May 10, 2010

I had one of the best vacations of my life at Cabañas Copal in Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico. I was looking for a very relaxing vacation in a tranquil setting where all my needs could be met without any hassles. I started my search on Google looking for a place with cabañas and a clothing optional beach around the Riviera Maya. I wanted to be close to nature, close to the beach, far from Cancun, and have easy access to Mayan cultural sites and Sian Ka’an, the nearby UNESCO biosphere reserve. Cabañas Copal totally fit the bill.

It is situated near the town of Tulum, which is built near the Tulum ruins, one of the only Mayan sites located next to the sea. I was literally just up the street from the entrance to Sian Ka’an, which was totally worth a day trip all the way down to Punta Allen. Another day, I took a day trip to drive out to Chichen Itza, which is so amazing it is truly beyond description. I enjoyed my first week at Cabañas Copal so much, I extended my stay for a second week. It really was that good!

The staff is very friendly and helpful, yet not intrusive. Alejandro at the front desk helped me figure out places to go visit in the area. Jose was really nice to talk to, with a calm gentle spirit. The restaurant and bar staff were polite and friendly. I ate ceviche on the beach every day for lunch. It is absolutely incredible! I really enjoyed how Luis added some special touches in the rooms each day with the towel arrangements. Every encounter with the staff was pleasant and professional.

Maya Spa is full-service and very high quality. Flavio gave me the most amazing deep tissue massage I have ever had in my life. It was so good I returned for a neck and back massage before I departed. After a strange leg muscle injury from a day of snorkeling, I returned for a Swedish massage from another masseur, whose name I don’t recall at the moment. It was incredible and completely relieved my discomfort. I also took in an aloe wrap from Edith to help my well-worn skin cool off a bit before I returned home.

I would highly recommend going to a Temazcal when you visit. It is a Mayan sweat lodge, and there is one right there at Copal. I can honestly say I had a life changing experience at the Temazcal. It is a ritual of renewal and rebirth. I came to Copal to close a very painful chapter of my life and start a new one. The Temazcal provided the perfect rite of passage.

The clientele is very relaxed. If you’re looking for a raging party, this is not the place to go. The focus here is on tranquility, intimacy and spirituality. Most of the people who come here mostly keep to themselves while being polite and friendly to other guests. The domestic and international guests at Copal when I was there included honeymooners, happy singles, retired couples, all sexual orientations, and young families with very well-behaved children thanks to their very active, involved parents. I made many new friends among the guests at Copal.

I rented a car during my stay, which allowed me to head out to visit Tulum Pueblo and Ruins, Coba, Chichen Itza, Sian Ka’an, Playa del Carmen and several nearby cenotes. For my next trip, I will likely just take the bus down to Tulum Pueblo and then a taxi to Copal. There is a shop just down the street that rents mopeds, bicycles and snorkel gear, so most of my needs for transportation and equipment could be met right there. If I need a car, I would just rent one for the day right there at Copal. It’s also very easy to get a taxi to get you around if you don’t want to bike or drive a moped.

The beach was very nice. There are about 10 palapas and a range of furniture to relax and enjoy the beautiful Caribbean atmosphere. Every morning, I got up at sunrise (amazing to watch here) to go swim in the sea. Then in the evening, I returned to swim at sunrise. On the nights the moon lit up the sky, I enjoyed a night swim. On nights without moonlight, I reclined on one of the beach chairs to gaze at the beautiful bright stars. The sand is white and powdery. There are some rocks along the cliffs below Azulik. This end of the beach was sandy when I arrived, but storms out at sea churned up waves that stripped away the sand. It’s a natural beach, so it started to wash back ashore by the time I left.

