tulum, mexico :: places we went

Just one more post about Tulum. We gotta talk a few deets: Places to go! Things to see!

It was our first visit, and we were only there a week, so we are obviously the farthest people from experts on the area. Nevertheless, there were several places we really enjoyed during our trip, and I want to share them. Some are places I found before our trip through online research, while others we stumbled upon while there.


There are lots of hotels in Tulum, and all of them are small and locally-owned. No big resorts. But there are lots of choices. We wanted to be right on the beach, and somewhere that was more rustic, so Playa Mambo sounded like a good choice from what I’d read online. It was.

We reserved through booking.com and rented a bungalow with ocean view. There are two of these available. Both have the beach and ocean as their front yard. They are also a bit bigger than “cottage” options because they have a sleeping loft. I thought this would be a good option for the kids. It was a small loft with a window, accessible by ladder. It worked out well for Cameron; he slept up there in his travel crib and it was good for naps because we could go in and out of the cabana without disturbing him. Willa was freaked out. She slept on a mattress by our bed.



  • Location. Playa Mambo’s beach was beautiful. They had a small number of beach chairs/beds with umbrellas. There were several good restaurants nearby, as well as a mini-mart just outside the gate for cheaper beers and other snacks.
  • The hotel provided breakfast to guests. Coffee, fruit, and pastries. Eggs and such were available at an additional cost.
  • The staff were efficient and friendly. Our room was cleaned daily. The staff offered the kids beach toys on our first day.
  • Overall, Playa Mambo had a great vibe. It was laid back and casual while still being stylish and well kept. It seemed to attract friendly people; we enjoyed interacting with many of the other guests staying there at the same time.




  • No fridge. No cold drinks. No way to store perishable food.
  • Breakfast. We wanted to enjoy it because it was part what we were paying for, but it wasn’t quite enough. It was our first breakfast and then we’d go find a second breakfast.
  • Cash only. I alluded to this in a previous post. It is absurd that a place that charges what Playa Mambo does per night would not take a credit card. Or at least PayPal or some other electronic option. This was really to their detriment though; we would have bought many more piña coladas if we could have paid with plastic.
  • Value. While we really enjoyed our stay at Playa Mambo, it didn’t feel like a great deal. It was “eco-chic” which, in some ways, just meant “budget.” There was no air conditioning. The shower was a trickle. We only got new towels every few days. All of this was totally fine for us, but I’m not sure it matched the price point.



I didn’t want to spend a week in Tulum and only be at the beach. (However, the beach was really nice!) We ventured into town one of our first days to check things out. The town definitely had a less tourist-focused vibe.


My favorite thing to do when I travel is to do everyday activities like locals would, so it was nice to just walk into this random restaurant off the main street and have lunch. It ended up being a great choice. It was relatively empty; just us and one Mexican family eating lunch. The man working was quite friendly and the food was delicious. We ordered taquitos and a mole. And beers. And a smoothie. Willa got quite into smoothies on vacation!






A few doors down from Playa Mambo, this place advertised “Best Pizza on Earth.” Now, I’d have to disagree with that bold statement, but the pizza really was quite good. The service was friendly and the beers were cold.




BOLAS DE POSTRE (Balls of Dessert)
Being on vacation was no different than real life; the words “if you X, you can have ice cream” somehow at some point were uttered by some parent. That was much easier said than done however. On Tulum’s beach road, everything is run by generator, so freezers are few and far between. Willa was a good sport about it, but we did feel compelled to find ice cream at least once during the week.


We’d seen an ice cream cart when we were driving to and from town, so on one of our last afternoons, we finally decided to walk down the road to find it. It was a bit of a walk; Willa was asleep in the stroller by the time we arrived, but it was so worth it!




They called it “superfood ice cream” and all the flavors we tasted were divine. The Vegan Papaya Almond Bliss was my favorite, but the Cacao was also good and the Tamarind Jamaica was really delightful and refreshing. Willa initially said “yucky” when the chocolate came out (3 year olds!) but I think she was just thrown off by the nuts and other textures. She ended up devouring it. As did Cam.


