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Tulum Guide

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I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve been able to travel much of the word, but no place has captured my heart quite like Tulum, an idyllic little town two hours South of Cancun on the Mayan Riviera. Originally a yoga retreat in the 70s, Tulum has evolved into a destination for posh travelers who’d prefer to stay in the Americas, with top notch, organic restaurants, stunning beachfront hotels and high-end boutiques. The climate cannot be beat: it’s hot for about three hours midday, and breezy and temperate in the afternoons and evenings. The shopping is the best I’ve seen in Mexico—and better than many U.S. cities— high-end boutiques with beautiful sundresses and designer bikinis. Most hotels are high-end, yet also eco-friendly, and the vast majority offer yoga. Last but not least, the cuisine is divine. Beautiful, outdoor restaurants offer sushi, Thai, Indian, Italian, and Mexican fare, crafted with fresh, natural ingredients.

Naturally, I was in heaven, as I love to sun, exercise, eat, shop, and photograph. The people were friendly, and the vibes were laid back. Everything was friendly and laid back—Tulum really is everything you hear and more.

Below, we’ve curated the best places to stay, shop, and dine, plus the must-do activities and tips for traveling to this Mexican town.

TULUM Guide

Stay:

The Beach
We stayed at the stunning, adults only Beach Tulum, one of the luxury hotels on the main drag of Tulum Beach. The all-white, adults-only hotel was the definition of understated luxury. Each room had its own balcony and hammock overlooking the ocean as well as its own beach-front bed. Our two-level suite had its own rooftop hot tub and private balcony—helpful for eliminating tanlines. The Beach Tulum, Road Tulum-Boca Paila km 7, Zona Hotelera, Mexico, Tulum 77780.

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Hotel Zamas
There is no shortage of beautiful, eco-friendly lodging lining the sandy beaches of Tulum. We opted for a long weekend at Zamas after reading rave reviews online, and we couldn’t have made a better choice. Our massive house, surrounded by palm trees and hammocks, was across the small street from the ocean and a short walk to the restaurant. The staff was so friendly, offering us extra keys and wheelbarrow-ing our oversized suitcases down the sandy road to our house.

Casa Laura (also bookable on AirBnB) was equipped with a full kitchen, a large common area, and several outdoor balconies with seating, safe drinking water in each bathroom, mosquito netting on each bed, and an awesome outdoor patio with a large communal table. This was the perfect spot for a large group.

A huge win for me was the delicious and cheap morning meal we had each day looking out on the ocean. Fresh smoothies and juices daily, a staff full of smiles, ocean breezes, and a relaxed vibe is waiting for you at Zamas. You really can’t beat this place. Hotel Zamas, Carr. Tulum-Boca Paila Km. 5, Zona Hotelera, 77780 Tulum, QROO, Mexico

TULUM Guide

Hotel Tiki Tiki Tulum
Tulum is split into two areas: the beach, filled with luxury hotels, and the town. Located across town from the beach, Hotel Tiki Tiki is an affordable, highly Instagrammable option for travelers to Tulum. The turquoise hotel has an incredible aesthetic that would impress any interior designer. There’s a stunning, modern pool, plus retro glam décor that calls to mind 60s-era Palm Springs. The breakfast was delicious. The WiFi is strong, and there’s an enormous, modern pool with plenty of room for sunbathing in the center of the courtyard. And, as mentioned, it’s significantly more affordable than the beachfront hotels. Hotel Tiki Tiki. Calle 6 Sur Bis, entre Av. 5 Sur y Av. 10, Calle Camino Tulum, Tulum Centro, Mariano Matamoros, 77780 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico

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Jashita Hotel
Where Zamas was rustic chic, Jashita was high luxury. Our massive, air conditioned (!!) room had its own plunge pool on the balcony, and our heads were on a swivel for our entire stay. From infinity pool to private beach to dual rooftops for optimal sunset viewing, we couldn’t sit still. The staff was incredibly attentive, constantly asking us if we wanted re-fills, giving us fresh towels, and asking if there was anything we needed. We met the owner of the restaurant who was so friendly that by the end of the trip, we were hugging goodbye. I felt like I belonged there, and I was devastated to leave.

