While We Were Out: 96 Hours in Tulum

WRITTEN BY DARREN ELMS, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR OF SOUTHBAY MAGAZINE  AND VENTURA BLVD MAGAZINE /  PHOTOGRAPHED BY DARREN ELMS

Ever get super envious of your friends when they post amazing vacation pictures? You know the ones, where they look tall, tan, young and lovely posing on an exotic beach with a margarita in their hand?

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Liar, you totally do.

Many scoff at the humble photo brags littering their social feed, especially when they aren’t the ones soaking up Vitamin D in a tropical paradise. Yet, I often see vacation goals … a window into a potential future trip. After all, who can you trust more than your friends for scoop on where, when and how to kick back and relax in style? You can have your Yelp reviews and Trip Advisor. I’m sticking with social media for my referrals.

This brings me to Tulum.

Tulum. Tulum. Tulum. Everyone is in Tulum. This place had never even crossed my radar until friends started posting photos online. This place was HOT. I just needed to figure out where it was. After finally leaning on Google Maps to do that research for me, I discovered this charming getaway was only a few hours south of the States on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, not far from its famous, bigger neighbor Cancun. When a press trip popped up in my inbox with an invitation to explore the Riviera Maya, including a stop in Tulum, I replied with a resounding, “si.”

We flew into Cancun, home to the international airport for the region and made our way down the coast to the community of Mayakoba. This private property is home to four resorts, a golf course, walking trails and a manmade river that winds through it all like the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. Apparently there are resident crocodiles, though we didn’t come upon any for a photo opp. But I did see plenty of birds, some locals and others migrating their way through, vacationers in their own right.

Our home base for the weekend was the wonderful Banyan Tree. A resort chain mostly known throughout Asia, Banyan and their brand of hospitality was top notch throughout the stay. Dining options ranged from a steak house with a huge outdoor grill and giant portions, to a more intimate Thai-inspired experience at the signature restaurant, Saffron.
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But the most memorable meal of the trip had to be the Mayan dinner we participated in on our second night. The evening began with a ritual performed by several men in Mayan war paint and headdresses accompanied by two comely women with incense and offerings. No human sacrifice, fortunately, but I did sip from a bowl with juice meant to represent blood. When I sent pictures of the ritual to my husband, he said it looked like a Janet Jackson video. Though I couldn’t argue with that visual assessment, the intensity of our Mayan guides in person was anything but a gentle “escapade.”

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On to dinner, we feasted on a fusion of Mayan and Mexican dishes, including roasted whole pork cooked in a traditional sub-ground oven. All specialties were washed down with healthy pours of tequila … of course. Our evening concluded with a very American tradition, the roasting of s’mores on an open fire, while we enjoyed another performance from our Mayan friends. Judging from their ferocious expressions and impassioned chants, I wouldn’t have been surprised if we were on the menu for dinner tomorrow.

The following afternoon, we did make it to Tulum, also home to an important Mayan archeological site. Spawning a large swath of land right on the Caribbean coast, turquoise and scorched with sun, the ruins offered a glimpse at what life would have been life for its early inhabitants. The temples, the oceanfront houses, the market areas … each had its own purpose and plan in the bigger picture. One could imagine the stone structures once painted in brilliant blues and reds, or the rituals performed on the steps leading up to the places of worship. Absolutely magnificent and worth the drive down the coast to experience in person.

The trip was short but very sweet. I’m the one now posting pictures online for all my friends to see. Don’t hate. Just get on a plane and see the Mayan Riviera for yourself. I promise not to judge you when your own photos hit my feed. Well, just a little.

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