How to save a holiday in Mexico: The beaches of hipster haven Tulum are covered in seaweed, but there are amazing treasures to be explored from secret…

  • Tonnes of the brown, smelly ocean matter have been piling up on the Yucatan Peninsula since at least March
  • Some say global warming is to blame while others think man-made pollutants are disrupting the ocean s eco-system
  • If you wish to avoid, head to see Mayan ruins, crystal clear cenotes and swim in lagoons only the locals know about

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I d been lured to Mexico s Caribbean coast with the promise of postcard-perfect turquoise water and blindingly white sand. But arriving in Tulum, the eco-chic town favoured by the fashionable two hours south of Cancun, I found the once spotless beaches covered in brown, rotting seaweed that smelled as unpleasant as it looked. Tonnes upon tonnes of the ocean matter, called sargassum, have been piling up on the coast of Mexico s Yucatan Peninsula and neighbouring countries since at least March.

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Tonnes of the brown, smelly ocean matter have been piling up on the Yucatan Peninsula since at least March

Before and after: If you are expecting the golden beaches in Tulum in Mexico, be prepared to see sights of brown, pungent seaweed littering the shore

Clean up in operation in Tulum to remove the brown seaweed. Care is given to not disturb nesting sea turtles and tourists

Some say global warming is to blame while others think man-made pollutants are disrupting the ocean s eco-system

Some researchers speculate global warming is to blame for the unprecedented event, others suspect man-made pollutants are disrupting the ocean s eco-system. Removal efforts made by locals armed with shovels and wheelbarrows (and sometimes even excavators) have proved futile against the seaweed surge, and local tourism organisations are frantically trying to find a solution before peak season begins again in the coming months. The latest plan of action involves building flotation devices to stop the flow further out at sea before it washes ashore.

I met several travellers who d cancelled plans to visit beaches on the Yucatan Peninsula and instead headed to unaffected shores, such as parts of Isla Mujeres, a Mexican island just a short ferry trip from Cancun, or south to Belize. But after spending a few days in Tulum, I found there s much more to the Discount Holidays © holiday town than many tourists might be bothered to discover when the beach is at its best.

Swim in a cenote

Located just 3km from Tulum the turquoise Gran Cenote is the perfect spot for snorkelling among small fish and see underwater formations in the caverns

The shining Gran Cenote (left) is a good stop between Tulum and the Cob ruins. The Cristalino Cenote (right) on the west side of the highway south of Playa del Carmen is also worth an explore

Mexico s Yucatan Peninsula is dotted with thousands of cenotes; sink holes filled with cool, clear water that vary in size and depth. I much preferred taking a dip in these natural plunge pools to swimming at the beach, with no sneaky grains of sand or sticky feeling lingering on my skin post-swim.

Tulum s main centoes are the Gran Cenote and Dos Ojes, which have caves to explore and wildlife to watch (bring your own snorkel or hire one on site). But with entrance fees of 150 pesos ( 5.80) and 200 pesos ( 7.73) per person respectively and large crowds depending on the time of day and year some of the smaller cenotes offer a more tranquil experience. Cristalino Cenote and Cenote Escondido, about five kilometres south of Tulum town on highway 307, are directly opposite each other, and have a combined entrance fee of 120 pesos ( 4.64).

Even better, buy a local a drink and ask him to show you his favourite secret swimming holes on a map. Hire a car (American Car Rentals has vehicles available starting at US$44/ 28 per day) and spend a day cenote-hopping solo.

Visit Mayan ruins

Muyil was one of the earliest inhabited ancient Maya sites on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula featuring beautiful ruins (left). Coba is located 44 kilometres northwest of Tulum s centre and includes sights such as the Temple of the Frescoes (right)

The most iconic image of Tulum is undoubtedly the famous Mayan ruins perched atop a hill over the beach, with the azure ocean just steps away. Before the sargassum situation most tourists would stroll around the ancient site before cooling off in the sea. But with the current conditions making that prospect less appealing, take the opportunity to visit some far more impressive ruins a little further out.

The largest nearby site is Coba, 44 kilometres northwest of Tulum s centre. There are five different ruins there, the largest being the Piramide de Nohoch Mul, as well as several cenotes. Unlike other Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, such as Chichen Itza s Kukulkan Pyramid, tourists are still allowed to climb the approximate 120 steps to the top of Coba s pyramid, although rumour has it this might be stopped in 2016.

Hire a car to do it on your own, or go with one of the tour companies operating in Tulum. For a similar experience but on a smaller scale, head to Muyil, just 15 kilometres south of Tulum s centre on the 307 highway. The crumbling former Mayan trade site can be explored with an easy half-hour stroll, and it has the added benefit of offering access to the Sian Ka an Biosphere Reserve (with an additional entry fee of 50 pesos (just under 2) per person.)

A ten-minute walk through thick jungle on a raised wooden platform leads to the lagoon, where you can take a dip in the clear, seaweed-free water, or hire a boat to take you further out into the lagoon.

The more adventurous shouldn t miss the viewing tower on the way which requires the climbing of four steep sets of stairs where you ll be rewarded with a view over the jungle tree tops looking out to the lagoon. Several Tulum tour companies offer expeditions that include the option to swim/float down a natural canal.