If I were to bring my parents to Tulum and have them experience the area without the non-flushable toilets (see tips and tricks), mosquitoes, and no AC, I would encourage them to stay at Jashita, where luxury is of prime focus. It may be slightly farther from the heart of Tulum, but the peace you find in its solidarity is optimal. Jashita Hotel, Punta Soliman, 77780 Tulum, Mexico

Tulum Guide

 

Dine

Mateo’s Mexican Grill
Mateo’s is a massive Mexican restaurant with a rooftop treehouse that’s perfect for sunset cocktails. Go for two-for-one cocktails at sunset, and if you’re hungry try the Mexican sampler, it’s filled with delicious fried fare. But, note the food is far from gourmet. Mateo’s Mexican Grill. Carretera Punta Piedra-Punta Allen, Tulum, Quintana Roo 

Origami Gelato
This open air gelato spot is a charming, open air building that boasts free WiFi right in the middle of Tulum’s best shops. If that wasn’t enough, the gelato is incredible. We had the spicy cinnamon (canela) and the pistachio—the pistachio was absolutely divine. And, don’t forget—cash only! Origami Gelato, Carretera Tulum-Punta Allen Km 7, Tulum, Quintana Roo

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Posada Margherita
Posada is a must-visit, fine-dining restaurant and boutique in Tulum. The kitschy, shabby chic space is Instagram heaven. Decorated like a seaside shack, Posada Margherita has all sorts of cute nooks with benches, tea-shaded corners, and an adorable boutique with well-curated gifts and swimwear. And then there’s the food: high-quality, classic and simple Italian fare that’s reminiscent of Tuscany—a surprising feat for a beach in Mexico. We had a great bottle of Italian red, a fresh tomato, basil, mozzarella salad, and absolutely incredible pasta.

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The shabby chic hotel is also a hostel, loaded with Instagrammable nooks. Romantic duos will love dining in a waterfront cottage for two. Dare we say it’s more romantic than Italy?  Posada Margherita, Km. 4.5, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila, Tulum 

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Hartwood
If you Google “best food in Tulum,” you’ll find Hartwood on the top of your list. It’s known for it’s farm-to-table Mexican fare and New York City wait times, so if you’re a foodie you’ll want to make this happen. The open-air, under-the-stars (or for us, rain) restaurant only takes reservations for large groups, so we were lucky enough to secure a spot for nine. The corn and cheese ice creams are not to be missed. Hartwood, Carretera Tulum Boca Paila 7.6Km, 77780 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico

TULUM Guide

Casa Jaguar
This sexy, outdoor restaurant served incredible, hand-crafted Mezcal and tequila cocktails, fresh fare and top-notch tacos, and churros with chocolate dipping sauce. It’s connected to several absolutely adorable shops, including one with gorgeous swimsuits we can’t afford. Casa JaguarCarretera Boca Paila Km 7.5 Tulum, Quintana Roo. México.

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La Eufumia
Any taco shack on a beach with a WiFi password of “fucking tacos” is a winner in my book. When the weather became overcast, we headed to this gem of a dive on the beach and snacked on some cheap but amazing fried fish tacos, appreciating the soundtrack and the hip locale. La Eufumia, Carretera Tulum-Punta Allen Tulum, Quintana Roo 77760

TULUM Guide

Ziggy’s
The Beach Tulum’s other restaurant, Ziggy’s, has an enormous bar with swings for seats. So, you can sit on a swing with your toes in the sand and have a tropical cocktail while the Mariachis sing their tunes. Outside, there are beachfront tables, perfect for eating delicious coconut shrimp and drinking Piña Coladas with your toes in the sand. The seafood was great, as were the cocktails. We loved the coconut shrimp, the fish tacos, and the ahi tuna tostadas. Bonus points for date night? Children are prohibited. Ziggy’s, The Beach Tulum, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila KM 7, Zona Hotelera, 77780 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico

