Green and Naked in Tulum

the place we went snorklingNaked and Green
By Sue McGarvie and Blaik Spratt, Clinical Relationship Therapists, Travel Journalists

Where’s a nudist to go if you want to get away from all the same clothing optional resorts, but don’t want to be arrested for inappropriate streaking? We’ve made it part of our personal mission statement as travel aficionados and naturists to find as many great nude spots in the Caribbean as possible. This year, we also were increasingly aware of minimizing our carbon footprint as we travelled. Eco tourism, while not a new concept has really begun to take off. Especially for naturists. While most nude resorts have a surcharge for the privilege of being naked (up to 40% extra in our experience), we have really started looking into other warm places where we could be naked outdoors while experiencing different cultures.

We went looking for these examples of Green and naked Mexico during a recent eco-minded trip to Tulum. Known as the “eco coast”, Tulum is home to a few large resorts and many small, six to 20 room boutique hotels. It is an area of authentic Mexican feel, lots more wilderness, and a bohemian, Jimmy Buffet laid back lifestyle. Many of the Tulum resorts have an emphasis on being green. Driven by the close proximity to the Mayan land preserve and the indigenous “spirit led” Mayan Shamans, there is a movement afoot to respect the land. Tulum is in the heart of Mayan (native Mexican) country.

This part of the Yucatan is home to beatnik travelers, authentic Mexican music and amazingly fresh and healthy food. We stayed at the adult-only Azulik resort, one of the three resorts that makes up Eco Tulum (along with Zahra, and Copal resorts located side by side). Azulik has 15 private villas ($260-320 a night), Zahra has 22 more traditional rooms, and the large Copal has 47 different kinds of cabanas. Copal’s huts range in size from family quad size, at $250 a night to a tiny hut at $35 a night without a bathroom. It was what we would call “high end beach camping”.

Eco Tulum’s concept is to provide huts on the beach, and blend in as closely as possible with the natural environment. In fact, the whole resort fits into the landscape better than anyplace we’ve ever visited. There are no lights, no outlets (so leave your hair dryer at home), and a generator powers a ceiling fan during the day. The rest of the time you are feeling a bit like you are in an episode of Gilligan’s Island. If you are looking for an accessible, convenient, well groomed hotel- this isn’t it. Eco Tulum is the opposite of a “big box resort” and we heard again and again how much guests were looking to stay anywhere but at one of the typical all inclusive’s. Each hut was unique, the pathways were made of sand and the stairways to climb into the hut were not for anyone with a disability. Some of the stairs were downright scary, but they had muted lighting at night, and the area had a very safe feel. The rooms were beautiful, clean, entirely made of wood (including a huge bathtub made out of a hollowed log) and offered a secluded beach that would rival anywhere in the world for white sand and wildlife.

There are iguanas on your deck, and gekkos in your room. The pelicans, ospreys and other large sea faring birds cast shadows over the patio canopy beds all day. We were woken up by spider monkeys on the thatch roof along with the nocturnal Kinkajou (a monkey-like mammal). Dolphins are known to swim up and down the coast, and crocodiles are common in the neighbouring mangrove swamps.

There are two relatively secluded beaches affiliated with the resort. When we inquired about nudity, we were told that yes, nudity is allowed on the beaches and on individual decks. Although not advertised as such, we saw a good fifth of the beach users naked, with a large proportion of the remaining women topless. As a rule, beaches are public property in Mexico, and while nudity is still formally illegal there are more resorts becoming increasingly more tolerant of naturism. There was a casual acceptance of clothing optional even among the textiles at Azulik and Copal. We certainly didn’t feel self conscious or frowned upon in any stage of undress on the beaches.

The huts are incredibly romantic. It has the South Sea feeling, built on stilts over the rocks right at the ocean’s edge. It is the romance holiday everyone imagines. Think white sand, turquoise water, iguanas lazily sunning themselves on the rocks outside your deck, canopy bed with mosquito netting, and a huge bathtub made out of a hollowed out tree. We watched the moon come up over the deck in an outdoor tub, and star gazed on a suspended swinging deck bed that allowed a clear view of the sky and ocean. We spent much of the week naked on the deck and were disinclined to move far off it (even to go the 20 meters to the beach) throughout our stay. The wind blows constantly from the sea, and the waves ranged from gentle to spectacular during the week long visit. It would be an astounding place to be in a mild storm. It was that great feeling of wind over bare skin that makes tropical nudity so appealing.

