Written and Travelled by
Pamela Schein Murphy , Founder + Curator, The Select 7
With it’s laid back vibe , Tulum is the perfect place to get away from it all. I am fortunate enough to take 5 days every year to go there, and it is one of my favorite places on the planet.
Where to Stay
The hotels in Tulum are all variations on a theme. Some are slightly more upscale than others, but none are super luxury. Prepare for eco-chic lodging and mimimalist decor.
AHAU TULUM Km 7, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila +52 98 48 02 53 87
Admittedly I've never stayed here, but the people I know who have, love it. The rooms are tricked out beach cabanas and the restaurant sits on the beach. There’s also a professional Kite surf & Paddle School on the property, which are two of Tulum’s most beloved pastimes.
AMANSALA Km 5.5, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila
Home of the famous Amansala Bikini Boot Camp, this was the first place we stayed in Tulum years ago. Billing itself as “eco-chic,” I would go with more eco, than chic, but it’s THE place to stay for a yoga break or for the bikini boot camp retreats, which was what we did. The food, though, is restricted as is the alcohol, so prepare to be a bit of a rebel if a serious detox isn’t quite what you came for.
ANA y JOSÉ Km 7, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila +52 99 88 80 56 29
Ana y José straddles both sides of the main beach road – from jungle to beachfront – and feels more like a “resort” than anything else on the strip, complete with pool, spa and restaurant + bar. It’s also probably the most kid-friendly with all suite accommodations, so keep that in mind if a family vacay (or someone else's) is not what you had planned.
BE TULUM Km 10, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila +52 98 48 03 22 43
This is where I've stayed for the past four years, and it's my idea of heaven on earth. The rooms (all air condoned, by the way – a REAL luxury in Tulum), spread out along a sandy path that leads to the beach, are all spacious, clean and simple, and each room has either a private pool or a large in-room Jacuzzi. The real deal, though, are the two ocean suites located on the 2nd floor of the buildings closest to the beach, which have rooftop pools overlooking the ocean. Also of note is the incredible beachfront restaurant (see Where to Eat) and the fact that the hotel is adults only.
CASA VIOLETA Km 8.2, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila +52 98 41 71 09 86
Owned by the GORGEOUS Karla Gutierrez, Casa Violeta doesn’t look like more than just a few thatched roof huts on the beach, but it’s so much more. Bellini bed linens, amazing yoga pavilion and incredible restaurant all make for a super laid back stay. This one is also great for traveling solo.
ENCANTADA 650 212 6782 Km 8.7, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila
It’s brand new and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it, but reviews are good and pictures are pretty.
MEZZANINE Km 1.5, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila +52 98 41 31 15 96
This hotel is on the northern part of the beach road, so it’s a bit more secluded and the beaches tend to be quieter. It’s a gorgeous spot with a only 9 rooms, so the service is pretty impeccable.
JASHITA Bahia Punta Soliman s/n, 77780 +52 98 41 68 67 69
Jashita is located about 20 km north of the main beach strip on the very secluded and very beautiful Solimon Bay, which makes for a great swimming and snorkeling spot. It’s pretty isolated, though, and not so easy to access all of the restaurants on the strip, so just be prepared to be really, really quiet at Jashita. If you happen to be in the mood for a romantic getaway, the Aphrodite Honeymoon Suite is over the top.
LAS RAINITAS Km. 9, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila +52 984 871 1090
Las Rainitas is closed for a complete renovation until 2017, so check in and see if they’re open because we hear the reno is going to be spectacular.
HOTEL NOMADE TULUM
Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila, Km.10.5,
+1 877 265 4139
With the same owners as my Beloved Be Tulum, Nomade Tulum is the more esoteric sibling. More hip commune than hotel, they call it a "human centered hotel, conceived as a temporary habitat for those ready to learn and share, ready to awake the soul, and free the mind." Rooms are all hand-built from natural local materials, creating a combination of modern eco-chic with upscale glamping. And with weekly retreats, workshops and talks alongside a "culinary shaman" who prepares raw and cooked organic fare, you're sure to return to real life a whole lot more centered than you were when you left.
Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila, Km 8.2
"Space to heal, breathe and be free," Sanara may sound like your typical Yoga Retreat/Hotel, but it's far from ordinary. It's won a whole bunch of Architectural awards, boasts an incredibly beautiful (and healthy) restaurant called The Real Coconut and yes, the beachside yoga pavillion is pretty spectacular. Make sure to book a beachside room, though. The jungle side can prove to be a little dicey at night.
Houses to Rent
While we usually love the idea of a house, in Tulum it feels like the hotels are the way to go. Unless, of course, you’re traveling with a large group or family, in which case we have heard that these rentals are the best on the strip:
CASA BEHLA A group of three houses of varying sizes just next to Coqui Coqui.
Where to Shop
While there isn't a ton of shopping in Tulum, what is there is perfectly curated and very of the place. In fact, you could probably get on a plane with no luggage at all and find everything you could ever need for the perfect beach vacation in these shops.
Km 7.5, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila (at Coqui Coqui. see above)
High fashion meets beach chic at this incredible shop. And if you can’t get to Tulum, many of their pieces are available from a slew of US shops from J.Crew to Club Monaco, too.
Km 7.5, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila
Best. Cover-ups. Ever. For real. These dresses and caftans go from day to night, won’t wrinkle in your bag. And the shop, a tricked out modern lean-to, might even be cooler than the wares.
Km. 7.5, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila
Mexican style, Bohemian feel, and everything here is made locally by Mayan women.
Across the street from Posada Margherita, Jungle Side
I've long been obsessed with her cover ups and rompers, but they are pricey! Happily I found them to be a bit less expensive in Tulum.
Km 7.5, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila It’s tiny and the floor is covered in sand but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a plethora of jewelry, sandals and accessories to choose from.
What to do
The great thing about Tulum is that there's lots to do if sitting on the beach sipping a cocktail and reading a book are not your thing. Here a list of some of my favorites for when I just can't eat another taco. Note that there aren't really any proper addresses listed as many places don't have actual locations. Rely on your hotel or taxi driver to lead you.
AKUMEL DIVE SHOP
Plaza Ukana I, Playa Akumal, Local 3, 77731 Akumal, Q.R., Mexico
+52 98 48 75 90 30
Akumel, which is located about 20 minutes up the coast from Tulum, is home to some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving. Located in the middle of the public beach replete with taco stands is the Akumel Dive Shop, which offers everything from bull shark diving to tours of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere (see below). Or, if you prefer to snorkel solo you can also rent gear and go it alone.
Located 25 min from Playa del Carmen, 4 km south of Akumal and 16km before Tulum
+52 98 48 06 49 62
Caves, ziplines, underground rivers, wildlife – it’s all here at Aktunchen Natural Park. Great if visiting Tulum with kids, or antsy travel mates who are tired of laying on the beach drinking margaritas.
CASA CENOTE (or CENOTE MANATEE)
Carratera Cancun - Tulum, Interior Fraccionamento Tankah, Caribe Lote 32 Manzana 3, Q.R. Mexico
+52 98 41 15 69 96
People LOVE cenotes – natural sinkholes created where a cave has collapsed – and while I’m not a HUGE fan (I tend to get claustrophobic), the one at Casa Cenote seems to me to be the most beautiful and serene. And there’s also a great restaurant right next door for cold beer and ceviche when you’re done. Ask any taxi driver and they’ll get you here in 10 minutes from the Tulum hotels.
+52 98 58 51 01 37
The second most visited archaeological site in Mexico, Chichen Itza was elected one of the new 7 Wonders of the World in 2007. It’s a very cool Mayan Ruin and worth a look if you’re searching for an activity.
Located 15 minutes from downtown Tulum, by road from Tulum to Muyil south, approximately 9 km south of Tulum.
Totally crystal clear and calm, this lagoon is perfect for snorkeling and swimming. Bring your own gear, though, because there are no amenities here.
