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The Hungry Nomad: Tulum, Mexico

November 4, 2010

Tulum, Mexico

When you are ready to go another gear lower than Cancun and Playa del Carmen, get closer to nature and really chill out, then take a 50 minute bus ride farther south from Playa, to Tulum. Known for its Mayan ruins overlooking the ocean, Tulum has attracted backpackers for more than 15 years. Tourism has steadily grown with all budgets now catered for, while still retaining the low-key feeling of a relaxed town by the beach.

Essentially Tulum comes in two parts, the town with restaurants, grocery stores, the bus station and several hotels and the long stretch of beach 3km away.  Lining the beach is a long, low key stretch of hotels and cabanas. North of those are the famous Tulum ruins with an incredible ocean backdrop. Working north to south the hotels go from backpacker to simple beach side cabanas, and then up to honeymoon retreats with full hotel service on offer.

Beyond that is the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve (www.cesiak.org), a Unesco World Heritage Site and home to a rich collection of mangroves, reefs and rare sea turtles who come to lay their eggs on the beach.  Both day trips and overnights are possible from Tulum, with hikes and kayaks available to observe the wildlife. But costs are higher than local prices and the official cabins are the only form of accommodation if you prefer to overnight it in the Reserve. With Tulum's beach hotels sequestered to a single country road, Tulum is much more immersed in nature. There is one main grocery store but otherwise you are in the middle of nature, with the ocean on your left and jungle and the occasional house and restaurant on your right as you travel southward.  The turquoise ocean and fine, white sand are out of the pages of a glossy brochure. In low season, from Mexican Independence Day (16 September) to early December, you could well score your very own piece of waterfront paradise. Low season also means low prices but some of the restaurants may have limited hours or be closed completely.

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