Though I have used Trip Advisor for many years, this is actually my first review.
Like many of you, I find this a very reliable site when doing my travel research. In fact, I have felt a bit guilty for not sharing with my fellow Advisors some of my experiences.
So, it is fitting that the Posada Luna del Sur be my first contribution, for it truly exceeded my expectations; which were pretty high after reading all of the great reviews here.
I was planning a trip to Guanajuato in late September; however, having been landlocked for almost a year, I was really itching to get to a beach first. I looked into some of the beaches closer to Guanajuato, of which there are few.
The closest would be Puerto Vallarta, but that seemed too resort-ish, too many American tourist and their time-shares. I recall a good friend told me about a pueblo, Sayulita, about 45 km north of PV that still had a small town surfer vibe. I considered this but I really wanted the perfect beach: powdery white sand, limpid turquoise water, long stretches of unbroken coast and minimal development.
For me there was only one option, Tulum! Tulum is on the Mayan Riviera, 119 km south of Cancun, and just under 64 km south of Playa del Carmen. While it has its share of tourists and development, it still maintains a low key vibe. Most of the tourists here are Italian, Argentinian, French, Canadian, Mexican with a smattering of savvy Americans and international fashionistas.
So Tulum it was! I planned my trip for nine days, September 2-October 6.
The second decision I had to make was whether to book a hotel on the beach or in town.
Tulum is the combination of beach [coastline], archeological zone, and town [pueblo]. There are three distinct zones making up what people commonly refer to as Tulum.
From trusted fellow travelers I have heard that it is wonderful to stay right on the beach how peaceful and regenerating it is to sleep and wake with the sounds, sight and smell of the Caribbean. They also told me that the hotels are overpriced, as are the restaurants and bars.
Another thing to consider is that the beach strip is about 5 km from town and so the nights might be a bit slow. Without a car one can’t really dash into town for a quick bite or snack without hiring a taxi.
In addition, because I was travelling alone, it would be much easier to feel isolated on the beach strip. I don't drink so socializing at the bars didn’t seem appealing. If I were travelling as part of a couple, I think I might opt for the romance of staying at a beach hotel, but as a solo traveler, the pueblo held more of an attraction for me.
The pueblo itself lacks any distinguishing architecture, or cultural attractions. it is basically a 2.5 by 2 km commercial strip that runs along the national carretera, which in town is called Tulum Blvd. Small one-way cobble-stoned roads run adjacent to the boulevard and this is where some of the smaller hotels, businesses and residences are.
Never-the-less, the feel is far more authentic here then on beach strip. This is where the locals and savvy tourist eat, shop and drink. There are lots of people on the street and good inexpensive restaurants; from taco stands to more gourmet eateries. Also here you will find places to rent bikes, internet cafes, the ADO bus terminal, banks, pharmacies and a small hospital.
There are a number of places that offer tours to the nearby ruins of Tulum, Cobá and Chichén Itzá, the various cenotes (from minimally to uber-developed) the Sian Ka’an Biosphere and even an opportunity to swim with the Whale Sharks.
So, I decided to stay in town and once that decision was made, there really was no other option than the Posada Luna del Sur, Trip Advisor winner for a number of years including 2012.
The hotel, a simple white stucco Spanish style building, three stories with 12 suites and free parking in front. Located just off the main strip, on a quiet and safe side street and everything in town is within easy walking distance.
It is super clean and impeccably maintained. The ground floor rooms open onto a shared and well-manicured patio garden, while the second floor rooms have ample balconies overlooking the same garden. All rooms are arranged in a row, which affords privacy of sight if not sound. Actually, it was low season and while there were other guests present, the noise level was very low, from the rooms and the street.
The rooms design show wonderful restraint; spare, but not Spartan, minimal but not cold and masculine without feeling brutal. This is very refreshing after so many hotels’ tropical exuberant excesses and the precious pretentions of so-called boutique hotels.
They have a refreshing Mediterranean feel, white walls with ceramic tile accents, terracotta tile floors, and doors of dark wood.
As soon as one enters, there is a sitting area with built-in white stucco and blue-cushioned seating. To the right there is an open kitchenette with a bar and two wooden stools. The kitchenette is equipped with plates, cups, glasses, bowls, utensils, a full-sized and well placed refrigerator and a coffee maker, (stocked with some of the best coffee I have had in México!)
A great touch is the 10-gallon bottled water and dispenser. It is so important to keep hydrated here in the tropics and the Posada del Luna Sur makes it easy, really quite generous. I refilled my one-liter bottle every day and saved plenty of money, as well as consuming less plastic bottles.
