During our trip to the Mayan Riviera, we wanted to explore the ancient ruins in the area. While we were staying at Mi Amor in Tulum, we took a tour with Adventure Tour Center. Their office is very centrally located, right next to Mateo’s Restaurant on the Tulum strip.
Mateo’s has a juice and coffee bar, so we had a delicious juice (with beets, spinach, ginger, honey, carrots and celery) before we headed out with our guide, Jeff.
When it was time to go, we set off to check out the Coba Ruins. It was a short 45-minute drive to the ruins. On the way there, Jeff gave us a great intro to our upcoming tour. He provided a ton of fantastic info on Mayan history and culture.
When we arrived to Coba's main entrance, Jeff knew just about everyone there. He made sure to secure the best Mayan guide for our private tour. He explained to us that there were many different levels of experience when it came to the guides. Experienced guides would give a very different interpretation of Mayan history and culture compared to newer guides.
Our Mayan guide was Juan. He was terrific and had a great sense of humor.
Juan led us for the first half of the guided tour, and Jeff took over for the second half.
This was a neat way to experience the ruins. We were able to hear directly from a native Mayan for half of the tour, and then from a well-studied local for the other half.
For a part of the tour, we rented bikes, which made cruising around the ruins really easy and breezy.
It was quite hot, so the breeze we were able to receive on the bikes made a huge difference and really helped us cool down.
The highlight of the tour was climbing the main temple, which is called Pyramid Nohoch Mul. It stands 42 meters high. That's a little over 137 feet.
You will want to wear some good shoes if you come here, as the stones can be somewhat slippery. If you have slick shoes, you will get no grip. The climb up to the top is a lot easier than the tedious trek down.
If you need assistance, there is a rope you can use to maintain your balance. Once you get to the top, you get to enjoy an incredible view of all of Coba. The surrounding greenery is quite a sight to take in.
I took my time climbing down because, on the top, I realized just how high we actually were.
I don’t typically get scared of heights, but I felt better taking it slow on the way down. Despite the height, climbing to the top is most definitely worth the effort.
There are three ruins in the area: Tulum, Coba and Chechen Itza. I believe that Coba is the only one where you can actually climb to the top of one of the pyramids. Also, there have been talks of shutting Coba down to refurbish it. You will want to make sure you get to make it to the top before that happens.
After our tour, Jeff talked about this "Mayan Red Bull" drink that we had to try. It could be purchased from a little stand outside of the ruins’ entrance.
The drink consists of fresh orange juice, fresh seasonal fruits, honey and bee pollen. It was absolutely delicious and so refreshing after our trek through the ruins.
Once we got back into the van, we were off to our next destination, the cenotes. This was just a quick drive from Coba.
(via Wikipedia: a cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Especially associated with the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings.)
Once we arrived, we got our tickets and changed into our swimming gear. Before you enter the cenotes, they have showers where you can rinse off any sunscreen, bug spray, perfume, etc. They ask that you do this so that they can keep the water as clean and uncontaminated as possible.
We got changed, showered and were ready to go. Upon entering, you take a set of winding stairs down into the cenote. It is simply stunning here, with the beautiful water, the stalactites and the huge open dome-like cave. As you walk down the stairs, you will notice two different platforms to jump off into the water. One is a thirty-foot jump and the other is a fifteen-foot jump.
When Jeff talked about them before we arrived, I was thinking that I would want to jump off of both. However, on our way down into the cenote, I took a glimpse over the edge of the 30-footer and second guessed that decision. Wow, it was a lot higher than I had envisioned in my head, and my confidence wasn’t as strong as it was when I was in the car thinking about it. I decided to start with the 15-footer and go from there. The 15-foot jump was a piece of cake. The water was incredibly refreshing, especially since the temperature outside was well into the 90s, with almost 100% humidity.
There happened to only be one other visitor in the cenote when we arrived, so it was very peaceful and felt like we had the place all to ourselves to enjoy. Jeff said he was going to do the 30 footer and convinced me that it was really not that big of a deal. He showed me what to do in terms of making myself into a pencil so that my feet broke my fall into the water. Looking over that edge was still a bit frightening, but I had already made my mind up. I was doing it, no backing out. I said "1-2-3 jump" in my head... but I was still standing on the ledge. Yep, I was starting to overthink it and just needed to do it quickly…. "1-2-3 jump." This second time I did it. It turned out that it was not bad at all.
The rush is amazing and I followed Jeff’s direction to a tee. I literally felt nothing as I went into the water. We stayed for a little while... just taking in the relaxing environment. I could see how much fun this would be with a bigger group, like a corporate retreat, bachelorette/bachelor party or wedding party.
There are other cenotes in the area too. The cenote we visited was underground because the dome of the cave was still intact. There are others where the dome has collapsed, leaving an open hole. At these open cenotes, instead of jumping from a ledge or stairway, you jump from the land into the wide-open pool of fresh water. We only had time for the one pool, so we will have to check out some of the other cenotes on our return visit.
After the cenote adventure, we made our way back to downtown Tulum. Jeff said he wanted to take us to one of his favorite authentic street food restaurants, El Rincon Chiapaneco.
It was located right in town, just off the main street.
We started with some freshly-made guacamole, chips and spicy salsa. Each place we went to in Tulum had their own spicy salsas. They were all different, but all amazingly good. They were mostly very, very spicy, however. It was one of those things: your mouth is telling you to stop because it is on fire, but you just can’t because it’s so delicious.
