Often called the “anti-Cancun,” Tulum lies about two hours south of the Cancun International Airport along the Mexican Caribbean,about 45 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. As one of the Riviera Maya’s crown jewels, Tulum is home to an ancient Mayan pyramid overlooking the sea and first became known for attracting a nature-loving crowd with its sustainable establishments and close proximity to the 1.3 million-acre Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Today, Tulum’s pace has quickened,but only slightly, with a variety of new restaurants, shops and nightlife options to complement the soft, white sand beaches and abundance of yoga retreats.
“If you haven’t been to Tulum in the last few years, a head’s up: It’s a whole lot bigger than you remember,” shares Danielle Pergament, writing for the New York Times. “But don’t despair. The town is more exciting than ever.”
According to the New York Times, mornings are the best time to visit Zamas, a hotel, bar and restaurant located in the bright “Crayola-colored” heart of Tulum, proper.
“To be in Tulum means to eat at Zamas,stay at Zamas, drink at Zamas,” writes the New York Times.
The cappuccino and huevos rancheros (fried eggs with black beans served on a crispy corn tortilla) at Zamas will satisfy as you watch the gentle waves and enjoy the freshly raked beach amid the quiet early morning crowd. Call +52 984-877-8523 for more information.
In Tulum, Chamico’s beachside café is the secret beach joint locals don’t want visitors to discover, according to Pergament, who recommends the ceviche. Other menu items include tacos and fried fish – all made using whatever was caught that morning – washed down with ice-cold Sol beer. With no sign, no menu, no website and no phone, Chamico’s is easy to miss, but not hard to find. Head down the highway and turn off onto a small dirt road heading toward the Jashita Hotel. Drive down to Soliman Bay past palatial villas until the road ends, where you will find this local eatery. Cash only. Open most days 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Although the line can be around two hours long, the wait is well worth it to dine at Hartwood Tulum, which serves up amazing dishes nightly using no electrical appliances save one lone blender in an open-air dining atmosphere that is lit by citronella lanterns. Instead, everything is prepared by hand then thrown on the grill or in the wood-burning oven. As such, it’s no surprise that the menu changes daily, ranging from roasted whole fish with onions and herbs to grilled octopus with roasted potatoes, chile and Mexican mustard greens. Open daily from 6-10 p.m. Email email@example.com for more info, or firstname.lastname@example.org for parties of eight or more.
For a totally different option, head over to Restaurare, an open-air kitchen on Tulum’s jungle side that serves only traditional Mayan food that is entirely local. Pergament recommends the oyster mushroom ceviche and Mayan curry with coconut milk, if it’s available, since the menu changes seasonally. Open daily from noon to 9 p.m. Call +52-984-168-1282 for more information.
Although definitely not cheap, drinks at Gitano are always an experience. Expect to pay around $50 for a few cocktails and a couple of appetizers, but keep in mind that you’re paying as much to be there as you are to enjoy the libations at this upscale kitchen and mezcal bar.
“This is the new Tulum,” writes the New York Times. “The kind of place where it seems reasonable to teeter through the jungle on five-inch stiletto heels.”
Call +52 984-745-9068 for more information.
One of the best ways to explore the shops in Tulum is to walk or bike, which is often easier than finding parking, since most of the shops are located within easy distance of each other. The New York Times recommends checking out Mr. Blackbird, which is a tiny boutique offering elegant jewelry, strappy leather sandals and a variety of wraps and shawls. Just across the street, Josa Tulum is a fantastic place to find a chic sundress, while Hacienda Montaecristo offers a variety of bags, tops and bohemian dresses.
For more on shopping, check this list of the Top 10 Places to Shop in Tulum by Investment Properties Mexico!
The beaches of Tulum are world-renowned and able to compete with any destination on earth. If you want to experience what it’s like to have a wide stretch of sand virtually all to yourself, Pergament recommends heading over to the Mezzanine Hotel around mid-morning and taking the short path to the beach located on the hotel’s far side.
“As beaches go,the shores of Tulum will impress even the world’s most discerning snob,” writes the New York Times. “Plus, the water is as clear as a fishbowl and gentle enough for a nursery school.”
Cenotes – underground freshwater sinkholes – dot the landscape of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, ranging in size from tiny to enormous. Aktun Chen is a fabulous option for visitors who want to get a feel for these amazing natural phenomena, offering easy access to a cenote that is located within a lush wildlife preserve. Zip line tours are also available. Call +52 984-109-2061 for more information.
Situated right on the beach, Maya Tulum is one of the town’s most popular lodging options, with rooms available from $110 per night. The property’s thatch-roofed bungalows offer a unique experience, while organic food, a variety of yoga classes and an overall Zen vibe complete the experience. Call 888-515-4580 for more information.
Want more? Check out our very own list of the Top Five Beachfront Hotels in Tulum.