Secrets of the Tuluminati Revealed Part I:
Tulum Places & Tips You Won’t Find in any Guide.
By suzan Crane
Okay, this is a tough one, being asked to share the “secret” gems regular visitors and those of us who live in Tulum have discovered on our own… The off-the-beachy–path marvels that don’t generally appear on tour itineraries or dominate Trip Advisor’s “What To Do In Tulum” tips. Those places not predictably cited by bloggers and travel scribes as “don’t miss experiences” when visiting one of the world’s top holiday destinations.
Of course, all the most popular recommendations are popular for a reason. It is true that a visitor to our area should most certainly not forgo visits to the mythic Tulum Ruins, underground rivers, world-class eateries, and fabled beaches. But there is so much more to explore, experience, and inspire in and around Tulum… proprietary hidden treasures that most Tuluminatis generally opt to keep close to the vest. For once a secret is out, well, there’s really no turning back.
But, Colibri guests are always considered and treated like family. And you can’t keep secrets from family, can you? So, welcome to the inner sanctum and prepare to experience Tulum like a local… or at least a VIP guest with inside information and special access. But you didn’t hear it from us, okay!
We have polled and cajoled our friends and their friends — and even friends thrice removed — to collate a compendium of personal faves from those in the know… sacrosanct jewels tucked on side streets where you will find the best tacos you never knew existed… niched cenotes that don’t trumpet their presence with huge signage. Relatively quiet lagoons that glisten under the sun’s reflective luster.
Stretches of isolated sand that require some diligence to reach. Indigenous villages and Spider Monkey Sanctuaries. Places that residents retreat to when seeking their own private Idahos, things that locals do in their everyday lives not readily found in guide books — the veiled secrets of the Tuluminati exposed.
These unnamed sources — our “Deep Throats” if you will — have come forward of their own volition, agreeing to talk only under the cloak of anonymity for fear of reprisal from those others who prefer to keep the sanctity of Tulum… to themselves. So please read this with respect for those courageous individuals who put their butts on the line to provide you, our dear guests, with hints, haunts, and hallowed havens of the Real Tulum…
Okay, let’s get serious… not everything catalogued here is strictly secret, or even actually hidden. But they’re all cool things to do, see, try, and experience in Tulum. But this is by no means a comprehensive directory… unearthing all of Tulum’s delights will require a little digging on your parts.
Cenotes & Caverns in Tulum
Highway 307 (the main road between Tulum and Playa Del Carmen) and the Coba Highway heading east are littered with geological wonders known as Cenotes (sinkholes). Some feature vast arteries of underground caves and rivers for divers and thrill-seekers, while others boast crystalline natural pools perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Pop into any one of the more obscure ones (often found on the grounds of a local’s home) and discover what awaits. A few to consider:
Sitting at the entrance to Sian Kaan Biosphere, Cenote Eric is a small fresh water cenote shrouded by lush jungle and enjoyed by those seeking a chilled spot to swim and escape the beach buzz. Just moments from Tulum town at kilometer 9 on the Coba Highway, a 2 ½ hour cultural/ecological tour of Cenote Santa Cruz — a distinctive dry and wet cenote – is distinguished by translucent water and chambers dating back 60 million years while the shallow fresh water pool of nearby Cristalino Cenote (5 kilometers south of Tulum town) offers a great kid-safe option for swimming and snorkeling.
Located on Highway 307 just outside Chemuyil and Xcacel Beach, Xunaan Ha Cenote is a little-known cenote favored by cave divers but also suitable for snorkeling and swimming.
And speaking of Xcacel Beach, its jungle-ensconced namesake open fresh water cenote offers the unique opportunity to enjoy sea and cenote in the same locale.
Angelita Cenote is a fresh water cenote located just south of Tulum and Muyil Ruins and is only accessible to advanced divers accompanied by a local guide while Chac Mool Cenote – a diver’s only fresh and salt water cenote possessing an elaborate cavern and some of the area’s best underground water systems – can be booked only through a local dive center.
Adventure Eco Parks & Wildlife Sanctuaries near Tulum.
While Xel-Ha, Xcaret, and Xplore — among the most famous and commercial of the area’s theme parks — are all worthy of your time (and hefty entrance fee), there exists a number of other less crowded and publicized experiential alternatives.