You kind of can’t get away with a trip to Tulum without visiting the ruins. There are quite a few to choose from, but I like the Tulum ruins the best. They are just North on the beach road and there’s a beach just below.
SIAN KA’AN BIOSPHERE
It’s a 1.5 MILLION acre UNESCO world heritage site. It’s a biosphere. Jaguars, pumas, hundreds of birds, manatees, and alligators and about a thousand other animals call it home. And it just might be the coolest place on Earth, so whatever you do or don’t do during your time in Tulum, you can’t miss it. Book a tour, go solo – however you want to do it, just please trust me on this one.
TEMAZCAL CEREMONY AT MAYA TULUM
You’re already in Tulum, so the next obvious step is this traditional Mayan purification ceremony. Led by a shaman, inside a small, hot lodge it’s really just a more exotic way of saying sweat lodge.
Where to Eat
A Note on Eating in Tulum: with the exception of one or two places, almost all restaurants are predominately outside, so dress accordingly: spots on the beach side which can get windy and those on the jungle side often require bug spray.
ANTONITO'S LA CHIAPANECA
Cancun - Chetumal Mz 6 Lt 8, Centro
+52 1 984 114 6386
Cheap yet amazing tacos here, the best being the Al Pastor. Oh, and they’re .52 each.
Km.10 Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila
+52 1 984 803 2243
As much I love staying here (see Where to Stay), I love eating here even more. It’s almost gotten to the point where we often will do all three meals in a day. Tables are set right in the sand and the menu is traditional Mexican with incredible ceviche, grilled fish and amazing tacos.
Km. 8.5, Carretera Tulum Boca Paila
+52 1 984 806 2871
They call it urban rustic cuisine. I call it delicious. It’s Argentine and most everything is cooked in the wood-fired oven and is all really, really good. Their craft bar program is also impressive.
Km 7.5, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila
+52 1 998 222 2749
It might actually be too hip for me, but Casa Jaguar is the darling of all the cool peeps who head to Tulum. More open-air lounge than straight up restaurant, the menu is inventive and the drinks even moreso. Make sure to stop by on Thursdays when it turns onto a dance club at 10pm.
Km 8.2, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila
+52 1 984 171 0986
A bottle of rosé and a plate of fish tacos pretty much sums up what Casa Violeta means to me. They do breakfast really well here, too, and it’s one of the only enclosed restaurants (albeit in all glass), so a good option in the rain.
No website. No address. No phone. Lunch only.
It’s locals only and the menu is fish only. But it’s the freshest fish you’ve ever had. And the coldest beer. Make it at least once and bring cash.
Directions (from Mr. and Mrs. Romance): From Tulum you head north back towards Cancun on the main road (there’s only one!). When you get to a sign for Oscar & Lalo’s Restaurant, turn off. If you miss the turn, don’t worry. There’s a U-turn bay ahead so you get a second go at it. Drive down the unsealed road right to the end. And I mean right to the end. Go past all the hotels you’ll find there, nod and smile at the security guard halfway down, who’ll (slowly) unhitch the chain gate for you to continue. When you come to what looks like an abandoned parking lot and an old ship, you’re there. You won’t see any signs but you should see the white of the chairs through the palm trees.
Km 5, Carretera Tulum Boca Paila
+52 1 984 134 8725
This was the first restaurant I ever ate at in Tulum, and it holds a very special place in my heart. Actually, it’s the lavender shrimp that holds that. Truly, everything served from the open-air kitchen is incredible, and the vibe is laid back and super friendly. The menu changes daily and is written on a series of chalkboards at the center of the dining room and it’s all fresh and delicious.
Km 7, Carretera Tulum Boca Paila
+52 1 984 188 2184
It’s like all of your Pinterest dreams come true. Chandeliers in the trees, tike torches along the path and bathrooms bathed in candlelight. And the food is spot on, too. Don’t miss the chorizo or anything from the bar.
