Travel Talk: Tulum, Mexico
Updated: Dec 27, 2019
A haven for hippies, foodies, and nature-lovers alike.
I had the privilege of traveling to Tulum just before Christmas in 2017. Once a sleepy Mexican town nestled at the southern end of the flashy Riviera Maya, Tulum now seems to be at the top of just about every must-visit destination list. Nestled amongst dense jungle, crumbling Mayan ruins, and rolling turquoise waves, it is a place that has a little something for everyone.
Whether it's green smoothies and beach yoga classes you seek or five-course tasting menus beneath twinkling lanterns, Tulum does not disappoint. Browse the boutiques, art studios, and vegan cafes along the beach strip or hunt for hole-in-the-wall taco shops and family-owned fruit stands in the bustling downtown area. Nature-lovers (i.e. me!) will find that countless adventures await just beyond the boundaries of the town. Cenotes, birdwatching trails, stretches of deserted beach, and the vast expanse of Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve are all worthy of a day trip.
I have traveled to Tulum twice now: once as a backpacker on a $20/day budget and once as a more indulgent vacationer escaping the dreary December weather back home. While I enjoy a day at the spa or a lounge chair in the sun as much as the next girl, I've never been one for all-inclusive resorts that keep travelers walled off from the real world. For me, traveling is about learning and opening your mind and your heart to new places and new people. Many of the best moments and memories from my travels are the connections I've made with regular, local people. Tulum is a delightful place to open yourself up and explore far beyond the walls of your resort. If you go, indulge in yoga and mezcal cocktails, sure, but don't miss out on conversations with the people who call Tulum home. Order a heaping plate of cheap tacos, a bucket of icy beer, and strike up conversation with someone sitting near you. Ask about the economy, how the town has changed, the challenges of conservation amidst rapid development. I promise you'll be glad you asked.
"If you go, indulge in yoga and mezcal cocktails, sure, but don't miss out on conversations with the people who call Tulum home."
What To Do
Birdwatching: We did a fantastic bird-watching tour with Yucatan Outdoors. A small but impressive company, they have a strong commitment to conservation, education, and collaboration with local communities. The guides were extremely professional and knowledgable; we saw an astounding number of bird species; the lunch was fresh, homemade, and delicious.
Akumal Bay: Akumal Bay is quite crowded and touristy, but bring your snorkel, sneak down the beach from the main entrance, and hop in the water to see peaceful sea turtles resting on the sandy bottom. Pay for parking, but don't bother paying for a snorkeling guide and tour. They'll make you think you need one, but you don't!
Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve: A rough road prevents most tourists from making it past the entrance gate to Sian Ka'an meaning the reserve is delightfully deserted. If your car can make it, brave the potholes and drive a few kilometers down the road to El Último Maya. Order a couple of margaritas and spend the day basking in the sun on their picturesque slice of beach. If you really want to experience all the Reserve has to offer, I recommend booking a tour with Yucatan Outdoors. Where To Eat
Cenzontle: Relaxed, jungle ambiance, standard cocktails, and satisfying dishes. I went for dinner and ordered the delicious piquillo peppers to start.
Kahlua: If you're looking for a change of pace after one too many sleek, hipster restaurants, Kahlua is your spot. The music is loud, the beer is cheap, and the fish tacos are sublime. It might not look like much, but it's a great local spot with excellent food.
Ahua Tulum: I went to Ahua for drinks and dessert and fell in love with the elegant, romantic feel of the place. After a drink, sneak down to the beach for some top-notch stargazing.
Where To Stay
For backpackers, Mama's Home Hostel is ideal. If you're looking for a more indulgent vacation, I recommend checking out some of the Airbnbs in the area. It's a great way to meet some local residents and explore some of the quieter, residential neighborhoods.