The room areas are elegantly separated by the built-ins, beyond which are a comfortable king sized bed, nightstand with lamp and a large closet (the wooden hangers are a nice touch.) Over the bed is a three-speed ceiling fan with a lamp. There is also a modern air conditioner set back over the closet that comes with a handy remote control.
Also in the closet is a combination safe, large enough to accommodate my 15” laptop, though the hotel felt safe and secure, I didn’t want to tempt anyone.
To the right of the closet are sliding glass doors that open onto the patio; there are two plastic chairs and a pleasant view of the garden. Both the patio doors and seating area windows are directly across from each other, which provide a very welcome cross-breeze. They are hung with two sets of drapes, white for opaque light, and dark brown black-out drapes to keep the light almost completely out.
The bathroom has a toilet and tiled half-open shower, behind the door are more built-in shelves with plenty of room for products. The hotel provides a line of locally made organic soap, shampoo and conditioner. There is plenty of hot water and great water pressure.
Wonderfully white and fluffy towels are artfully fashioned in to swans, elephants, puppies and other animals by the amazing housekeeper Gabriella clever and practical way to add a touch of whimsy.
Back in the main room, there is a sink set into a small alcove, over cabinets opposite the bed. To the left of the sink is a small flat-screen TV (which I never used) on a built-in counter atop more storage cabinets.
The third floor has a large partially palapa-covered dining area with an open kitchen. There are dining tables as well as a couple of indoor-outdoor loveseats, a great collection of magazines on the coffee table and a pretty well-stocked lending library with mostly English titles.
Because of the flatness of Tulum and the low buildings, the third floor patio offers a great place to sit anytime. It is quite nice to be a bit above with the fresh cooling breezes and a view of the verdant town.
A delicious and complimentary breakfast is served here in the high season, and in spring of 2013, the hotel will be offering the complimentary breakfast year-round. The chef and waitress, Ricardo & Brenda, respectively, are gracious and accommodating. Breakfast includes local specialties, fresh fruit, yogurt, toast, juice and coffee.
Also on the third floor is Tom’s residence and office.
The co-star here at the hotel is Tom himself! A transplant from Toronto, this guy is as sincere, welcoming, accommodating and knowledgeable as they come! I happily join the choir in singing his praises.
I arrived late at night, so he wasn’t there to greet me, no problem, the chef doubled as greeter and made sure I was checked in, knew where everything was and how it worked.
In the morning at breakfast, Tom appeared, apologizing for not being there to greet me the night before (which I in no way expected.) He then asked me a little about myself. As someone with an extensive background in customer service, it is always a treat to meet someone who takes a genuine interest in their customer. Tom makes and maintains friendly eye contact and sincerely listens.
He invited me to pass by the office after my breakfast, being sensitive to the fact that I was eating and still waking up, another nice touch.
After a light breakfast including Tom’s deliciously strong coffee, I went to his office where he gave me a comprehensive overview of the town. He highlighted all of his recommendations and wrote his notes on a colorful map of tourist map of Tulum.
From restaurants, to bike rentals, day excursions to gift shopping he covered it all. I never got the feeling that he was pushing one business over another. Unlike a lot of other hotels, where one senses the staff are getting some kind of kick-back.
I followed his suggestions and had delicious and inexpensive meals at El Camello, got a great weekly rate on a bike rental at Iguana Bikes, took a colectivo to Akumal where I had an amazing time snorkeling at the freshwater lagoon.
I was really excited to try the Whale Shark tour; off Holbox Island in the Gulf of Mexico. However it was October and I just missed the season, which runs from June to September. It looks terribly exciting, much better than paying to swim with the penned dolphins which some of the developed cenotes offer.
Tom also gave me great advice on visiting the ruins for which the town is named. Stunning, due to their setting on the cliffs above a beautiful beach and pretty well preserved. Compact too, it shouldn’t take more than an hour to see the site. Make sure to bring your bathing suit, as it is quite memorable to swim below and look up to the ruins from the beach.
I had visited the Tulum ruins many, many years ago and chose not to go this time. With the growth in both Cancun and Playa del Carmen, this has become a VERY popular tourist destination. Get there early and you will benefit from the relatively cooler morning weather and the quiet before the daily deluge.
I was much more eager to see Chichén Itzá and Tom helped book a taxi for me. He secured a very good low-season rate with one of his regular drivers and strongly recommended I get up early to in order to leave the hotel at 6:00 am. This would have me at the ruins by 8:00 am, well before the droves of tourist busses discharge the masses, even before the countless vendors were set up.
Artémio was my driver and was there at 6:00 am sharp. He is truly a gentleman, very knowledgeable and as talkative or as quiet as you like. I am conversant in Spanish and it was great to pass the two-hour drive with him pointing out items of interest; historical and cultural.
