LIfeWanderlust

Hola! Where To Eat, Stay & Play In Tulum, Mexico

Planning a Mexican vacay? Fly into Cancun, and leave immediately (it’s a tourist trap) to drive 90 minutes south to Tulum, a remote town fringed by white sand beaches and wild jungles. It’s a bohemian paradise – the kind of place you can disconnect for a while, and indulge in margaritas and midnight swims.

Pack your cossies, cut-offs and some pesos, and get ready to relaaax.

EAT

From Mexican delights whipped up by someone’s abuela (grandma) to fancy, fairy-lit dinners on the beach, here’s where to stuff your face silly in Tulum.

Breakfast/Lunch

The Real Coconut. Go nuts at this breezy bungalow in the Sanara resort. Every plate is a work of art, and loaded with coconut in some form, as well as other colourful, virtuous ingredients.

El Camella Jr. Live like a local and flock to this open-air restaurant for lunch. It’s known for its ceviche, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see the fishermen delivering the catch of the day.

Don Cafeto. One of Tulum’s oldest restaurants, Don Cafeto doles out massive portions of Mexican staples, such as quesadillas and fajitas. But its best dish is the Mayan breakfast, made up of fried eggs, tortillas, cheese, salsa, peas and ham.

El Canastón. Vegetarian? This ramshackle shop serves up steaming baskets of fresh tacos until 2.30pm, and there are plenty of veg options (think spinach, egg and mushrooms).

Safari. For some reason, tacos taste even better when they’re served from a vintage 1971 silver Airstream. At this cute outdoor eatery, you can load up on fusion fare, such as woodfired tacos, yucca fries and crème brulee, and wash it down with booze-spiked juices.

Dona Lordes. At this family-run puesto (hole-in-the-wall), the corn for tortillas and tamales is ground in-house every day. The tacos are dirt-cheap and delicious – the chicken one is bomb.

Mezzanine. Need a break from tostadas and tacos? Go to Mezzanine. It serves up Thai fusion for lunch and dinner, like pad Thai, chicken satay and – our pick – chicken tequila dumplings. Oh, and it’s two-for-one margaritas from 1-4pm. Meet you there?

Chamico’s Lobster Shack. Once an insider secret, this no-frills fish shack is perched on Soliman Bay (a 20-minute drive from Tulum). There’s no menu, but with ocean views, hammocks, ice-cold Coronas and fish this fresh, you won’t care.

Dinner

Posada Margarita. With its lush garden, rustic furniture, and handpainted wooden menus, this Italian restaurant is dreamy – and it’s absolute waterfront location is the cherry on top. Time your visit with sunset, then tuck into fresh seafood and pasta as you work your way through the wine list.

Hartwood. Tulum’s most famous foodie spot, this open-air eatery is buzzing every night of the week. Book a table before you even hop on your flight, because you may have to wait a few hours otherwise (seriously, people start lining up at 4pm for a 7pm seating).

Gitano. At this restaurant-slash-bar, the trees are lit up with strings of lanterns, and a hanging disco ball sets the scene for a fun night. You can start ordering share plates from 6pm, which is a good idea, especially when there’s a cocktail menu dedicated to mezcal…

Hemingways. On date night, head to Hemingways, a romantic restaurant on the beach. It’s picturesque, and the seafood platters are next-level. Part of a luxe resort, it’s a little exxier than other spots on the strip, but worth it.

El Tabano. For delish Mexican fusion, go to El Tabana. The menu is as big as it is creative, and the daily specials are scrawled on a chalkboard. It’s cash only, and has live music most nights.

Le Cocina de Corina. At this postcard-worthy beachfront eatery, the chefs create a mix of South American, Mediterranean and Mexican delights. The menu is small and seafood-focused, and the cocktails are served in coconuts and pineapples.

DRINK

While you can sip on cocktails at all of those places above, add these watering holes to your hit list.

Casa Jaguar. A prime spot for pre- or post-dinner drinks, this bar is a jungle beauty. Down one of the house cocktails, or create your own. If you want to head into town, Casa Jaguar’s sister bar, Todos Santos, is dimly-lit, and the bartenders have a rather heavy hand. You’ve been warned.

Le Zebra. Sitting pretty on a stretch of white sand, this hotel bar hosts a salsa party every Sunday. It starts with salsa lessons, and then descends into dancing debauchery thanks to the bar’s stiff drinks.

Papaya Playa Project. With its thatched roof cabanas and rustic, eco-chic feel, this hotel is the perfect setting for a beach party – and there’s one every Saturday night. The monthly Full Moon party is the highlight. You can check out the schedule here.

Zulum’s Roof Deck. A rooftop bar with sunset views and twinkling fairy lights? We’ll cheers to that. Part of Hotel Zulum, this rustic bar has a great cocktail selection, and hammocks just waiting to be sunk into.

Batey Mojito and Guarapo Bar. For the best mojitos in Tulum, make your way to Batey. Made with freshly crushed sugar cane, there are classic and innovative combos on offer, all served from a converted VW Beetle. Sold.

PLAY

Now, it’s perfectly acceptable to park yourself on the beach for the entire trip, but if you’re itching to explore, these are our favourite things to do in Tulum.

Cenotes. The Mexican cenotes are incredible. Swimming in these beautiful, deep caves is surreal – think lilypads floating on the water, waterfalls flowing down, and tropical fish below. There are cenotes dotted all over Tulum – including many in people’s backyards! – but our picks are Cenote Nicte-Ha, Cenote Calavera, Gran Cenote and Cenote Dos Ojos. Our advice is to head there early (say 8am), before the tourists wearing fluro vests arrive.

The Mayan Ruins of Tulum. Catch a cab, or rent a bike and peddle a few kilometres north til you reach the Tulum ruins, a string of ancient relics on a clifftop overlooking the turquoise-blue sea. We’ll say this: the Mayans sure knew where to build their Empire!

Yoga. You’re spoiled for choices to get your downward dog on in Tulum. The beach strip is lined with serene yoga studios, many of which are tucked inside hotels. Take a class at Sanara, Yoga Dicha, Yoga Shala Tulum, Maya Tulum, or Ahau Tulum.

No clue what yoga class will suit you best? Check out our yoga guide.

Pamper yourself. Go on, treat yourself to a session at a day spa. Yaan Wellness Energy Healing Spa and Coqui Coqui are both amazing, and the therapists at Mayan Clay Spa will slather you in warm, restorative Mayan mud until you glow like a lightbulb.

Watersports. To burn off some of those cocktail calories, get wet! Sign up to wakeboard, kayak or sail, or go to Ahau Tulum’s kitesurfing and paddleboarding school (say hi to Mauricio).

Sian Ka’an Reserve. Road trip! A 90-minute drive from Tulum, this enormous reserve is a natural wonder. To see deserted beaches, dolphins and turtles, focus on the Punta Allen side of Sian Ka’an. For jungles, Mayan ruins, and mangrove forests, do the Muyil side (which is much easier to access).

Shop. The always-sandy Tulum Beach Road is lined with beautiful boutiques. Pop into Josa Tulum for kaftans, Mr Blackbird for handcrafted jewellery, and Caravana for easy, breezy beachwear. At La Troupe, everything is made by Mayan locals, and Coqui Coqui is a one-stop-shop for fragrances.

STAY

In Tulum, you can either stay by the beach or in town. Nothing beats walking out of your room onto the sand, so we suggest sleeping somewhere among the palm trees.

Words by Katia Iervasi.

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