Located 9 kilometers south of Tulum and not to be confused with Dos Ojos, Dos Osos (Two Bears) Cenote and water park offers full-day family friendly fun and adventure that includes kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, and more.
About 20 kilometers north of Tulum, Aktun Chen Natural Park is set within 400 acres of preserved jungle, with the park itself using less than 10% of the primeval land. Offering a variety of activities including ziplining, caving, snorkeling and swimming at onsite cenotes, it is a guided tour through a 5-million year old dry cave – heralded by National Geographic Society as among the Top 10 Best and Most Impressive Underground Walkways in the World — that serves as a highlight.
Labnaha’s Eco Park
This park is called the Magic Mayan World, and offers tours only to small guided groups. Descend on a zip line into the Sacred Lakes, and snorkel in cenote Labnaha. Labnaha’s Eco Park hires only professional, qualified guides and intends to preserve local eco-systems.
A bit further away but worth the hour-plus drive north from Tulum to Puerto Morelos, Boca De Puma Eco Reserve caters to adrenaline junkies, intrepid souls, and families who enjoy extreme ziplines, ATV jungle tours, and underground cenote adventures while also learning about the area’s history, culture and environmental traits.
Also in Puerto Morelos, Crococun is a wildlife park where interaction with native reptiles and other jungle animals is not only permitted, but encouraged to promote understanding of these creatures and the roles they play in our ecosystem. The 60 to 75 minute tour is helmed by erudite guides who are passionate about environmental preservation and education.
Unlike the commercialized “for profit” Akumal Spider Monkey “sanctuary,” The Jungle Place in Chan Chemuyil (about a half hour north of Tulum) is the real deal. Working in conjunction with notable primatologists and boasting certificates of excellence from a slew of international wildlife organizations, The Jungle Place is truly a rehabilitation center and sanctuary for injured and displaced Spider Monkeys.
But unless you are invited by the ardent caretakers, Heidi, her husband Joel and son David — you may never enjoy the honor of observing the remarkable work these remarkable people have been doing for the past seventeen years.
Last time I visited, there were 85 endangered Spider Monkeys in their care. The sanctuary is not subsidized by the government nor does it rely on tourism. On occasion Heidi and Joel will welcome a small exclusive group to visit the reserve — which is also their home – but be forewarned. The monkeys in their charge are cherished family members and they are extremely selective as to who is invited into this privileged domain. Donations are always welcome and much needed.
Punta Laguna Spider Monkey Sanctuary
Just like tourists, locals and expats also love our Caribbean beaches – clearly one of the attractions and benefits of living here. Our very own La Zebra is always popular with locals – the food, music, and pristine beach a main calling card.
Playa Pescadores is a popular haunt for a casual day on the sand, as is the unfussy vibe and cheap eats at Euphemia. Boa Beach Club is a hot spot for tanning and turning heads while Los Amigos Beach Club is a more elegant and quiet option. Places that permit our doggies include Ahau, Amansala, Euphemia and Villas Las Estrellas. But when the beaches fringing the hotel zone feel too constricted, we’ve certainly got our secret go-to spots.
Among them is Chamicos at Soloman bay, just a few kilometers north of Tulum. Where a relaxed scene, inexpensive food, and calm waters await. Tankah Caleta is another favorite retreat while for utter isolation and buck-naked swimming, Sian Kaan is the ticket.
Red Tulum Sostenible offers don’t miss mangrove trips and volunteer opportunities for those interested in helping the environment. And for a few days of total reprieve, we escape to Sherenan Serene b&b in Punta Allen, accessible by boat or via the pocked road running the length of the reserve.
On those occasions when hitting a cenote or the beach doesn’t fit the mood (bill), locals sneak off to enjoy the cool waters and relaxing vibe of Lagoon Nopalitos or KaanLum just south of Tulum town. In the opposite direction near Akumal, the crystalline lagoon at Yal-Ku Park offers great snorkeling and the palapas to rent.
Even those who reside here relish the marvels of the area’s historical ruins — but to avoid crowds at the famed ocean-front Tulum Ruins or Chichenitza, we head to the more discreet ancient cities at Ek-Balam or Muyil.
So, where do we eat and play, heal and pray?
Where do we feed our souls and ignite our imaginations, learn new things, dance and sing? Where do we volunteer and how do we give back to our community?
Stay tuned for our next installment for the answers to those and other confidential revelations!