Tulum: Dolphintastic

January 15, 2012 0 Comments

Our first ever experience of travelling via a ‘colectivo’ in Mexico went surprisingly smoothly. This was our mode of transport to a hotel resort further up the coast where we were due to partake in a dolphin ‘Trainer for a Day’ program. A colectivo is one of the small buses that frequently journey between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, picking up and depositing passengers along the way.  Locals generally use them to get to work etc. It’s a cheap way of getting from one point to another, provided you’re travelling along a busy route where they run. You simply stand at one of the shelters along the side of the road. If a bus is passing that has room for you, then the driver will flash his lights at you. You frantically gesticulate that you’re interested in getting onboard, and he pulls in. 30 minutes later we got deposited outside the hotel and handed over a mere 50 pesos… which we could have got change from. Not a bad way of travelling and avoiding expensive taxi fares.

We wandered into the resort and eventually found our way to the correct hotel. We made the mistake of asking at the reception about where the Dolphinaris was located. On learning that we were not, in fact, guests of the establishment, the staff mobilised into action to ensure we would not run amok enjoying their facilities. We were quarantined to one side while they rustled up a cart to take us to where we were supposed to be. Brodie was tempted to make a run for it. I estimated our chances of escape were minimal when they already knew what direction we would be heading in. When they finally got around to moving us, a security escort came along for the ride, just to look after us of course. It was an extra insult to them that we also did not speak Spanish. The garbage collectors now had a higher status than us. A raft of instructions were given to one of the staff members at the Dolphinaris where we were deposited, no doubt warning of the dire consequences if we escaped observation for too long. Then the security guy stalked off to attend to more important matters. The staff at the Dolphinaris weren’t as concerned about where we were or weren’t supposed to be though, and left us roaming freely for the rest of the day.



The Dolphinaris is situated on the grounds of a hotel. It’s one of a chain that operates in the region. There were five dolphins there, each with a trainer responsible for them. The daily routine starts with a thorough inspection and teeth cleaning for each animal. The feeding process starts then too. It took most of the day to feed each dolphin its daily quota of fish. Every couple of hours there’s a ‘show’ when the trainers put the dolphins through their paces, making sure they get plenty of exercise (and obviously earning some cash to feed them from the tourists partaking in the experience). The dolphins seem reasonably well cared for. Some of them display old wounds from sharks or boats that probably would have been a death sentence in the wild, and took years to heal since they were rescued. But it’s hard not to feel that they would be better off with a larger area to live in.

The trainer program included a tour of the facilities and plenty of information about the dolphins. We were also in and out of the water participating in what was being done with them. There was an abundance of petting them and sending them off to leap and jump, or hit some kind of target. They’re obviously intelligent animals, and much loved by their trainers. It’s great to have the opportunity to actually touch them up close and interact with them. Any time we’ve previously seen dolphins it’s been from a bigger distance. The feel is rubbery on the outside. The fins and tail are harder than they look. The power and strength the animals display is amazing. The speed with which they’d return to their trainer from doing something on the other side of the pool, and then brake themselves with a masterful flip of their tail was very impressive. Many of them relish being stroked along their back or belly, or having their throat rubbed. The whole idea of dolphins in captivity is a controversial subject though, and this visit didn’t really make up my mind either way on the subject other than that better regulation is needed by experts in the field to make sure that any animals in captivity have a reasonable quality of life. Something that it’s hard for us to assess without any real understanding of the important issues around caring for these creatures.

Once our day was over we somehow were left free to wander back off the hotel property without a security escort. We did have to get through the ‘photo and video room’ sales pitch first. A number of staff are dedicated to capturing images of tourists with or near the dolphins and to then try and sell them for as much as possible. The prices are completely extortionate. There were a handful of decent photos of us, but nothing that would motivate us to hand over extra cash for them. Once we exited the area we were followed with decreasing offers that would give us not just a couple of the photos, but everything – video and all. The final offer was actually quite good, but it’s debatable whether we really needed photographs beyond the two they’d presented us with as part of the package, so we decided to go on our way empty-handed, to the photographer’s absolute disgust.

The reliable colectivo service saw us safely back to Tulum. By this stage we were really starting to suffer with sunburn. You’re not supposed to wear suncream when you’re around dolphins, although the trainers wear some on their faces and had given approval for us to do the same. We’d covered our faces reasonably well and worn t-shirts in the pool… but it was inevitable that our necks and arms would suffer from the sun. Ironically, the constant in-and-out of the water had left us freezing cold a lot of the time, but the sun had still relentlessly burned what it could reach. We got busy applying aftersun in a futile attempt to make up for the scorching. Just as we set out to try a new restaurant the weather reverted to its rainy state of the previous night. It’s almost impossible to walk around Tulum when there’s torrential rain, so we hopped in a taxi. Only to find the restaurant that had been recommended to us was already closing up (at 8.30pm!). We gave up and returned to ITour and went next door for a bit of Italian food instead. We then signed up for a tour to Chichen Itza in the morning – we would not need good weather for that… in fact some rainy weather might be welcome!