Km 7.6, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila
Hartwood may very well be the most famous of all of Tulum’s restaurants which is sort of incredible considering it’s open only 4 days a week from 6pm-11pm (maybe less in the case of inclement weather), has no electric appliances (save for one lone blender), doesn’t take reservations and starts taking names at 3pm (in person only). But Chef Eric Werner’s (formerly of Peasant in NYC) food can’t be denied. Everything he makes is by hand, grilled or cooked in the incredible wood-burning oven and is the true essence of farm to table. So take a beach break at 3, get on line and prepare to be amazed. And if you love the food as much as I think you will, you can make it home with the new Hartwood cookbook.
Km 8.2, Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila
+52 1 984 115 4726
The new chef’s table is where it’s. 8, 10 or 12 course tasting menus of traditional Mexican recipes with a twist. Chef Eliza Bonilla hails from Mexico and his cooking is pretty spectacular. If a tasting menu isn’t your thing, any regular meal at Le Zebra is far from regular. Lunch and the Sunday night Salsa party is pretty incredible, too.
Avenue Tulum MZA, 40 LTE. 1 Centro
Amazing ceviches and hot sauces. One of Chef Eric Werner’s faves.
MATEO’S MEXICAN GRILL
Km 5.2, Carretera Tulum Boca Paila
+52 1 984 179 4160
The closest thing you’ll ever come to a sports bar in Tulum, it’s the perfect stop for a taco and a beer. And breakfast is awesome here as well.
Km 1, Carretera Tulum Boca Paila
Another hard sell is good Thai in Tulum, but here it is. In case you’ve OD’d on tacos and tequila, you can get your fix of high end pad thai and curries here. And it’s all really, really good!
Km 4.5, Crta. Tulum-Boca Paila
+52 1 984 801 8493
If traveling to Mexico for Italian food feels wrong to you, let Posada Margherita relieve you of that thought. Not only is it good Italian food, it’s AMAZING Italian food. The restaurant is owned by the perfectly gorgeous Alessandro Carrozzino who makes sure to sit down at each table personally and recite the short menu (usually 2-3 handmade pastas and 2-3 fresh fish dishes). He sets the vibe for your meal – relaxed, laid back and chic as hell.
Km 6, Carretera Tulum Boca Paila
+52 984 168 1282
It’s a Vegan paradise here at Restaurare where everything comes straight from local farmers. Think mushroom ceviche and Mayan lasagna.
TAQUERIA LA EUFEMIA
Km 9, Carretera Tulum Boca Paila
+52 1 984 151 6979
“Today … relax and eat some fucking tacos,” so says the chalkboard message in front of this beachside Taqueria. Um, you don’t have to ask me twice.
Km 5, Carretera Tulum Boca Paila
+1 52 984 877 8523
Crayola colored tables on the beach make for a happy place for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila, Km. 7.6
I was wondering how long it would take someone to come in and give Eric Werner of Hartwood a run for his money. Well, these two Chefs: Maya from Mexico and Fausto from San Francisco have finally done it. The open air space is maybe even more gorgeous than its competition next door, and the food is as inventive and fresh, but is a lighter version of what Werner does at Hartwood. Everything is farm (and sea) to table, sustainable and delicious. And the drinks are on point as well. Arca is a welcome addition to the Tulum dining scene for sure.
LUNCH AT NOMADE
Sit on the beach, order a margarita and get the whole fish with green sauce. Then send me a thank you note.
What to pack
The only footwear you need are flip flops. Sand is everywhere and heels are dumb, so are regular sandals. Sneakers aren't a bad idea if you're planning to exercise.
While most places use filtered water, I would say bottled is still best. Even for brushing your teeth.
Bring small unmarked bills with you. Seriously: cash is king, and every cab ride seems to cost about $7. You'll be hard-pressed to find someone to give you change, so the more singles you have, the cheaper things will be.
The other thing is, you have a long ride from the Cancun Airport to Tulum. But it's shorter if you have your driver stop at the 7-11 right outside of the airport for beers and chiccarones. Yes, really.