2016 Cruise to Mexico - Going to Tulum

When last we left our happy cruisers in the 2016 Cruise to Mexico Trip Report, they had just finished up spending their anniversary on a day at sea. As we join them now, they are about to reach their first port…

Monday, July 18, 2016 - Tulum

My phone woke us up early, because we had a shore excursion to catch. Wouldn’t want to miss that! Besides we could always sleep at home, but we couldn’t go see ancient Mayan ruins at home, right?

We got up and got dressed, heading up to breakfast at Emile’s buffet once again, but also once again sitting out by the adult pool to enjoy the quiet and the lack of people. I was interested to see that they had the retractable roof over the pool area closed, too. I had noticed the roof the day before as we were walking around, seeing the track and the motor for it to move on, although it was open at that time. Do they always close the roof at night, I wondered? I would guess so, but I decided to watch it some more as our cruise went on. While we were eating, we had a good view out the window of the ship pulling up to the dock at Cozumel. Silly me had left my camera in the room, thinking that there wouldn’t be anything to take photos of during breakfast. So I just got to watch it without photographing it. I also saw a couple of flying fish down in the water, but I never could point them out to Laura in time for her to see them before they were gone. Hopefully, she didn’t think I was just making them up. They were really there. Really.

We then went up a deck to walk outside for a few moments and look over the rail at the docking. Yes, we are strange, but that is the kind of thing we like to see on a cruise. Not the only thing we like to see, but we do enjoy it. I’m sure it isn’t a big deal to the ship workers who dock a ship all of the time, but it is still a big deal to us. After a bit of that, we went back to our room to grab our things and head out.

Those who just wanted to exit the ship and visit Cozumel had been instructed to go down to Deck 1 to leave the ship, but we were to go to the Venetian Palace Theater to assemble. Our excursion was one of several that would be riding a ferry from the island of Cozumel to the mainland and then move on from there.

For our excursion, we had selected a visit to the ancient city of Tulum. When we started getting serious about the cruise and seeing where it was going, Laura said that she would really like to see some Mayan ruins. I had at first looked at an excursion to Chichen Itza, which is probably the most famous of the Mayan ruins on the Yucatan, but I decided against it for several reasons. However, the main reason was that it was an hour and a half by bus, which wouldn’t leave you much time at the ruins.

After looking at some more of the options, I decided that Tulum might be better for us. For one thing, it was a little closer, something like 45 minutes or so by bus. And also, Tulum had what looked in the photos to be a nice beach. Mayan ruins and a nice beach? That sounded like our kind of thing. There were a few different Tulum tours, so I booked the one that included the most free time for both seeing the ruins and going to the beach.

As is usual for us, we got to the theater about 15 minutes early, partly because that is just us, and partly because Laura was excited to go. And the more we sat there, the more excited she got. I was excited as well, but in a more cautious way, hoping that everything would be like we hoped it would be. But even though we were early, we weren’t the first ones there.

The coordinators were doing a good job of making sure everyone was where they were supposed to be. But it wasn’t that difficult, because most everyone was going to the ferry to the mainland, and they had us all in one group. They were also selling bottles of water, since many of the excursions recommended those, but we had each brought one from our stash in our stateroom refrigerator. And we had some clothes to change into after the beach if we needed them, as well as beach towels. We were prepared, I hoped.

Soon, it was time for us to go, and they called us by tours so that not everyone was leaving at once. Ours was one of the last to be called, but I wasn’t too worried. Our big group made our way down to deck one and out onto the dock in the sun. The ferry was easy to spot down the way, because it was the big yellow and blue boat that everyone ahead of us was going to. On our way there, we were both quite excited over the fact that we were actually in Mexico! Another place to add to our list of places we have been! Nothing like visiting foreign countries. Along the way to the ferry, we passed a Ron Jon Surf Shop, which is always one of my favorite places to visit in Cocoa Beach. I was hoping that we would have time to run in there when we got back. I figured we probably wouldn’t, but I was still holding out hope.

