Finding Aldea Zama

In previous posts, I mentioned how our resort was on a never-ending, dusty road and we were forced to walk for what seemed like an eternity to get anywhere. That’s what we thought until one day we noticed a few cars were turning right off of the road onto a bumpy, sandy side street. A quick GPS search back at the resort and we found out there are a few shops down that road so we set off one morning to do some exploring and eating.

The neighborhood we ended up finding down this side street was called Aldea Zama and it was dramatically closer to our resort than either of the other destinations we had been going to – the Tulum beachfront and La Veleta.

The first thing we noticed was how quiet it was. The neighborhood had a very posh look to it and it seemed to be recovering from the pandemic, as every other window had a promotional sign trying to get you to buy an available condo and there was plenty of construction projects going on.

A nice, chill atmosphere.

We reached our first stop, Matcha Mama, a cute little smoothie cafe that made incredible use of the tiniest space. Seriously, they crammed an entire shop into a booth the size of a standard closet. We had a broad choice of seating options to enjoy our Mango Tango smoothie bowl, but we hunkered under the balcony for a little shade. This thing was delicious and one bowl easily satiated both of our bellies.

Mango Tango.

Our next stop was the number one reason I wanted to stop by this neighborhood; we were headed for Mamazul, a 4-star hotel with an incredible mezcaleria on the ground floor. I checked the screenshot I had of Google Maps and we set off down one street, made a turn here, walked down another until I said “hmm…”

Now I am one of those people that will walk forever around a place, half-getting to our destination, half-just checking out the new environment. Rachel, whom I was with, is not like that. She took my brief pause of uncertainty to mean that we were lost in the jungle with no way out, a feeling only further exacerbated by the burning heat of the mid-day sun.

The place was just one block over…

The first thing you notice is the huge, open-concept layout of the bar with a super high ceiling, a front entrance that was open-air, and a stretching shelf of mezcals behind the bar that needed a rolling ladder (like what you associate with libraries) to reach the top shelves.

Isn’t it lovely?

We downed some fresh juices that sounded better than they ended up being, but where they disappointed, the mezcal tastings did not.

We sipped down the smoky, smooth elixir, letting the feeling linger at the back of our throats and debated over which of the endless bottles had the coolest label design. Between the drinks, the decor, and the overall atmosphere, I will 100% be returning to Mamazul when I get back to Tulum. I really wanted to purchase a bottle of mezcal right after to bring home, but I never check a bag on my flights so I had to wait for the duty-free shop which had a much larger selection that I remembered. Luckily, I had started packing “empty space” before trips to allow myself to grab a bottle of alcohol souvenir before heading home.

As we headed back, I wanted to stop by an art installation that I had read about, The Pyramid of Positive Thinking. First and foremost, I need to voice out an apology for this piece, because I did not understand the project at all when I had viewed it in person. My thoughts have since changed. [Blog post coming soon.]

We made our trek back, still shocked by how close this cool, little neighborhood was to us this whole time.

How To Get To Tulum From The Cancun Airport

So you’ve just arrived in beautiful, hot Mexico. You’ve ditched the sweatshirt you were wearing on the cool flight down and your sunglasses are on. Your next step is getting to your hotel, hostel, AirBnb, or wherever you’re staying in Tulum. Here are four options to fit your travel style and budget:

1. Taxi

The quickest way to go is via a taxi. Don’t worry about availability here; you will be met by no fewer than two hundred drivers that will continuously ask you where you’re going and if you already have a ride to your destination.

Be warned, these aren’t your typical yellow taxi. These are essentially private drivers that charge an astronomical fee (sometimes over 3000 pesos (~$175USD) to get you to where you’re going.

2. Shuttle

This is probably my recommendation if you’re not traveling on a shoestring budget. We used a shared shuttle service to transfer from our hotel (included pickup) to the airport. The journey took about 1 hour, 45 minutes and cost $83USD + tip. We only picked up one other pair of guys on our trip. The downside is the A/C was broken and the windows couldn’t open, so our drive in the 90 F degree (32 C) heat wasn’t the most pleasant. You can book either directly through the Cancun Airport website or a private company with a quick Google search.

The ADO bus stop is to the right once you exit the terminal. You can purchase tickets here.
3. ADO Bus

The budget option. We took the bus upon arrival down to Tulum due to our flight arriving about an hour before the next bus left. It was $18/person, but what we didn’t realize was that it made a stop in Playa del Carmen on the way down. This turned into a 3.5 hour drive that got us to Tulum pretty late. The ride itself wasn’t bad, with toilets on the bus, A/C, and comfortable seating. It drops you off in the middle of Tulum Centro and La Veleta. Our AirBnb for the first night was a nearly 2km walk over bumpy roads on a dimly lit street. We underestimated the bus drive time and the fact that it got dark so early in Mexico.

4. Rental Car

If you can, check out renting a car. This provides the maximum freedom that you may want to explore the Yucatán peninsula. Prices can start as low as $10/day, but do acknowledge that there is some form of mandatory coverage that will most likely be added to the bill. I’ve read dozens and dozens of reviews and forums and I still can’t find a consensus of if using a credit card with travel perks can cover at least part of the mandatory coverage. If you’ve had experience renting a car in Mexico, please leave a comment below.

The roads around the airport and major cities aren’t bad at all and very drivable. Having a rental car will let you explore ruins and cenotes at your own leisure without having to rack up expensive tours or transportations.

The downside to the bus is that it drops you off in city center, so you’re on your own to get to your sleeping arrangements from there.

Why Would I Go To Tulum?

Cancun is the top destination when flying into the nearby airport, attracting over 6 million foreign visitors in 2019 alone. It has a very chain-restaurant, chain-resort feel to it. If you’re looking to stay at an all-inclusive resort, by all means, enjoy your trip. However, Tulum has become a millennial-friendly spot, seeing an influx in digital nomads in recent years.

I was a big fan of its commitment to eco-tourism and health (seriously, you’ll find a raw food or açaí bowl every fourteenth step) that the city provides. You feel a nice connection between supporting locals and learning their culture while still having access to the conveniences that make travel easier. I will definitely stay in Tulum on my next visit to the region and make sure to share more stories with you.