Tulum: Place of the dawning sun

Travelwise

My husband, Keith, and I lucked out when we chose our 35th-anniversary Mexican destination. After scouring all-inclusive hotels in the Riviera Maya region, Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa appeared to be tops in amenities and affordability. Tulum, located in the Quintana Roo province, is the Yucatan Peninsula’s southernmost municipality.

View from Dreams Tulum Resort and Spa’s lobby
Monolithic rocks at south end of Tulum Ruins beach

We dreaded the approximately two-hour van transport from Cancun International Airport to Dreams Tulum, but found the trip shared with other happy travelers a joy. We got a feel for the Riviera Maya region south of Cancun and viewed its bodegas (shops), high-end suburbs and other resorts along the way. As we dropped travelers off at their respective accommodations we also saw alternative resort options. Everyone was happy and looking forward to the tropical days ahead.

Tulum Ruins with El Castillo at top left
Tulum flora

Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa guests are immediately greeted by the lobby’s straight-through view to the entire resort and white sugar-sand beaches beyond. The property offers world cuisine, such as French, Italian, Japanese and, naturally, Mexican. Keith and I spent the night before our anniversary dining at the Bordeaux French Restaurant. The food, atmosphere and service were all so perfect, we dared not go back for fear of spoiling the memory.

When we finally pulled ourselves out of our indulgence of lying on the beach, eating and experiencing nightly shows—including a breathtaking fire show—we toured the Tulum Ruins and Cenote Rancho Santa Cruz.

Tulum Ruins are the only Mayan archeological site overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Our guide pointed out the ring-tailed coatimundi (of the raccoon family) alongside our pathway to the ruins’ entrance, where we had to hunch over to avoid banging our heads.

The first inhabitants of Tulum named their city Zamá, meaning “Place of the Dawning Sun,” as it was among the first places in the Maya kingdom to receive sunlight each day. The city was built as a port for the nearby 13th century city of Coba.

Our tour guide taught us about the Mayan calendar and traditions, pointing out the Palace, The Temple of the Frescoes and ultimately “El Castillo” tower, used for religious rituals and as a lighthouse. The cat-sized resident “ruling” iguanas draped themselves on the corners of their chosen abodes.

The view from El Castillo’s cliff encompassed the entire horizon and makes for a popular photo op. Those who dare can take the steep stairwell down to the distant beach below. The trek is worth it, to stand between two monolithic rocks at the south end of the beach where the surf swelled in and out around you.

Next, Cenote Rancho Santa Cruz was a chicle ranch, where visitors learn about harvesting the chewing gum substance. Visitors swim and jump into the deep cenote’s crystal clear and icy cold water with caverns along its perimeter.

We passed through Tulum township to get a feel for the area. Our tour also offers a trip to the world’s largest natural aquarium, Xel-Ha, along the Riviera Maya coastline. The all-inclusive park’s calm, natural bays are amenable to snorkeling, showing off the region’s lush flora and fauna. As climbing the pyramids of the Tulum Ruins is prohibited, visitors may opt to take the Coba Ruins tour 45 minutes inland because it offers larger, climbable pyramids.

Returning to the resort, we spent the afternoon of our anniversary at the Dreams Spa by Pevonia for a couples’ massage in the Rainforest Cabin, culminating in a post-massage whirlpool complete with rose petals, champagne, strawberries and chocolate. The dinner-on-the-beach option we chose for our special dinner turned out to be a windy affair that drove us inside for fun and conversation with fellow Virginians.

After visiting Isla Mujeres (the Island of Women) that is a 15-minute ferry ride just north of Cancun several years ago, Keith and I plan to make our next visit to Holbox Island on the northern coast of the Yucatan, so we can swim with whale sharks. Only time will tell if I go through with that one!

Cathy Welch
About Cathy Welch 17 Articles
Cathy Welch is a Hampton Roads-based writer, photographer and book editor. She says her life is an eclectic mix of career and FAMILY. She earned our Bachelors degree in business administration at Christopher Newport University, minoring in Spanish. Her career has been full- and part-time as an administrator, an engineering assistant, a bookseller, a merchandiser, a naval photography layout assistant, an office manager, a grant writer and a human resource manager, all giving her experiences that feed her writing. She fosters pups and does what she can to bless those who are in need, whether human or canine. She can be reached at 757-870-0768 or at cathywelch25@gmail.com.

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