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Safari
We found Safari completely by accident on our walk home from the beach, beckoned in by palm tree wall art, a backyard kitchen in a metal camper, and the smell of roasting garlic on an open fire. Tacos were cheap and the best on our trip, and we had many rounds of local, crisp beer while we waited for the torrential rain to stop. The bathroom situation was a little questionable—a quasi-outhouse deep in the backyard—but we’re hoping that’s temporary. The beers made us forget anything but the kick-ass tacos. Safari, Carretera Tulum-Punta Allen, Tulum, Quintana Roo 77760 

TULUM Guide

Brunch

Al Fresco’s

We began every day with a beautiful breakfast of fruit smoothies, yucca pancakes, yogurts, and avocado toast at the Beach’s health-focused restaurant. We loved each bite and that each morning set the tone for a wonderful day in Tulum. We ate there four days in a row and never tired of the food— we just tried a different smoothie and different style of avocado toast each time. Can’t beat healthy and delicious fare a few steps from your bed, toes in the sand. The Beach Tulum, Road Tulum-Boca Paila km 7, Zona Hotelera, Tulum 77780

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Hotel Zamas
Zamas serves a breakfast fit for a queen. Or, in our case, nine girls hungover from Mezcal in dire need of green juice and sustenance. We did breakfast right each morning thanks to our humble abode, with standouts like the huevos rancheros, avocado toast, Mexican scrambled eggs, and juices and smoothies in every color. Did I mention our meal was insanely cheap? They even had soy espresso drinks, which was a pleasant surprise. Read our entire brunch review hereHotel Zamas, Carr. Tulum-Boca Paila Km. 5, Zona Hotelera, 77780 Tulum, QROO, Mexico

TULUM Guide

Amansala Hotel
Amansala has both a tasty, traditional breakfast buffet and an a la carte menu, and both hit the spot. We loved that they had lattes, coconuts, and an amazing iced coffee frozen drink that we couldn’t get enough of. Amansala Hotel, 5.5 boca de paila, Tulum, Quintana roo Mexico

 

Tulum Guide

Drink

Casa Jaguar 

After a very long dinner, we ventured to the back of the restaurant, which turned into a quasi-nightclub under the stars with an interesting assortment of DJs and Tulum partygoers. To paint a picture, our DJ was wearing a bathrobe as his spinning attire. There was a bonfire out back even deeper into the jungle for the more low-key set, and we enjoyed a few beats before calling it a night. Carretera Boca Paila Km 7.5 Tulum, Quintana Roo. México.

TULUM Guide

Gitano
This was our favorite night, and not just because of the disco ball suspended from palm trees. We had one-too-many Mezcal mules while we waited for the music to pick up and took in the beautiful surroundings. The party didn’t start until midnight and by then we had been out for hours, so we didn’t stay long to see how busy it would get, but we loved the relaxed beach club vibe, and that the music wasn’t just electric beats. Gitano, Beach Road Km. 7, Boca Paila, QRO, Mexico.

Papaya Playa Project
This place is on another page from Tulum. It’s a beach complex for partygoers, with tables carved out into the beachside, a dance floor with club lights, and multiple bars. The music was a little trippy for me and there were a lot of partiers flying solo who were having a great time, if you know what I mean. Cool to check out, but we were ready to go after a drink. Papaya Playa ProjectKm 4.5 Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila, Tulum, Quintana Roo  77780

To Do

Bike Rental
Everything in Tulum is accessible by bike—the restaurants, the bars, the hotels, the shops. It’s all on one main drag along the beach. Should your hotel not have bikes available, turn to one of the many bicycle shops to rent your own for a few days. But, be warned, it is quite dark at night. There are also Cenotes (underground caverns) and Mayan ruins accessible by bicycle.

Cenote Tour
Tulum is surrounded by things to explore: wild life parks, Mayan ruins, and Cenotes, which are underground caverns filled with stalagmites and stalactites. While there are multiple cenotes, we chose to visit Aktun Chen, a national park about 30 minutes north of Tulum proper. The park has everything in one place: stunning underground cenotes, local wild life, ziplining, and more. We did both a Cenote tour and a zipline through the jungle and had an absolute blast. Get more information on Aktun Chen, here.

