I’m not generally the type of person who goes gaga over the beach. Crayton and I prefer exploring big cities — we went to Buenos Aires on our honeymoon, Madrid when we were first dating, San Francisco on our first anniversary.
That said, I went completely and utterly nuts over Tulum. Like, sitting on the beach and muttering, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.”
The water was so bright and green and clear, it was otherworldly. (Had we been transported into another galaxy and I didn’t know it?) On a cloudless night, thousands of stars appeared, as if God had ushered in the evening by tossing a handful of beach sand over his shoulder.
On Friday, the first night we arrived, we stopped drinks at a trendy beach bar and I just kept staring dumbly at the sky. Most hotels cut their electricity off around 11 p.m. but this one didn’t. The result, while looking out over the water, ended up being this vast, inky nothingness topped by millions of twinkling points of light. Picture all of that, set to pulsing trance music. It felt like a party on the edge of the world, or what it might be like to live in a half-finished painting. For a crazy second I wondered if we really were living in a half-finished painting. (This trip exposed my suppressed Ray Bradbury side.) Crayton and I tried to pick out the Little Dipper, but we couldn’t remember exactly what it looked like, so we searched for it on Crayton’s Blackberry. Even out there we had data service.
Before we left for Tulum, I thought: We’ll go to the ruins! We’ll swim in cenotes! I’m a do-er, normally. But on this trip all we did was laze by the beach.
By Monday I’d memorized the waves’ slow, gentle crescendo, and the floury feel of the sand on my palms, and the sound of palapa fronds rustling in the breeze. I read one book and half of two more. We sipped beers under an umbrella and ate fresh ceviche. We had piña coladas on a terrace that overlooked the Caribbean. (Whereupon Crayton mused, “I think the beach is pretty much the only appropriate place for a man to order a piña colada.”)
I’d feared that Tulum would be too touristy, too trendy, and too full of vendors. But overall, it was exactly what we were looking for: a quiet, unbelievably beautiful place to relax. If you’re interested in the details (where we stayed and ate), I’ve left them below, plus a few pictures.
Lesley’s Tulum Trip Report
Where we stayed: The Secret Garden Hotel
We were on a budget on this trip, and the Secret Garden offered a nice, modern room for $60 USD a night, with a kitchenette and air conditioning. The hotel was in town rather than on the beach, but we ended up loving it here. The owners, Joshua and Sean, made sure all of our needs were met — to the point of making us coffee in the morning, and running to the store to pick up styrofoam bowls for our cereal. The SG also has partnerships with two beach clubs in town, Ocho Tulum and Playa Azul, so we didn’t have to worry about where to soak up the sun. The beach was a 50-peso cab ride away, but that was fine, considering the beach hotels I researched charged at least $120 a night for a cabana with a bathroom. Overall: I highly recommend the place. We’d go back.
Where we ate: Our favorite dinner spot was Posada Margherita, a rustic Italian restaurant with no menu. This is the kind of place where the Italian owner greets you, sits down at your table and describes the four or five daily specials. I picked the huachinango with sauteed tomatoes and ginger rice; Crayton had fresh fettuccine with tomato sauce. Both were fabulous, and we shared a bottle of wine and a generous Mexican-Italian antipasti platter of pistachios, olives, guacamole, and fresh-baked bread. (So stealing that appetizer idea.) The prices were high — my fish was about $26; Crayton’s pasta was probably $16 — but the experience overall was worth it, if you’re looking for a romantic restaurant on the water.
For lunch, my favorite was Ocho Tulum. I had a heaping cup of ceviche, with plump pieces of pulpo, shrimp and fish, for $130 pesos. (About average for the beach in Tulum.) The accompanying chips weren’t too greasy, and the piña colada was excellent. The best bet is to get one during happy hour, from 3 to 5, when they’re two-for-one.
For a light breakfast, it was hard to beat Flor de Michoacán, a frutería and paletería that offered a bowl of fresh fruit with granola and yogurt for less than $3 USD.
Beach clubs we visited: As I mentioned, our hotel had partnerships with Playa Azul and Ocho Tulum, two beachside hotels. We could visit and use their lounge chairs for free, as long as we brought the Secret Garden’s beach towels. Playa Azul was about a 50-peso cab ride away; Ocho lay further down the road and cost about 100 pesos. Both were quiet and relaxing, although I liked Playa Azul’s location slightly better — it seemed just a tad more remote than Ocho, which directly neighbored another boutique hotel.
Actually, what I loved about Tulum was that the coastline still seemed rustic, despite the presence of so many hotels. All of them were small, boutique-style establishments with thatched roofs and wild vegetation.
On getting in and around Tulum: We took an ADO bus from the Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen (100 pesos) and then transferred to a second-class bus to Tulum. (About 50 pesos a person.) Definitely cheap, but it took awhile. We flew into Cancun at 3:30 and didn’t make it to Tulum until 8 p.m. Next time we’d definitely rent a car. There’s plenty of parking in Tulum, or at least there was this past week. It was also really easy to find cabs, even on the beach road at 11 p.m. at night.
Seriously, I think might have been my favorite vacation ever. I was just blown away.
Who is Mija?
Mija is Lesley Téllez, a food writer and culinary guide in New York City. I spent four years in Mexico's Distrito Federal, which launched my deep love for Mexican food and culture. In 2010 I co-founded the tourism company Eat Mexico.
Be kind, ask permission!All photos on this site were taken by me, unless otherwise noted. If you'd like to use a photo, please email me.
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