Though I had coffee in my room when I awoke, I was grateful for another of Tom’s brilliant suggestions. If you take the toll road to Chichén Itzá, there is an Italian Coffee outpost attached to what appears to be a high-tech truck stop. It was roughly at the midpoint so we stopped and Artémio and I enjoyed some very tasty espresso and pastries.
We arrived right at 8:00 am and true to Tom’s word, I had the ruins to myself! Well almost, there were a number of workers doing repair or maintenance on the temples and pyramids. But their presence was negligible.
Still, I got amazing pictures! I never had to wait for someone to move their head. There were no errant body parts in my shots, no peddlers hawking their wares, not even the polyglot cacophony of other tourist.
I took my time and really enjoyed the quiet magic of this sacred site. There were official guides gently offering their services but, as I was on a tight budget, I declined. As there were signs posted in English, Spanish and Maya, I feel like I got the basic information, though I think that next time I will spring for a local guide.
Unfortunately, due to a tourist’s fatal fall from a pyramid several years ago, climbing the buildings is no longer permitted. I knew this ahead of time so I was not tremendously disappointed. Still, it would have been great to get a view from atop these magnificent structures.
After two and a half hours, taking lots photos at a leisurely pace, I wrapped up my self-guided tour. And not a moment too soon! The vendors were almost finished with their garish displays of merchandise. It seemed they set-up wherever there was shade, along every path, so as to catch all possible streams of revenue. Exit through the gift shop indeed!
Don’t get it twisted; I do not begrudge them their livelihood, it is just nice not to have to see the ugly reminders of modern capitalism in such a spiritual place. I know that must sound terribly middle-class of me, so be it. The masses of tourist were also beginning to arrive in what seemed to be a caravan of busses, tourist vans, and taxis.
Upon exiting, Artémio was patiently and gracefully waiting, taxi ready right outside the park entrance.
Advice for a visit to Chichén Itzá, snorkeling or any day trip: STAY HYDRATED! Make a stop at an OXO or other convenience store and stock up on inexpensive water.
On the road back to Tulum, there were a number of side trips that I could’ve taken: several cenotes and even the temples of Cobá. Alas, I was pretty wiped out, having arisen so early and the sun was already sapping my strength. I opted out of the side trips, but did stop in Valladolid for lunch.
Valladolid is a small Spanish colonial town, not without its charms, pretty buildings around a characteristic plaza. Nice to see after the bland new or Palapa- peaked buildings of Tulum. However, I have spent a lot of time in Guanajuato, a true colonial gem, so the architectural aspect wasn’t a big draw for me.
In Valladolid, by this time maybe 11:30, there were many more tourists assembling on the plaza, waiting for their buses and vans to take them to Chichén Itzá. Knowing of the super crowded conditions awaiting them, I tempered my smugness with gratitude for being spared this experience.
Chichén Itzá is one of the most visited archaeological sites in México; an estimated 1.2 million tourists visit the ruins every year. Get there early. If you don’t feel like waking up that early, you might want to spend the night in Valladolid, one hour away, and take a taxi from there the next morning. I don’t know of any hotels here, but I am sure fellow Trip Advisors should have some recommendations.
I ate at a decent restaurant on the plaza while Artémio patiently waited on the plaza. Not too sure about the protocol or customs, I invited him to eat with me, but he politely declined.
After lunch a couple of km before Tulum, we stopped off at a honey stand where a local collective of beekeepers had a wonderfully well stocked store. There were all kinds of locally harvested honey, propolis and royal jelly products. I was trying to travel light so I just picked a jar of honey with the honeycomb.
Unfortunately I forgot that I packed it on my carry-on and so had do dump it at the airport before I could even taste it. However, I have learned to trust both Tom and Artémio’s suggestions, so I am sure it must’ve been pretty delicious.
My last Day in Tulum was spent at the beach. This time, per Tom’s suggestion, I rode my bike further down the hotel strip to the Om Hotel and Beach Club, the beach is lovely and from there one can walk up the beach for kilometers of uninterrupted coast.
For the price of a drink, you can use the beach chairs or “camasas”- large reclining beach beds, in the shade of adjustable umbrellas. There are waiters who will bring you food and drinks. Expect to pay double or more of what you would pay for in town for the same or even lesser quality fare.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Tulum and especially at the Posada Luna de Sol. Gracias, Tom for making it so easy and enjoyable. I really felt at home, safe and secure. This is so important to me when travelling, for when I feel at ease, I am much more willing to be adventurous. And there are so many adventures to experience in this gorgeous corner of México. I am truly looking forward to my next visit very soon!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.