My plan was to surprise the guys with a getaway... I had 3 criteria for deciding location: somewhere unexpected, tropical and with great food. I did my research and discovered Tulum, Mexico. I was first turned on to it via an article in Travel & Leisure that opened like this "Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl in the red bikini and cork sandals steps through a craggy passage in the walls surrounding the 1,000-year-old ruins of Tulum. She might be the girl from Ipanema." That vision and tune permeated my mind, and the more I researched, the more I became sure that this was the perfect surprise destination.
I presented it in card form on Valentine's Day, with pictures stuffed inside that fell out when opened. Since we don't give lavish gifts for Valentine's Day, I knew it would be a huge surprise and it was also a short wait to take off in April during Luke's spring break. And I knew it would be an unexpected destination as we'd never discussed it before. What I didn't expect was the reaction which was feigned enthusiasm from Luke and downright disappointment from Thierry. His exact words "Did you already book this? Please tell me you can get your money back."
Needless to say I was shocked and saddened by the response I received. The Frenchman has traveled all over the world... why was he hesitant? My first thought was that he doubted that the food would be satisfactory (I am still convinced that was part of it). But he assured me that recent press on Americans getting caught in the crossfire of drug-related violence was his worry.
It was booked and non-refundable. So we went. I was a bundle of nerves the entire way, doubting my choice all the way around, hoping I hadn't put my family in danger. Cut to this:
Thierry's exact words again: "This is one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever been to". Not only was the beauty of the turquoise water and endless stretch of beach so breathtaking, but there was a feeling of comfort and complete safety at Villa Las Estrellas.
We've been told that Tulum was once a hippie hideway, sleepy and undiscovered for years. It still retains its bohemian vibe yet it has become om-central to some of the chicest set of travelers from around the world. My brother Scott would be sure to caption the picture as "pretty people in pretty places". Tulum is a vortex of beauty and spirituality. With its string of rustic cabanas, the clear warm carribbean sea, ancient Mayan ruins, diving caves and fresh, organic Mexican fare, you fall in fast and hard.
Villa Las Estrellas was the ideal base for or anyone for that matter. We were warmly welcomed by the owner and the entire staff of this quaint little villa. With 6 rooms and a restaurant in the center and 3 independent suites, it's private and eco-friendly. Under the palapa roofs are rooms furnished minimalistically with four poster beds, tons of space and crisp clean white linens. We stayed in a room and a suite and both were fantastic. The benefit of the suite is that nobody is above you... and you have more private lounging space in front of you, but all rooms are amazing. The complementary morning breakfast of a huge plate of fresh tropical fruit and croissants served on the deck looking out over the sea was heaven.
What started out as a colossal debacle became the best vacation we've ever taken together as a family. All the way around, Tulum took us in. The Frenchmen even ranked the food amongst the best he's had in all his travels. When spring break approached the following two years, I asked the boys where they'd like to get off to and you don't have to guess where they chose...
food & libations: in-house restaurant is very good, El Tabano! (Best authentic Mexican in Tulum in our opinion), Hartwood (swanky setting, beautiful outdoor kitchen, food prepared in wood fired ovens), El Camello Jr. (local scene, fresh street food in downtown Tulum, for lunch)
cool for kids: little play area for young ones, waitstaff treat kids like little kings/queens, Iguanas at the ruins and snorkeling in cenotes (underwater caves)
must visit: Mayan Clay Spa for a massage, Tulum ruins (go early in the am), snorkeling the Gran Cenote (Sak Aktun)