Ah, Tulúm. The first time I visited, I was 22, and took a 60 peso “luxury” bus from my Airbnb in Puerto Morelos, and to be honest, I wasn’t even that interested in going. But once I got to the view from the cliffs at the ruins, I was hooked.
This was in 2012. Back then, the now-famed Hartwood had been open maybe 18 months (and I didn’t even go to that part of Tulum until my third trip). Only a few of the hard hitting hotels existed back then, and they weren’t even on my radar. That first time I went to Tulum, we walked from the ruins to Playa Paraíso, which was more than enough to make me fall in love with this seemingly undiscovered paradise. And for the record, even then, it was far from undiscovered.
Since 2012, I’ve been to Tulum six times, and I’ll continue to visit, even with the influx in tourists and development — something that’s increasingly more and more visible with each visit. Where there were once dusty shoulders on the side of a pothole-filled road, there’s now a freshly paved sidewalk, with perfectly-spaced planters and a designated bike path. Where most of the hotels didn’t have locked doors, there are now 24/7 security attendants, eyeing passersby on every beachfront hotel property. And in the place where I first truly discovered that the only real music I needed was the lull of crashing waves and the rustling of palm trees above me, each hotel beach property boasts its own Mykonos-esque soundtrack, ranging from chill Kygo beats, to the most turnt day party you could imagine, imported right from the Hamptons.
While it’s mildly off-putting to meet more people from Manhattan than Mexico, I can’t claim a stake in Tulum’s discovery. I too, am a tourist. I can’t fully hate what Tulum has become — I love a damn good cocktail, and even the most expensive meals in Tulum feel like a bargain when you live in US cities like DC, New York, and San Francisco. And, as I get older, I’m less and less likely to stay in the $15-a-night hostel, but definitely more likely to stay in the beachfront yoga shala suites at Amansala. Tulum has grown with me, and will forever be my “absolutely, let’s go” destination, for both solo trips and vacations with loved ones alike.
So, after years of exploring one of my favorite cities in the world, here’s my hands down, super obsessed, can’t-stop-thinking-about best of Tulúm.
I couldn’t recommend Amansala more — after a bad few months at work that left both my roommate and I in tears multiple times in the dead of winter, we figured… fuck it. Let’s book flights for two weeks from now, and stay at this yoga retreat hotel.
Amansala did not disappoint. From the coffee that was waiting for us before sunrise every morning, to the fantastic food and relaxed beach vibes, to the very cute, very large dogs that live on the property… we were beyond impressed. I’d absolutely stay there again.
In the past, we’ve rented condos in Aldea Zama, which is a condo neighborhood within biking distance of the beach. I’m comfortable navigating the streets of Tulum Playa by car, as I’ve been doing it for years, but it’s definitely not for everyone — and driving turned out to be a tiny pressure point when I visited with friends. It’d be a great option if you have a group of friends that isn’t too antsy about getting to the beach ASAP after waking up.
I also stayed at the Kore all-inclusive resort, which on principle, I wouldn’t recommend in a place like Tulum. The property doesn’t have beach access, and when you’re literally surrounded by fantastic restaurants, the last thing you’d want to eat is all-inclusive resort food. Pay less for a room on a beachfront hotel that doesn’t include your food — and then eat all of things below.
Eat & Drink
Beach Chic: ARCA
Compared to some of the old hard hitters, ARCA is relatively new to the Tulum restaurant scene. I’ve heard it’s hard to get into, but as of March 2018, they take walk ins from 7-8 pm on weeknights — and that’s exactly what we did. Don’t skip the cocktails, and savor every bite. The softshell crab taco on an hoja santa leaf with an avocado habanero salsa was life changing.
Tried and True: Hartwood
I’ve been to Hartwood a couple of times now, and both meals were fantastic. People on the internet and food snobs will say it’s overrated — but honestly, what I love most about Hartwood is their commitment to local ingredients, simple recipes, and incredible flavor. And on top of that: the atmosphere is so casual and relaxed, it’s hard not to have a moment with your cocktail or a beet that’s been marinated and roasted in the woodfire oven for 6 hours. Haters are gonna hate. But you should go to Hartwood.
Note: they changed their reservation system in 2018 — you can only reserve a table online, the month before you plan to be in Tulum. So book that, stat.
When I visited with 5 friends, Casa Jaguar was the first place we went when we arrived. The service was amazing — and the ahi poke tostadas were to die for. And if you can’t get a meal here, at least stop for whatever watermelon cocktail is on the menu while you’re there.
Set apart from the other Tulum hot spots, Kitchen Table is on the ruins side of the road — and when you dine here, you’ll feel like you’re in a treehouse. Don’t underestimate the Mexican wines on selection, and if you love a good steak, this is your spot.
Do not skip: Taqueria La Eufemia
We first stumbled upon this taco joint during a sunset beach stroll. It’s easy to spot — it’s one of the only beachfront locations these days that has more of the beach-hippie vibe than the chill-chic-club vibe, so naturally, it’s packed. Grab a table or one of the well-worn beach beds, and the staff will take your orders. Tacos run about 130 MXN pesos a piece (best value meals in Tulum!) and there are evening happy hours on cocktails and my personal favorite beer in Mexico: Sol.
A local spot located in Tulum Pueblo, El Camello was recommended to me by my taxi driver on my first trip, six years ago. Come here for a small plate of ceviche (the large is for groups of 4 or more) and a couple of cervezas for a third of the price that your hotel sells them for.
Antojitos La Chiapaneca
THIS. PLACE. It’s only open at night, and there will always be a line out the door for a table — but it’s worth it. If you watched the Ugly Delicious taco episode with wide eyes because it’s set in Tulum, you’ll already know that tacos al-pastor comes from the influence of Lebanese immigrants to Mexico… so it’s really no wonder why this place holds a special place in my heart. Grab a table, order some tacos, and spend the rest of your money on fancy cocktails at the beach. It’s the good life.
Las Ruinas de Tulum
The place that really put Tulum on the map: ancient Mayan ruins on cliffs that overlook the beach.
El Gran Cenote is just up the road from Tulum Playa, and was a great spot to hit with a group. My all-time favorite cenote will forever be Siete Bocas, up the coast near Puerto Morelos. And recently, I’ve heard a lot about a cenote in a cave called Multum Ha.
Siam Ka’an Biosphere
I’ve never done this on one of my trips, but it’s high on my to-do list. Find a tour in town, and head south to the massive biosphere reserve for a day trip.