So how would I describe Tulum? That’s a hard one because it is so many things. It has a modern bohemian vibe that I found incredibly welcoming and laid back, yet it was also full of history, culture, and mystery — as the area is held sacred to the Mayan people who are still very much a part of the community today. On top of that, it is surrounded by jungles and beaches and too many cute boutique shops and wellness retreats to name. It’s the perfect haven for those who are in touch with their spiritual side or those who prefer to just go with the flow.
Tulum is located about an hour and a half drive south from Cancún, along the Yucatán Peninsula coast and at the tip of the Riviera Maya.
Where to Stay
Boutiques hotels are the name of the game here and you won’t find any major hotel chains (although I did see one or two “coming soon” signs on my way into town) and all-inclusive resorts (Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa is one of them) are scarce.
Due to Tulum’s limited infrastructure and their commitment to eco-friendly practices, hotels are built using natural materials, some do not offer air conditioning, all bath amenities are organic, and everything is sourced locally. You can opt to stay on the beach side or in the jungle in Tulum, where the later will be easier on the pocketbook.
The hotels and small resorts in the area range from budget (like Zamas, one of Tulum’s most tenured hotels), to the Papaya Playa Project (boasting casitas and major weekend parties), to the adults only Mezzanine, and the super-luxe and exclusive Casa Malca, Azulik Resort, or Be Tulum Beach & Spa Resort. If staying on the main beach is not at the top of your list, then renting an Airbnb in the middle of the jungle will give you a combination of intriguing architecture and stunning natural surroundings (check out Casa Macarena).
I chose to stay on Tulum Beach and aside from exploring the cenotes, I found no reason to ever leave. I hopped on one of my favorite websites, Small Luxury Hotels of the World, and learned of the Colibri Hotels brand that offered 4 oceanfront properties in the area. La Zebra would be my choice with its beach-chic vibes, cocktail bar popup concept (called the Mulberry Project), and their rooftop suites with private plunge pools. Sold!
The accommodations, facilities, food, and beyond are representative of Tulum’s stance on healthy living. You’ll find wellness classes and freshly prepared juices at almost every single hotel in town and the superior hospitality that comes along with it.
Where to Eat
Did I mention how amazingly fresh everything was?! A culinary scene that strikes the perfect balance between authentic Mexican and Yucatan flavors and “it doesn’t get any fresher than this!” — that only begins to describe what you’ll experience. Tacos are plentiful and if you 💕 seafood, you’ll find a new favorite here somewhere.
Breakfast at La Zebra fell right in line with the food epicness that peeks from every corner of Tulum. Coconut bread, amaranth & coconut pancakes, chilaquiles with red or green sauce, fresh Mexican coffee, rice & beans…my ideal way to rise and shine!
Outside of my hotel, you will find many more delicious eats that continue to show off Tulum’s culinary prowness. One of the best restaurants on Tulum Beach would have to be Hartwood. It is very popular and widely regarded as the best restaurant in town — and that’s after asking several locals who said it was a must try! I didn’t get a chance to eat there myself, but I would certainly add it to your list. For Hartwood, think grilled locally-caught seafood or beef and local vegetables. Arca, located very close to Hartwood, is another local favorite that focuses on tasty wood-fire grilled dishes. Note: Several restaurants like Hatwood and Arca are closed on Mondays and reservations are recommended.
Then there is RosaNegra where we were included in a surprise celebration that entailed all guests dancing on top of their chairs! Fresh seafood was their focus and the Ōra King Salmon paired with Chipotle & Cheddar Mashed Potatoes were heavenly. Gitano is another must have experience that eludes New York City vibes right in the heart of Tulum. Known as a mezcal bar, heading there for late night bites or dinner and staying around to partake in the party afterward is the perfect way to end your day.
