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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mexico - Riviera Maya Excursions

January 2017, Monica Rendon private tour - Sac Actun Cenote, Tulum Ruins, private beach, local taco stand


We initially thought we would take the bus (colectivo) to the ruins, and then I happened across information about an amazing private tour guide operator. I contacted Monica via email to make arrangements. You can find more reviews for her on TripAdvisor, and she has a Facebook page titled SOY La Pesera. Our excursion was a bit unusual, as we had friends who happened to be staying at a resort in Cozumel at the same time we were staying at Luxury Bahia Principe Sian Ka'an. Monica picked up our friends at the ferry dock in Playa Del Carmen, and then she picked us up at the resort for our day.

Meeting, transportation, etc.

Our friends had no trouble finding Monica at the appointed time and location when they disembarked at the ferry dock. I had provided Monica with our stay information, and she was able to enter our resort to pick us up in front of the lobby. The vehicle/van had two seat rows behind the driver's seat, which easily seated 2 to 3 people in each row. The vehicle was clean and comfortable. Monica had a cooler in the back for us filled with cold Corona and bottled water. She spoke good English, and she assisted us perfectly with our day's activities. She exchanged our cash for pesos, negotiated and made our purchases for us at each stop, provided information about the best restrooms, beaches, food, and more.

View from Tulum Ruins

Tulum Ruins

Our first stop was at the ruins, which was just a short drive from our resort. It was not too busy when we arrived before 9:00 a.m., although it was quite busy with a few tour groups by the time we left. 


You can hire a guide at the ruins, or you can visit on your own. Since we had read that there are plaques at each point of interest, in English and Spanish, we opted not to hire a tour guide. I had printed a map of the ruins with each stop labeled and then I forgot the map when we visited. During our visit, I thought we had missed some areas, so we walked back through the park before we left. The site is not very large, and when I looked at my map later, I saw that we had not missed anything.

Plaque in front of The Palace of the Great Lord

The Palace
I thought what we had read about Tulum Ruins held true: they are the most picturesque ruins, and among some of the best preserved, although not the most extensive or informative ruins. It was definitely beautiful, and there were easy-to-read plaques at each point of interest. You can see more photos in my Tulum, Mexico Facebook album. We had thought we would sit down at the beach and maybe take a dip in the ocean after walking through the site; however, Monica said she would take us to a nicer private beach. 

Swimming beach

Private beach

The beach Monica took us to was in a camping area just south of Tulum Ruins. I did not notice the entrance sign for the name of the location. It may have been Playa Roca, Tulum, as it was around this area. There were restrooms and a restaurant on site. We were able to carry the cooler to the beach, where we sat and swam for a bit. The water was beautiful, and the beach sand was soft.

Fresh tortilla lunch

Monica asked if we wanted a sit down meal, or a quick local lunch, and we chose the latter. She took us to a fabulous stand where tortillas are made fresh daily, and she helped us place the orders. The food was delicious, and I wished we had gotten more. I had told my husband to surprise me with whatever Monica suggested, because I thought the order process looked confusing. And, I am one to go with the flow and try new things. I sat down at a table to wait, and apparently, he had not understood me, because he sat down with only two tacos, which we then shared. Either that, or maybe he was trying to cut back, since we had been eating so much on vacation!

Sac Actun Cenote  

There are several cenotes in the Tulum area, and we chose one that was less touristy. Sac Actun AKA Pet Cemetery is at the very end of the road. We passed several cenotes and tourist stops along the way. Monica provided excellent history of how the land was obtained where the cenote we visited is located, and how the owner had found the underground river system. She again negotiated payment with a guide for us, and prepared us for the tour. Our tour group was larger than most of the reviews I had read online. The four of us joined four people already waiting, and then we waited for more people - two more who joined at the start, and two more joined in part way through. We were still able to see and hear our guide, although sometimes the viewing was not the best in dark areas because we could not all get around the guide to see where he shined the flashlight. Part way through the tour, our guide gave an extra flashlight to one of our friends, which helped. We had one tourist in our group with a waterproof cell phone who was often in the way, as she was more concerned with taking photos and videos of herself with her selfie stick than noticing what or who was around her. 

The cenote was an amazing experience. We did not get photos, as we did not have an underwater camera; however, we have beautiful memories. One of our friends raved about the tour, and expressed amazement throughout the entire visit.

As others have written, the water is cool, and I was shivering with goosebumps by the end of the tour. Some people wrote that you can walk most of the way, and that you do not really need snorkel equipment to see. You do need the snorkel mask to see underwater in the dark areas, and if you are shorter than 5' 3" tall, you may be dog-paddling more than walking.

Overall

I highly recommend Monica Rendon, and every place we visited this day. I suggest contacting Monica early, if you want to hire her, because she is in high demand. We made our reservation about six weeks in advance. If I chat with her again to find out the exact name for the beach and food stand we visited, I will update this post with that information. I wish we had taken a photo of the taco stand, and I wish we had asked Monica to take photos of us. I read reviews from many others who said she had taken photos of them; however, we did not think to ask her about this until later. I am sure she would have been more than willing to accommodate us, if we had only asked.

Please let me know if you have any questions, and as always, feel free to share this post for others.