Tulum: The Bali of the Americas

If the Adventure Club agrees on anything, it’s that Tulum slays.

AC is in a very serious relationship with Tulum. When we’re not with her we miss her. We get butterflies in our stomachs when we see something that reminds us of her. We know all her flaws, and we love her more for them. We speak Tulum fluently. We know her windy, pothole-filled roads like the backs of our hands. Between the four of us we’ve traveled to this ethereal Mexican oasis a collective six times. We simply cannot get enough.

Why do we keep going back, you ask? Well, like all passionate love affairs, she’s hard to quit. First of all, Tulum is truly a unique animal. If Tulum were a human, she would be the illegitimate child of a Hamptons socialite and a dirty hippie; embodying the best of two worlds of alluring refinement and mellow soulfulness. Also, Tulum’s vibe is completely otherworldly. Much like it’s Balinese cousin nearly 10,000 miles away, its landscape is lush and jungle-like and the smell of incense is ubiquitous, transforming a simple walk down the town’s main drag into a downright spiritual experience. 

Where to eat

This quiet paradise has tickled the fancy of some of the world’s most renowned restauranteurs, boasting a variety of outstanding international and local gourmet fare. Here are some of our favorites:

For breakfast in the downtown area, head to Burrito Amor  (you’re in the land of breakfast tacos, after all), or Ki’Bok, which boasts more traditional breakfast options (pastries, omelets, etc.). The lines at Ki’Bok can be lengthy so make sure to arrive early. If you’re breaking the fast in Playa Paraiso and are in need of a health food fix, grab an acai bowl at Raw Love Cafe. Zamas also has an extensive and yummy breakfast menu you can indulge while sitting beachside. 

Posada Margherita is on our list of top best restaurants of all time. This local spot is owned and run by a staff of authentic Italians who will speak Italian to you (and aren’t so hard on the eyes either). Don’t let their simple menu fool you, what they lack in quantity and variety they make up for in quality and service— their pastas are handmade, fish is freshly caught, and tomatoes are grown in their own garden. Also, the plate of focaccia bread each table receives as a starter will change. your. life. If you like it so much and don’t want to leave, you can stay in one of the eight guest rooms, which we would highly recommend if you’re into shabby chic, exclusive accommodations (after all, who isn’t?).

La Creperia is just the cutest creperie you ever did see; Manglar is a tasty casual pizza joint; Arca is a delicious dinner spot (get the Raw Chayote/Quinoa salad appetizer and either the seared grouper or cornish hen entree); and local vegan spot Restaurare’s delicious cocktails (alcoholic or non) certainly don’t disappoint.

Where to stay

Tulum appeals to both backpackers and those seeking a lap of luxury. It stands on an echelon above any other resort locale you’ll find in the Yucatan Penninsula. There are no massive high-rise hotels to be found, in fact, many of Tulum’s “hotels” are actually just chic, rustic beach hut compounds. If you want to stay on the main drag of Playa Paraiso, Ahau Tulum and La Zebra are our go-tos. The in-house restaurants on each property are stellar, and there’s parking on-site (a luxury that’s hard to come by in Tulum’s space-constricted main road). (Also, even if you’re not staying at Ahau Tulum you can use their hammocks and beach chairs during the day. But shhh, you didn’t hear it from us!) 

If you want to stay downtown, there are a few solid hostels but we really recommend snagging an Airbnb. We’ve stayed here and here!

Where to hang

…with the stalactites: When in Tulum, you must swim in one of the cenotes (underwater caves once thought to be sacred by the Mayans). The two best cenotes are Cenote dos Ojos and Gran Cenote, and they’re both less than a 15-minute drive from town. Make sure to arrive early because they tend to get packed with people. We recommend you BYO snorkel gear (but you can also rent some for a few bucks when you arrive) cause the real sights to see are not above the water line. 

…with the sea turtles: Drive 20 minutes north to Akumal Bay, get here early too (no later than 10AM) because come mid-morning the beach and the water, get crowded and you’ll probably get kicked in the ribs while swimming. Helpful tip: when you pull up to Akumal Bay, parking attendants and tour guides will approach you and try to sell you guided snorkel trips and/or parking. Dodge them. Have them point you in the direction of the Akumal Dive Center (not the Dive Shop, which is a different place) and rent your gear from there. This way you’ll get preferential parking away from the masses (you just have to make sure to get your ticket validated by the Dive Center). The instructors and staff at the dive center are kind and helpful and the price is about $30 for a mask, snorkel and a guide. We don’t recommend going on your own because guides tend to know the hotspots frequented by our friendly sea reptiles.

…with the beach swings: Coco Tulum is a Hamptons-style beach bar and lively daytime hotspot. Don’t miss a photo op on the Insta-famous beach swings. 

…with the bikes: There are a lot of bike rental places towards the north end of the main street of Playa Paraiso. Go for an afternoon stroll but keep an eye out for the taxis, they’re lousy at sharing the road.

…with the yogis: Take a yoga class at Yoga Shala, the absolute zen-est

…with the whale sharks: Okay so this activity isn’t in Tulum proper, but the 2.5 hour drive north to Isla Mujeres is absolutely worth it. Isla Mujeres is one of the only places in the world where you can swim beside these majestic gentle giants and see them in action. For $200, Ocean Tours Playa takes you on a guided boat tour and swim with the whale sharks, picks you up from your hotel (even in Tulum, which many other whale shark encounter companies won’t do) and feeds you lunch on a private beach area. Note that the whale sharks are only in this area from mid-June to Mid-September before they migrate, so plan accordingly.

Other tips

Bring cash: Many places are cash-only. ATMs are plentiful, especially in the local grocery stores. 

Rent a car: Getting around Tulum and the surrounding area is tricky without one. But, watch out for two things:

  • There are no street lights, so have your night-vision goggles handy. (But seriously, bring a flashlight for headlamp if you’re planning on walking around in the dark.)
  • BEWARE. OF. THE. TOPES. These speed bumps (which really is putting it lightly because they’re actually speed mountains) are some of the most aggressive suckers we’ve ever encountered. Wear your helmets, kids, no matter what wheeled apparatus you happen to be riding in.

Go home, high-quality footwear, you’re drunk: Most all the restaurants, shops, and other establishments in Playa Paraiso don’t have floors, it’s just sand… which is a gypsy wanderlust’s dream but a shoe addict’s nightmare so leave your fancy zapatos en tu casa.

Bring bug spray: The topes aren’t the only things that come out of nowhere in an aggressive fashion. 

One last thing worth mentioning is that after every time we travel to Tulum, the number of tourists have notably increased. (Okay so maybe we’re a bit of the jealous type, and after all, it’s easy to see why she’s been able to captivate so many suitors.) 

So there you have it, our ardent proclamation for our beloved Tulum. Our last declaration is: Go to her soon. She may be the one, and the one only comes around once in a lifetime. 

Thinking about planning a trip to Tulum? Let us help you!

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