Tulum

White sandy beaches and jewel coloured water. Chilled beach clubs spilling onto the sand serving well crafted mezcal cocktails and fresh tacos. Swings at white washed bars and beautiful street art painted along the roads. Tulum has a distinctly hippie vibe, despite the beach strip being full of boutique hotels and some very fancy beach restaurants. Whether you’re staying in Tulum itself (you lucky, lucky thing) or just taking the trip for the day to take in the ruins, Tulum is a must visit when on the Yucatan peninsula.

FOOD, DRINKS AND BEACH CLUBS

La Zebra
South end of the beach
One of our favourite finds during our time in Tulum. We wandered to La Zebra after leaving Be Tulum a bit disappointed and honestly, slightly intimidated by the place, and thank God we did because La Zebra was brilliant. Live music during the day and fantastic food, La Zebra is strewn with day beds and swings (pretty much a Tulum staple) to lounge on – you only need to spend around $25 against food and drink if you’re not a hotel guest. New York’s Mulberry Project have a great pop up bar on the beach with an exciting cocktail concept – pick your liquor base, suggest some fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices you fancy from the chalkboard and then describe the kind of drink you are after – refreshing, sweet, spicy, tropical, bitter, dry, smoky – then it’s all down to the Mulberry Project’s mixologists to create your perfect drink.

Papaya Playa Project
North end of the beach
Probably the most coveted spot on Instagram in Tulum; this is an absolutely stunning design hotel complete with hot tubs on the top of your hotel room – never has a drone been so well used by a marketing team. The real joy of PPP comes if you’re staying there however, as popping in there for a drink was somewhat disappointing in comparison to the beauty of their Instagram. It was the place I was most excited to see but there was a distinct lack of atmosphere; perhaps we caught it on a bad day, but I expected plenty of people there around sunset to take in the last of the day’s sun on the tiered decks. In higher season it may fare better.

Papaya Playa Project hold a beach party every Saturday, the biggest one of the month being the Saturday that falls nearest the full moon. We changed our plans to go when we realised the music wasn’t our sort of thing but know of people who have enjoyed the all night parties that go through until sunrise.

Coco Tulum
Midway on the beach stretch
If you’re looking for the white swings on the beach you’ve seen all over the ‘gram, you’re looking for Coco Tulum. Another beautifully designed bar, all whitewash with swings looking out to the ocean in front of a high bar, as well as the opportunity to shower under the tree, water falling from a sea conch like some sort of Robinson Crusoe dreamworld, but predictably pretentious to boot. Go for a drink, watch the Instagram models do their thing, take the piss out of them and then hurriedly ask your mate to take a photo of you on the swings before you leave because “you may as well join them when you’ve paid as much for a beer as you would a cocktail elsewhere”. Clichés are clichés for a reason, and in this case that reason is Coco is a damn beautiful Instagram dream. Bitches be basic.

Mezzanine
North end of the beach
A sister restaurant and hotel to La Zebra, which alone is enough reason to get sad about not having time to seek Mezzanine out, if the former is anything to go by. The second reason is Mezzanine offers 2-4-1 margaritas every day between 1 and 4pm, and they do incredibly well received Thai food to boot – a cuisine that is far too easy to get far too wrong.

Zazil Kin
North end of the beach
A great little find very near the Tulum ruins at the far north end of Tulum beach. Far less pretentious than many of the beach spots you come across and the prices are far friendlier. We were buying margaritas for the price of a Sol at Coco. The tuna tostada was huge and oh so fresh; the service friendly. We ate in the restaurant of theirs tucked further back from the main beach stretch which was super quiet and made a nice change, but the restaurant on the beach is equally chilled and shaded by the palm trees as you look onto the sea beyond. Would happily spend a day here next time (God, I hope there’s a next time soon.)

Safari
On the beach road behind the entrances to the Tulum beach resorts (mid way down the stretch)
Safari is a bar and al fresco restaurant set up out of an Airstream that cooks over a fire pit and produces the best tacos I ate during my time in Mexico. Set on the road all of the beach clubs sit on but not on the beach, Safari is open from late afternoon and it should be noted, also gives good margarita with a full Mezcal menu. The prices are also ridiculously good value, with tacos working out at about £2 each. There are so many places to go in Tulum that I didn’t have a chance to explore and would want to next time, but without question I would eat again at Safari.

