It seems these days you read about Tulum everywhere and as much as I’d like to think of myself as an independent thinker and traveller, I have fallen for it as well… pretty hard in fact.
I first visited Tulum back in 2013 when searching for a place to visit during Carnaval – little did I know that I would end up now on my 7th visit in five years and always looking for an excuse to head there again. There is a mix of spirituality, beach time, nature, candle light and mezcal that is hard to surpass.
My main tip is stay in the southern part of the Boca Paila road, after El Pez. Most restaurants and bars are in this part of the town. All hotels are similar in a rustic chic style, so I would not be too particular about it. I would also not bother with beachfront rooms as you want to be out and about so makes little difference.
My current favorite is Amansala which is pretty basic in terms of creature comforts but runs a yoga retreat and the highest ratio of sun loungers per hotel guests that I have ever seen which is a winning factor in my book. Best if you want a chill, healthy vibe. On the other hand, there is Nomade, winner for the best lunch restaurant on the beach and best combination of Moroccan and Mexican folk art. It works. Best for a bit of a scene, so this is the time to dig up all the beachy/boho accessories that you have bought on impulse in the past only to realize they made no sense in NY or London (we have all been there…); remember more is more! If you head to Tulum with parents or with someone who needs a bit more infrastructure, point them to Casa Malca or Be Tulum.
When to go:
I have visited Tulum throughout the year and I have loved it every time. July is sweltering hot and humid so caution when attempting strenuous exercise such as biking from town to the ruins – this was a lesson me and my friends learned the hard way so you wouldn’t have to. November/December is a bit chilly at nights and mosquitoes are running the show. In January the town is busy filled with people on the Burning Man circuit while February was the perfect temperature but a bit of seaweed on the beach. There are no bad times is the gist here.
Eat, drink and dance:
If you love guacamole and mezcal, you are in luck my friend.
Lunch: I would always choose somewhere ocean side rather than on the inside road for obvious reasons. The Nomade La Popular restaurant focuses on grilled meats, fish and vegetables and while service is very scattered, these people know a thing or two about design – think reclaimed wood tables and poofs on the sand. Reserve if you want to avoid a long wait especially because when you get there, you will understand why people do not leave their tables quickly. Honorable mention to La Zebra for inventive tacos.
Dinner/Drinks: In Tulum, dinner is a sexy affair with lots of candle lights and sun tanned beautiful people emerge from every rustic chic hotel. Most restaurants are great places for drinks and my musts are Casa Jaguar (best for tuna tostadas, shrimp aguachile, desserts not really worth it) and the adjacent Todos Santos (only for drinks, no menu so you tell them flavors you like and they come up with something). Casa Jaguar is the OG for that Tulum vibe as it was the one bar in the middle of a dark road back in 2013 and the successful formula has been replicated elsewhere. If you want a bit more of a party vibe, head to Gitano which is a very sexy outdoor jungle space with a dj and a mini dancing area; be mesmerized in their mirrored bathrooms (is it only me but I get all sorts of ideas when I am in there!). Food is not the reason you go there, but you are safe with the tuna tostadas and the rib eye to share. Two cocktails to remember – kisses in the car and jungle fever. You are very welcome.
Other good restaurants include Arca, Posada Margherita, and Casa Banana. Plenty has been written about Hartwood – a wood-fire grill focused where you need to reserve by standing in a line a 3pm outside the restaurant. If you have a friend that wants to go there badly, ask them to go stand in the line at that time; but that is peak beach time so I would rather go elsewhere. Food is great, however, and make sure you get plenty of whatever vegetable they have on the menu, my friends still talk about the roasted beets.
Party: Tulum isn’t really a party place and that is more than fine by me. If you have some dancing in you after Gitano, the only place to go is Papaya Playa a multi-level beachfront club with djs and multiple bars. I would love to meet the person who designed this place for two very important reasons – there are twice as many bathrooms for women than for men and they are well-lit and really clean. Note to all club owners and designers. Second important point, tacos on site at 2am.
Get sweaty and/or pampered or both:
Because there is only so much lounging one can do, am I right?
Yoga: Yoga has taken over Tulum and your hotel may offer classes for free. Yoga Shala is very serious about it but you will not have a hard time finding a place to salute the sun.
Spa: While many hotels will offer you massages and beauty treatments, the best spa I have visited is the Yaan. Arrive before your treatment to enjoy the exceptional design of the spa and the warm pools.
Other rituals: There are two other Mayan-inspired rituals which have taken root in Tulum – one is the Temazcal sweat lodge, and the other one is the Cacao Ceremony. I cannot vouch for any authenticity here but they are interesting enough to try. Get in touch with your inner free-spirit with other alternative treatments such as sound healing and mayan clay treatments. When in Tulum…
Last but not least:
Visit at least one Cenote – fresh water pools and underwater rivers formed in the eroded limerock. The Mayans believed they were a gateway to the underworld and they are a must in my opinion. Very close to town you can visit Gran Cenote but there are literally hundreds to choose from. Pro tip – bring cash to pay for entrance fees and do not skimp on the snorkels where available. Some of the best views are of the underwater stalagmites.
A visit to Tulum is not complete without catching the sunrise – you will not see sunsets in Tulum but I find sunrises inspiring as they make me think of new beginnings. That means being up around 7am but trust me that it will be worth it!
Hope you make it there