Everything You Need to Know to Escape to Tulum, Mexico
The first time I went to Tulum, I booked my ticket less than 24 hours in advance and basically didn’t know anything about the area. I had a friend going, and my addition to her trip was a spur of the moment decision. I had graduated from college just a couple weeks prior, and Mexico seemed like a good idea.
Fast forward two years and it seems like everyone in Brooklyn is escaping to Tulum. Ask anyone who’s been: I can pretty much guarantee that they’ll describe Tulum as a magical place.
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL:
Tulum is basically a green version of Cancun — all of the hotels are boutiques that focus on a “back to basics” mentality with no electricity (there is wind/solar power) and most of the boutique hotels offer small cabañas. Tulum also has a really great music scene: there are a lot of really great nightlife spots, plus there’s several festivals with beyond amazing line-ups right on the beach. To top it all off, Tulum is home to Mayan archaeological sites and the area is rich with history.
Fly into the Cancun airport, which is about 4 hours from any of the NYC airports. You can grab a cab down to Tulum or ask your hotel to send a car (both are easy options). Tulum is about an hour and a half from Cancun.
Once in Tulum, the best way to get around is by bike.
There’s three areas in Tulum — the beach and its adjacent jungle area (on the other side of the street) or the town. I recommend staying on the beach for the ultimate Tulum experience; there’s just not a lot that compares to opening your eyes and having the beach right there. You can also stay on the jungle side, which is literally just on the other side of the street, or in town, which is a quick cab ride away.
I’ve stayed at Coco Tulum as well as Papaya Playa Project, and highly recommend either. Coco Tulum is on the main section of the beach and has the cutest little cabañas, which, if they were any closer to the water, would probably be washed away. Papaya Playa Project was originally a pop-up hotel, but they proved to be so popular that they’ve since transitioned into a more permanent establishment. You can opt to stay in one of the older, more basic cabañas (which I actually prefer), or you can stay in one of the newer, stone cabañas. PPP is on its own, private stretch of the beach.
Tulum is probably the only place in the world that I could tell you to walk into any restaurant and you won’t be disappointed. After a couple of days of shopping around, you’ll start to find favorites, but you’re basically always picking from “really good” and “absolutely phenomenal.” (It’s a hard life, I know.)
My favorite restaurant in the whole world (really) would have to be Hartwood. The restaurant was opened by New York expatriates in 2010 and functions on a basic model of sustainability. All cooking is done by open fire and they break down their waste with zero carbon footprint. Hartwood opens daily at 5 pm and the menu (which changes daily based on local availability) is comprised of the best ingredients that were gathered that day. If you go: SHOW UP EARLY. Hartwood doesn’t accept reservations, and a line starts to form around 4 pm, but trust me — it’s absolutely worth the wait.
On my first trip to Tulum, I just needed an escape from the city and my friend and I spent the trip laying on the beach and eating really great food — which was absolute bliss. I always tell people that if this is all they do in Tulum, you’ll have a great experience.
If you’re up for something more, you can visit the Mayan ruins (just north of the main stretch).
I also really, really recommend visiting the cenotes, which are natural sinkholes that have created an underwater system of caves and tunnels. If you do just one, check out Dos Ojos.
The cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings, and once you’re there, you’ll definitely be able to see why. The vast caves are some of the blackest, darkest areas I’ve seen, but when the light breaks through and reflects on the azule-blue water, some of the most breathtaking shadows are created. Scuba dive if you’re licensed, but if you’re not, still take the opportunity to go snorkeling.