Tulum: My First Experience As A Solo Traveler
Updated: Apr 13, 2020
For Christmas 2019, I decided to take a leap of faith and experience my first solo vacation. I made the decision quick and began planning immediately as not to change my mind. Verdict? I am glad I did. It was one of the most liberating experiences and helped me to reflect, rejuvenate, and refocus my life.
Years ago when I divorced, the enthusiasm for holidays shifted and in some ways became heavy on the soul. I remember the first Christmas I spent as a newly divorced mom, splitting my children between my ex's home and mine. I put on a happy face, but it was one of the most difficult experiences to endure. Looking back on that time, I can now acknowledge that I was depressed, and research shows that I am not alone. Depression increases during the holidays, especially in the months of November and December. The loneliness can be too much to bare. For me, it wasn't necessarily about being alone. I value alone time. For me, it was more about Christmas not being what I'd grown up to know it to be.
As years passed and our relationship became more mature, my ex-husband and I began sharing Christmas morning or afternoon, keeping both of us in Texas, or choosing to spend the holidays together. Then, he remarried and I began a relationship. We still shared the children on Christmas, and when they were gone, I enjoyed my mate. But this Christmas was going to be different. My daughter announced that she and her brother were going to spend the holidays with her father's family in Virginia, and to top that, I'd just ended my relationship. I was going to be doing this Christmas holiday thing alone, again.
I had two choices: 1) put up a tree and go through the traditional holiday ritual, pretending as though nothing was different or 2) embrace the change and DO something different. I remembered too vividly the feelings I had some 10 to 13 years ago trying to go through the motions of the holidays. It wasn't enjoyable. And although I am in a much stronger place today, I wasn't looking forward to pretending. So, I decided this time was going to be different. I would create the narrative. This time I would take charge and set the precedence for years to come, establish new traditions and create new experiences for myself. Yes, this time I would not allow the holidays to show me what my life wasn't but instead, I would show myself what life, what living truly was.
The Solo Traveler
The original thought of solo travel came years ago after several conversations with one of my girlfriends. Like the many questions I would receive when I made the decision to travel alone, I would ask her about the fears, dangers, and feelings of loneliness in solo travel. I remember her saying, "It's actually quite nice and honestly, if I waited for friends, I'd never go anywhere." I would cling to her every story and lived through her photos, building up the nerves to one day take my own leap of faith. I could do this. I was going to do this. This was my moment, and all I had to do was do it. So, I did.
Selecting a Location
The first step in planning was to decide where I wanted to go. My first choice was Ubud, Bali. I'd seen so many beautiful photos and watched so many positive videos of this country that I really had no fear of traveling it alone. Unfortunately, when I began looking at flights, I realized that I would lose a lot of time in travel. Knowing the number of days I wanted to stay, seven, I didn't want to compromise the time for the travel.
So, I thought about somewhere in Africa, the Caribbean, and Mexico. For me, I didn't feel as comfortable traveling to an African country alone for my first solo trip primarily because...well, I'm Black. I have been reading on social media the campaigns to stop sexual assault against African women and felt as an African American woman, there was a greater possibility for attention, attraction, and possible assault. I had never gone out of the country alone and knew this would be my first time having to maneuver through days by myself, relying totally on my instincts, and figuring out how to solo travel. Whether warranted or not, it was my only reason for not making it my first solo trip. I do plan to travel to the continent soon, however.
After making the decision not to go to an African country, I thought about the Caribbean. However, I quickly dismissed that option for the same reason as stated above. I figured I'd hold off until I'd gotten one solo vacation under my belt. Not that the fears or dangers would cease after I'd successfully completed a solo trip, but I would have tested out my planning, learning what I needed to do differently and what I had done right.
So, I decided on Mexico. Yes, I did get a few side-eyes from family and while on vacation an inbox warning from a Facebook friend to be careful. And I can't tell you how many times I heard about the cartel. However, having been to Mexico within the past few years, I felt I would be fine. I knew some Spanish and had visited the country a few times. Tulum, a small town located a little under two hours from Cancun, was listed as safe from all research I'd conducted. In fact, the entire region is a high tourism area, and I'd heard nothing but positives about Tulum from those who'd visited. So, I knew this was where I would go.
