As I count down the days until we leave the white sands of the Riviera Maya behind, I feel a little twinge of guilt at the fact that I’m so excited about it. But I am.
I’m excited to leave behind the oppressive heat and humidity, I’m excited to leave behind the one kilometer stretch that is Tulum’s main street, I’m excited to leave behind the internet speeds just seem to be stuck in 2001, and I’m thrilled to leave behind the bugs that invade my house and drink my blood.
My work here is literally done, and if I had a mic I’d be setting up a ceremony on July 31 to drop it.
In the Beginning
When I announced to a particular friend of mine that we were moving to Tulum she practically squealed with delight. “Tulum is one of those places that, when the rapture comes, I just imagine every single person there being whisked up to heaven.”
She’s not particularly religious, nor has she ever been to Tulum, but I get the idea. It’s a very special place. The Mayan ruins hover over the crystalline waters of the Caribbean, the white sand beaches stretch for miles, and the vibe is easy and relaxed.
It feels very much like a Corona commercial every day, and in a way it is. Corona actually does film commercials here, which is not only a great marketing strategy to sell beer, but it also sells the dream; the dream that becomes real for travelers from all over the world who come to Tulum.
I got swept away by the dream myself. I spent my first month here lazing away at the beaches, stuffing myself with Mexican food, and riding my bike all over town. It was just a minor annoyance that the power went out at the first sign of rain. It didn’t really bother me as the summer heat crept in on stealthy toes. It was fine that we tended to eat at the same places every time we went out.
But then it wasn’t fine. And since we have the luxury to make drastic changes when things aren’t fine, we decided to leave.
Obviously, Tulum is not right for me. But the millions of tourists who come here and love it can’t all be wrong.
So for those of you who might be considering a visit to this part of the Riviera Maya, here are a few of my recommendations.
Where to Eat
As befitting an international tourist destination the dining options are incredibly varied. Everything from sushi to pizza to Thai are available, and you can find delicious Mexican food everywhere you look. These are a few of my favorites.
- Mezzanine Tulum. Delicious Thai food is about the last thing I expected to find here, but the Thai food at Mezzanine hotel is as good as I’ve ever had, even in Thailand itself. Run by an amazing chef from Bangkok who became something of a celebrity chef in the US before that was even a thing, each dish here is spectacular. My favorite is the som dum, flash fried strips of steak with a green papaya salad. It’s divine.
- Antojitos La Chiapaneca. If you’ve never had tacos al pastor then you’ve not lived, my friend. Prepared in the shawarma style, pork strips are marinated in adobo spices and roasted on a spit with pineapple. When you order your taco they shave paper thin slices of the pork then tuck it into a corn tortilla. La Chiapaneca does this in the best way possible. If Anthony Bourdain ever comes to Tulum this is where he will eat, I guarantee it.
- Burrito Amor. You might think that burritos are a dime a dozen in Tulum and that’s true. But the burritos at Burrito Amor are something special. Freshly made and delicious, these burritos are stuffed with all of the good things Mexico has to offer. They even make their own fruit waters and the service can’t be beat.
Where to Stay
Tulum has a number of lodging opportunities, and they all hinge on location and your budget. In Tulum town there are small hotels and hostels. Along the beach is where you’ll find the pricier resorts with direct beach access. Whether the beach is your thing or if you’d prefer to spend a little less and stay in the village, these are a few of my picks.
- Mango Tulum. Right at the intersection of the main highway and the beach road, Mango Tulum is perfectly located to take advantage of the beach and Tulum town itself. It’s also just a short bike ride away from the ruins. The rates are incredible, they have a pool, and the owners are just as nice as they can be. They also offer diving adventures, which will come in handy when you learn more about the cenotes in the area.
- La Zebra. If you’re looking for the quintessential Tulum beach experience, you won’t find a better spot than La Zebra. Perfectly located on one of the best stretches of beach in Tulum, La Zebra dazzles with exceptional service and a kickass, modern take on classic Mexican food in their kitschy dining area. They’ve recently expanded and added more rooms to increase the fun.
- Mi Amor. Chic, swanky and impeccably designed, Mi Amor is the perfect place to splurge in Tulum. With an intensely private feel due to its location on the rocks above the beach, Mi Amor brings to mind a mashup of South Beach Miami and a boutique hotel on an island in Greece. They have an incredible restaurant and service that just can’t be any better or more personal.
What to Do
As Tulum is a small town many of the activities here tend to take place outdoors. This part of the Yucatan peninsula is brimming with history, unique geologic formation, and ample ocean sports. If you can peel yourself from your sun lounger long enough, these are a few of the things that await you.
- Cenotes. Sinkholes carved into the limestone by underground rivers, cenotes are everywhere in this part of Mexico. Some are small, some are big, and some of the underground caverns go on for miles. Dos Ojos is one of the most popular cenotes for both snorkeling and for SCUBA diving.
- Ruins. The Mayan ruins perched over the Caribbean Sea are one of the most iconic images of Tulum and are well worth the visit. However, if you’d like to see a bit more head over to Coba, which is about 40 kilometers west of Tulum. A bit more rough and a lot less visited, Coba is an explorer’s dream. You can even still climb on some of the pyramids.
- Sian Kaan. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is the largest protected area in the Yucatan. Comprised of fresh water lagoons, marshland, Mayan ruins, and numerous species of animals and birds it is truly a special place. There are numerous tour operators who will get you out there, or you can get to Sian Kaan on your own. We went on our own and had a great time, despite the bugs.
So there you have it. I don’t love Tulum, but it’s quite possible that you will join the legions of people who do. As we continue our travel journey it’s likely that, at some point, I’ll look back on this period of time with some sort of fondness, but for now all I can think about is Mexico City, evenings that require a jacket, and what I hope is an utter and complete lack of bugs.
Hell, a girl can dream.