**Make sure to catch the video [here]!
Despite forgetting to bring a watch/alarm clock/time piece of any sort waking up before 9AM was easy. Between the heat, the sun and the humidity it’s almost impossible to be anything but a morning person in this part of the world. With the sandy grit of sleep still heavy in my eyes I stumbled up to the top deck and found Zeno already up and waiting. We chatted briefly about the plan, then set off to roust Philipp and Shannon out of bed. Before long the four of us struck out across town in search of a dive shop to rent snorkel gear from and the car rental place Zeno had used in the past.
A good 20 minutes later we found a dive shop willing to rent fins/masks and snorkels for $5 us/day. Happy with the price we snagged our gear as well as an underwater flashlight and then continued on to the car rental place. I have to confess that the price of the car escapes me now – but it was dirt cheap split between the 4 of us. I want to say in the neighborhood of $60 US total for the day. Half a tank of gas and another $10 later we were on the road and headed south. The drive was easy with the only option being a lone major (two lane each way) highway that ran through town. The stops were all obviously marked and tailored to tourists.
A 45 minute drive to the south we began searching for the Dos Ojos exit. Before long we spotted and passed a small sign for Dos Ojos dive shop. Unsure if it was just a retail outlet, or the actual entrance to the caves we continued another mile before backtracking and re-locating the small turnoff. The entrance fee for walk-ins was 100 pesos or just under $10. Fee paid we were waved down a dirt road that wound 2km or so inland to the Cenote. The two eyes or “Dos Ojos” are two sinkholes that offer access to the Cenote system which is a series of underwater caves (typically flooded) that crisscross the Yucatan.
Once parked in a small dirt parking lot we stripped down to our swimsuits, lathered on sunscreen and made our way down the path towards the first of the two caves. The path wound through lush underbrush 15 meters or so before dumping us at a large wooden staircase that took us down 30 or so feet into a part of the sinkhole. The view that greeted us was was stunning. A large pool of crystalline turquoise water sitting in a large cave entrance with a small wooden dock built out into the water. Eager to explore we donned our fins and snorkel gear and jumped in. Much to my relief the water was warm and refreshing.
The exposed part of the cave formed a giant semi-circle that offered a large cavernous space that wrapped back and around a corner. The ceiling started some 20+ feet up before slowly drifting down, periodically dotted by massive series of stalagtights, before dipping under water and out of reach. The water was lit from outside and visibility was excellent. The submerged stalagtights were breathtaking. I’ve seen my fair share of caves and never, ever, seen anything quite like it. All set to a stunning backdrop as rays of pure light shot down from above and through the water in the most enchanting of ways.
Submerged it was possible to see the divers as they made their way from the second eye through the underwater cave system. Lights twinkling in the distance below us as they slowly floated along the bottom.
Time and time again I caught myself as I returned to the surface, just narrowly missing the cavern ceiling or a a large stalagtight. As far as animal life – there were a few small minnows but that was it. They darted around us as though it were all some giant game.
Eager to explore the second cave we returned to the dock, donned our shoes, climbed the wood staircase, made the brief walk across the road and found ourselves at a slightly larger and significantly deeper cave entrance. This one had a raised dock perfect for canon balls/jumping in and lush vegetation, including hanging vines that came right up to the water’s edge. The bottom was also white sand instead of the collapsed rock that we’d encountered in the previous cave. Words cannot describe the beauty of the natural blue hues of the water. It was, truly, stunning.
Eventually we explored every nook and cranny we could gain access to. I’d done my fair share of jumps and dives off the dock and could feel hunger pangs nagging for my attention. Amazed at what we’d seen we headed back for the car eager to continue the adventure.
Eager to maximize our time with the car we set off straight for the ruins at Tulum. We parked in a small lot and walked the brief stretch to the entrance to what was once an impressive coastal Mayan fortress. I got sidetracked briefly as i purchased a fresh coconut and downed the coconut water in a series of deep gulps.
50 pesos later and with tickets in hand we made our way into the complex. The first surprise it held for me was a thick fortress wall. For some reason I had never associated castle walls and the Mayans. It was a delightful discovery that left a smile on my face as I threaded my way through the tiny doorway/gate in the castle wall.
The inside of the Tulum ruin is fairly sterilized as is to be expected of a major tourist ruin. There were paths to walk on, cut grass and stabilized ruins. Despite that the site was impressive. A mighty set of ruins set on top of small cliffs and a series of stunning white sandy beaches. The rich blues of the Caribbean ocean and added charm of coconut tree after coconut tree added to the impression of pure paradise.
We wandered the ruins taking in the sights, paused briefly on the beach to kick off our shoes and play in the 80+ degree water and the wound back down to the entrance just as several light raindrops began to fall. By the time we got back to the car we were all fairly wet, but in high spirits. The rain was warm and refreshing. Hardly worth fretting.
From there it was in to the city of Tulum itself where we quickly found a small taco stand down a side street. The host suggested “Hecho” which turned out to be a heaping plate with rice, a side of bread and a delicious (mild) pepper, octopus and shrimp plate served with corn tortillas. We ordered a coca cola and orchata to drink and were delighted when the host brought out a platter with two types of ceviche, garlic mayo and chips. We also split an appetizer which consisted of 4 sealed/fried taco shells. Two were stuffed with cheeses, 2 with seafood. The seafood one I ended up with was delicious…a mixture of fish, shrimp and squid. The whole meal was less than $15 and absolutely delicious.
Recharged it was off to finish the day with a brief stop at Akumal. A swimming destination known for the local sea turtles. Dusk was fast approaching and the storm clouds we’d encountered briefly at Tulum foreshadowed a far more ominous storm on the horizon. The normal park was closed which left an empty beach for us after a brief warning from the departing life guard to stay inside the buoys.
Eager to take advantage of the last vestiges of the day we donned our gear and snorkeled out towards the reef. We warily watched storm clouds out of the ocean and the telltale sign of heavy rains as we floated and enjoyed a spectacular sunset. While the spectacle above the water was magnificent, we enjoyed equally delightful discoveries under water – stumbling onto a huge sea turtle relaxing on the bottom, several types of rays and another smaller turtle.
Growing tired and eager not to get stranded at sea in the dark we paddled back to shore arriving just as what turned out to be a howling wind and fierce rainstorm hit. Pelted by stinging wind-driven droplets of rain we grabbed our gear and made a B-line for the car. Soaking wet we dove into the car trying to escape the rain – thoroughly entertained. We were all delighted to partake in the adventure and laughed heartily as we made our through the pouring rain back towards Playa del Carmen.
The drive back was uneventful. We escaped the rain after a few minutes and eventually got back in time to return the car and our snorkel gear. The rental company insisted on charging a “cleaning” fee because the car seats were wet – which was small – and more of an annoyance than real concern.
From there it was back to the hostel where we settled in for another evening telling stories, making friends and exploring the town. The highlight of which was an impressive fire show being put on for free at one of the ocean-front bars.
I’m off to explore San Ignacio now – i’ll edit in photos and video once I get home and have the bandwidth to upload them. Truly an incredible day.