Tulum, Mexico

 

Tulum ruins, image from Mara Hoffman‘s swim collection shot by Olivia Malone, beach near Zamas

what to pack

1. your favorite easy breezy t-shirt/ shorts combo  2. tribal jewels  3. a scarf/ sarong for day and night  4. the perfect white dress  5. ethnic beach bag  6. a gang of gold bangles  7. your fav bikini 8. classic leather sandals

Tulum is a sleepy beach town on the edge of the Yucatan’s Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.  Once called Zama or “City of the Dawn” the Mayans may have originally built Tulum as a place to worship the sun.  Not much has changed over the years– today aside from bikini bootcamps, yoga retreats, diving, and bike riding to a lazy reggae soundtrack, it is perfectly acceptable to simply  swim in the crystal blue water and worship the sun.

Over the last ten years,  some great boutique hotels have sprung up as well as a variety of top notch restaurants.  There is one main road that stretches between the jungle and ocean where you can find pretty much everything.  A far cry from Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Tulum still feels remote and quiet– a rustic retreat perfect for families, lovers, and singles interested in a more eco-friendly kind of getaway.

Don’t bring too much– you don’t need it here! Sandals, maybe some sneakers for exploring, and some sun goddess wear– bathing suits, cover-ups, sarongs, and some breezy bohemian looks for night time– that’s it.  Oh, and of course killer shades and a good beach hat!  Feel good, be natural!

Shopping

There are a couple treasures to be found here, but Tulum isn’t really about shopping.  The best places to get authentic Mexican crafts and textiles are the boutiques at Posada del Sol and Mixik (two locations- one in town and one near beach).  All the hotels have sweet little gift shops with sandals, beach bags, and cover-ups, but I always look for harder to find antique huipiles and natural copal incense.

One noteworthy and much blogged about spot to check out is the gift shop at Coqui Coqui.  It features divine perfumes and candles made from local plants and scents.  I also got my guy some amazing agave massage oil that will be impossible to replace.  Oh well, guess we will have to go back to Tulum to get another bottle! They also have super chic leather sandals and accessories from their house line Hacienda Montaecristo and re-purposed beach bags by worldly Merida local Ariane Dutzi.

food/ drink

There is so much good food in Tulum– a surprising amount!  Lots of world travelers have decided to make Tulum their permanent residence so there is amazing variety and quality.  All the restaurants are outside on patios, on the beaches, or in gardens and a lot of the food is cooked in outdoor ovens- so yummy!

One of my fav spots is El Tabano.  It is located in a lush garden with the most enormously healthy agave plant you can find.  They have modern takes on local Yucatan dishes as well as traditional Mexican.  They have great appetizers and are always happy to recommend a tasty bottle of wine to complement your meal.  I had a chicken roasted in a local red chile sauce that was perfectly tender and just the right amount of spicy.

Another good spot for simple, hearty Mexican fare is the beachside restaurant at Zamas.  During the day, I had fresh lemonade mixed with Chia seeds and Chaya (a local spinach type green).  Super healthy and delicious.  And at night I had world class micheladas and margaritas before sauntering (stumbling) off to my jungle hut.  They have delicious tacos de pollo and a jumbo prawn app that is to die for.

Another much blogged about spot is the fashionable Hartwood.  NYC expats opened this jungle joint last year and it is always full.  All of the ingredients are locally sourced and cooked in their wood burning oven.  Everything came out in small cast iron dishes with adorable knit mitts on the handles.  This is a great place to have a lazy meal and people watch by the light of the oven’s fire in the back of the restaurant.

Another crowd pleaser is Posada Margarita.  Owned and run by Italian expats, Posada features fresh homemade pasta and breads made from organic ingredients.  It offers a nice atmosphere and a break from Mexican food if you need it (I never need a break from Mexican food).  They also have good salads and a great wine selection.

One lesser known gem is the restaurant at the hippie boutique hotel Dos Ceibas.  This is a great spot for breakfast and lunch in a jungle-y garden just off the beach.  I had some amazing fresh fruit and salads here, as well as some kick ass guac.  Word to the wise- the beach in front of their bungalows is absolutely gorgeous– pristine white sand and good body surfing!

Where to stay

Most recently I have been to Tulum for work and we stayed at Zamas.  It is very rustic and simple but the restaurant is great, the staff is very friendly and helpful, and it’s in a good location to ride your bike in either direction up and down Beach Road.

I’ve heard great things about Casa Violeta, Dos Ceibas, La Zebra, and the more upscale Coqui Coqui.

One special spot is Azulik–  we shot there a couple days the last time I was in Tulum.  It definitely has a honeymooner vibe as there is NO electricity– that’s right, no phone, no computer folks.  Just quality time with you and your lover— complete with a sweet, carved, wooden dipping pool overlooking the beach, a sexy white bed with a mosquito net, a swinging day bed on the terrace, and some curious iguanas. That’s it.  And the ocean of course.  You even put up a little flag for room service.  All the huts are connected by raised wooden planks in the jungle and everything looks like it is held together by rope made from palm fibers.  It’s a Robinson Crusoe kind of spot.

I’m sure there are lots of other good places to stay in Tulum, but these are the ones I’ve had first hand contact with or my friends have stayed at…. A little research will probably yield a lot more hidden gems…

Noteworthy

I know there is a lot to check out in the biosphere, and if you are a diver there are nearby reefs that you explore.  There are also the ruins of Tulum itself as well as ruins at nearby Coba and a little further at Chichen Itza. 

ruins at Coba

Aside from Mayan ruins, the Yucatan is known for cenotes which you can swim or dive in.  They are deep natural pits or sinkholes in limestone filled with fresh turquoise water.  They often have caves and channels that lead out to sea and were once used by the Mayans for human sacrifice to the rain gods.  Some of them are quite magical, others a bit spooky.  If you have time, definitely check them out. They are particular to the region and a geological wonder.

Dos Ojos

 

Soundtrack

I am going to go reggae heavy on this one because the Tulum vibe is so chill.  It’s nice to listen to the waves and the wind in the palms but if you need a little beat in the background to bump it up a notch I would recommend Studio One’s Rockers and Studio One’s Women.  Both harken back to the golden age of Jamaica’s famous record label and music studio and are the perfect soundtrack for lazing in your hammock while squeezing a slice of lime into your cerveza.

If you have access to wi-fi, you can stream the “Carribbean” playlists on Patestapes.com. Be warned! There you will be exposed to things you’ve never heard before, really good things– then you will scour the internet trying to find them to add to your own music collection and they will be so obscure that they are surely out of print and un-downloadable. Blast! Luckily they are neatly catalogued and listenable on this site curated by the very knowledgable connoisseur of tune-age, Charles Pates.

One last curve ball.  How about the first three tracks on the Drive soundtrack?  I listened to “Under Your Spell” by Desire every morning as the sun was rising over the sea on my last trip to Tulum and it worked.  Post modern electro chant while looking at waves made orange by the sun… Kind of ecstatic!

 

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