Any of my fellow children-of-the-80s out there remember The Voyage of the Mimi?! Specifically the second voyage where a young Ben Affleck and his pals try to thwart looters from pillaging sacred sites in Mexico? Watching it (on laser disc, obviously) in late elementary school left such an impression on me that when I first visited Mexico years later, I was mildly obsessed with Tulum and made my family go see the ruins.
I was 16 years old and the ancient Mayan city lived up to all of my expectations. It was magical and mysterious. Its fortresses were formidable and its beaches were treacherous and beautiful. We hired a guide to show us the secrets of Tulum and I hung on every word he shared with us about the Mayan history and culture. I vividly remember this visit to the centuries-old city as the first of many experiences I would have where my own tiny place in time and space was truly put into perspective.
If our first day in Mexico was about getting settled in to our luxurious new surroundings, our second day was full of non-stop adventure. There is no shortage of things to do along the Mayan Riviera. We opted to pack two of the area's most amazing destinations into one day and, thanks to Olympus Tours, we were taken from place to place with ease.
Tulum was of course included in the itinerary and the tour bus brought us there first. The kids weren't exactly as awestruck at 2.5 and 5 years old as I was as a teenager, but my little engineer Julian's interest was certainly piqued when he realized that the Mayans didn't use excavators and backhoe loaders and tower cranes to build the impressive structures. The seaside cliffs were just as stunning as I'd remembered them, but sadly the beach was closed due to very high tides that day. We sat in the grass, had a snack, and took in the magnificence of the whole place.
Our second and final destination of the day was the ecological park, Xel-Ha. I had heard of its attractions - swimming with dolphins, floating through blue lagoons, zip-lining over water - and was dying to see what it was about. The moment we arrived, we were all blown away by how wonderful it truly was. The kids were wide-eyed as we made our way past dolphin pools, parrots on their perches, and iguanas sunning themselves. There were hammock groves for lounging, piña coladas for sipping (all food and drink was included in the price of admission), a playground, ropes courses, wild mangrove forests, and perfectly curated gardens.
One thing that immediately struck me was the park’s dedication to preserving the natural wonders within its borders. Andrew and I noticed the compost bins, absence of plastic water bottles, and signs reminding visitors to only use biodegradable sunscreen.
We ate lunch at a buffet of delicious, authentic Mexican food, dropped our clothes and gear off at (free) lockers, picked up some towels, and made our way to the mouth of the river - the main artery of the park. We hopped on inner-tubes - each of us with a kiddo on our lap - and floated our way down into the lagoon. From there, we could disembark at various points - to cliff jump, snorkel, ride the zip line, try the ropes course - or just keep drifting lazily in the turquoise water. We opted for a combination of all of the above and loved every minute of it.
At the end of the day, exhausted after nearly 12 hours of adventure, we boarded the bus back to Paradisus. Just before he drifted to sleep on my lap, Julian said, “mama, can you even believe I tried snorkeling today?!” I just smiled and hummed the Voyage of the Mimi theme song quietly to myself.