Heading out for my morning skinny dip in the Caribbean With the exception of the reception area and restaurant (which are located along the main road through Tulum Playa), the entire resort is clothing optional. It’s a very comfortable option, though. People do as they choose. It’s very relaxed, non-threatening and not sexually charged whatsoever. If you’ve never tried it, this would be a great place to give it a shot. Just be sure to use extra strong sunblock in areas that have not seen much sun because the sun here is bright and intense! Also, the resort to the north allows nudity on their beach right next to Copal, but you shouldn’t wander too far down that side without at least a sarong or wrap, except maybe at sunrise before people are on the beach. I got the perfect tan and enjoyed the freedom of being naked in the sun, cooling off in the sea as needed. If you are interested in other beaches to explore without clothing, check out Cesiak at Sian Ka’an or El Mirador just south of the ruins. There are no services at these beaches, though, so you’ll need to bring in (and take out) anything you need such as food and water.

Snorkeling naked is something I especially recommend! A few times I found myself surrounded by a large school of fish that seems to live in the area. There were probably 10,000+ fish. If you’re interested in cenotes, be sure to check out the area just offshore Azulik 3 – 5 where cenotes deliver freshwater into the sea. When you’ve found the right spot, you’ll see your vision go blurry. Your eyes are fine. It’s just the mixing of salt water and fresh water you are seeing. It’s pretty cool. You’ll also see many beautiful tropical and marine birds. Copal is in a wild place, literally cut out of and surrounded by the jungle. There are many iguana and geckos around the entire property. A few times I had one or two geckos in my cabana, but they are tiny, gentle creatures that couldn’t possibly cause you harm. Enjoy the closeness to nature at Copal. It will add to your experience.

My cabanas were clean and comfortable. These are cabanas, not hotel rooms, so you’ll have plenty of fresh air, bright light and sounds of nature all around you. One night there was a thunderstorm that passed directly over the resort. It was loud and bright in my cabana for a few hours, but I stayed comfortable and dry. Not a drop came through the thatched roof. The first week I was in #13, an ocean view cabana. The second week I was in #29, a garden view cabana. Each was quite comfortable, though the garden view was a bit more quiet. You’ll be surprised how loud the constant roar of waves on the beach can seem in the wee hours of the morning! 😉

I would advise you to be sure to bring your own beach and bath towels. In addition to towels, you’ll need far more sunscreen than you think. Get plenty before you arrive because it really is very expensive–about 200 pesos–at the local mercados and supers. You’ll also want to bring mosquito spray. It was only a problem around sunset for about an hour or so, when mosquitoes from the jungle move out to swarm. Make sure to close up the mosquito net around your bed before sunset to make sure no unwelcome flying visitors spend the night with you beneath your net. Also watch out for the tabanos, large flies with a yellow back that bite, draw blood and really hurt! They are way more troublesome than the mosquitoes, but also far fewer in number. I brought a big bright flashlight and plenty of batteries. I used it once or twice. If you’re really afraid of the dark, you’ll want one. Once I had been there for a few days, I kind of knew my way around and didn’t use it as much. Candles in the cabanas at night are very relaxing, though I recommend shaving before it gets dark… The tap water at Copal is brackish, a mix of salt and fresh water, so you won’t want to drink it. All the cabanas have 20L jugs of purified fresh water. I would use that to brush my teeth and drink. If you want to be mindful about the impact of plastic on the environment, bring your own water bottle to refill from the bottle in your room. Bottled water is cheap, but plastic is forever. I found I needed far less clothing than I brought. The weather is warm and muggy, so think about staying comfortable in this kind of weather: shorts, flip-flops, shirt always optional… Also, keep in mind that Cabanas Copal is an eco-resort, so all these elements add to the experience of a wonderful vacation that is also friendly to nature. I hope everyone enjoys this special place as much as I did.


July 1, 2010

Kenny Landes

Living la buena vida these days in beautiful México, where I teach English to Mexican professionals and travelers. In my free time, I enjoy visiting ancient archeological sites, encountering in its rich and vibrant cultures, indulging on nutritious local cuisines, and visiting its many beautiful beaches, especially in Oaxaca! Ready to have some fun now? ¡Vámonos!