A day with Alltournative tours: Tulum and Jungle Maya adventure with tweens and teens

Mexico’s Riviera Maya is rich with geological and cultural excursions for active families. It’s system of cenotes (underground rivers) and abundance of Mayan ruins are accessed by many tour operators, but which one to pick? We spent the day with Alltournative Tours, a leading eco-archaeological guide service specializing in active, adventurous tours.

Like most local tour companies, Alltournative works with Mayan property owners and archaeological sites to gain access to some of the most impressive (and most fun) sites along the Yucatan peninsula. We opted for their Tulum and Jungle Maya tour, which offers a history lesson at ancient Tulum and explorative fun in the jungle in their Mayan eco park.

We started the day at Tulum, the beautiful Mayan ruins on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. (Alltournative will pick up from most Cancun and Riviera Maya hotels.) Right away, we knew our bilingual guide, Robbie, would be fantastic: a native of Mexico City who is part-Mayan himself, Robbie was passionate about the Mayan culture, knowledgeable about their history, and great about tailoring the educational content to kids. Tulum is open to the public and easy to access on your own, but once on-site, we saw the value of a guide: many of the sites have little information in English to explain their significance. Without Robbie, we wouldn’t have known what we were looking at most of the time. We toured the sites for approximately 45 minutes, then Robbie left us to explore on our own for another hour. We opted to take a much-needed dip in the ocean at the beach on-site (voted by National Geographic as one of the most beautiful in the world!) then took advantage of some photo ops.

Tulum

We rejoined Robbie and the Alltourative transportation and drove the short distance to the Sac-Actun xenote cave system. Located on Mayan property at a small eco park run by Alltournative, we were given lockers, took showers to rinse off, then met the Mayan family who owns the property for a short purifying ceremony in the Mayan language. (The cenotes are spiritual to the Mayans, and treated with upmost respect.)

rappel into cenote

 

We were then led to an opening in the underground xenote system, where we rappelled down to swim in the cool, fresh water. Popping out through a cave entrance a few meters away, we climbed into the back of a Mercedes Benz all-terrain truck called an Unimog and enjoyed a bumpy ride through the jungle to Alltournative’s series of zip lines.

cenote

I expected this jungle ride to be merely a means to an end (the park is divided into two sections), but instead, it was one of the kids’ favorite parts, due to driver Willi’s sense of fun. Willi took the Unimog along the pot-holed dirt road at a rolling pace, to the delight of the boys.

Once we’d departed the vehicle, we were outfitted for zip-lining (still with our faithful guide Robbie) and shown how to climb the steep ramps to the zip line towers. We took two lines across the jungle, then were surprised by an entirely new-to-us zip-line experience: zipping into water. The last line concluded in the cool water of an open xenote, which was all kinds of fun. We swam to the shore, then grabbed snorkels and masks for a swim through the Nohoch Nah Chiich cenote cavern. Note: If this itinerary seems whirlwind, that’s because it is! We recommend Alltournative to families who have active kids looking for fast-paced outdoor fun.

alltournative activities

The Nohoch Nah Chiich is renown to divers (scuba is offered at this location for cave-certified divers), but for snorkelers, it’s a pretty easy swim through open-air caves with the guide. The swim takes about 15 minutes, and stalactites and stalagmites are pointed out along the way, in addition to hanging bats. Using your mask, it’s an unique experience to see the cave bottom as well as look up at the ceiling.

By this time in our day, we’d worked up quite an appetite. Last but not least, we were shown to the Mayan dining area and kitchen on-site, where the family owning the land prepares authentic Mayan cuisine. Tables as communal, and food is buffet-style, with a traditional Mayan soup, empanadas, beans, rice, chicken, and tortillas. Beware the hot sauce…it’s truly hot!

zip line with alltournative

After the meal, guests are returned to the first section of the park to retrieve the items in their locker, offered a MAYArita (their version of a margarita), and invited to rest a while in the many hanging hammocks and lounge chairs dotting the landscaped jungle space.

Alltournative has photographers who shadow you during your tour, and they ask you to view your photos on computer stations before leaving. The photo packages are expensive, but if you don’t have your own underwater camera or video camera to capture the action, they may well be worth it. (You can always take your own photos.)

A word about sustainability and ecotourism: We were impressed by how well the flora and fauna were cared for at the Alltournative eco park site, and liked hearing how our ecotourism aided the Mayan people who owned the land. The xenotes here are spotless, and while they don’t have a completely ‘wild’ feel due to being part of a tour, they are clearly authentic (as opposed to aided by human construction at the large eco parks along the coast). If you have dive experience, you can certainly seek out more isolated xenotes on your own, but for an introductory family experience in a safe environment, Alltournative will fit the bill nicely.

A note about Coba: Alltournative also offers a tour of Coba, the Mayan ruins further inland. This tour does take longer, with a longer drive, which is why we opted to tour Tulum instead. However, it is still possible to climb the ruins in Coba, which can be a draw to families.

Date last visited:

August 2013

Cost:

the Tulum and Jungle Maya tour we experienced runs $129 for adults and $99 for kids. Alternatively, families can book the Jungle Maya only for less, but we don’t recommend skipping Tulum.

Directions:

It’s not possible to drive to Alltournative’s eco park on your own, so leave the rental car at your hotel and let them pick you up.

Disclaimer: we experienced Alltournative as guests of the tour company, for the purpose of review. All opinions are our own.

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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