Why You Should Book a Trip to Tulum Immediately...
I’ve been to Mexico a time or two… actually, probably like ten times. I say “probably” because many of these trips blend into one fuzzy memory of beautiful resort properties, margaritas the size of my head and gluttonous all-inclusive resorts. Cancun, Cabo, Cozumel, Playa, Puerto Vallarta and Acalpulco, each trip was perfectly nice. Don’t get me wrong, these Mexican locales all served their purpose as to why they were booked (whether that meant I was traveling for a cheap getaway, a sunny escape from the dreadful Wisconsin winters, a beautiful wedding venue, or some much needed R&R), but they aren’t my ideal vacation.
These cities are “resort towns” where you’ll find plenty of sprawling luxury and all-inclusive resorts which offer a ton of bang for your buck, but are also a dime a dozen. The majority of the resorts I stayed at in each of these cities were really quite nice, but they failed to stand out from one another (or any of the other resorts “on the strip,” for that matter).
There is a running joke among my friends that the all-inclusive resorts in Mexico “kill my soul.” Naturally, this comment is often accompanied by an eye-roll, but honestly, I feel awful after a few days of “relaxing” at an all-inclusive. (Probably because I eat and drink way too much while doing nothing but laying around and basking in the sun). To be fair and in full disclosure, I’m really not an all-inclusive beach resort type of gal. The weather is generally pleasant in Atlanta and I don’t have children I need an escape from, so these types of vacations don’t satisfy my wanderlust. I would find myself going CRAZY after spending a week at an all-inclusive resort (“free” booze and all). Whether it’s a fair assessment or not, I lump all of my prior trips to Mexico in the same category – underwhelming.
And then, I visited Tulum.
Tulum is… magical.
This past May I was in Riviera Maya and finally decided to make the trek down to the Mexican paradise I had heard so much about, tacking on a short two night stay in Tulum. I still can’t believe how enamored I found myself with Tulum. Although the city is just a 90 minute drive from the Cancun International Airport, Tulum feels a world away from the “typical” Mexican resort cities I feel I know all too well.
Is Tulum the Best Vacation Destination in Mexico?
YES. Here’s why:
Tulum has the coolest, quirky, hippie, laid-back vibe. I noticed the difference immediately upon my arrival into town. Everywhere I looked I saw people bicycling to their next destination, signs advertising free yoga classes, and adorable beach bars. Everyone looked… happy. (And not because they were drinking yard tall margaritas from Señor Frogs). Happy and chill. It was infectious.
A vendor approached me on the beach trying to sell me one of his handmade woven hammocks. I told him I wasn’t interested. He said “cool,” and walked away.
I was shocked and confused. No hard sell? No, “good price for you, lady”? No chasing me down the beach while trying to change my mind!? Certainly a different experience than I’ve had at any of the other resort cities.
The vibe in Tulum was so compelling that by the end of my short trip I had crazy thoughts running through my head… “Maybe yoga really is fun and I should start taking classes?” and “Did I make the right decision purchasing my new hybrid Trek…maybe all I really needed was a pink beach cruiser?” as well as my personal favorite, “Why are bras such a thing in the USA? Are they really necessary?”
The Food & Craft Cocktail Scene
After researching Tulum some, it became pretty obvious that there was a huge focus on the city’s culinary and cocktail scene, but I had no idea what I was in for. Food options ranged from taco stands on the street selling delicious and authentic creations to perfectly prepared fine dining options served in picturesque low-key restaurants. I did my best to eat my way through the dining options on both the “beach side” and “jungle side” of Tulum. Here are a few of my favorites I would recommend you try:
Taqueria La Efemia – A casual self proclaimed “hippie-chit taco boutique” directly on the beach. The tacos were delicious and cheap. How could I not love a place where the motto is Relax and Eat Some F*cking Tacos?
Ziggy’s – On the beach side, Ziggy’s has a super fun vibe where swings are substitutes for bar stools and talented live bands play nightly.
