AmyinMaine recently got out of dodge to visit Tulum, Mexico. It’s about an hour and half south of Cancun by car, away from the mega resorts of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Now unless you are partial to tropical camping trips, you probably haven’t heard of this place. Some friends introduced us to it about 10 years ago. They described it as a “rustic paradise” where they spent a week sleeping in a cabana with no walls in sleeping bags they had to bring themselves. Since I’m not too keen on camping (if I do I have to have a bathroom close enough that I don’t have to risk getting eaten by a bear to pee in the middle of the night), I opted out of this place. But then this year, some new friends of ours, who don’t seem to be the roughing it type, gave us a new introduction. And I’m SO GLAD THEY DID!
In the past few years, Tulum has become a refuge to a whole host of foodies, hipsters, yogis, sun-loving athletes…etc… Everywhere we went we heard, “I came on vacation about a year ago and never left.” Take the chef at Hartwood Restaurant for instance. He came from Brooklyn, NY and decided a little over a year ago to move his whole family (including baby) to Tulum where he opened this sophisticated Mayan inspired culinary gem. The food was exquisite yet casual made with lots of fresh local ingredients all cooked in an exposed brick oven (a fixture in most of the restaurants here). The place had a white washed stone and wood design with furniture and fixtures that looked like they came straight out of Restoration Hardware, all offset by the surrounding jungle.
Down the road was Casa Jaguar, with a bohemian flair and so many candles it made it feel like an open area cathedral at times. We sat at the single table on top of the grass roof of the bar. Our waiter was another transplant by way of Ireland, San Diego and Mexicali. He spoke in a Mexican/Irish accent as he described the 15+ Mezcal cocktails on the menu all made with fresh fruit and herbs. A must for at least a cocktail and dinner was wonderful too. Reminds me of my favorite restaurant back home, Local 188.
We stayed at Nueva Vida de Ramiro, a collection of clean, comfortable cabanas scattered among the jungle and along the beach. The whole town has strict height restrictions, meaning the buildings were never taller than the jungle trees, giving the whole space a private and exotic feeling. We stayed in Extasis, a second floor suite in the Corazon area of the property. We had a large king bed (pretty comfortable) encased in mosquito netting (although I never saw any), a huge balcony overlooking the beach, an indoor and outdoor shower, no TV and only one outlet (which I’m told is a luxury.) So if you are lost without your hairdryer and television shows, you’d better head to Cancun or Playa del Carmen instead. I however, found this lack of electronics incredibly relaxing and settled into vacation mode right away! (You did have wireless internet however.) It also seemed to be one of the only places with beach service. It was great having O’Neill (Mexican, not Irish) bring us fresh margaritas right to our beach bed every day. There is always a beach bed with an umbrella open, no rushing out to claim them with your towel like I’ve experienced at larger resorts.
The beach is amazing, the best I’ve ever seen! Great place for kids as it’s not crowded, with shallow water and the softest sand you’ll find. There are hardly any pools or hard surfaces, everything is made of wood and grass in Tulum.
All in all this was the best beach vacation I’ve ever had in the Caribbean! The water was clean, clear and just the right temperature. The sand felt like velvet between your toes. The people were sweet and accommodating. The food was fresh, healthy and delicious. There were more European than American tourists – I love listening to other languages. (Expect to see some naked sunbathers). The locals go to this beach too – always a good sign. We felt totally safe, welcomed and relaxed the whole time.
Tips: Stay in a room or property on the beachside of the road where the breeze will keep you cool. Rent a bike ($10 USD per day) to explore the length of the beach from the biosphere to the Tulum ruins. Eat at as many places as you can! They are all great. Smoothies at Zebra and Ahau Tulum near our hotel for breakfast! Take a private transfer from the airport. There are multiple police checkpoints where I’ve heard stories of tourists getting ripped off. Lastly, enjoy and relax. This place is truly the best!