There were no real cons about this place for us, but my only somewhat negative thought was that all the soymilk they were using might not fly in a trendy American city, but that was no problem for me (tofu foreva!).


The New York Times told me to go to Zamas in the morning for the view and the huevos rancheros. So that’s what we did. And, unsurprisingly, NYT was right. The service was great, the food delicious, and the location on the beach was fantastic. This breakfast is a really happy memory for me; I’m so glad we went. (Notably, Cam cried through most of the meal. See, another vote for traveling with kids! Even when they cry it’s still a happy memory!)





While Tulum was overall a great travel destination, and we really enjoyed our time there, there’s no getting around the fact it’s quite touristy. Perhaps it was once off the beaten path, but beach road is now the path. It’s full of folks from Brooklyn or London (or Denver), looking for some tasty tacos. Luckily, just a few places down from our hotel, was La Eufemia. It ticked all the boxes for me: casual, fun, delicious food, good drinks, reasonable prices, and an authentic vibe. It was the only place we went twice. It was also the only place we spotted the young, hip staff from our hotel eating after they clocked out.



They had a 2×1 drink special the first night we were there, and we didn’t really think it through before Dan ordered a piña colada and I ordered a mojito. So when 4 drinks came to the table, we were like, “hey, I guess we’re having a big night!” The second time we went, we were ready and just ordered one piña colada. Although I don’t judge anyone who enjoys multiple. They were good!




The morning I did my paddle boarding + yoga outing, they took us to this public lagoon. SUP Tulum has their own private lagoon, but it was quite windy that day, and Kaan Luum was smaller therefore less wind.


It was beautiful. When we arrived at 9:45am we were the first ones there. By the time our class was over, around 11:30, there were probably 20-30 locals there swimming. The sandy bottom of the lagoon was pretty squishy, which took some getting used to, but the water was gorgeous and a perfect temperature.


Not a place, but I feel compelled to note that while on the beach, the refreshing taste of Sol made it my preferred cerveza.


Salud, amigos!


mexico :: what we packed

When it comes to packing for recent trips, I’ve felt like a fish trying to swim upstream. I try so hard to pack minimally, but still we end up taking what feels like WAYYYYY too much stuff.

Usually, I blame carseats. When we were planning a family vacation for 2016, our first thought was to do a trip entirely without carseats. We thought through a lot of itineraries, but couldn’t come up with one that made sense for us. When we decided to go to Tulum, we pondered whether or not we could make the trip work without a car, but in the end we opted for a rental car. It was the right choice.


But still, even with the carseats, packing light had to happen. How much do you really need for a beach vacation anyway? I was thankful I could reference what we’d taken to Costa Rica a couple years back, and I tried to pack even a bit less since this trip was shorter and we had to use the same size suitcase for one extra human. So anyway, here’s what we brought (minus Dan’s clothes, but he packed about the same as I did, perhaps a tad less).  This list is mostly for my reference in the future, but maybe someone out there will find it useful, too?


willa’s clothes
2 pair leggings
1 pair shorts
2 tank tops
2 t-shirts
2 dresses
1 beach cover-up
1 hooded sweatshirt
1 swim shirt
3 bathing suits
1 pair sandals
1 pair moccasins
2 pair socks
1 sunhat
1 pair sunglasses


cameron’s clothes
1 pair pants
2 pair shorts
1 full-piece pjs
1 long-sleeved onesie
1 long-sleeved shirt
2 t-shirts
1 hooded sweatshirt
1 tank top
2 swim diapers
1 swim shirt
1 pair sandals
1 pair moccasins
1 pair socks
1 sunhat


toys + other kid items
Cheer Bear
3 books
folder of coloring/art materials
2 matchbox cars
2 stacking cups
2 small plastic spoons (for sand play)
1 small ball
1 book of puzzles
1 BrainQuest
1 pair earphones
kids’ camera
Solly Baby Wrap
2 life jackets
2 carseats
travel crib