Casa de Jaguar – This Instagram-worthy restaurant on the jungle side has a lovely “classy-jungle” feel. I will say, even by American standards, I found Casa de Jaguar to be pricey, but we enjoyed our meals. If you’re on a budget, I would recommend stopping in for a drink or an appetizer to experience the unique setting without breaking the bank.
Posado Margarheta – I was immediately skeptical when an Italian restaurant was repeatedly recommended to me, but I couldn’t resist seeing what all the fuss was about. And luckily I wasn’t disappointed one bit. My hand-rolled pasta was made to order and perfectly prepared, and the restaurant’s expertly curated beachy decor added to the overall experience.
No fantastic meal is complete without an equally satisfying beverage, right? It was impossible to ignore the fact that craft cocktails are no joke in this city. The wide array of innovative cocktail options and the skill of the mixologists blew my mind. I was thrilled to have sophisticated drink options beyond your typical run-of-the-mill frozen beach drinks. Each of my cocktails were handmade to order with an array of freshly sliced/muddled/juiced fruits and vegetables, which leads me right to my next point…
The Best Beach Bars I’ve Ever Seen
The beach bars in Tulum were positively made for Pinterest. I mean, just look at this:
Pretty much beach shabby-chic perfection, no?
Luckily for my husband we had been at the beach all morning and I only had my iPhone on me, because otherwise he would have had to sit through a straight-up photo shoot. The best part of the beach bar scene in Tulum? You can literally just stroll along the ocean and bar hop – all you need is your wallet and sunglasses. No shirt? No shoes? No problem in Tulum.
The bar pictured above is Coco. A word to the wise: Coco gets really crowded, so if you’re a photography (or Insta) junkie, you’ll need to get there early if you want the place to yourself. I think I lucked out because a storm was rolling in.
I do feel inclined to mention that the service at Coco wasn’t that great… despite no one else being there, it took forever to get a drink. Additionally, the cocktail list isn’t all that extensive, yet I was told that they didn’t have the ingredients to make my first two drink choices. Nonetheless, I would still recommend getting a drink at Coco because, aesthetically, the bar is just perfect.
My other favorite beach bar was La Zebra, which has a completely different feel than Coco. La Zebra has an upscale vibe without being the least bit pretentious. There are couches made from wooden row boats if you’re wanting to soak up the sun. Or, if you’re seeking shade, the cabanas overlooking the ocean are gorgeous and make the perfect spot to grab lunch. Like with most of the places I ate in Tulum, I thoroughly enjoyed my meal – the fare was innovative and fresh. The restaurant itself is rather unassuming and I was taken aback when I caught a glimpse of the impressive dining room views when I wandered off the beach to find the restroom.
Although not a beach bar, I would also recommend that you drop into Gitano on the jungle side for a drink.
The best craft cocktail I had on my trip? Hands down, at the boutique hotel I stayed at called The Beach.
The Natural Beauty
Tulum is B-E-A-U-TIFUL! Yes, it has the teal water and those beautiful beaches which are signature to the Yucatan Peninsula, but it has so much more too: Jungle! Mayan Ruins!! Sea Turtles!!! (Can you tell I’m excited?)
Unlike many of the other Mexican resort towns, you don’t have to drive a couple hours or take some cheesy excursion to get to Tulum’s Mayan Ruins. They are literally just minutes from your beach resort. You can even bike to them. The obvious draw to these particular ruins is that they are picturesquely situated over the sea. You can also easily visit the nearby ruins of Coba or snorkel with sea turtles in Akumal.
I visited Tulum in May during the Yucatan’s “wet” season, so I got some rain for a portion of one of the days I was there. Typically, a downpour is enough to dampen my beach vacation spirits, but I didn’t care. Tulum is stunning even in the rain.
The Unique Lodging Options
The lodging options in Tulum are VERY different from many of the other destinations in Mexico I’ve visited. You’re not going to see mega-resort after mega-resort as you drive or bike down the main thoroughfare. I’m sure they exist somewhere if you want to find them, but it’s not the standard like in Riviera Maya. Tulum is filled with super cute boutique resorts and oceanfront cabanas. Many of the bars and restaurants that you see as you stroll down the beach also offer lodging options.
