The Holiday Before the Journey - Part 3 (Akumal)
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
Our time in Holbox is almost over and a decision is needed. Where shall we go next? Our initial choices: Isla Mujeres or Playa del Carmen and Cozumel. Been there, know they’re beautiful. Also know they're very popular and will likely have more tourists than locals. Because we’re trying to find that elusive Mexican fishing village that has only just been discovered (good luck with that!), we decide to go further south - Mahahual intrigues us. Mostly because neither of us have heard of it. We’re hoping no one else has either.
Mahahual is almost at the border of Belize and at least six hours away, so we decide to break up the journey at Akumal, a small town just north of the larger ciudad of Tulum. Akumal is still many tourists’ destination of choice, and therefore, likely just as busy. But… I remember Akumal from an earlier trip as ‘sunshine and masses of pink and red bougainvillea,’ and quite gorgeous. And I do love flowers. Especially bougainvillea! I decide this is where we want to go. Aaron, agreeably, scans his various accommodation websites and finds the Hotel Que Onda. Not on the ocean, but not far away and with a pool and loungers. Yes. I’m done with compromise. I want to be that girl who has her own lounger.
We book our bus online from Chiquila to Playa del Carmen with a plan to take a collectivo (12-passenger van, typically cheaper than the bus) to Akumal. We don’t find the collectivos easily, but we do find huuuuge burritos and coronas for 200 pesos at El Ranchito a few blocks away from the more expensive beachside restaurants. Such a great find – did I say I loved food? Food and flowers. Food more.
So, now that we’re fed and watered, we need to get outta town. “Senor,” I call to the restaurant owner. “Donde estan los collectivos para Akumal?” Where are the collectivos to Akumal? “Derecho,” he says, pointing straight ahead of him. And in no time, with that little bit of direction, we’re in a collective labeled 'Playa to Tulum,' and speeding down the highway toward Akumal.
The driver calls out 'Akumal' and so we climb out with our bags. Dropped off on the highway, we turn right and walk into the town - smack dab into our best restaurant find of the holiday - Cosme’s Taqueria, a little hole-in-the wall just on the right hand side as you climb the hill into the village. A father and son, both with big identical smiles on their faces, wave us to a table. Roast chicken is sizzling away on their blackened, dented-from decades-of-use 45-gallon drum barbeque. We get a pile of it, along with rice, salad, a great big glass of ice-cold lemonade, and more smiles. Fantastic – and for just 140 pesos for both of us! Food, flowers, and good deals – that’s what I like.
We ask them where Half Moon Bay is, which is where our hotel is waiting for us. Pointing to the taxi shop next door, they indicate we should take it across the highway in the opposite direction from the little town. We realize our luck in finding them – we might never have known there was a real Akumal if we’d headed directly to our hotel. Apparently, there's a whole other side of Akumal - one just for the tourists ‘and ex-pats.’ Gracias! We’ll be back, we say. “Vamos a volver!”
Heading next door, we ask about a taxi to our hotel. The taxi driver quotes us 200 pesos. Thinking it’s only one kilometre from the highway, and being the cheapo's we are, we decide to walk.
A kilometre later, a sign informs us we have three more to go. Sigh. Aaron’s bag is super heavy. We’ve already decided we’ll need to divvy up the gear a little more evenly and that I’ll have to take my bigger backpack on the ‘journey.’ We’ll also need to get even tougher on what we pack for the next trip. A small tuk-tuk stops beside us just as we’re starting to whine. “Cuanta cuesto?, we ask. How much?
“Cinquenta (pronounced sing-quenta),” he says. For 50 pesos, we don’t even hesitate.
Lush foliage and palm trees surround the hotel. How nice! We walk through its arched gateway and register. $102 a night! Wow. Forgot about that 21% hotel tax. We follow our host around the pool in the centre of the courtyard. Loungers empty – check. A cobbled rock courtyard leads us up some stairs to some heavy wooden double-panelled doors that open out grandly into our room. Oh yeah, I think, as we step into a massive space, elegant towel-swans awaiting on our king-sized bed. A sliding glass door leads out to a private balcony overlooking the pool. Sweeet! “
This area’s for you as well”, our host points, taking us to a covered balcony…with a hammock! Did I say how much I love hammocks? Flowers, food, good deals, happy people… and hammocks. That’s what makes me happy. $102 is just fine. I’m good. We’ll buy some food and put it in our fridge instead of going out to eat.
Akumal is know for its snorkeling, especially at Half Moon Bay, which is where we’re staying.
Some snorkeling is free, some not. If you want to be sure of seeing turtles, 100 pesos will get you access to Akumal’s beautiful public beach. Or for 600 pesos, an amazing snorkel experience is waiting for you in Yal-ku Cenote’s fresh water. Because we brought our own snorkel gear, we decide to look for our own access to the beach and reef. Success…a small dirt road takes us right out to the beach.
With a little searching for a good entry spot, we are soon swimming amongst purple sea fans and colourful fish. I get an adrenaline rush when a large manta ray turns toward me, creeping forward as I creep backward, but i's just teasing me apparently. It swims away and my heart slows down again.
Lots of coloured bits of coral here and there – I can’t tell if it’s dying or coming back. I’ve read that the residents living ‘round the bay are quite aggressive with snorkelers, and take pot shots at any of them that get vertical. Don’t blame them at all. Makes me so crazy seeing snorkelers resting on or bumbling through coral reefs without care, not realizing, I suppose, how sensitive they are and how easily they’re broken. I made sure I got horizontal as soon as I could and stayed that way until I got out. Which… is a bit of a fiasco. Large waves bully us as we try to climb on to the rocks and we workto time our steps to the short lulls between the breakers. I take a step and look around for something to anchor me as the next one comes, but the sea decides to change its rhythm. A huge wave bowls me over sideways and into the sharp volcanic rock. I scrabble around trying to get my balance and re-anchor, but another comes, again bashing me against the rock. Realizing I have to be quicker, I wait ‘til the lull and crawl as fast as I can up and over the rocks. Safe on shore, I turn back to cheer Aaron on. He does little better but manages to get out without loss of blood.
Akumal is everything we;re looking for. When we're looking for peace and luxury, we can take our cold beers down to the pool and lie in the sun amongst the palms and bougainvillea. Or I can take my morning cup of coffee to the hammock and swing away in the warm breeze.
We can rent a bike or walk the three- kilometre paved road out of the gated community, enjoying the funny little coatimundis' (the Mexican equivalent to the raccoon) that rummage through the hotels' garbage bins.
We can then bike or walk back across the highway to the local side of Akumal. Walk up and down the small streets and admire the exquisite murals throughout the town.
Buy some pineapple and tiny sweet bananas from the cart in the middle of town. Go visit with the nice Swiss couple in town running tours, and if we have some extra pesos (which we don't - they're going toward our fancy hotel), we'll go out with them to a Mayan farming village for a cooking lesson and check out the community's delicious and very unique honey made from the pollen of a single species of flower. Then, at the end of such a wonderful day, we'll go have a delicious and fantastically-priced fish dinner at Cosme’s Taqueria.
What else could we want? Heading to Mahahual now...stay tuned for Part 4 of our Mexican