Azulik is the perfect spot for eco-minded nudist honeymooners. Azulik does many weddings performed by Mayan holy men, and the ceremonies are absolutely unique. They are comfortable doing same sex, and pagan weddings as well. While they hadn’t done a nude wedding, Laura the wedding coordinator was open to the possibility.

In keeping with the green theme, you can rent a bike and easily cycle the four kilometers into Tulum for dinner or shopping. For pedestrians six restaurants and some stores make up the Boca Paila cluster where Azulik is located. The small hub of stores, hotels and restaurants gives you a sense of authentic Mexico and community, but is not enough to disturb the tranquil feeling of being naked and private in your eco-hut.

Azulik resort took the eco theme seriously. In Mexico where litter is prevalent, the resort has recycling boxes (including one for batteries), located at regular intervals. And you needed to bring batteries. The downside of rooms with no power is that you had to set up your candles in advance of going for dinner otherwise you returned to pioneer-like blackness. It is a way to get in touch with your circadian rhythm (we were in bed by 9 pm and up with the sun). We found the candle light too dim to read by, and would strongly recommend packing flashlights or head lamps for walking.

One of the most notable things about a movement towards more eco-understanding in the Yucatan is the appreciation of the native Mayan peoples. The Eco Tulum resort and the adjoining Mayan Spa had both a Shaman and holistic healer on staff. They use only organic products, and many of the treatments are done with natural plants picked from the spa garden just minutes before treatments. They are known throughout the area for their traditional Mayan Temascal. A Temascal is a native sweat lodge that has been used for both healing and ritual purposes in Mexico for thousands of years. Throughout the Temascal, the Shaman used different herbs in conjunction with red-hot stones, misting, chanting and singing to cleanse the body and spirit. It is an interesting two hour (or longer) process that is to leave you feeling re-born.

The municipality of Tulum has been putting in bike paths to encourage this form of transportation. Biking really is the way to get around the Tulum area. Bikes are for rent inexpensively all over. You can tour the Tulum ruins, or head off to discover one of the 3,000 cenotes or fresh water sinkholes in the area. Think of a limestone lagoon that open up into underwater caves as part of the underground water table. Cenotes are all different, and the one we visited was like a small, deep lake filled with fish. It reminded us of swimming in a fish tank. We were able to snorkel, and see the entrance to the underwater caves that are so popular with divers.

In keeping with the eco-theme of this trip, we opted to go on the highly recommended Sian Ka’an community tour. This tour absolutely made our trip. Sian Ka’an is a protected natural reserve of 630,000 hectares that crosses traditional Mayan land and is now a UNESCO heritage site as well as a wildlife reserve. Sian Ka’an Community Tours is an international success story. With the aid of a couple of non-profit NGO’s (including Equator Initiatives) that help indigenous peoples with sustainable development, the Mayan community near the Sian Ka’an reserve got together and started a business giving tours. All of the money from this low cost tour ($99 per person including lunch, snacks, park fees, and transportation) stays in the community. Our guide Alberto’s English was impeccable and his knowledge outstanding.

Our seven hour tour included a guided hike through secluded jungle ruins. It followed with an adventure into an underground Mayan passageway built in 300 BC (where we got up close and personal with some fruit bats). We then went into the jungle on the Mayan reservation where we tasted edible roots, smelled copal bark, and burned dead termite mounds as a bug repellent. We climbed a 17 meter tower to observe all eight biospheres in the park before jumping into boats to re-enact a 1000 year old trade route crossing accross crystal clear lakes. After lunch we did a river float along a natural passageway through the grass savannah. We floated peacefully four kilometers an hour for a few kilometers at the edge of the mangrove trees- nursery to millions of baby fish. During our section of the river we saw vultures, a variety of multi-coloured song birds, and countless tropical fish. We ended the day with a snorkeling trip to a nearby cenote with an opportunity to hand feed schools of fish.

Our eco holiday was affordable, personal, and left us feeling healthy (actually down a pound or two given the exercise and fresh foods). It was a great place to be naked, and an incredible place to recharge and be romantic. It’s also a feel good story as we left feeling we had connected to the people, culture and land that is Tulum.

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