Tulum – past and present

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I first visited Tulum as a twenty year old backpacker. In my memory at least, the place was all but untouched – just a few palapas on a white, powdery beach and a couple of simple restaurants rustling up basic food. I was at the end of my journey, funds were low, so I slept out on the sands, my rucksack tied with a piece of rope around my ankle.

Fast forward sixteen years and it’s a different story. I wasn’t expecting to find the same place I’d left with sand in my toes all those years ago: change is innevitable, it’s part of life. Yet it’s hard to express just how developed this stretch of the Mexican Carribean has become – it’s now an almost uninterrupted strip of resorts spanning the entire 120 kms to Cancun, a giant wall of garish development between land and sea. And it doesn’t feel like the pace is getting much slower.

Still, despite its massive changes – I rank the nearby Tulum Pueblo one of the most souless ‘villages’ I have visited in Mexico – the beach here is still as stunningly beautiful as I remember it. Once I’d tracked down the wonderful camping hangout of Playa Esperanza and connected with a group of travellers who lit up my time there, it felt like I’d come home again…


Playa Esperanza, a cabana and campsite run by a Mexican and American/Italian couple, who welcomed me in on my first day with a massive beachside feast. A real idyll.


Storms rolled in and out while I was there. One moment the sky was bathed with sunlight, the next moment it was inky black, and the rain fell in a tirade of fat, heavy drops. After days of oppresive heat, this was exactly what my soul needed. We all leapt into the sea and battled the waves.


Then the storm passed, and it was clear and hot once more. As you can expect, I never grew tired of being drawn in by its turquoise waters.

And that fine white sand found its way everywhere. Folds of the tent. Pockets. Ears. Not that I can really complain...


And happy I was at Playa Esperanza.


Frenchman Romain and his girlfriend Monica, from Peru, rustling up a communal meal. Even the floor of the kitchen was trademark Carribean sand.

Monica had also brought some body paint with her, so we all tapped into the inner artists within us...


The surreal chandelier above the al fresco dinner table, under a grove of conocut trees, lent Playa Esperanza a ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ flavour. Mexican artisans came and went, crafting jewelry from silver, sea shells and forest seeds.


Louis, who lives and works in the cabanas, off to run some errands on his bicycle.


Anna pulls some yoga moves on the beach…


Settled in my little Taptent Rainbow. It survived the heaviest of storms that lashed down, contorting like a restless sleeper. I love being cocooned within its walls while the elements swirl all around.


Just a little further south down the coast lay the future of Tulum, it seems. A string of prestine, ultra stylish lodges and cabanas. As much as I admire businesses with strong environmental models, I’m not convinced by all this apparent bandwagon jumping, unless it really is more than just a label. I mean, doesn't Eco Chic sound a bit ridiculous?! I even saw Eco Romantic!

4 thoughts on “Tulum – past and present

  1. bridget

    Hola Cass,
    Lovely photo stories!
    Need to know: How did the opening of the World Cup go down?: Mexico vs our Bafana Bafana, or rather the Mexican drum vs the Vuvuzela?

  2. Greg Spencer

    I first visited Tulum in1976 . Stayed at Los Palmas next to playa Esperanza for 4 weeks. I now go back once a yr. and stay a lot longer . In 1976 camping was free now $10 per night things change . It did cost $1 to go to Maya village and climbed to top of pyramid , now can not even touch it is roped off . But I still love Tulum with small night clubs that some times have bands that play 70’s rock and roll . Have always get to talk and hang out with loving people .

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Agree, there’s still something rather wonderful about the place. And besides, change is inevitable. Thanks for sharing those experiences.


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