Today started the same as the other mornings in Valladolid: awake before the sun comes up, sitting in front of my computer with the giant wooden door wide open, breeze coming in, the church bells ringing, and the street dogs waiting for my sister to give them attention.
The only difference with today is that we didn’t have a plan. We were checking out of the Airbnb without knowing where we were headed. Another cenote, or multiple cenotes. Up north to Rio Lagartos to see the pink lake. Another Mayan ruin, though we were a bit ‘ruined out.’
Without a plan, we consulted with Adriana, our Airbnb host when she came to drop off another incredible breakfast of avocado toast and fresh fruit. Coba Ruins aren’t as great as Ek Balam, she told us, in addition to having some conflict between the local and federal government regarding entrance fees. Rio Lagartos isn’t as great as it looks on Instagram, we learned, as it is created by a chemical added to the water at a salt purifying mill. The nearby cenotes are nice, but crowded. We were left unsure.
After our late check-out, which Adriana graciously allowed due to my work schedule, we packed away our bags into the trunk and headed over to the Mercado Municipal for one last stop in Valladolid, to give us some time to think it over.
It turned out to be a great stop. Everyone working at the market was incredibly friendly and chatty, and even allowed me to film while they went to work on leather shoe making, and other tasks. We found one shop in particular to have just what we wanted. The woman and her shop assistant helped us pick out hats, embroidered shirts, and embroidered dresses for ourselves and gifts for friends. The prices here at the Mercado Municipal were also the most affordable of any other place we saw in the Yucatan.
We decided to make one final stop before heading out, as we wanted to have lunch in a quiet, shady place. Valladolid was experiencing a lot of road construction while we were there, so navigating the roads got a bit tricky. I looked at my Google maps for any lunch place that seemed a bit outside of the center, and was easy to get to, avoiding the road blockade signs and heavy machinery.
After just a few minutes, we parked outside of what appeared to be paradise. Behind a wooden fence, were tons of tropical plants, flowers, and a restaurant with an outdoor covered patio. The restaurant was Naino, and what we learned after entering was that it was part of a hotel called The Zentik Project. The hotel had an outdoor swimming pool, underground cenote cave pool, massages, and bungalows. As we waited for our lunch to arrive, we discussed what we wanted to do- cenote, Coba, pink lake, or… just stay here?
After 3 full days of Mayan-Ruins-in-the-sun adventures, cenotes, and driving around, we realized that the sound of massages and an underground cave sounded about right. So before we even finished our meal and drank our complimentary homemade tequila shots, we had one room and two massages booked.
We spent the next couple hours wandering the grounds of the Zentik Project Hotel, admiring the murals, putting our feet in the pond with scum eating fish, and swimming in the pool. Soon enough it was time for our hot oil massages. Two massages tables in one room, soft music playing, a very romantic atmosphere if you were with someone else who was not your sister.
Post massage, we headed down into the underground cave swimming pool. We were the only ones there. It was warm, the water was steamy, and we waded around the twists and turns of this small cave. Needless to say, we slept very well that night.
The next morning we were up early for hotel breakfast, which was included with the stay in the room. We packed up once more, this time leaving Valladolid for good, and went back in the direction of where we started the trip, towards Tulum. Rather than head back to my small apartment in Playa del Carmen, we decided to look for a room on our last night together in the beach area of Tulum.
We found a bungalow room at Diamante K, where we had two canopy beds, and a view of the sea just a short 15 second walk away. The hotel also had an outdoor restaurant that sat on the cliffs where you could watch the sunrise and sunset. In the evening, I found a table at the restaurant where I had to work once more, while my sister ordered dinner and I ate when I could.
The next morning we took a stroll along the beach of Tulum to admire the blues and greens of the Caribbean, after getting up early to watch the sunrise. As we walked, we picked up trash left behind by the other foreigners who had spent the previous day there. Tulum is a top destination for tourists, but to be honest, not one that I cared for much. It had San Marcos at Lake Atitlan vibes- a bunch of white people wearing white linen, walking with prayer hands along the beach, and getting in touch with their spiritual side. It did not feel authentic. Quite the opposite. It felt very put on, and I was quite put off.
Once the sun started getting higher, the weather started getting hotter, and we headed back to Diamante K for breakfast (this time not included), and then back to Playa del Carmen. We arrived with just enough time for my sister to drop me off at my apartment, organize her luggage, and drive back to the Cancun airport. The week had ended just as it had started, with my sister in a rental car.