If you had your choice: Isla Mujeres, Tulum, or somewhere else?
September 5, 2014 9:34 AM   Subscribe

A (platonic) friend and I have settled on a week in the for our annual adventure Yucatan with the necessity of observing Dia de los Muertos as traditionally as possible. What's out: resort-y tourist traps and highbrow urban scenes. What's in: rustic, natural, and easy access to natural & historic sites. Muchas gracias in advance for your suggestions.

We know we can't avoid the tourist vibe completely (heck, we'll be tourists), we don't want to be caught up in throbbing partying masses that treat the locals obnoxiously and clamor for tshirts. Isla Mujeres has been strongly suggested but it does seem to have a fairly touristy vibe and little happening culturally, and Tulum looks great though possibly very expensive. We definitely want beach, obviously. Your experience and wisdom will be appreciated!
posted by moonbird to Travel & Transportation around Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico (10 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I've never been to Isla Mujeres but when I googled it it seemed to have lots of high rise hotels. Tulum is NOT like that.

I think Tulum is more what you are looking for based on your description. You are close to ruins and terrific cenotes to swim in. You take a comfy bus from Cancun and it stops in Playa del Carmen. There's a bus terminal there are you can continue on to Tulum. But stop in Playa del Carmen for lunch and to stroll around.

In Tulum you can stay in the village or on the beach. There is a BIG difference in prices. When I go I often split up the trip. 3 or 4 nights budget and 3 or 4 nights with a splurge. The budget days I do day trips. You'll be near ruins and cenotes. It's just wonderful down there.

If you want to spend a few days in the jungle you might want to look at http://www.laselvamariposa.com/. I have been eyeing this place lately. It's close to Coba and cenotes.
posted by beccaj at 10:01 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Check out Frommer's various suggested itineraries for the Yucatan. Tulum is a small beach town, and with a week you could easily split your time between other locations, like Merida, where the ratio of tourists to locals would be much lower.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:25 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

with the necessity of observing Dia de los Muertos as traditionally as possible.

The most opulent, touristy areas really aren't the places for that. El Dia de los Muertos is simply not celebrated as much in Quintana Roo as it is in some of the other Mexican states. If this is a priority for you, you may want to consider spending part of your trip traveling elsewhere within Mexico, possibly even doing a home-stay with an observant family.
posted by hush at 10:38 AM on September 5, 2014

Isla Mujeres is definitely not some crazy Cancun-type all-inclusive resort and party scene, but it's not really what you'd call a cultural destination either. The only real ruins are a small Mayan shrine at the south end of the island, of which really not much is left, and there are no cenotes on the island. Most of the touristy stuff is clustered at the north end of the island; La Gloria in the middle is where most of the locals live, and the south is the most rustic and least developed.

Isla's main advantages are the quality of the beaches, the good food, and the abundance of aquatic activities, including ecotours where you can swim with whale sharks; although Dia de los Muertos is not in the right season for whale sharks so that one does you no good.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:45 AM on September 5, 2014

Best answer: The beaches along Boca Paila road (Carretera a Boca Paila) in Tulum are... well, look. We live in Southern California and still pine for those beaches. It's nothing like PdC or even Isla Mujeres, which are both much more wide-open and/or crammed with VIP beach beds and volleyball kayaking or whatever.

We vacationed in QR several times, and our general plan was to stay one or two nights in Playa del Carmen to do a lot of eating at different restaurants, and then go to ground somewhere quiet like Tulum (or Isla Mujeres, where we got an apartment on the quieter south end - I don't think there's capacity for high-rise hotels there, but there are several multi-story condo buildings on the north end). In Tulum, I get the impression that the opposite end of the beach road from Sian Ka'an is all massive resorts now, but down the biosphere end is still a string of very nice but smaller beach hotels on those a-ma-zing beaches. The biosphere is also a great day out.

Like hush said, I don't think Dia de los Muertos is celebrated all that effusively in that part of Mexico. There is a great cemetery on the north end of IM, but it's a real everyday-use cemetery and people would probably prefer that you butt out of their visit to their abuela.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:52 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've never been to Isla Mujeres but when I googled it it seemed to have lots of high rise hotels.

That's emphatically not the case. I can't speak to Tulum, but Isla's one of my favorite places in the world. I mostly agree with Strangely stunted trees' comment- the beaches, food, and general megachill atmosphere are the big attractions of Isla.

If you do stay in Isla, I highly recommend staying at Casa Sirena. It's an old house that's been converted to a small hotel and holy shit is it awesome. The guy who runs it is a great natural host; his sunset rooftop happy hours for guests are as much fun as anything I've ever done while travelling.
posted by COBRA! at 11:49 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you want the most low key and authentic place in Quintana Roo, my vote would be Isla Mujeres, not Tulum.

But if you want to celebrate Day of the Dead then go to the center of it all, Patzcuaro, and get your room booked EARLY.
posted by bearwife at 12:01 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, Día de los Muertos is not really a thing in that part of México. I was at a resort in Riviera Maya near Playa del Carmen and we visited Chichen Itzá on Día de los muertos as a coincidence, and nowhere did we feel that it was a special day at all. As others are saying, if you want the real deal, go to Pátzcuaro, Michoacán. Or if you're set for a vacation in the yucatán península, my vote goes for Tulum and against Isla Mujeres.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 4:22 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your input. Weighing all this, we've decided that the low-key-ness of Tulum won over the "fun" potential of Mujeres, though we're going to include it in our visit. It was suggested that we rent a car for the day and drive to Valladolid for DoTD observations, as it would be a tad more vibrant than Tulum's and less tourist-appealing. I don't think we have the time to drive further out, though your suggestions are spot on for a second trip. We found a great place to stay via AirBnB, something I'd never considered before. Perfect location, great rating, prices no hotel can touch. I'll definitely update this after the trip with feedback for future Yucataneros.
posted by moonbird at 7:46 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We ended up finding a great place via Airbnb very close to the Si'an Kaan Biosphere entrance and away from all the malarkey. It looks like we're in for a great time, we'll let you know!
posted by moonbird at 10:29 PM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

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