I had the pleasure of staying at one of the cutest seaside boutique hotels, appropriately called The Beach. I fell for The Beach as hard as I fell for Tulum itself. The hotel was laid-back, understated beachy-luxury to a T.
First things first, check out the view from my room…
When I say the property is beachfront, I mean beachFRONT. If I ventured a couple steps off my patio I would have been in the ocean. Should you decide to wander off your room’s private patio, you can move to your reserved oceanfront lounger where you can even have food and drinks delivered. If you choose to keep strolling, you won’t have to go far since The Beach is located on a quiet patch in the midst of Tulum’s beach bar and restaurant scene.
I would highly recommend that you splurge for a “Beachfront Deluxe” room. The room may have had the most unique layout out of any hotel I’ve stayed in – you have ocean views from most any angle (even in your bathroom)!
In the evenings you could find me in the hotel’s hot tub with a glass of wine…
Another thing I wanted to mention is the hotel’s superior service and friendly employees. Everyone was SO darn friendly and helpful! From the front desk clerk to the bartenders to the bellboy, all of the employees went out of their way to make sure the hotel guests were enjoying their stay. They also provided me with fantastic restaurant and bar recommendations.
On a side note, I visited many of the craft cocktail bars in Tulum, but the best drinks I found were created in the small welcoming bar in my own hotel. Be sure to try the Fallen Angel, a sweet and spicy mezcal cocktail with fresh strawberries and jalapenos.
The Beach, and Tulum in general, is a very special place. I couldn’t stop ranting about my stay on social media (and in real life) when I got back to the States. (So much so that I had several readers and friends tell me that they couldn’t resist and booked their own trip… which made me so happy because I loved my stay THAT much)!
What You Should Know About Visiting Tulum:
Tulum truly is paradise. But, paradise doesn’t come without its downfalls. There are a couple things you should know regarding costs and currency if you’re planning a trip to Tulum:
- Tulum isn’t cheap. Despite being no stranger to Mexico, I was somewhat surprised by the pricing in the city. The costs of luxury lodging and trendy restaurants were basically on-par with those in Atlanta. If you’re looking for a cheap deal, this may not be the location for you. Of course, that’s not to say you can’t experience Tulum on a budget by staying in a hostel off the beach and eating street food.
- I chose to rent a car, but if you’re not comfortable doing so, know that private transportation and taxis are very pricey for any long distance (like to/from the Cancun airport). This said, you can save a ton of cash if you book a shared airport shuttle or utilize the area’s buses and collectivos (shared Taxi vans).
- The majority of restaurants and bars in Tulum are cash only. In many of the other cities I’ve visited where cash is king, this isn’t a big deal since you can simply go to the ATM and grab money when you need it. However, the ATM fees in the touristy parts of Tulum are NUTS. One transaction costs $8 USD in ATM fees, plus an additional 8% commission on top of the flat rate fee. Ouch. This makes for a tricky (and possibly very expensive) situation. You’ll want to bring as much cash with you as you feel comfortable carrying to avoid these exorbitant fees.
The above concerns are very minor when compared to the amazing experience I had in Tulum, but are details I want to make my readers aware of.
So, is Tulum the best vacation destination in Mexico? In this traveler’s humble opinion… Yes!
Tulum is hands down the cutest, quirkiest, laid-back destination I’ve visited in a while and is one of the country’s gems. I’m kicking myself reminiscing about all my prior lackluster trips to Mexico… I wish I would have realized that paradise was waiting for me just 90 minutes from the Cancun airport. I fell head over heels for this quirky hippie beach town and I hope you will too!
Have you visited Tulum? What do you think? Is Tulum the best vacation destination in Mexico?
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Disclaimer: I was invited to stay at The Beach as the hotel’s guest, but my love for this slice of paradise is all my own. CC header photo credit from flicker: Tulum by Christian Cordova.