Relaxing At An Oasis In Tulum

The sun was hot, beating straight down on us. The trees that flanked the dusty road did nothing to shade us from the heat. We were walking from our AirBnb from the previous night to our resort that we would stay at for the remainder of the trip. As we passed a semi-busy looking resort called Mystiq, we paused for a second to make sure we were heading the correct direction. Yep – shouldn’t be much farther. Our resort had only opened earlier this year so a lot of online maps weren’t quite updated enough to show an exact location.

Finally, after what seemed like a while, we came upon a very large, wooden sign that read KAN Tulum. Beyond the sign, a dirt path stretched into the jungle. I didn’t even mind the extra walk, because at least it was in the shade. We passed some signs on the trees that definitely fed to the younger-generation lifestyle. “#GreenVibesOnly.”

Once we approached the security gate, we were let in and WOW! I couldn’t believe this lush, green oasis was just a stone’s throw away from the hot, dusty road on which we were just walking. We were guided to the reception desk where Edith welcomed us and gave us a tour of the property. It was absolutely beautiful. The paths intertwine through large, vibrant plant life, passing a hanging tear drop chair, a hammock, then to the pool which was fairly well centered and gave us a good visual of the property. A large building on the far side of the pool was where they offered massages and a really neat, bamboo-covered bridge led you to their breakfast/drink bar and the resort eventually plans on opening a vegetarian restaurant once they’ve expanded.

We were allowed to roam the property until our room was ready (check-out from our AirBNB was 4 hours prior to our check-in at KAN Tulum) but right when we went to get our swimsuits from our bags, they told us it was ready. Sweet!

We were shown to our room, which I guarantee had the best view on the property (seriously, we could see everything while still maintaining a little privacy on our terrace.)

According to their website, there are five room floorplans (which I think only two currently exist, the rest are part of the expansion. I could be wrong.) and it was very well thought out. The room we stayed in wraps around from the bedroom/kitchenette to the bathroom with a large, beautiful, two-sided mirror acting as the barrier between the king-size bed and a big, Instagram-worthy tub.

They used a breathable concrete made from a local root

I’d like to take the next couple sections to talk about 3 amazing highlights from our stay:

The Bar

Now this isn’t at all for the obvious reason. We did get one drink from the bar here – a really tasty passionfruit, mezcal cocktail – but it was $15 and we had other options. Mystiq, from up the road, had a mini-mart on its property where you can find bottles of wine for reasonable prices.

What the bar offered that really made our trip fantastic was its breakfast and coffee. Every morning, Saoul and his team presented a buffet style breakfast of vegetarian options from oats to fruit to beans to eggs and the styles varied each day. There were pitchers of fruit-infused water that I’ve been super exited to replicate at home in the new goblets I got in Charlotte. The meal was so good and we felt very healthy enjoying it.

Breakast views.

The staff was also always available to present us with coffee all the time. There was always someone around to brew together an Americano or Almond Latte. We really appreciated sitting at the pool and being handed a “cold coffee” which was really set off by coconut flakes.

The Pool

Despite seeing other people staying at the resort, we essentially had the pool to ourselves whenever we wanted. The water was comfortably warm like a bath and the sun fluttered in and out from behind the shade of the trees giving you an alternating warm shine and a cool escape from the heat. It was the perfect recipe for a nice tan.

The Cenote
View from the walkway.

One of the absolute best things to do on the Yucatán peninsula is to visit and swim in cenotes, underground water wells that are created by the collapse of limestone caves. KAN Tulum just happens to have one on the property, a few strides from the pool and overlooked by the bar.

A pump-fed waterfall creates a really nice look to the cenote, but once it turns off, you can see all the way through the calm, cool water to the bottom. We jumped in, splashed around, and floated above the water surrounded by cavern walls.

I cannot wait to come back to Tulum and explore the ruins and area around here and I will undoubtably stay at KAN Tulum again.

There are a couple nests above the rooms with great views; we just couldn’t think of a pose.

How To Help Save Elephants In Thailand

I’ve definitely thought about riding an elephant. Bruising through the trees atop a 4-ton behemoth, claiming your throne as Hannibal of the jungle. But this thought is best left as just that… a thought.

A vast majority of Thailand’s elephants live in captivity, with the estimated 2000 still in the wild being declared endangered due to loss of habitat. A large tourism sector in the country centers around elephant encounters. People from around the world come to watch them paint pictures, play with soccer balls, or ride them. All of these can be cute when you first see them, but they’re very destructive to the elephant’s well-being. Hooks and chains are used to make the animal docile and submissive, causing pain and restricting their ability to move freely.