my clothes
2 short dress
1 pair lightweight pants (“vacation pants!”)
1 pair cropped legging
2 pairs shorts
2 t-shirts
1 lightweight cardigan
1 long-sleeved shirt
3 tank tops
1 beach cover-up
3 bikinis
1 swim shirt
1 sports bar
1 regular bra
2 pairs socks
running shoes
flip flops


non-clothing items
2 bags of toiletries (lots of sunscreen; minimal make-up)
laundry soap
travel knife
12 Lärabars
fruit leather
canvas bag
4 water bottles
2 snack containers (plus a few we used as sand toys and then recycled there)
Steripen to purify water
2 books
2 magazines
2 iPhones + 1 charger
iPad + 1 charger
2 headlamps


reflections on our week in tulum, mexico

We’re just back from a trip to Tulum, Mexico. As Denverites, we feel a to need to get ourselves to a large body of water from time to time, and all the better if it’s in a tropical locale. We somewhat spontaneously booked this trip a few months ago, and were so excited to take the whole family south for a week.




Traveling with the kids is challenging for sure, but I think it’s only by getting out of your comfort zone that you learn and grow. That goes for both the little ones and the adults. The challenges are part of what make it fun and memorable. (They’re also what can make it momentarily miserable, but you do your best to just move forward, right?!) Making memories and having experiences together as a family always outweighs the inherent difficulties of embarking on an adventure with little ones in tow. (If it sounds like I’m giving myself a pep talk here, that might be somewhat the case.)



When Willa was 20 months old, we traveled to Costa Rica. After that trip, I wrote a “things we learned” post. Looking back at it now, all those things are still true, and definitely applied to our trip to Tulum. But with this trip fresh in my mind, here are a few reflections I want to remember:



Just because you travel well with kids doesn’t mean your kids travel well. That might be a bit harsher than I really mean, because, actually, I think our kids do travel pretty well. But what I sometimes need to remind myself is that I can’t control my kids or their feelings. It is possible that they won’t like traveling. They might not like sand (Cameron). They might miss Denver way more than I do (Willa). I can’t make them have fun. I can give them the opportunity and guide and teach them to the best of my abilities, but that’s it.



Do you really want to eat out for every meal? Some people like to. I don’t. Even before kids, I don’t enjoy eating all my meals in a restaurant environment. Most days we ate the continental breakfast at the hotel and went out to dinner. We went to the grocery store and bought fresh fruit and snacks to eat throughout the day. However, our cabana didn’t have a fridge, so our options were limited. (This also resulted in some beers consumed earlier and faster than necessary after purchase since we lacked refrigeration.) We know we like having a kitchen, but there were a few reasons it didn’t work out this trip. We need to make sure it works out next time.



Strollers can be great. I’ve been known to be a bit anti-stroller. For a long time, I didn’t travel with one. But, now that we have two kids and Willa is older but not a solid long-distance walker, it’s often really helpful to have a stroller. We used it in the airport on our travel days, for exploring Mayan ruins, and for walks down the main roads in Tulum. Willa enjoyed a nap or two in it, and Cam occasionally took a turn rolling.


Baby carriers are the best. At the last minute, I packed my beloved Solly Baby Wrap. (Actually, I put it on as a scarf on our way to the airport.) It was so nice to have a lightweight wrap to wear Cam in the heat, and we were happy to have two carriers so we could walk along the beach with both kids. Perhaps we’re doing a disservice to them by not mandating marching, but we enjoyed covering some ground with the sand between our toes and the waves crashing against our legs.



Research how you’ll pay for things at your destination. Duh, right? Tulum was totally “cash only.” I knew many of the smaller restaurants would be, but we were surprised how many places, including our hotel, wouldn’t take credit cards. Even the large gas stations on the highway back to the Cancun airport were cash only (or so the attendants said!?). We failed to plan ahead for this as much as we should have, and it caused a few wrinkles in our trip. Lesson learned.