Ziggy’s
Midway on the beach stretch
We found Ziggy’s on our first exploration of Tulum and returned because they did a great rosé wine, which is exactly the sort of thing I crave on a hot tropical beach. Super chilled place with a huge circular bar with swings lined around it to sit on whilst you drink your cocktails, Ziggy’s is beautifully lit by night and has a fire pit outside. A very relaxed place with live music pretty much every evening.

Kin Toh
North end of the beach
Quite frankly a ridiculously stunning bar and restaurant in hotel Azulik, Kin Toh feels like a tree house, all wooden with lanterns hanging from the rafters, netted areas to lounge in and private ‘nests’ that give you magical views of the sunset over the Tulum jungle. As a restaurant Kin Toh specialises in fine dining, offering a seven course tasting menu, but you can always just go along for their champagne sunsets if you’d prefer.

Hartwood
Mid to south end of the beach
Once listed amongst the 50 best restaurants in the world, New York chef Eric Werner has set up Hartwood in Tulum, with a menu that changes every day depending on local availability of ingredients and with a focus on sustainability. Only open for dinner, reservations are recommended (taken up to one month in advance). All cooking at Hartwood is done on an open fire on the handmade wood burning oven and grill and the food served here is frequently cited as the best in Tulum.

Nomade Tulum
South end of the beach
Nomade is super hippy, very much all about wellness and spirituality and has an extensive raw and vegetarian menu to match at its two restaurants – one of which sits on the beach and serves fish freshly caught locally every day in addition to plenty of vegan dishes. There’s a heavy focus on sustainability which is fantastic to see.

Be Tulum
South end of the beach
Beautiful design hotel but if you’re hoping to hang out one one of the loungers at their beach club for the day, be prepared to pay for the pleasure – they want $50 pp for the day and that’s not redeemable against any food or drink you may purchase whilst there. The menus do look fantastic – if you’re looking to go but don’t want to spend as much, the lunch menu is significantly cheaper than the dinner offering. Very quiet and chilled with an infinity pool or two overlooking the beach – though you may not get away with a dip in those unless you’re a hotel guest.

Gitano
On the beach road, midway down the stretch of road
A big mirror ball throws light amongst the palm trees in this low lit restaurant and bar in the jungle part of the Tulum beach road. Gitano specialises in mezcal cocktails and music. Live music takes centre stage on Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, whereas Fridays and Saturdays descend into long nights of dancing after dinner.

Campenella Cremerie
Tulum town
Frequently named as the best ice cream in Tulum, this gelateria is in the town and is also noted for its great coffee. Mexican coffee ain’t all that, so make this a destination if you live off of the stuff!

Antojitos la Chiapaneca
Tulum town
Short menu of tacos at the bargain price of 10 pesos each, showing that when you step away from the beach side of Tulum you can eat excellent local food for hardly anything. One of the best street food places in town, open from 3pm until 1am every day except Thursday.

Taqueria Don Beto
Tulum town
Hole in the wall taco joint on the road into Tulum town. Brilliant and cheap street food tacos.

Taqueria Honorio
Tulum town
Another cheap street food place in town for tacos, this one is open early in the day for all your breakfast taco needs. Open 6am until 2pm – the pork tacos come particularly recommended.

SUNDOWNERS

Mateo’s Mexican Grill
On the beach road, north end of the beach
Such a good spot to watch the sunset from. Mateo’s climbs up a few stories to a rickety rooftop terrace with a bar serving 2-4-1 cocktails during happy hour(s), making it the ideal spot to watch the sun set over the jungle of Tulum. You can see the ocean from the other side of the bar, and the guacamole is excellent (although that is admittedly not hard to achieve in Mexico). Down on the ground floor there is some cool art and great live music from around 8pm. Oh and the fish tacos here and quite rightly renowned, though second to those at Safari.

Ciel Rose Sunset Bar
On the beach road, north end of the beach
Just next to Mateo’s, this is another bar with a rooftop terrace on top of a tower, overlooking the jungle and the sunset beyond. 2-4-1 G&Ts between 6pm and 8pm, too.

Batey Mojito and Guarapo Bar
Tulum town
Somewhere we didn’t make it to but heard is great fun is Batey’s mojito bar. This one is in Tulum town, so I would expect it attracts a lot of the backpackers as well as regular holiday makers, given hostels and guesthouses are situated in the town. Drinks are served out of a converted VW Beetle, so expect some fun photographs too.

