Being a native Angeleno, annual trips to Mexico were not uncommon given the close proximity from the City of Angels. My mom and I would venture to Day of the Dead celebrations in Oaxaca, taking in the cultural revelry and chewing more chiclets than my mouth could fit. I would dig for buried treasure in the beaches of Puerto Vallarta, catch fish in Yelapa, and dine in D.F. And then there is Zihuatanejo, where I frolicked with my bare bum well before its famed description from Andy to Red in “The Shawshank Redemption.” Yo conozco Mexico. I know Mexico.
Or at least I thought I did. For years Tulum had been shrouded in this cool kid mystery to me – musings of yogis and movie stars finding solace in the slow pace and beautiful setting. So it was with great excitement that I took a trip to the Mayan Riviera to dip my toes in the much talked about Tulum. While it reminded me less of the Mexico I claim to “conocer” so well, and more of a very chic and very international bohemian playground, it still proved to provide the charm and culture that I relish about this country. Here are my findings for an exceptional visit to the land of Tulum:
Land in Cancun and drive 1 1/2 hours to the town of Tulum. Check in to the Coqui Coqui Hotel, a stunning boutique property white-washed in linens and natural fibers, with palm frawns and bougainvillea accenting the minimal beachfront retreat. Stay in room 6 or 7 for an ocean front view, and breezy cocktails on your private patio. Order the mixed ceviche and a “refreshing water” (blended with cucumber, mint, and chlorophyll) and enjoy it as you lounge on a sunbed.
Go explore the town either on bike or foot, and take a yoga class at Yoga Shala, a hippie dippie paradise. It’s the mecca for yoga in the beach stretch of Tulum, where classes are taught throughout the day in a jungle setting so you can get your zen on. Directly next door, grab a fresh pressed juice, quinoa salad, or smoothie at Il Barino – a nice departure from all the chips you are going to devour over the next few days.
Which brings me to food, of which, the options in Tulum are varied, plentiful, and delicioso. The standout, of course, is Hartwood, the foodie destination in the jungle where NY dining meets a relaxed Yucatan vibe. Casa Jaguar offers more traditional fare with its wood fire oven, super friendly staff and jungle seating. I had the seared ahi tuna tostada which was a perfect snack after a day of exploring Tulum. Then there’s Posada Margherita, where the Italian owners make their pastas fresh, poach their fish with sea water, and pour a cucumber and gin cocktail that I would order time and again. If you can’t make it to this beachfront gem for dinner, then tuck in for a sundowner and find out how they make that drink for me. (Please and thank you).
Do a little shopping between all of your nibbles at some pretty precious spots along the beach strip. There’s Hacienda Montaecristo, a new addition to this designer clad dirt road – think linen wrap dresses, leather sandals, panama hats, and sarongs – all in a neutral palate that you can transition into your wardrobe at home. Tienda Deluxe follows suit with easily the most adorable setup in their pop up casita. Clothes lines hang with beautiful skirts and linen shorts, and homewares are plentiful (as with their embroidered pillowcases with beautiful quotes in Spanish). Between these two shops and the Coqui Coqui Gift Shop & Perfumerie which houses their incredible home fragrances and candles as well as a bespoke collection of tres chic frocks, hats, and jewelry, you will be well stocked with gifts to bring back home.
Take an excursion to see the ruins of Coba, (also called Chichen Itza) as they are said to be “The Oldest and Tallest of all Eastern Mayan Ruins.” Explore the sacred areas then climb the largest ruin if you dare. When finished, stop into Comida Económica to eat with the locals just a few blocks from the ruins (order the enchiladas in salsa verde), and then venture to a nearby Cenote- large freshwater pools tucked underground in limestone caves. It’s truly as surprising, beautiful, and unexpected as it sounds.
After a full afternoon of trekking and swimming, opt for a traditional Mayan Clay Treatment at BE Tulum. If you don’t have time to get a treatment, buy a jar of their clay with its minerals & incredible healing properties for just $30 and do it yourself. Here’s how: rub the clay over your face and body, let it dry in sun for 20 minutes, and go rinse off in the Caribbean sea (or in your shower at home if you bring it back as a souvenir!)
Back to the comida: opt for dinner locally at El Tábano where their jalapeno stuffed with banana and shredded chicken is a revelation. You can also venture to the other side of Tulum and into “pueblo” to Cetli. There you’ll find this hidden foodie gem, run solely by Chef Claudia in a small space that looks like an ecclectic home. Her chile en nogada is a poblano chile stuffed with beef, pineapple & raisins, and topped with a blended cashew sauce she spikes with coriander.
Cap off your night with drinks and dancing at Gitano, a new spot directly across the street from Coqui Coqui, and next door to Hartwood; it’s a no brainer for dancing the night away with amazing music, a stunning open setting, solid drinks, and (wait for it) the largest disco ball in the Yucatan. Trust me – it’s not nearly as cheesy as it sounds, and ends up casting this beautiful glow across the dimly lit junglescape. Get in the mood and listen to their playlist here, as I did while I was packing for my trip. Buen viaje!