Plan some adventures. But not too many. Before we left for the trip, I booked myself a morning outing to stand up paddle board. I knew if I didn’t have it scheduled, I’d probably not end up going. It was a great decision; SUPing was fantastic and easily doable during our week-long stay. Likewise, Dan spent a morning golfing. As a family, we took a day trip to the Mayan ruins at Coba.  But otherwise, we mostly stayed at the beach. I often feel compelled to do a bunch of side trips and outings when we’re in a place where there’s “so much to do” but then I remind myself that staying in a hotel right on the beach is an outing in and of itself. It’s always important to balance relaxation with activities, and that balance likely shifts on each trip for a variety of factors. But for us, it’s been important to just “be” on vacation.



go-to recipe :: sweet potato tacos

A few times this week, dinnertime has been less than ideal. Kids crying. Short tempers. No fun.

It’s definitely not always that way chez nous, but those hours at the end of the day can frequently be trying. I don’t think it’s necessary to spell it out here; I’m sure lots of you know what I’m talking about.

That time of day can be even harder when I have no idea what I’m making for dinner. Usually, I’m pretty good at meal planning. However, sometimes, it’s 5pm and I realize that I haven’t even thought about what I’ll make for dinner. Oops. So for times like that, it’s good to have a few go-tos in my back pocket. These are my number one. I make them probably twice a month. You should make them too. I mean, if you want.



Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Cilantro Pesto

2 large sweet potatoes, roughly peeled
olive oil
1T ground cumin
1/4t cayenne pepper
1-2 cups black beans

1 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 cup cilantro leaves and stems
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
juice of 1 lime
1 serrano (or jalapeño) chile pepper
2/3 cup olive oil

feta or jack cheese
lime wedges
green onions
hot sauce

1. Cut sweet potatoes into 1cm cubes. Toss to coat with olive oil, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees until they reach the desired softness. About 30 minutes.

2. A few minutes before sweet potatoes are finished, toss the black beans into the pan to warm.

3. While the sweet potatoes are roasting, make the cilantro pesto. Mix all ingredients in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Add more olive oil if needed to reach the desired consistency.

4. If you’re feeling fancy, warm or char your tortillas on the stove or microwave.

5. Assemble tacos with desired accoutrements and enjoy!


how to see santa at union station

The most anticipated event of our advent activities last month was to take the train to Union Station to see Santa. Willa had been asking to take the light rail for a long time, and while driving to a station outside the city to ride downtown didn’t make tons of logistical sense, it still sounded like a fun family adventure. So. That’s what we did. Only, it wasn’t that simple. Here’s how it went down:

IMG_2234^^step 1: buy tickets.^^


DSC00126^^step 2: ride the train. arrive downtown.^^

IMG_2242^^step 3: realize the “real” santa isn’t there on the sunday before christmas. WHAT!?^^


IMG_2239^^step 4: have lunch while you try to regroup. mercantile dining & provision.^^ 



DSC00149^^step 5: try to make up for your parenting fail by buying your children sugary treats. throw in some adult holiday drinks as well. wreak havoc in the middle of union station when hot cocoa is spilled (why is the “kid’s size” so damn big!?).^^


DSC00207^^step 6: check the santa’s schedule online, and then go to union station again. this time, by car. observe santa and families in action for several minutes. try not to feel too weird that you’re just watching.^^

DSC00226^^step 7: go eat lunch at zoe mama. because, the best. and what else would you want to eat on christmas eve?^^

DSC00241 ^^step 8: ice cream. because the line for that is much shorter than the line to see santa.^^

DSC00232Hurray! That’s our story! Live and learn, friends.


wish list + wise purchases

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…


(Actually that was in October when we had friends visiting and went hiking above the snow line. But still. It’s currently snowy in Denver. Promise.)