This image belongs to Tony Burton and is being used with the permission of Tony Burton and MexConnect.com
DOING MY HOMEWORK
To be sure and take safety precautions, I researched the crime rate in the Yucatan, which calmed my nerves tremendously. I also researched the various modes of transportation. I knew I wanted to visit several places outside of Tulum that would take a couple of hours to drive. Should I rent a car, take taxis, utilize public transportation? I consulted a friend who travels solo often and I also read blogs. There was mixed feedback, so I decided to play it by ear. I decided to let the atmosphere and my instinct tell me what to do.
What I did do prior to leaving home, however, was arrange private transportation to/from Cancun to Tulum. This was extremely helpful, and I would do it again. Once I walked out of customs and out the door, the company representatives were there to greet me, waiting with my name on a sign. One loaded my luggage into the shuttle, and we began the hour and half drive to Tulum. This allowed me to get my bearings.
Things to consider when deciding on transportation:
If you rent a car, consider how comfortable you are with the laws of that country as well as how to handle the local police. I saw a lot of feedback about Mexican police stopping travelers, seizing identification, and requesting bribes. This made me uncomfortable, so I was leery about renting a car.
Taxis can get costly and renting a car may be a lot cheaper. How much are you willing to spend going back and forth? If you are physically fit, Tulum is perfect for biking and even walking, but there are spots that are just too far to do either, in my opinion. Also, taxis only take cash and they do not run by meters. So, the cost will fluctuate.
Collectivo, or the locals bus, is an option if you are brave. The friends I met traveled using this form of transportation often. However, I never utilized this mode of transportation because you usually have to walk off the beaten path to catch one and it's not an organized process. However, it is really cheap.
There are so many beautiful spots to stay in Tulum. Truthfully, deciding depends on what you are looking to do and and the experience you're seeking. My girl chooses to stay in hostels when she travels. They can be a really inexpensive option and a great way to meet people. They can also be loud, party spots, so it's a chance you are taking. The friends I met on this trip left Tulum and stayed in hostels during their travels outside of the city. They found the ones they chose to be loud and hard to sleep.
For this trip, I favored Holistika, a laid back hotel in a jungle, because it seemed the epitome of what I envisioned of the town and had an environment in which I was searching. Tulum is fairly new to tourism primarily thanks to Instagram. My taxi driver, who was Mayan, told me that just 15 years ago, none of the things I saw was there. He said 25 years ago, there was just beach and jungle. "I made fire on the beach and got my drinking water from the cenote." He said there was no electricity, running water, and definitely no cellphones. In fact, it was still very difficult to get cellular service around Tulum when driving along the narrow jungle road. "It's crazy to now think that I drive a taxi to pay for water and electricity for my home. The changes, the crowds, are good for money," considering he needs it now, "but it's bad on the ecosystem: the new construction, the cars..." he shared. So, I appreciated Holistika and the care ownership took to ensure the safety of the ecosystem in which it sits. This hotel is eco-friendly and puts you in the company of like-minded people. Plus, it's a retreat where you can meditate, rediscover, and motivate yourself.
It is important to note that there is no alcohol served on the premises, and the food is vegetarian and vegan. However, the food is absolutely amazing! In addition to a quiet location with yoga, I met a great set of ladies who were also traveling solo. From the USA (Boston, Denver, Dallas) to Switzerland, Canada, France, Hong Kong, and Slovenia, we became a travel "crew" of our own when we wanted some group time. Holistika was the best decision for a first time traveler. The atmosphere, pace, and climate were perfect for me.
Casa Malca was my favorite beach hotel. A beautiful piece of art along the beach, Casa Malco was the hide-away, vacation spot, for the Columbian drug lord, Pablo Escobar. My Columbian counterpart told me that in Columbia, they don't even mention his name because they remember the torture and death during his era. He said it feels odd that in Tulum, it's like a bragging right to say whose home it belonged. But nevertheless, it was his home.
Interestingly enough and to reiterate the newness of Tulum, when Escobar passed in 1993, no-one knew of his secret mansion in Tulum. It was rediscovered in 2012 and bought by an art dealer, who made it a hotel. The place is beautiful and a perfect spot to lounge either at the pool or on the beach. The food, margaritas, and service was stellar, and the staff was extremely pleasant and attentive.