Currently, the best weapon against this type of animal abuse is education through organizations such as Maerim Elephant Sanctuary. Located in the Chiang Mai, they rescue elephants from logging companies, riding camps, and circuses, usually by purchasing the animal with donated money. They then offer visits to the sanctuary for a donation that goes towards saving more elephants.

Maerim Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai
My experience

Our visit started off by being picked up from our guesthouse before circling around the city to pick up a few more travelers. After arriving to the sanctuary, we were greeted by a couple young, enthusiastic Thai men who taught us about each of the five elephants they had, what their mission was, and how we were helping. You could really tell they cared about the animals.

We were given a change of clothes, a ridiculous amount of bananas that we stuffed into every pocket and pouch we could find, and let through a gate to meet the friendly giants.

At first, the nerves are there. It’s you standing right beside something nearly twice your height and fifty times your weight, so you hastily hand them bananas because that’s the only muscle movement you feel comfortable doing. The nerves subside fairly quick, though, as you realize what marvelous creatures they are. You begin to pet them and slide your hands around their skin, finding scars from their old lives. The elephants remind you, however, that you have more bananas – and they want them. Their trunks will find its way into every nook, cranny, and crack you have to get what now seems like a never-ending supply of the fruit.

The camp has four adult, female elephants and one baby boy – an obvious crowd favorite. They all had welcoming, gentle personalities and the size of our group made it easy to interact with the elephants without feeling like you were imposing on their space. We took pictures and pet them as the last few bananas were fed to them before heading back to the main hut.

Our instructor led us back to the trucks and said we were going to get some more food for the elephants while they took a little break.

We ended up down a path by a pond and a banana tree grove and were one-by-one given a machete to chop down our own tree. The way we were lined up, I was going to be the last person to cut my tree and I absolutely refused to be embarrassed by some failed cutting attempt, so I watched each person ahead of us and their technique:

  • That guy hit the middle of the trunk where it might be too thick.
  • She was standing straight up, not enough leverage.
  • He swung it hard but his leg was on the other side of the tree. A bit dangerous there.

Rachel went in front of me and did a fantastic job with hers. A nice, hefty trunk, hacked down with great form. She handed me the machete and I stepped up to the biggest trunk I could find, squared up, and let a nice slice into the trunk. Perfect strike. Our group struck a pose with our tropical tree trophies, dragged them back to the truck, and drove back towards the sanctuary.

More snacks!

When we got back, we were brought back onto the grounds and led the elephants on a hike into the nearby jungle. After a short walk, navigating a narrow trail beside our large friends who had zero interest in ceding right-of-way to us when we got to a bottleneck.

We arrived at a clearing and the elephants still had an appetite, stripping the banana tree trunks of their leaves and going to town on them (they are loud chewers.) It was really neat seeing them use their feet to hold down branches to get a good grip on the leaves. I left my phone in the lockers at the main hut, and I missed out on some great photo ops between the trees. One of the female elephants kept trying to walk away with the baby until his mom came over and took him back. Watching the dynamic relationship was really astounding.

As the elephants finished up their banana leaves, we began to lead them along another path until we reached a clearing. It was mud bath time. The elephants went straight for the mud pools while we stripped off our denim outer layers to just our swim suits. By this point, one of the volunteers had already dived into the mud, fully covered. You couldn’t help but hesitate when you saw all of the elephants had started peeing and pooping. This wasn’t just mud we were playing in.

The elephants showed visible enjoyment, plopping down and letting us rub mud all over them. It was a great way to exfoliate their skin and cool them down on the hot day. The same guy that had gone head first in was now chucking mud balls at people and slathering anyone’s skin he could find to make sure we were all equally sharing in the experience. After spending some time here, we hopped over a mound of dirt and got into some cleaner water to rinse off, said bye to the gentle giants, and finished off in a human-only shower and swimming pool.

Before leaving, the volunteers had set up a make-your-own-noodle-soup station at the main hut and we each had unlimited access to lunch. This was super fun and the soup was delicious. The entire time we were there, one of the guides had been taking very high-quality candid pictures of everyone and they had each group of people come up to see if they wanted to purchase a package based on their visit. I really, really kick myself for not getting ours. The proceeds go towards saving more elephants in the future.

Takeaways

As social media and internet access has expanded, tourists have put pressure on the institutions that previously held elephants in abusive situations. As our dollars go towards sanctuaries and education, the riding camps and circuses are forced to remove the negatively-associated activities in order to maintain a profit.

You can absolutely enjoy an elephant encounter in Thailand, but do so responsibly.

Bananas. So many bananas.