Where to swim, play and stay in Tulum, Mexico

Some of the ruins in Tulum, Mexico

From Travel Pulse

The internet is abuzz about Tulum, a tropical beach town just a two-hour drive from Cancun.

And while what to pack, which luxury hotel properties are best for massages/facials and how to get to what was once allegedly Pablo Escobar’s vacation home are all, obviously, important topics, I’ve got some Tulum tips that are great for any budget but that still feel luxurious.

Wherever you go, fresh-made juices are about $4, you can find beer for as cheap as $2-$3 USD and avocado is a part of every meal. Three things to carry with you at all times: sunblock, bug spray and Mexican Pesos.

Here are some other important options to keep in mind:

Hotels

Situated in a cozy nook off a dirt road in Tulum town, Hotel Tiki Tiki is quiet, beautiful and a 5-10 minute drive from the beach, local restaurants and shops. A stylish design hotel inspired by Mid-Century Modern Miami Beach, Tiki Tiki has just 15 rooms and the dreamiest pool/outdoor bar scenario you could imagine.

I’m not a cat person, but the hotel kitty is a star, too, and can always be found lounging in various stages of “nap.”

I stayed in a first level garden room with an amazing shower, AC and in-room hammock. And while the bartender was on vacation, the front desk manager was great about getting us pool towels, beer and offering up local food suggestions (plus delivery options). It’s my understanding that because it’s so hot in June, fewer tourists are in Tulum, which is great for price drops and having the pool mostly to yourself.

Food/Drink

Is it a restaurant? Is it a beach club? Taqueria la eufemia is both, and it’s inexpensive. There are tacos, gin-filled coconuts and simple beds on the sand. The crowd seems like an even-ish mix of tourists and locals, as well as a shaggy dog.

So good we had breakfast there twice, Burrito Amor is an outdoor restaurant and bar with egg bowls, avocado toast, amazing coffee, juices, cocktails and of course, burritos.

On the pricier side, Gitano is still worth dining at. Even if you’re not up for food, make your way there for a nightcap. Known for mezcal cocktails and its jungle-chic decor, this place is tropical-foodie heaven.

Craving something other than Mexican? There are quite a few Italian spots (La Nave is one I went to) and a fairly new Spanish tapas restaurant called Pata Negra (helloooo, tinto de verano!). Avenida Tulum is lined with shops, banks and restaurants. There is also Japanese food on the jungle side of Carretera Tulum—visit Ukami for their miso soup and sushi rolls.

Beach Clubs (and More Food)

Just because you’re staying in town instead of on the water doesn’t mean you have to skimp out on full-blown beach days. Carretera Tulum is lined with hotels, tiki bars and shops.

For a minimum food/drink spend, you can park yourself on a comfy beach bed literally all day.

A few of my top picks: La Zebra (the beach beds have cell phone charging stations!), Papaya Playa Project (a sustainable hotel with a fantastic food menu—order the tuna tostada—and great service) and Om (grab a cheap beer, lay out, chill out).

Art & Outdoor Activities

One of my favorite indoor spots in Tulum was Tulum Art Club. With revolving works by seasonal featured artists and weekly events, the cafe/art venue also has incredible food while encouraging creativity.

The yoga at Sanará, though not cheap ($20), recenters you in little to no time. I took a mid-morning Vinyasa class, my feet still sandy from walking the property barefoot. The instructor taught in both Spanish and English (no small feat), and by the time Savasana came around, the most difficult thing for me wasn’t being still, but getting back up. The sound of crashing waves and ocean view contributed to my zen moment, for sure.

A natural sinkhole filled with the bluest water, a cenote dive (or dip) is a must while in Tulum.

Everyone talks about the popular Grand Cenote, but there are many to choose from—some fairly close to the beach and the town. I visited Cenote Calavera, also known as Temple of Doom—scary, I know. It’s a small, but beautiful cenote five minutes west of Avenida Tulum.

When you arrive, it seems a bit ominous to jump from above into a sunken cave of cold water, so ease your way into the cenote by climbing down a ladder. When ready (it took me a while), climb back up, put your big girl/boy pants on, take a few deep breaths and jump right in. There are lots of tiny fish and maybe even bats.

Everybody goes, but you must go, too. The Ruinas Mayas de Tulum (Mayan Ruins) gets pretty packed with tourists from all over all day, so your best bet is to head there early before the scorching mid-morning heat kicks in.

Hike/walk the ruins, snap photos and cool off before heading back by taking a dip at the beach. Be mindful of signs and ropes: structures date back to (as early as) the 13th century. Admission is equivalent to just a few US dollars; parking is still inexpensive but extra.

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