkel masks to discover hundreds of fish huddled under the rocks, but be careful of the strong current that will pull you out to the much warmer salt water in the blink of an eye, if you aren’t careful.
Later, we sipped superbly-concocted cocktails at Mezzanine on their crowded terrace, then had one of the best meals of our lives at the intimate Kitchen Table, just across the street. With only four starters and four mains on the menu, each perfectly-crafted dish is constructed in their open air kitchen with simplicity and care, each element perfectly complementing the other.
But no matter how fantastic all of these experiences were, the best moments of the week were simply spent reclining on the sun loungers, chatting about life and drinking mojitos.
Was Tulum romantic? Absolutely. It offered the perfect place for the Brit to chill out and take his mind off of work, we had plenty of adventures to choose from, and the stunning scenery made it the perfect spot to catch up, reconnect, and enjoy each other’s company.
But ultimately, it wasn’t the location that made the week so amazing. It was having my partner in crime there to share it with.
And for that, it was the most gratitude-filled Thanksgiving I’ve ever had.