SFER IK is an art museum next to Azulik. It's a great experience to see the craftsmanship and artwork on display, especially if you are not going to visit or stay at Azulik.
One of the new seven wonders of the world, I knew I had to get to Chichén Itzá. I planned this excursion prior to leaving for Tulum. I booked this excursion with SAT MEXICO Corporation via Get Your Guide and it included a visit to the city of Valladolid, and Ik Kil Cenote. This was a 12-hour excursion.
This colorful city is known for its colonial buildings and vibrant Mayan culture. On the southern side of the main square sits Iglesia de San Servacio, or San Servacio Church, which was built in 1545 by Francisco Hernandez. The church was demolished in 1705 by order of a bishop, after the desecration of sacred building in the "Crime of Mayors," but was restored in 1706. The building was turned to face the north and west, as most of the colonial temples in Yucatan were built to face Rome.
There's a beautiful underworld of turquoise pools in the Yucatan. These pools were sacred to the Mayan where they communicated with the gods and served as their source of drinking water. Cenotes are natural swimming holes formed by the collapse of limestone bedrock, which reveals a secret subterranean world of groundwater pools (Tang, 2019). There are over 6,000 cenotes in Mexico and the best are located in the Yucatan. (Lukaszewicz, 2019)
You can't visit Tulum without seeing the Mayan Ruins of Tulum. These ruins are truly a stunning sight to see. This ancient walled city sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Caribbean ocean. Palm trees surround the stone structures and cactus flowers add to the scenery. History has it that Tulum was built to be a seaport fortress, providing protection from the East, and a large limestone wall enclosing the rest of the city on the other three sides. The city was a major trading and religious center between the 11th and 16th centuries. It is definitely a must see.
For this excursion, I took a 10-minute walk from my hotel and recommend you either bike or walk. The roads are narrow and traffic is heavy, especially during the prime times of December to April. I did not pre-plan this excursion or go through any third party to book it. I simply walked the road to the gate, paid, and walked in.
Tulum Hotel Zone
This is the most vibrant area along the beach. Landscaped with unique luxury hotels, great restaurants, and beach clubs. If you want to enjoy a more upbeat vibe, this is where you want to be. There are also local shops where you can pick up some nice, bohemian-styled clothes.
Tulum has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. You can't go to Tulum without spending time at one. Although there are several areas of beach, the town really only has two large beaches: the north playas (beaches) and the south playa, which are distinguished by the roundabout, an area where the single road to the beaches split. I preferred the north beaches, which are three different beaches that blend together:
Las Palmas beach at the southern end
Playa Paraiso (Paradise Beach) in the middle, and
Playa Ruinas at the north near the Tulum ruins.
Each of the beaches have white sand and unlike the south beach, the north beaches are protected from excessive development. The Playa Ruinas has crystal clear blue water and the Mayan ruins sit above on the cliff overlooking the beach. I particularly favor the north beaches because they are wider with a lot more open sand for laying out. This area also offers snorkeling and boat rides.
On the other end, the south beach is home to the luxury riviera maya hotels and beach clubs. This beach is hard to access unless you go through one of the luxury hotels. The beach is typically narrow and there are beach club fees. Some say these fees are pricey but the cost covers food and drinks. I visited a few of them but was not as impressed. So, I spent most of my time at Playa Paraiso or if on the southern beach, I preferred the beach at Casa Malca and La Zebra. La Zebra also has salsa on Sundays. It's a great place to dance the evening away. Just for your knowledge, the beach at Azulik is clothing optional. So, if you are not comfortable with nudity, it is not the beach for you.
I would like to thank you for reading my blog and going on this travel journey with me. I didn't discuss my spiritual journey in this blog. I'll let my year showcase that. One thing that I have learned through the years, however, is that telling your truth can be therapeutic and healing. The holidays can be a very challenging time for those who find themselves in life-altering positions and circumstances different from what they envisioned. Finding time to be still and enjoy yourself can help you to reevaluate and readjust your dreams, visions, goals, and plans. I challenge each of you to do the things that give you angst. Take control of your story by creating your own narrative and be true to who you know yourself to be. Happy New Year! I pray God's favor on your life and all your goals be fulfilled for 2020.