Our guide at Chichen Itza yesterday, Abel, had recommended visiting the site of Ek Balam, about 12 miles north of Vallodolid, which was on our way to Tulum. Ek Balam was opened to the public relatively recently. It is a small site and not on the main tourist track, so it was nice not to have to deal with large crowds. Set in the jungle where it was nice and hot and humid, even by mid morning, this was the only Mexican site where we were able to climb the largest ruins. The highlight of Ek Balam is that about 1/2 way up the main structure there is a terrace with lots of ornate carvings, some pristine frescoes, and most unusually a plinth/doorway which is the mouth of a jaguar including teeth above and below that were probably about 2′ long.
After we sweat our way back to the car, we drove on to Tulum, a fairly monotonous drive through scrubby jungle. Tulum has a couple of claims to fame. One of them is its proximity to dozens of cenotes and so it is a base for cavern and cave diving, which we did the next day (more in a separate post). The other claim to fame is the Mayan ruins of Tulum, which have the distinction of being right on the coast. In fact, if you so wish, you can swim from the beach within the ruins site. Unfortunately because of its relative proximity to the big resorts, it is also a very popular site, so lots of people, and no climbing the structures. The site is well kept with neat, rope lined paths to direct you around the ruins. Unfortunately this has the effect of making the site come off a little Disneylandish. Still the views of the structures next to the sea, and some of the unique carvings made it interesting, including a god that looked like a man diving.
Once we left the site, we decided to visit the beach side branch of our hotel. We are staying at the Don Diego de la Selva (forest), and they also have a Don Diego de la Playa (beach), a few KM away. Our hotel is a quaint boutique place on the edge of town and its a pleasant place to stay, with a/c, 24 hour electricity, etc. The beach property is right on the beach, but the accommodations are cabanas and tents with no a/c and power for only part of the evening. Thankfully it is much cooler here by the ocean, but the a/c is still nice! One benefit of staying at our hotel is that it gives us access to their beach property, so we hung out there for a little while as Aaron build a sand castle/race track in the very fine white sand.