Take a dip where the locals do

Not even on the official tourist map, the jungle-surrounded laguna Kaan Luum is not frequented by most visitors, but is popular with local scuba divers

Another sans seaweed swimming spot can be found just four kilometres south of town on the 307. Laguna Kaan Luum could be Tulum s most idyllic oasis, mainly because it is not frequented by most visitors (it s not even pictured on the official Tulum tourist map.)

Surrounded 360 degrees by lush green jungle, it also features an 85-metre-deep underwater hole in the middle giving the lagoon a dark blue circle at its centre, which is popular with scuba divers.

Spend the day leaping into the water before returning to the dock to laze in the sun. Look carefully for the small, fading sign indicating the turn off on the left side of the highway if you re coming from Tulum. Entry is 40 pesos ( 1.55) per person.

Treat yourself, Tulum style

In demand: The spa at hotel Sanara Tulum only opened in December 2014, but it s already one of the most sought-after wellness centres in town

It wouldn t be a well-rounded visit to Tulum without sampling one of the many day spas, that will leave you so relaxed you ll be mistaken for a local.

Mayan Clay Spa1 is a Tulum institution that has two locations; one on the beach and another in the jungle. While the spa offers a typical array of treatments, the Mayan clay massage is the signature experience. A therapist applies a layer of natural clay to the body and massages it in from head to toe, and after it s rinsed off you re treated to a full body oil massage.

The spa at hotel Sanara Tulum2 only opened in December 2014, but it s already one of the most sought-after wellness centres in town. Every treatment room in the three-storey space has a view over the sea and an open window to let the ocean breeze in. The must-try treatment is the Crystal Healing Massage performed by Peruvian therapist Mauricio Terrazas, who has around a decade of experience. Mauricio combines expert masseuse skills with the placing of crystals on various parts of the body.

In the world of alternative therapies crystals are believed to have healing properties and the ability to promote energy flow through the body. Whether it was the crystals or just Mauricio s talented hands, the 90-minute treatment left me in what can only be described as a meditative state. What beach? Hotels so beautiful you won t want to leave

Sanara Tulum

Enjoy yoga by the beach at Sanara resort, which boasts an airy studio surrounded by jungle plants and trees (left).

One of the airy rooms at Sanara (right)

Dip a toe or dive head-first into the health and wellness options on offer at Sanara Tulum, a boutique hotel with a focus on nourishing food and yoga without the strictness of a detox retreat. On-site restaurant The Real Coconut is dairy, gluten and refined sugar-free and has many vegan options, but there s also meat on the menu (and a wine list). Enjoy as many sessions as you please at the world-class yoga studio or none at all, if you re not down with downward dog.

Sanara has two different room styles, both of which are particularly modern and comfortable since the hotel only opened last year. The most affordable option is a palapa-style hut located 100 metres back from the beach in a jungle atmosphere. All four palapas lead onto a shared pool while still providing privacy.

Then there are the 10 Tamarind suites: large, stylishly appointed spaces right on the beach that have either a balcony looking over the ocean (second floor rooms) or a private garden at the rear complete with a deep, claw-footed bathtub (ground floor rooms). Sanara Tulum was designed by Studio Arquitectos, who were recently awarded the National Interior & Architect Design Award for the Association of Architects & Interioristas of Mexico. All 14 rooms have air conditioning, hot water and wi-fi.

Palapa room rates start from USD $200 ( 128) per night, while Tamarind suites begin at USD $500 ( 322). Book online at www.sanaratulum.com3.

Coqui Coqui Tulum

The Coqui Coqui Tulum only has six rooms, making visits feel personal and discreet. Each room has its own bespoke design, but all feature a dangerously comfortable four-poster bed

With just six rooms, Coqui Coqui Tulum is truly a boutique hotel.

Despite having one of the best locations in Tulum, with the beach on one side and the town s best restaurants and boutiques on the other, Coqui Coqui s high walls and discreet layout make you feel as though you re miles from anywhere. Each room has its own bespoke design, but all feature a dangerously comfortable four-poster bed, built-in bath and achingly cool minimalist meets vintage style. The lack of air conditioning is more than made up for by effective ceiling fans and large windows that allow the ocean breeze to flow into each room.

The on-site boutique and perfumeria is a unique offering, with Coqui Coqui fragrances and candles making the perfect Discount Holidays © holiday mementos. Complimentary spa products from the boutique included in every room is a generous touch. There s also a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as Coqui Coqui s artesenal chocolates and teas.

Prices start from approximately USD $250 ( 158).

Visit http://www.coquicoqui.com4 or https://www.mrandmrssmith.com5.

Despite the beaches being littered by seaweed, tourists can see enjoy spectacular views over the stunning Mexican biosphere

References

  1. ^ Mayan Clay Spa (www.mayanclayspa.com)
  2. ^ Sanara Tulum (www.sanaratulum.com)
  3. ^ www.sanaratulum.com (www.sanaratulum.com)
  4. ^ http://www.coquicoqui.com (www.coquicoqui.com)
  5. ^ https://www.mrandmrssmith.com (www.mrandmrssmith.com)

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