A few weeks ago, James and I travelled to Tulum to escape the frigid weather of New York. Many revellers travel to Tulum for different reasons. For some, it is a place that offers wellness and relaxation. This once small fishing village has been undergoing dramatic changes, with last year being the most significant in its transformation from a beach-hut dotted unassuming tropical village into an eco-luxury holiday destination. Given that we only had a week in Tulum, there are many places we wished to have visited. But the purpose of this guide is to serve friends and those who are planning a trip to this magical place. Here in Tulum, your next adventure is a bike ride or short car drive away.
The concept of luxury in Tulum remains original. It is the luxury of being able to immerse yourself in the laid-back atmosphere of rustic, eco-chic environment, to feel the sand on your feet when you wake up in the morning, to taste delicious creations of international chefs at all open-air beachfront or jungle-side restaurants.
A first visit to Tulum would not be as complete without a visit to the ancient Mayan Ruins. The ruins are situated on a cliff which faces east toward the sweeping turquoise waters of the Caribbean. This was the very site of the elite of the Maya world. After exploring the walled-city, find the stairs that lead you a beach and jump into the water. It is the perfect answer after experiencing the intense humidity underneath the sun. Arrive early to avoid the big crowds and ensure that you bring water.
If you are feeling the urge to visit more archaeological sites and have enough time to spare, hop in car toward the Coba Ruins. These ruins offer a completely different experience since it is surrounded by two large lagoons and boasts the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan region (the Nohoch Mul Pyramid). Bicycles are available for rent and bicycle rickshaws and drivers are available to take you throughout the site. Honestly, it is better to rent a bicycle for 40 pesos as you will get the full experience that way. You will regret it if you decide to take on these ruins by foot.
There is of course the option of driving to Chichen Itza. But, remember to plan accordingly as it is approximately a two hour drive from Tulum.
The Yucatan Peninsula sits above one of the world’s most extensive underground river systems. The Riviera Maya is home to the world’s two largest underground rivers, measuring more than 435 miles. These water sinkholes are called cenotes. It is estimated that there are more than 6,000, although only 2,400 are registered. Cenotes are magical since they are believed to be sacred spaces for the Maya as an essential source of fresh water, but also represented the entrance to the underworld. Undoubtedly, these cenotes are one of the most incredible natural wonders you will ever get to experience in your life. Gran Cenote and Dos Ojos are among the cenotes in close proximity to Tulum. Each cenote can be explored by either swimming/snorkeling (equipment is available for rent) and diving.
Over the years, I have come to the realization that many of my itineraries for trips are designed by the food offered at my destination. The same observation applies for Tulum. Many restaurant owners and chefs dedicate passion for ensuring that their menu’s offer authentic flavor paired with the freshest ingredients. Here are some of our favourite restaurants that we were fortunate enough to experience during our weeklong visit:
A vegan restaurant tucked away in the jungle, Restaurare’s atmosphere is special. We ate here twice. The menu fits perfectly in your palm of your hands, literally. We were in awe with the creativity and the re-imagination of regional dishes such as the local mole, oyster mushroom ceviche and vegetable tacos – all of which are mouth-watering. In addition, the selection of fresh juices are just what you need after a day in the sun (you can even add a shot of mezcal if you please). Akumal, an organic local craft beer, also pairs quite nicely with any of the vegan dishes. We’d advise you to bring mosquito repellant to fend off the bug bites.
James took me to Posada Margherita on our first evening in Tulum. This charming boutique hotel’s Italian restaurant pride themselves for their homemade pastas and delectable cocktails. The restaurant does not accept any reservations due to their busy evenings. We walked in and placed our names down on the list. Overall, we waited for half an hour over cocktails from the bar to be seated at a table. Posada Margherita’s decor is lovely and romantic to say the least. The ambiance makes the experience all the more worth it.
James ordered the El Gamberi E Zucchini, a homemade pasta with shrimp, zucchini and pine nuts which was absolutely delicious.
Be Tulum for Lunch
We stumbled upon the oasis that is Be Tulum while cycling toward the last stretch of the road. Having previously heard rave reviews about the boutique hotel, we decided to grab a bite to eat. We were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the staff, who made us feel right at home. Their fresh salads were perfect for a light meal right on the beach.
Undeniably, Hartwood is one of the most written and talked about restaurants in the stretch of Tulum. The restaurant ethos operates using solar panels as its only sustainable form of energy, and prepares all food by hand – meaning no electrical appliances. In an interview, Chef Eric Werner was asked to describe his cooking style in one word, in which he replied, “fire”. Everything is patiently cooked over a wood fire.
There are no reservations at this restaurant. Instead, every afternoon at 3:00 p.m sharp, a hostess accepts names for the given seatings of the evening. Hartwood’s hype is evident in the difficulty and suspense of securing a spot for dinner as hopeful diners begin lining up outside of the restaurant an hour before the hostess arrives. Even joining the queue at quarter to three is cutting it close. Fortunately, there is a shack across of the restaurant that sells cold beer or iced coffees for those in the waiting game. We had two failed attempts and luckily booked a table for the nine o’clock seating during our third trial.
So, was it worth it? Asides from the annoying wait, I would say that a dinner at Hartwood is well worth it. Hartwood changed the meaning of primal fine dining and Chef Werner’s legendary agave sweetened ribs literally fall of the bone.
Head Into Town For Dinner
If you need a break from dining between beach or jungle-side restaurants, simply jump in your rental car or hail a cab and head into the town of Tulum, located a couple of kilometers inland from the beach. In this stretch, there are plenty of simple, economical eating establishments, from sidewalk stands to family-run storefront restaurants serving authentic Mexican food.
Our most memorable meal during our visit was a car ride away from the stretch of eco-resorts in Tulum. In fact, we first heard about Chamico’s through our friends who had nothing but wonderful things to say. Chamico’s is no frills, simple fresh seafood. Lunch is usually the catch of the day, guacamole accompanied with a plate of tacos and ceviche.
- Head north from Tulum on Highway 307 for about 12 kilometers
- Turn off the highway onto a small dirt road (opposite from Oscar y Lalo’s restaurant) and drive down toward the Jashita Hotel
- Turn right down to Soliman Bay and drive past the palatial villas until the road ends
- Drive through the guard gate and claim one of the rickety plastic tables in a thicket of palm trees and settle in.
Many establishments in Tulum do not accept credit cards (almost all the restaurants and wellness centers). Based on our experience, we highly recommend that you carry cash (Mexican pesos) on you at all times. The airport give fair rates in comparison to what the eco-resorts and hotels usually do.
As a final word of advice, I encourage you to take advantage of all the activities that Tulum has to offer. Tulum is a canvas in which we reconnect with our mental, physical and spiritual capabilities. It is an opportunity to push ourselves to new heights by engaging in restorative action. Rent bicycles, walk or jog on the stretch of beach. Sign up for a Mayan Clay massage or participate in a temazcal ritual. Do a yoga class or two, because there sure aren’t many studios in the world that offer a panoramic view and sound of the Caribbean Sea. Namaste.
Special thanks to Camila, Nina, Sandra, Paul, Amal and Miguel for giving us enough suggestions to make our first visit to Tulum an unforgettable escape.