Christmas is about so many things: Making memories with my family. Remembering memories of past holidays. Hugging. Eating. Eggnog. Spinach Balls. Joy. Surprise. LOVE.

But it’s a little bit about gifts too. Try as I might (and honestly I’m not able to try that hard) you can’t completely eliminate materialism from Christmas. And I’m not sure we should. Exchanging gifts is part of the spirit of Christmas. Reciprocity is an important part of our culture. And desire is human nature, no?

That said, here’s my Christmas list. Things I’ve been lusting over. And after my desires, I’m listing some of my favorite products. Things I’ve been given or bought in the past couple years that have literally changed my life. If you need gift ideas, they’d make someone very happy. Promise.


A new Patagonia fleece. I had this one in brown for a few years, but I made a mistake and got the wrong size. So I never really enjoyed wearing it. It was always too small. I finally accepted the reality, and passed it along to a friend, but I’ve been missing it. It’s so warm and perfect for those not-super-cold winter days that Denver has a lot of. I’m not loving the options Patagonia has on their site right now, but perhaps REI or another retailer has some other options. Also, investing in a brand like Patagonia that prioritizes repairing products (that are already made to last in the first place) instead of buying new ones, has my vote. Great company that truly values sustainability.

Slip-on sorta-winter boots. Not very specific, I know, but I’m not sure exactly what I want. Maybe someone can suggest some for me? I have a pair of Sorels that I love for real snow boots, but I need want some that I can slip on when it’s just a little bit snowy or slippery. I suppose my Uggs from 2002 fit this purpose…but they’re Uggs. So 2002.

“Get to Work Book” planner. Here’s a very specific one. I want this exact planner to get my life in order in 2016. I’ve thought a lot about my goals, big and small, and researched books. This one is what I want. If you don’t buy it for me, I’m buying it for myself. You might want to buy it for yourself too?

My Mom’s gold star necklace. My mom has a beautiful star necklace. It looks a lot like this one. Ever since the first time I trolled through her jewelry box, I’ve wanted it. Now I’m making it public. Mom, fork over your necklace! Kidding. But think about it? I love you!

Frame Jeans – Flares. Flared jeans are finally back in style. Hallelujah! I like these. Now I just also need sewing lessons so I can hem them myself. Therein lies the problem with non-skinny jeans…

Something from Kit + Ace. Technical cashmere seems like something I should probably have in my life.


Minnetonka Fringe Boots. I got these in black a year or two ago, and there are not words to express how much I love them. They are so comfortable. It’s basically like wearing slippers. They also have the effect of making me feel like a youthful teenager and a hip thirtysomething simultaneously. That shouldn’t even be possible, but it is and it’s a good feeling. Get them.

Casio Watch. This is the ultimate parenting watch. The top right button sets an alarm for 1, 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes (one press is 1 minute, press twice for 3 minutes, etc.). I use it about 75 times per day. “Willa, we’re leaving in 3 minutes.” Or, I set it for myself: “When the alarm goes off I better be putting on my shoes or we’re f-ed.” It’s good for cooking too. It has a stopwatch and alarm function too. It does not, however, have Indiglo, so it’s not so good for night wakings with babes. Thankfully, that is very recently no longer an issue for me.

Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine. We saved and saved for this and finally splurged right before my birthday last year. That was also right after Cameron was born. It perhaps sounds ridiculous, but this machine has seriously improved the quality of my life. It’s easier to wake up in the morning knowing I have a coffee shop quality latte in my near future. The built-in grinder feature is key.

Cuppow drinking lids. Make any Mason jar a travel cup. Ditch plastic and single-use cups.

Car phone mount. I’m all kinds of against using your phone while driving. But let’s face it, no one’s buying a new Garmin when their iPhone has the capability of providing directions. This mount makes your phone easy to view while driving and it’s nice and small for travel too. Just set up an app to block messages, and you’re good to go!