We also ordered several of their specialty juices to cool our mouths down after eating all that spice. I ordered a drink with strawberry, cucumber and lime with a dash of honey. Jamie and Jeff had the same drink without the strawberry.
For lunch, we shared their vegetarian enchiladas, and we all ordered their shrimp tacos with homemade corn tortillas.
The tortillas and the fillings were fantastic and very inexpensive. This is a must stop when in Tulum.
It was so hot and humid that we needed something else besides the juice to cool us down. Jeff knew of the perfect refreshment. He had us walk right down the street to Flor de Michoacan, a little café that serves some of the best paletas (homemade popsicles) in town.
Jeff ordered the strawberry, Jamie got the pineapple and chili and I ordered the kiwi paleta. If you are in Tulum on a hot day, you simply have to stop here.
After our refreshing afternoon treat, it was time to make our way back to our car. However, our tour was not over by any means. On our way back to our car, Jeff wanted to personally point out as many of his and his wife Kate's favorite local gems. We made mental notes of each one and included them here:
Jeff & Kate’s Local Hot Spots
Recommendations on the beach side of town include:
1. Mateo’s Mexican Grill
- Mexican specialties and American classics
- Known for their espresso bar, burritos, burgers, tacos and salads
- Located at the start of the hotel zone on Boca Paila
- Cash only. Open daily for breakfast/lunch/dinner
2. El Tabano
- Mexican cuisine, small plates but a big menu
- Located just before Amansala Resort on the jungle side of Boca Paila
- Cash only. Closed on Sundays. Open for breakfast/lunch/dinner
3. Posada Margherita
- Known for homemade pasta, seafood and a chic ambiance
- Located two doors down from Amansala on the beach side of Boca Paila
- Cash only. Open daily for breakfast/lunch/dinner
4. La Zebra
- Mexican cuisine
- Located on the beach after Cocqui Cocqui Hotel
- CC accepted. Open daily for breakfast/lunch/dinner
- Salsa Night every Sunday @6pm
- Located on the jungle side of Boca Paila, after Casa Banana and La Onda Pizza
- Cash only. Open for dinner 6pm-10pm
- Southern comfort food from the US, Caribbean and Mexico
- Known for ribs, steak, seafood and unique cocktails
- Located on the jungle side of Boca Paila, just after Parayso Hotel
- Cash only. Closed Mon & Tues. Open for dinner 6pm-10pm
Recommendations for Tulum Pueblo (i.e. inland village area) include:
1. Rincon Chiapeneco
- Mexican food from the state of Chiapas. Known for empenadas, enchiladas and fajitas
- Located on Calle Jupiter Sur, south end of Avenida Tulum (Hwy 307)
- Cash only. Breakfast/lunch/dinner. Closed Sundays
2. Antojitos La Chiapeneca
- Mexican food from the state of Chiapas
- Known for tacos el pastor (ask for pineapple on top!)
- Located across the street from Chiapeneco’s, in a dark orange building
- Cash only. Open for dinner most nights after 6pm
3. Taquieria Honorio
- Hands Down – Best Breakfast Tacos!
- Located 2 blocks in on Satelite Sur (2 blocks in from Scotia Bank)
- Cash only. Open 6am – 1pm. Closed Mondays
4. La Nave
- Italian, known for pizza, pastas, salads and seafood specials
- Located in the center of downtown, between Orion Norte & Beta Norte
- Cash only. Breakfast/lunch/dinner. Closed Sundays
5. El Pollo Bronco
- Mexican Rotisserie Chicken
- Located on the corner of Avenida Tulum & Orion Sur
- Cash only. Open daily from 9am-7pm
6. El Aguacate
- Mexican Cuisine, known for soups, salads & chilaquiles
- Located on the corner of Orion Sur & Sol Oriente
- Cash only. Open from 9am-9pm. Closed Mondays
7. Del Cielo
- European café for breakfast/lunch, known for their tartines & salads
- Located one block in on Avenue Satelite Sur (across from Scotia Bank)
- Cash only. Open from 8-3pm. Closed Sundays
- Yucatan Cuisine, known for “Chile en Nogada” poblano stuffed peppers
- Located on the corner of Orion Norte & Polar Norte
- Cash only. Open for dinner 5-10pm. Closed on Wednesdays
9. El Gourmet
- Italian Deli & European Café
- Known for the best sandwiches and paninis in town
- Located on the corner of Avenida Tulum & Centauro Sur
- Cash only. Open for lunch and dinner 11am-7pm. Closed on Sundays
If you are looking for a tour company in Tulum, you should call Jeff and Kate at Adventure Tour Center. They are very professional and down to earth, and they are knowledgeable when it comes to the history and culture of the area. They are enthusiastic about sharing all the local hot spots and hidden gems with their clients. Best of all, by the end of our tour, we felt like we had gained a new friend in Jeff.
When speaking with Jeff about our experience, he mentioned that he and his staff strive to treat every visitor and guest like family. He also said that he gets invited to stay at places all around the world due to the friendships and bonds he has made with his customers. That really says something. It was very clear to us that Jeff was not in the business only for profit. Jeff and his team truly want to create as much value for their guests as they can, and he said several times how proud he was of his team. He explained that he tries to pay his employees what they deserve, which happens to be much more than any other company operating in the Tulum area. If his employees are happy, it will translate into a fantastic customer experience.
The Adventure Tour Center in not the cheapest company you will find when looking for a Tulum tour. However, it is also not the most expensive. Their prices are right in the middle, but the overall experience that you will receive will far exceed your expectations. We had an amazing time and cannot wait to check out the other adventures that they offer. Yet another reason to book a return trip to Tulum.