“Daddy, Daddy, Lily lost a tooth!” Emma comes yelling into the otherwise quiet breakfast area. A minute later Lily walks in slowly, knowing that she already has everyone’s attention, and proudly shows all the guests her tiny little tooth. Her first question is whether the Tooth Fairy leaves money in Dollars or Pesos in Mexico? (It’s Pesos, by the way.)
We enjoy a little beach time in the morning sun before heading out towards town. Tulum is developing quickly. The highway we’re on is a smooth, broad, 4-lane concrete road with enough signage to make any driver comfortable. (They still have speed bumps, but fewer.) The town has multiple banks, dozens of restaurants and of course, ample hotels. They are supposedly building the largest Airport in Mexico here, to be completed possibly in a few years.
The only thing keeping the Tulum beachfront from exploding into high-rise hotels is the lack of city generated power to the coast. They appear committed to limit the development of the hotel area, which sits in between the protected Mayan ruins and the Sian Kaan bio-reserve. Maybe they have learned some lessons from Cancun and Playa del Carmen, but the pressure to expand the access for tourism will be great. I expect I will not recognize Tulum in another 15 years.
The tourist love the beach, sure, but they need something else to do. The Mayan ruins in Tulum and Coba are ‘ok’ and ‘pretty good’ respectively. Snorkeling and scuba diving in the ocean is very limited here compared to Cozumel. There fastest growing activity on the Mayan coast is eco-adventure ‘parks’ that combine diving, snorkeling, zip lines, hiking and other stuff. Hidden Worlds is close to Tulum and seems to have a good reputation. There is also Xel-ha, and Xcaret and other smaller ones.
We pull right off the highway to hidden worlds, and it doesn’t look busy. You can do their activities a la carte, or buy the economical all-inclusive package for about $80 US per adult, less for kids. Their main attractions are a series of cenotes and the water can get cold. They recommend, and we agreed, to rent wet suits. After a video orientation we hop on the ‘Jungle Buggy’
The Jungle Buggy is a ride in itself, up and down a windy, bumpy, hilly dirt road in the back of a large pick-up truck with benches to sit. Lily and Emma both love it. It’s a chilly day, but we aren’t wet yet so the overcast skies and cool air are a relief in the middle of the day. We are dropped off at ‘base camp’, which consists of restaurant, gift shop and a few palapas with the gear we need for the activities.
The first activity is the sky-cycle and we choose to walk the half-kilometer. Halfway down the path are some monkeys we stop and see. They are formerly domesticated monkeys, that can’t be returned to the wild. Seeing them caged after watching wild ones in Calakmul was saddening.
The sky-cycle is like a recumbent bycicle suspended from a steel cable. You push yourself along slowly through the thinning jungle and it’s pretty fun. Emma barely checks with us before she’s up on the platform, in the sky cycle and racing through the trees. Lily is supposed to go with me, but she negotiates with the man to let her try it alone, and with 3 or 4 of the ‘little kid’ booster seats, she can reach the pedals. He looks at me and I shrug. The Creekmore women do what they want to do, I can’t stop them. Lily takes off.
“Dad?” Lily shouts back to me, “I’m getting a little scared!” The sky-cycle is a little more than she bargained for. “Keep pedaling Lily, It’ll be ok” is the only response I can give. We are 30 feet up. I supposed there is some way they could her down, but it might take hours. And it looks like it’s going to rain, which could really make this terrifying.
Lily powers through her fears and makes it to the next station, where a nice French girl tries to calm her down before she makes the skycycle descend into a dark cave. She’s actually completed the hardest part of the course already, but with limited English, and Lily a bit hysterical, the message doesn’t get across. Somehow Lily conjures up the courage to continue, and seconds later is with Emma and Trish on the platform from which we will snorkel in a dimly lit, water-filled cave.
Emma is wide-eyed and breathless with excitement about the cavern swim. Lily is justifiably proud of herself, but a little cautious. It’s dark in places, and there are those damn fish she hates. This guide, like the guides on all the activities, sees her panic a little and takes her with him. Snorkeling a cave with hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites, many visible under the water, is really amazing and beautiful. Emma powers around with her mask in the water the whole time. I’m pretty sure she will be a scuba diver when she’s older.
Back on the skycycle, Lily goes with me this time, and enjoys it. This segment of the ride, goes not just through the canopy, but also into some small caves. It’s already been about 2 hours since we arrived, and expending all that energy on fear, excitement, and adrenaline has built up a big appetite. The restaurant makes simple quesadillas, chicken tacos and fajitas. It’s not great, and we scarf it down. We slowly warm up and head to the second half of the adventure.
The pattern repeats at the jungle zip-line. Emma flies off before we can even say ‘see ya later.’ Lily and I go together, and she isn’t really happy about it. She digs her nails in my neck and cries as we head down the line, but unlike the skycycle, it’s a very short ride.
On the other side are three more ‘rides’. There is a longer snorkel trip we don’t have time for, a ‘repelling’ drop through the ceiling of the cenote, and the ultimate activity: the zip-line splash into the water filled cave.
Emma does each one quickly to ‘test’ them for Lily. After being forced to do the zip line against her will, I didn’t think she would like the one here, but she does it and loves it. That kid has a lot of courage. I pick up some high speed on the zip line before my ass bounces 2 or 3 times off the surface of the water before I sink into the clear cold wet. It’s pretty fun and Emma and Lily do it several times, forward and backward.
Shivering and wet, we talk with a family of six from Kansas on the ‘Jungle Buggy’ ride back to our car. They have been here all day, and agree with our kids that it’s a great place. Cenotes have been the highlight of our Mexico adventure. Both girls, but especially Lily, were rewarded for their bravery with some amazing experiences.
The girls beg for Dos Ceibas, the place we had dinner the night before. They have good kid food – a tuna sandwich for Lily and plain pizza. The adults aren’t that hungry, the lunch at Hidden Worlds was late, so we acquiesce. Just like the night before, the girls are asleep at the restaurant table.