Alex and Ani earrings. I wear these almost every day. Love their bangles too!


choose your own adventure


You know what’s great about not having a “regular” job? The flexibility. You know what’s super overwhelming? Flexibility.

Pretty much every day I have a long stretch of time without any plans. Hours that can be filled however I want. There are things that need doing: grocery shopping, work, meals, dishes, emails, diaper changes, exercise, laundry… But most of those things don’t need to happen at a specific time. I can work out in the morning or in the afternoon. We can go to the park whenever. Willa can nap at noon or 1:30. The grocery store is open all day.

This whole stay-at-home/work part-time thing has been tough for me to master. It’s a work in progress. Before Cameron, I felt like I sort of had things down. We’d go out and do something in the morning, and then come home for lunch and naptime. Even if we didn’t get out the door first thing, we still had time to do something. But now, Cameron naps mid-morning and so it sometimes feels like I’m being held hostage in the house with my almost-three year old. Good times. Notsomuch.

This summer, I need to figure out a bit more of a schedule. I need to be the driver of our time. It is wonderful to be able to design our days just how we want them, but it’s not without challenges. Sometimes it feels like the day slips away from me. I’m totally okay with staying home and not doing much, but I want it to be an intentional choice.

Here some reminders for myself as I work to achieve a more scheduled life that balances work and play. Maybe you have some pointers too?


Have a plan. So simple. So obvious. Yet hard to execute. The days we have a plan and somewhere to be at a certain time, we get ourselves there. The days that are open-ended are when we sometimes get a bit cranky. Even when I don’t have an obligation or scheduled meet-up with a friend, it helps immensely if I make my own schedule ahead of time. I’m working on a “bucket list” for the summer to make sure we get to all the things I want to do.

Make use of small blocks of time. Don’t underestimate the short or simple outing. Everyone’s mood gets so much better with a little fresh air and stimulation from the outside world. But, I tend to overestimate how much time it takes to do things, so often I don’t go somewhere because I don’t think there’s enough time. It’s good to remember that a quick outing can be quite restorative, so squeeze something in between naps or whenever you can!

Ditch the schedule. But only sometimes. My kids like to nap in their beds. I’m not sure if it’s their nature or something we’ve fostered, but they don’t sleep very well in strollers, carseats, etc. As a result, I have a love-hate relationship with naptime. I love the break it gives me but I sometimes hate having to be home for it to happen. It’s good to throw naptime to the wind occasionally. This lets you have the whole day to do whatever you want. Sometimes this totally backfires and you’ve got meltdown madness on your hands. But usually everyone adjusts. It’s important for everyone to learn/remember to be flexible.

Do things you enjoy doing. Since becoming a mom, particularly a mom who is primarily at home, I’ve felt a lot of pressure to do certain activities. “Kid-friendly” things. Many of those things are a lot of fun. But some of them aren’t. At least not for me. But what I want to do is constantly changing. There are things that sound fun today that last year I swore I’d never do. I try to remind myself that there are many ways to raise kids, and children can benefit from a wide range of experiences, so it’s okay to just do what you want to do.

Be gentle with yourself. I’m working on this one. I try not to stress too much if I forget something or am a bit late to meet someone. I do the best I can, but things are hard enough without beating myself up. Yes, I try to remember the sunscreen. But if I forget it, we’ll find some shade and everyone will be okay.

Use television strategically and sparingly. I don’t have a real issue with kids watching TV, and I certainly make full use of our Netflix subscribtion. However, I’ve noticed that the more shows Willa watches, the grumpier she is afterwards. With summer coming, I need to remember that playing outside is much better for everyone. I want to try to limit our “screen time” (mine too!). I hope to reserve shows and movies for times we can cozy up on the couch together to enjoy the experience.

Slow down. As much as I enjoy doing things, it can be equally important and beneficial to stay at home or to just walk around the block aimlessly. I can be nice to just let the day unfold as it will. Some of the best memories can be made when you aren’t trying too hard.