We've had the most amazing family time together over Christmas and New Year in Tulum, on the Riviera Maya in Mexico. It's been our first Christmas away from home and our big extended family. Something completely different for us and probably the first time ever we've spent this amount of time just the five of us. There's quite an age gap between my eldest son and my daughter, and they often like to argue and clash, so I wondered how ten days of being in close proximity to each other was going to fare, especially for the rest of us having to listen to them.... well, after the first day or so of the usual wind-ups we've realised that a family adventure, where you all challenge yourselves in different ways, brings you closer. The boys watched their little sis swim with dolphins, with huge smiles across their faces. They all swam in sunken rock pools (Cenotes) and through underwater caves, swam with turtles and stingrays, Rose watched her brothers do a leap of faith from a cliff-top into the sea (all very safe, I was promised) and, on our last day, the boys made Rose into a huge sand mermaid on the beach, her dream come true!! Below, are the details of our stay and our top recommendations of things to do if you visit Tulum, it's a bit long-winded and rambly, so I'll apologise now!!!
We flew BA out of Gatwick direct to Cancun (we had booked ten months in advance so had the pick of the flight times and dates, other people we spoke to who had booked nearer to the time of departure had to fly via Atlanta which had really extended their travelling time) the flight was scheduled for approx 10 hours and we flew through the day - a marathon stint of film-watching - but the kids coped brilliantly, although the boys wouldn't touch the in-flight Christmas dinner (and what with me not being the most organised of mums and NOT packing snacks in my hand luggage) we touched down in Cancun with two VERY hungry and tired sons. My husband had arranged a private transfer to our hotel, which I would highly recommend (linked below), and after the long flight and then another hour and forty minutes transfer to Tulum, the luxury car was very much appreciated.
The kids, above, fresh from the long flight.
We stayed in the family resort of Dreams Tulum,(https://www.dreamsresorts.com/en_us/resorts/mexico/tulum.html)with the kids varied ages (eight, twelve and fifteen) this really did suit us. Paul and I wanted to be able to relax and unwind without the kids feeling bored - but equally, I'm not one for huge all-inclusive resorts with invasive entertainment - Dreams Tulum had a good balance. Rose made friends from day one (and the bonus thing was that they were american and canadian - her favourite play-time accents - she felt as though she was living a real-life episode of Barbie Dreamworld!) The boys got involved with the beach volleyball and ended up playing for at least two-three hours every day! This left quite a lot of chill-time for Paul and I - I read the most amazing book, The Woman In The White Kimono by Ana Johns, if you love reading I would recommend getting this on your reading list (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41860708-the-woman-in-the-white-kimono).
Above, Rose and Jack playing outdoor draughts at the hotel.
The hotel was all-inclusive, without the need to wear a dreaded wrist band - and with access to certain non-motorised watersports, such as kayaks and catamarans. However, I was the only one who made use of the water-sport option, after my eldest wound the younger two up by telling them that he'd heard there were three metre long bull sharks!
Above, the beach at Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa.
Food and drink were plentiful and varied, there was a choice of nine different restaurants (eight a la carte) for the evening and three during the day, this was ideal for the boys, who seemed to want to eat every hour, as well as twenty four hour room service included (our fifteen year old behaved as though he was on MTV Cribs, and we often returned to the room to see him surrounded by plates and trays!)
Above, some photos of my yummy lunches!!
The only slight criticism I would have about the resort, was the lack of atmosphere sometimes in the evenings - if you are looking for night-life then Dreams Tulum is not the place for you - however, we were quite happy to have dinner, followed by a couple of after-dinner drinks and a family game (Rummikub and Draughts are firm favourites with our lot). The quieter evenings suited us as we found, with the time difference, we were waking up early and making the most of the days.
Above, family fun at dinner!
The area of Tulum is really naturally beautiful. The public beach there has been voted in the top four most beautiful beaches in the world for the past eight years - please visit it if you go there! The white sand bordered by tropical palms cannot fail to make you feel euphoric. The beach has lots of little restaurants and bars bordering it creating a great laid-back vibe.
We booked onto a snorkelling excursion here which took us along the coast to view the ancient Tulum ruins from the sea, before heading out to the coral reef where we swam with turtles and stingrays, completely breathtaking.
The ancient ruins are a definite must-visit whilst in Tulum,(http://www.tulumruins.net/) we went on the hottest day and it was quite busy (we had to endure a few moans from the kids) but I just felt that we couldn't travel all this way and miss them - we bought VIP wristbands (please do this, you can skip the queues) and the views from the cliff-top down into the bays are simply beautiful. The iguanas and wildlife roaming about did eventually bring a smile to the boys' faces!
Above, the Mayan ruins of Tulum.
Another absolute must-visit, Xel-Ha (https://www.xelha.com/),is regarded as one of the world's natural wonders, an aqautic area with cenotes (sunken rock pools), lagoons, lazy rivers and marine life. We spent a full day here towards the end of our stay, and had we have known how much the kids were going to enjoy it, we would have gone twice. There was just so much for them to do and explore. Rose swam with dolphins at the sanctuary there while the boys swam through ravines and caves and snorkelled in the cenotes. The park is an all-inclusive affair, which means that you pay one price and this covers all your food, drink, snorkelling equipment and towels for the day, meaning that you can literally leave your bags in a locker and explore the park knowing that you can pick up towels/goggles/drinks etc whenever you need them.
Above, the natural beauty of Xel-Ha.
There is no denying that holidaying over the Christmas period is expensive, if you want to guarantee hot weather you really do have to go for the long-haul option and the flights, combined with hotel costs end up being costly. We justified the expense by looking at it as possibly one of the last chances to do this as a family, with our eldest coming up to the age of sixteen, we don't know how many more family holidays he may want to spend with us, before the allure of travelling with mates takes over.
One of the many upsides of escaping over the festive season is the relief of opting out of all the manic supermarket and shopping sprees that you normally have to endure (we saved a small fortune there) - we travelled very light on presents (a small stocking with token gifts for each of the kids) and told the rest of our extended family that we were opting-out of the usual present marathon this year. This meant that leading up to our holiday, I was relieved from any present wrapping/buying hell that I usually find myself embroiled in and could enjoy dinners out with family, friends and work colleagues in a relaxed way.
If you are toying with the idea of spending next Christmas in the sun, my advice would be to go for it. We loved our mini adventure in Mexico and would definitely revisit at some point in the future.