Paradise Found: The Best of Tulum
Beach paradise. Hippie outpost. Hipster haven. Electric Dance Music Mecca. Appeals to fish tacos lovers and urban foodies alike. Mezcal, modelos, and Mexican sensibility. Huts and hammocks on the beach abound.
There is no one way to describe the multi-faceted layers that make up Tulum, Mexico. Just under two hours from the crowded and atrocious cacophony of Cancun all-inclusive resorts and the Disneyland-esque Playa Del Carmen, Tulum has emerged on the travel scene as the go-to destination for a certain ‘in’ crowd. Part of the Mayan Rivieria, Tulum is the most undeveloped resort area on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. And there is something different about Tulum.
The small town and beach road which houses the hotels on one side and the restaurants on the other, is small enough to be manageable all by bike or on foot. There are no high-rise hotels, no mega-resorts, not even a brand name hospitality group that one would easily recognize. On my recent trip to Tulum, I fell in love with a place that started as the home to some hippie ex-pats over 20 years ago who loved the nature and history of Tulum and has now transformed into what some are calling ‘the next Ibiza’.
The few miles of beach, which is bordered by the famous Tulum Ruins to the North and the Sian Ka’an biosphere to the South, still has that eco sensibility.
I was lucky enough to travel to Tulum and fell in love with the beach paradise that, though it is only a four hour flight from NYC, makes you feel like you are another world away.
Where To Stay
The Beach Tulum: A hotel designed for luxury, privacy and romance. You can stay in rooms facing the beach or that lead out to the winding pools. The management and staff will do absolutely everything to make sure you're being taken care of and Ziggy's Beach Club and Restaurant is home to one of Tulum's top chefs.
Hotel Encantada: One of the most private hotels, and one of the most subdued, is perfect for a couple who wants to eat their gourmet meals with sand under foot by candlelight with a traditional guitarist in the background.
Ahua Tulum: Home to some of Tulum's best EDM raves on the beach, Ahua offers some more affordable options but one should also be prepared to be kept up late into the night from beach revelers on the hotel property.
Other good options include: Hotel Ana y Jose, La Zebra, Mezzanine and Coqui Coqui
Where to Eat and Drink
No trip to Tulum is complete without a visit to Zamas - a hotel and restaurant situated at the Northern end of the beach. Sunset cocktails on the seaside patio, with mezcal, a guitarist, and waves crashing onto the natural rock wall was one of the best experiences I had in Tulum. The hotel is a great option too - the property is owned by Susan, an american who came to Tulum over 20 years and understands just how to give you that quintessential Tulum experience.
Cenzotle: A great restaurant on the Jungle Side of the beach road. Great food, cocktails and music surrounded by lush greenery. But be sure to wear bug spray (they have some there if you forgot to douse yourself before dinner).
Gitano: Horrible food but great live music, cocktails and bar scene. Skip dinner in favor of late-night drinks and dancing.
La Zebra, which currently is host to a pop-up of the NYC-based cocktail bar, Mulberry Project, is a great beachside bar where the bartenders will customize your drinks depending on what flavors you like. Mulberry Project is open through the winter (and if you can't make it to Tulum by then, check out their Nolita Flagship.
For the most authentic local fish tacos - skip the overcrowded in-town destinations that draw the beach-goers, and head to El Chino for true local flavor.
Other great options include: Hartwood, Mur Mur, and Casa Jaguar
What To Do
Tulum beach is meant to be walked along - you can pop into the hotels that line the beach and guests can rent chairs at most of the hotels for a day
Rent bikes (Hola Bikes is a great option) and ride up and down the beach road or into town.
Tulum ruins: Get there early, as they draw large crowds from up and down the Mayan Riviera.
If you want to see some of the lesser known ruins, explore Los Cenotes (caves), float down the crystal clear mangrove canals in Sian Ka'an, or go snorkeling or diving, hire Miguel Ramirez, owner of Yucatan Diving. Miguel is a native of Tulum and knows more than any guide book and will give you the best experience of your trip - customizing your day to include any of the above activities that suit your fancy.
Tulum is rapidly changing, and some of the things that make it so special, like its lack of mega-resorts and laid back vibes, could very well change soon as development continues. For beach, food, nature, history and leisure enthusiasts alike, Tulum is my top pick for a winter destination filled with whimsy and adventure.