Since we were among the last, most of the seats on the ferry were already taken, so we ended up sitting on the upper level at the back, out in the sun. Fortunately, we had already put on sunscreen, because the sun was getting pretty intense even at that time. But I figured that once the boat started moving the wind would feel pretty good. We waited a few more minutes for everyone to arrive, but I could tell by watching one man that the rest of his family wasn’t there. I felt a little sorry for him when we left without whoever he was waiting for, and I wonder what ever happened with that, wondering if they found another way over there. So just remember, be on time to your excursion, because you don’t want to be left behind!

From one boat to another boat. Not that we were complaining at all.

From one boat to another boat. Not that we were complaining at all.

I had read about the ferry boat ride being rather rough and making people seasick. Once the boat was underway, I guess I could see how it might bother some people, because it wasn’t smooth like a car ride. But we enjoyed it, with all the rocking from side to side and up and down. Lots of fun! Of course, seasickness doesn’t bother us much, so I don’t know how it might affect someone who is more sensitive to that. Also, they were selling snacks and drinks on the boat, believe it or not. It didn’t appear that very many people were buying anything, but it was still interesting to watch the sellers try to walk without falling over as the boat lurched and rocked.

The Mexican flag at the back of the ferry boat was a nice reminder of where we were.

The Mexican flag at the back of the ferry boat was a nice reminder of where we were.

Most people just seemed to sit quietly without talking to each other, too. Were they all nervous about their excursions? Tired from staying up too late? Trying to save their energy for later? I don’t know. Laura did talk to the ladies next to her some, and I did talk to Laura some, but because I was on the end of a row there wasn’t another person on my other side.

I also did like how the boat was flying the Mexican flag. That probably makes me weird or something, because after all, we were in Mexico. But to me, it was a nice reminder that we were in fact in Mexico and not in our home country. Just another sign that we were out having fun someplace new that we hadn’t been before.

The boat ride seemed to go pretty quickly to me, probably because we were excited about it. We soon reached the mainland at Playa del Carmen, and the crew quickly and efficiently docked the boat. We then had a short walk along the pier, where we got some great views of the resort beaches on either side of the pier. Must be nice to stay in a place like that, I thought. But then staying on a ship is pretty nice, too.

Hello from Mexico!

Hello from Mexico!

There were tour guides holding signs for the different tours, and we soon found our tour guide by the sign he was holding. Once all of our group had arrived, we walked past the shops and hotels to the bus that was waiting for us.

We walked past some pretty nice places to stay on our way to the bus.

We walked past some pretty nice places to stay on our way to the bus.

As soon as we boarded the bus, our tour guide introduced himself as Angel. He went through a spiel that I figured was rather routine of saying Spanish words that people knew, like taco, nacho, quesadilla, and so on in an attempt to communicate, but Angel actually spoke excellent English. Over the course of the bus ride, we learned that his grandmother is Mayan, that he has a great interest in the history of the area, and that he wanted to share that history with us. He told us how most people would go on “fun” excursions to pet dolphins, snorkel, or sit at a beach, but the historical tours were usually low in attendance. But history is what we are all about, and that was why we chose that excursion in the first place.

He gave lots of other information, much of which was good, but I missed some of it because I was busy looking out the window at all that we were passing in the town as we drove by. It was interesting to me how the sights reminded me very much of similar scenes in Jamaica and even in Thailand, except that the words on the signs were in different languages. It seems like much of the world is actually the same. All of those countries are in general poorer countries, but many of the areas we passed even looked like some of our areas of town back at home, too. We did see some familiar names, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and Sam’s Club, but there were several unique shops and restaurants as well.

Overall, Angel made a good presentation about the general history of the area, the culture of the area, and some of what we would see at Tulum. The time passed quickly, and we were soon arriving at the entrance. I say “soon” because it seemed quick, even though it was almost an hour away.

When we arrived, Angel showed us where some of the shops and a restaurant were in an area known as the Pueblo. Not exactly a hard sell, but kind of. And on the bus we had already gotten a hard sell on cartouches, which are a piece of obsidian with letters in the Mayan alphabet on them. I guess they have to make money somehow. Hard sell or not, we couldn’t resist an ice cold bottle of water (mostly ice, actually, but that was fine) for $1 each, already feeling how hot it was outside. Angel also took pictures of everyone in front of a green cloth, saying that the green screen would be replaced with a scene from Tulum and that we could download it for free later on.

