12 Mar 2019
Tulum is beautiful, wild, and complicated.
Known for its sprawling Maya ruins, turquoise waters, and powdery-soft beaches, Tulum has also received its fair share of criticism lately. However, the truth is more complex and nuanced than a 1,000-word article or artfully staged Instagram post.
I should know. I have lived in the area long enough to appreciate its rustic charm. But I still get angry when the Wi-Fi goes out in the middle of the day for no reason.
It’s from this direct, lived experience (by no means the only one) that I share this “postcard from Tulum” in a format inspired by the childhood game, “Two Truths and a Lie.” My intention is not to refute what has been said recently but to playfully and candidly add to the conversation.
Truth – Tulum is Beautiful
Tulum has earned its place as one of the most Instagrammed places in the world due to its sheer beauty.
On its best days, gentle, azure waters lap against white-sand shores. Hammocks tied to majestic palm trees sway in the soft breeze against a cloudless sky. Fresh-cut coconuts make a refreshing, afternoon drink. Lush, green, mangroves teem with life.
There are other days too. There are days when the streets are clogged with heat, dust, people, and smoke billowing from trucks that bring in “fresh” water used at local businesses. There are days when the “tourist tax” to take a cab from one part of town to another is too steep for the short distance traveled.
Much has also been said about the Sargassum in the Riviera Maya that began in 2011 accumulating in large quantities along the shores of many countries on the Caribbean Sea, including Mexico. While the Mexican government has taken steps such as a containment barrier, more, concerted efforts will be needed to solve the problem in the long-run.
For visitors, it can be disappointing to see (and sometimes smell) sargassum especially after hearing about Tulum’s reputation as a tropical paradise. However, there are many things to see and do in Tulum when the beach is less than idyllic. The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for example, is home to thousands of species of flora and fauna to explore. Cenotes and lagoons are shimmering portals to vast underwater networks that can be a cool oasis on a hot day.
Truth – Tulum is Wild
Tulum is both ancient and modern.
The earliest inscription recorded in its ruins is 564 A.D. Yet, the Mexican government officially incorporated Tulum (which includes Akumal, Coba, and Punta Allen) as a municipality in 2008, making it one of the newest in the country.
Like any other place in the world, Tulum and the people who come to live, work, play and find their fortune here are also evolving.
Its ruins served as the nexus of land and sea trade to Central Mexico and Central America. From the 1960s through the 1990s, the area attracted adventurers, explorers, spiritual seekers, and immigrants who were lured by the rich possibilities of snorkeling, diving, and tranquility. Their laid-back approach to life (sometimes dubbed “hippie”) became embedded in the local culture. Time is a suggestion. People are always late. However, no one is a stranger here because nearly everyone, except the Maya, is from somewhere else. All are welcome.
Also Truth — Tulum is Complicated
Mexico teaches you how to be patient.
Sometimes you find yourself screaming, “You had one job!” when the bank ATM runs out of money, and the light bill is due. Some days it’s hard to tell the hucksters from the healers. But you learn to take it all in stride because this, too, is life.
The truth is Tulum is complicated and focusing only on the sensational aspects is as much of a false presentation as just highlighting its virtues. Tulum’s magnificent biodiversity, relaxed charm, world-class restaurants, plentiful shopping, and vibrant spiritual energy entice people from all over Mexico and the world.
It is also true that while everyone wants to talk about Tulum’s natural beauty, they don’t want to talk about doing their part to preserve, protect, and nurture the environment.
Tulum’s population and tourism growth currently outpace the financial resources and infrastructure necessary to accommodate it. However, Tulum is not unique in this. Many communities in the world, including in the United States, Canada, and Europe, struggle with sustainability issues.
Even with all its complexity, beauty, and charm, Tulum is a special place.
Tulum is a place where you can wake up to the sound of the sea, feel the ocean breeze caress your face, perfect your downward dog, eat some of the world’s best tacos, wash it down with tequila, interact with underwater life, dance to trance music, sway to Mariachis, walk in the steps of the Maya, and laugh until your belly aches with some of the nicest people on the planet.
Don’t take my or anyone else’s word for it. Visit and explore Tulum for yourself.
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