Tulum: It’s Like Disney World for Grown Ups
“It’s like *#^&$*# Disney World for grown ups,” I overheard a woman saying to her friend while walking past me along a lantern-illuminated jungle path recently when I was in Tulum.
I could not *#^&$*# agree with her more!
It’s a jungle paradise, an eco-chic destination that’s as natural as it is well designed. The style is rustic meets beach/spa. Most building design is based on the open-air concept; you’re sure to catch a breeze when visiting the many restaurants, kitchens and bars as well as eco-friendly hotels.
For the past six years I have returned over an over again to Tulum. And each time there is something new to experience. The quiet unspoiled beaches are the main attraction. You will not find any large all-inclusive hotels on the Tulum beach road. What you will find is a three-mile narrow path that follows the coastline, extending from the Tulum Ruins down to a biosphere reserve called Sian Ka’an.
The beach road and beach is kept wild and free by zoning laws forbidding any hotel or restaurant to build higher than the jungle canopy. The result is a palm tree-lined beach with Palapa rooftops popping through the jungle canopy. The beach itself is pristine, turquoise water and the finest powder white sand I’ve ever seen. You will never run out of places to eat — and drink. Walking along the beach from one beautiful hotel-restaurant to another is the best way to get the lay of the land. Stroll in, have a drink or a snack and check out the scene and vibe. There is always something unique happening, from salsa lessons at La Zebra Hotel to watching the sunset over the jungle canopy at Mateos.
Creative people are everywhere: the mindset of its residents and long-term guests are people who want to live simplistically and freely. I classify Tulumies as refined, intelligent and fashionable hippies who just get life and know how to live.
Aside from the beach, there is so much to do in the surrounding area. It’s safe to explore, and the welcoming people have enormous pride in their country, culture and hometowns.
Just at the end of the Tulum Beach road you will find the ruins; travelers can easily get there by renting a bike, or it’s a two-minute taxi ride from many of the most popular hotels. Chichen Itza and Coba ruins are about an hour and a half away and you can either drive, hire a driver for the day or take a tour bus.
Magical nature-made swimming holes called cenotes are dotted along the entire Yucatan Peninsula. These cenotes are large sinkholes exposing an underground river system connected by caves and caverns underneath the limestone. The waters are crystal clear, turquoise color, and they are said to be magical waters by Mayan people. You can snorkel, kayak or just float in the cool clear water, surrounded by nature, jungle and sometimes partially underground.
To get the full flavor of Tulum, I think guests should visit a different hotel and its beach every day. I like to stay in town because it provides a nice hub — and is much less expensive then the beach hotels. The beach road is a five-minute drive (taxis are everywhere) or a 15-minute bike ride away. The small beach town provides access to even more great restaurants, bars with live music and a party that continues a little later in the evening. The place to stay in town is Villas Geminis, a quaint boutique hotel that feels like a garden oasis. Waking up to breakfast in a tropical garden listening to the soft serenade of a live acoustic guitar is how every morning on vacation should begin.
Oh and the restaurants … this is the real reason I return over and over. The food options are diverse, from Indian to Thai to Italian as well as traditional Mexican prepared with a gourmet flare. Each restaurant has its own story and spin on their dishes, but there’s a common theme of the open-air look and feel of their spaces. The food itself rivals any restaurant in any major city — except you have your feet in the sand.
A few of my favorite restaurants:
- Casa Banana: Argentinian restaurant with delicious steaks, and great wine selection. My favorite, I usually wait for my last night.
- Casa-Jaguar: Sophisticated, chic and sexy. It’s one of a kind and the drinks are superb!
- El Tábano: All types of dishes, vegetarian, seafood and meat dishes prepared with personality and authentic Mexican sauces and seasoning.
- Posada Margherita: Margherita sauce as well as the other type of margarita — both delicious! Fresh, homemade pasta plus seafood!