ACCOMMODATION

It is not cheap to stay in Tulum, unless you’re doing the backpacker thing and don’t mind the hostel life. Something I’m more than happy to do, but not what my trip to Mexico was about – this was to be a proper holiday with a bit of luxury. There are dozens of beautiful boutique hotels along the beach in Tulum, some of which are true feats of design – Papaya Playa Project, Be Tulum, Azulik. Fantastic if you’re looking for a great honeymoon spot, or you’re doing well for yourself and can afford it; but out of reach for many.

Our compromise was to do an All Inclusive package a little further up the coast (there are none in Tulum itself) and ensure we were relatively close to Tulum so we could get there easily to spend time doing day trips there. Flights and a lovely five star all inclusive hotel for 10 days came in at around £1450 each, booked through First Choice. Of course the price range will vary dependent on hotels and time of year, but I’d happily recommend Luxury Grand Bahia Akumal to anyone looking to do a similar holiday. This set up gave us the opportunity to just chill by the pool, drinking cocktails all day in the sunshine, but also do day trips out to see everything we wanted to in the vicinity without overspending on top of what we’d already paid. Our hotel was around 25-30 minutes north of Tulum, and around 30-40 minutes south of Playa del Carmen.

If money was no object, I would split a stay in Tulum itself at Papaya Playa Project so I could lap up the incredible design you don’t get to see as much at the bar and restaurant, and La Zebra, which was the favourite of the beach clubs we went to and had a fantastic relaxed vibe.

SPA TREATMENTS

Yaan Wellness
South end of the beach, opposite Be Tulum and Nomade on the beach road
Gorgeous spa with yoga every morning and evening, meditation three times a week and a full menu of massage, facials and detox programmes designed to make you feel your absolute best. All treatments include one hour in the sauna, steam and pools water circuit to use prior to your appointment. Reservations recommended in advance. One of the more expensive spots for a pamper.

Massage on the Beach
Sporadically situated along the beach there are boards advertising massages – it’s about $40 for an hour and my GOD, was the one I had good. We went to the little place right next to Coco, and there’s a really cute little shack bar on the other side of the massage spot, too! Also: they take cards. Cheap massages on the beach I can whack on my credit card after a few cocktails? Take my money.

THINGS TO DO

Chichen Itza
You can’t visit this area of Mexico without taking the trip out to Chichen Itza. It’s a disservice to Mexico and a disservice to yourself. One of the new seven wonders of the world, this complex of ancient Mayan ruins is utterly fascinating. We were lucky to have a brilliant and hilarious guide whose knowledge of Chichen Itza was unparalleled. The precision with which the Maya people built such huge temples, pyramids and structures, all without the use of the wheel (which would have been wooden and not strong enough to carry the limestone the ancient city is constructed out of)…well, it blows your mind. An absolute must do and a real privilege to see first hand.

Top tip: we nearly signed up for the tour offered by Tui before another hotel guest advised us the hotel ran one themselves for about half the price, so explore your options before booking.

Tulum Mayan Ruins
The ruins in Tulum are very well preserved and are sitting on the coast, meaning they have their own beach you can lounge on and swim off of. Once a seaport, the complex at Tulum also has ruined temples and a (very small) castle that overlooks the Caribbean sea from the cliff top. Well worth a visit, and the perfect way to start a day in Tulum before making your way down to some of the beach clubs.

Cenotes
Cenotes are essentially sink holes opening up into Mexico’s underground rivers, if you want to make them sound far less beautiful than they are. Full of clear (and slightly chilly) water, they are dotted all over the Yucatan peninsula, just waiting for you to go swimming and even diving in them.

Playa del Carmen
I only wondered briefly through Playa del Carmen as the jump off to get our ferry to Cozumel to go diving for the day, but this is the place if you want designer shops and discounted Mac products (or so I’m told). It’s supposed to be a fun night out with Ladies Nights – ‘ladies drink for free’ – if that’s your cup of tea! Playa del Carmen was around 40 minutes from our hotel in Akumal and just over an hour from Tulum.

Valladolid
A trip to this colonial town was thrown in with our day trip to Chichen Itza. There’s not a great deal there and you get the feeling it was added on to bulk out the day, but there was some good architecture in the form of the church. The main takeaway was the best churros I’m likely to ever have for 20 pesos from the street cart in the square. Legit will remember those forever – do not miss them if you find yourself in Valladolid!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Mahad says:

    Awsome journey…i like mexico too

    Like

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