And if you want to enjoy something other than authentic Mexican cuisine, you’ll find that too. Thai food in Tulum? Yes, you can! Mezzanine, perched on a deck overlooking the beach with stunning ocean views, is great for lunch. Don’t miss the Crispy Money Bags (fried shrimp dumplings), the Pad Thai, or any one of their many curries. Posada Margherita makes all of their pasta in house and if Italian is what you want, they have you covered.
For cocktails, I would be remiss if I didn’t highly recommend Mur Mur. I paid them a visit multiple times during my stay ordering several rounds of their Tulum Goose, a refreshing cocktail made with Grey Goose vodka and a delicious and thoughtful blend of fresh ginger, basil, lime, and sparkling water. Many head to I Scream Bar for their homemade vegan ice cream, but the hipster bar is a great place to drop by for a cocktail, people watch and plan your next move.
Located directly next to the I Scream Bar, Origami Gelato is probably the best gelato in Tulum. If you’re feeling something sweet, head here. And because coffee is my absolute everything, Ki’Bok the one destination in town to start your day or drop in for an afternoon pick me up.
What to Do
There is no better way to get around Tulum than by bike. If you want a “go with the flow” kind of day, renting a bike for the day is your best bet. Bikes are just about everyone in Tulum and you can rent one for around 150 pesos per day. Visiting cute boutique shops, stopping for a smoothie or fresh juice, and taking photo ops along the way is time well spent.
Wanna take a dip? Tulum is full of cenotes…over 6,000 of them! So, what exactly are cenotes? Cenotes are natural pools made from crystal-clear falling rainwater where locals and tourists like to spend their afternoons swimming. They can be completely open, partially covered, or fully closed and hidden within caves. The Grand Cenote is one of the most popular cenotes, but I hired a private guide, Boutique Tours Mexico, so I could experience some less-known cenotes (like Nicte Ha and Dos Ojos) and those not overrun with tourists. In addition, they were able to get me into some cenotes only they were allowed to visit (due to their relationships with the local Mayan owners). Plus, they provided snorkel gear and paid entrance fees on my behalf, so I didn’t need to worry about those specifics. Because the cenotes are all connected by caves and waterways, more experienced divers could be seen swimming from one cenote to the next. How cool is that?!
Spending all day at one of Tulum’s beaches is a given. You can opt for the public Tulum Beach located on the northern end or you can head south to the Tulum hotel zone. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, the beach beds or cabanas can be used for a small fee (the best include Papaya Playa, La Nomade, and Casa Malca). Some hotels will even allow you to chill at their beach as long as you are purchasing food and drinks. It’s easy to spend the day beachside.
Need to get in your daily yoga fix? Then Sanara hotel is one of the best places to schedule a class. Although most hotels offer their own morning yoga sessions, Sanara offers 90-minute classes three times a day, seven days a week on their gorgeous patio overlooking the ocean. Everything you need is included with your class from mats, to blocks and towels plus you get to choose from a full menu of yoga methods including hatha and vinyasa. And what about a spa? Yaan Spa is the ideal place to relax and not only do they offer yoga classes, but their spa also offers a variety of treatments, rituals, and ceremonies in the midst of the jungle.
One of Mexico’s 34 UNESCO World Heritage sites, Sian Ka’an Reserve is home to tropical forests, wetlands, various wildlife, archeological sites, Mayan ruins, and a marine section intersected by a barrier reef. You can explore the biosphere reserve on your own, but this place is massive. A boat tour will allow you to explore the mangroves and marine life (dolphins, turtles, rays and manatees) with more ease. Sian Ka’an is home to over 300 species of birds, 400 species of fish, 100 mammals and 40 amphibians so there is plenty to see and do.
Tulum was one of the few trips I’ve gone on where I didn’t have a single thing planned beforehand. Aside from transfers to the hotel, I winged it. That’s a very difficult task for me, but I witnessed first-hand the benefits of spontaneity and enjoyed the best three days exploring and learning more about the town that would make its way into my list of faves.
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharial Nehru.