Some of the shops at the Pueblo in Tulum. Yes, there was a Subway there. And you can’t see it here, but there was a Starbucks, too. Those things are everywhere.

Some of the shops at the Pueblo in Tulum. Yes, there was a Subway there. And you can’t see it here, but there was a Starbucks, too. Those things are everywhere.

Angel also explained that the walk to the ruins from the Pueblo was about a mile. But there was a train that would take you there and back for only $2. He recommended that if you wanted to ride it back, it was best to ride it there as well, because the round trip ticket was the same price as the one way ticket. It looked like everyone else in our group was going to ride, so we decided that we should as well, so that the rest of them wouldn’t be waiting on us to get there.

While we were waiting for the train, some men came out in traditional Mayan dress, with one of them playing a tune on a whistle and another beating a drum. They climbed the pole that was nearby to begin their routine of spinning around from the top of the pole, which is some sort of Mayan ritual. Angel urged us all to go on, saying that they would probably be there again when we got back. Alas, they weren’t there when we returned, so we didn’t get to see more of it. Oh well.

When the “train” arrived, it was actually a tractor pulling three covered wooden platforms with seats on wheels. Interesting. It was rather like a hayride without the hay! Angel got us all on the last car, although there were a couple of people on there with us that weren’t a part of our group. Angel told us a little more about it all as we rode through the jungle back to the ruins.

The short ride went by quickly, and we were soon at the entrance. There, we had to pay another fee, this one for using a camera. There was a $5 fee (after the tour guide exchange rate, but we didn’t have to wait in the line so it evened out) per camera. So we decided to only use my one camera to not have to pay more fees, because these little fees and such were starting to add up. I was just glad they weren’t charging us for the humidity. At least we got something for free.

Tulum gets its name from the Mayan word for “wall,” because a large, thick wall surrounds the city. We entered through a doorway in the wall, and we were then inside the ancient city, right by an interesting building, the House of Cenote. There was a natural well down below it, and the inhabitants had cut a hole in the floor to get to the water down below. And off to the side was a great view of the beautiful blue water of the Caribbean. What a place to live!

Mayan Ruins at Tulum-1500

The House of Cenote, one of the buildings at Tulum. You can read more about it in a previous post, Mayan Ruins at Tulum in Mexico.

Angel took us to a grassy area to tell us a little more about the city and its culture and history, before giving us a brief tour past some of the structures. Unfortunately, climbing on the ruins was prohibited. I know they have that rule to keep the structures intact longer, but the way they built things with all the stone steps leading up to the top was sure inviting for those who like to climb on things. Like us. But we played by the rules because we didn’t want to get thrown out or anything. So we just looked.

Temple of God of Wind at Tulum-1500

An impressive building with an even more impressive view. Read more about it in the earlier post Temple of the God of the Wind at Tulum in Mexico.

The most impressive structure there is called El Castillo, or The Castle. But instead of actually being a castle, it was most likely a temple to the Descending God, which Angel told us was represented by a baby being born, descending from its mother’s womb. It was interesting to see some of the fine details still present in these old buildings that were built somewhere between 600 and 800 years ago. Cool!

Laura with the ruins of El Castillo behind her.

Laura with the ruins of El Castillo behind her.

The House of Cenote behind Steve, who apparently writes captions about himself in third person.

The House of Cenote behind Steve, who apparently writes captions about himself in third person.

But our adventure at Tulum doesn’t end there! After our short guided tour, we were free to explore on our own in the time that we had. Check back at the 2016 Cruise to Mexico Trip Report soon for tales of that adventure! Also, be sure to click the links under a couple of the photos above to read more about them in their own posts!

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Burnsland is Steve Burns, with generous help from his lovely wife Laura. Steve is a husband, father, photographer, webmaster, writer, podcaster, artist, Christian. Steve enjoys sharing his photography, art, and stories through Burnsland.com, from the Burnsland World Headquarters in Tennessee.