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Chichen Itza
One of the only remaining seven wonders of the Ancient World, Chichen Itza, lies a mere two-hours from Tulum. Unfortunately, it’s not on the way to the Cancun airport, but rather two-hours inland. As history geeks, we wanted to make the trip, so we drove there on our last day, on the way to the airport. (Note that you change from Eastern to Central time on this road trip and don’t miss your flight!) It was certainly worth the trip.

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Kanlum Lagoon
I wasn’t quite sure why everyone was so thrilled by a body of water until we actually visited Kanlum Lagoon. The stunning lagoon is breathtaking, with one long dock jetting out into a pristine, calm natural lagoon. It’s great for swimming, sunning, and snorkeling. The lagoon is 15 minutes south of Tulum on the main highway. Be sure to bring cash and your best Spanish. More information here.

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Sup Yoga Tulum
This was hands down the best part of our trip. We were picked up at our hotel and driven 15 minutes to a private lagoon just for our paddleboard class, where we met Nancy, the energizing owner of Sup Yoga who, along with our yoga instructor Caroline, made our experience so wonderful.  Not only were we able to use the paddle boards to explore the protected lagoon on our own, we had an hour private yoga class in the most beautiful setting imaginable, which included a photographer, vegan snacks and fresh juices after, and curbside service. I was so relaxed and energized after our day with Sup Yoga! This will make your trip completely memorable.

TULUM Guide

Private Yoga at Amansala
Unfortunately, my shots the night prior put me in shavasana the entire class, but not before getting a tarot card reading and taking in the beautiful setting of our private yoga overlooking the ocean. The teacher was lovely, the space was relaxing, and we loved the beach and food so much we decided to stay all day! Plus, they have two adorable community yellow labs who will keep you company while you’re getting your tan on after your session.

TULUM Guide

Shop

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Tulum is lined with charming little boutiques, with $300 swimsuits and $500 dresses. I was surprised to see such price tags, but impressed with curation and cool, niche brands carried in the shops. To go shopping, simply hop on a bike and ride it down the beach, stopping at anywhere that looks cute along the way. But, here are my favorites.

Hoki Poki Kana

If you want to shop like a fashion blogger, head to Hoki Poki Kana, which is frequented by the Instagram stars who visit Tulum. Its stocked with popular LA brands like Lovers & Friends, plus pieces made by local Mexican designers. We left with several shopping bags, having made new friends with the shopkeeper. Tulum Beach 

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Josa Tulum was filled with frocks for females, ranging from $100-$500 (U.S. dollars) in price. Lots of simple silk dresses and printed maxis. Tulum Beach.

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Miguelina Tulum. This adorable boutique, nested in a little cottage is easily identified by the giant L-O-V-E letters in front. It carried knit dresses, two-piece sets, some swimwear, and handmade shoes. Tulum Beach. 

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La Tiendita was a chic, seaside boutique with men’s and women’s swimwear, dresses perfect for the beach, Moroccan towels, and cool, delicate jewelry. Tulum Beach. 

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Wildsea Boutique. This shop was similar to La Tiendita in aesthetic, style and offerings: luxurious swimwear, cover-ups and dresses at a higher price point with a natural color palette and chic aesthetic. Tulum Beach.

Zenigo. This super cute boutique carried classic Mexican blouses and dresses with hand-embroidered flowers. Tulum Beach.

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Tips and Tricks

Tulum is magical because of its laid back environment, its beauty, and its people. This is maintained thanks to a predominantly solar-fueled space, meaning no air conditioning, a unique bathroom situation, and minimal hairdryers. We may have left with a lot of bug bites, but I’ve never unwinded so fast in my life on a vacation.

Most businesses take dollars, but are cash-only and the ATM fees are high. While there are ATMs everywhere, you’d be best to take out cash at the airport.

That being said, don’t go to Tulum with someone who can’t embrace a night out with air-dried hair or a beautiful hotel that may rely on fans. It’s the way of the world down there, and it’s what makes Tulum so cool.

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