A few years ago we got passports for the kids, but our first international family vacation was cancelled due to Covid. We had grand plans to visit a friend in Switzerland, followed by a few weeks in Spain and France.
Instead, we stayed home… just like everyone else on the planet. It turned into a long Alaskan winter, especially with no escape for a year and a half. We were all craving some beach time, which is why we got the crazy idea to go to Mexico in the summer. How hot could it be?
We rented an idyllic condo on Half Moon Bay in Akumal, which is famous for its turtles and snorkeling. We planned to stay in quiet Akumal for the majority of our trip, visiting Mayan ruins and cenotes around Tulum. We would end the trip with two nights in Cancun to check out the beach scene.
A few days before departure, the Akumal rental agency offered us a different condo and warned that the sargassum seaweed was excessive in front of our preferred complex. We decided to wait and decide upon arrival. How bad could it be?
We parked the car outside our condo, and when Sam opened the passenger door he immediately started to dry heave and got right back into the vehicle. We thought he was being melodramatic… but nope. It really was that bad. We spent the next week searching for words to describe the uniquely rank odor of rotting sargassum, but I don’t think they exist. Not in the English language, anyway. “Fermented sewage” is as close as we came, if that helps give you an idea.
As a teenager in Nebraska, detasseling corn was both a rite of passage and miserable first job. Let me tell you, it’s got nothing on the overwhelming task of shoveling an endless supply of sargassum in unspeakable heat. I bow to these hard working men who gave it their best effort, equipped with nothing but pitchforks and wheelbarrows.
We stayed one night at the beautiful Playa Caribe complex, but even with all windows closed the smell crept into the unit.
The next morning we packed our bags and agreed to move a bit further up the bay, to a unit that wasn’t quite as nice but smelled a whole lot better! The beach was really more of a sandbox, and it was a bit disconcerting to have a national guard post right across the street. But the pool and gardens were gorgeous, and we settled in nicely. I love the photo below of Clark and the kids swimming at sunset – they had the entire pool to themselves!
We celebrated Sam’s birthday on this trip, where he enjoyed one of the best birthday meals of his 17 years. He was practicing his Spanish skills with a friendly police officer in Tulum, who recommended we try a restaurant called Taco Queto. We found it four blocks up the road, and were the only tourists in the place. Definitely a good sign, right? The food was unreal. We still don’t fully understood exactly what we ate, but all agree it was the best food of our entire trip. His birthday also included a tour of some Mayan ruins in Tulum, a dip in the new condo’s pool, and a late dinner at the Turtle Bay Cafe, where he received a sweet treat and serenade.
Happy 17th, Sam, and may this be the first of many international adventures for you!
Despite the seaweed, we did get in a bit of snorkeling. Clark and the kids went to Yal-Ku Lagoon where they saw a large variety of tropical fish. We all snorkeled in Akumal Bay, where we saw tons of sea turtles and even a stingray.
One day we ventured to Coba, where we saw more ruins and got a rickshaw ride through the jungle.
Swimming in a cenote (AKA sinkhole!!) was high on Clark’s bucket list. I was leery of climbing down an abyss to swim in terrifyingly deep, cool water with bats flying above my head. It turned out to be a highlight of the trip! My only regret was not taking my camera into Cenote Choo-Ha, but we did get a few photos with Clark’s GoPro. It was jaw-droppingly gorgeous, unique, and refreshing. We also checked out Cenote Tancach-Ha, which wasn’t quite as scenic but wickedly deep. Clark and the kids were all brave enough to jump from the 10 meter platform, but I took a pass on that thrill!
We weren’t sure what to expect in Cancun, but are so glad we ventured there for the last few days. It was the only true beach time we got on the trip, and the kids were happy to jump in the waves. The intense turquoise water was like something I’ve only seen in magazines. Sadly, sargassum was an issue there too, but not as bad. They had boats trying to intercept it at sea, and tractors clearing the beach.
And that beach! Powder white sand for miles and miles – it was unreal. We are dreaming of going back in the winter when the seaweed will be gone!
I’m so grateful we finally had the opportunity to travel once again, to spend time as a family and see new parts of the world. Let’s hope the world continues to open up so we can all safely get out there and learn about other cultures and histories – it truly is life changing.
I put together a video overview (13 minutes – kinda long, I know!) of the trip which has great footage of snorkeling and cenote scenery that is missing from the recap above.