I get asked all the time where to stay, what to eat, and what to do in my own personal heaven... Tulum, Mexico. There are a billion reasons why I love this little spot I found 3-4 years ago on the eastern edge of the Yucatan. It's hip, eco friendly (don't ask for a straw), the people are beautiful, boutique - eclectic - one of a kind hotels piled on top of each other, the cenotes (under water caves), the beach, and most of all... the epicure! If your wedding nearly bankrupted you, this is a great place to go for your honeymoon without spending a million. You can do it on the cheap, or max out your card. Either way you travel you are guaranteed to have the time of your life, and come home with amazing memories and a huge tummy from all the incredible food.
If you live in Houston, it's a 1 hour 45 minute flight, and a little over one hour drive to get there. Quick and easy. I actually prefer it over the 30 hour hike to Bali, Indonesia. It is a great place to relax, and get away from the fast paced world of technology and everyday hustle. Especially great after the go, go, hustle leading up to your wedding.
Travel Tip 1: Rent a Car. You need a way to get around and see all the amazing things the area has to offer. Renting a car is cheap ($20-30/day) but insurance is expensive. Still worth it. I have rented a car and driven alone more than a handful of times and I have always felt safe. Also, it is a straight shot from airport to Tulum.
Travel Tip 2: Probably the most important thing you will read on this blog post. LOOK AT A MAP WHEN YOU BOOK YOUR HOTEL. So many hotels "in the area" claim to be in Tulum, and they are not. It's like saying Galveston is in Houston. The vibe on the beach strip in Tulum is NOT EVEN CLOSE to what is in the surrounding towns in Riviera Maya or Akumal. If you want to really FEEL like you are in authentic Mexico, rent an AIRBNB in town. If you want to splurge, rent a hotel on the beach.
Travel Tip 3: If you like to stay at all inclusive hotels and park your ass at one place to eat all American food and watered down basic bitch drinks, this place is not for you. If this is the case, stay in Cancun or Playa. That would be your heaven. Tulum is about exploring, learning, cleansing, yoga, and seeing as much of the area as possible, to see what it has to offer.
Travel Tip 4: Pack light and dress casual. The more homeless you look, the better you will fit in. No tight nightclub dresses, and no wedges or heels. Seriously, DRESS COMFORTABLE. The roads are super shady and you will break your ankle(s). Girls, cotton dresses and flats. Men, casual shirts and shorts. Trust me. Most people don't even shower for dinner. Makeup and hairspray are rare too.
Travel Tip 5: Get OFF bug spray! You are in the jungle, you will get torn up. Most hotels, 5 star or 1 star, they are going to have bugs too. Don't be a wuss.
I will divide this up into two categories to fit anyone's budget...
HELP ME I'M POOR:
1. Just AIRBNB. You can find plenty of places in town, super cute and modern, for $99/night or less. Look for a chain called Los Amigos. You will be a 10 minute drive to the beach and you can get $20 day passes at hotels (redeemable in drinks mostly) and use their beach. There are also public beaches.
2. If you are traveling with more than 2 people you can rent a house in Aldea Zama. It is the nicer neighborhood between the beach and downtown. You can get a 3-4 bedroom home for $250/night.
I HAVE MONEY TO BURN:
1. Be Tulum is super nice, but closer to the end of the beach strip. Its eco, you sleep in a grass roof hut, but its still modern. Food and beach are great. $400-700/night.
2. Casa Malca is probably the nicest, and most expensive. Very discrete and hard to find since there isn't a sign. Look for the railroad crossing. It is past Be Tulum, but before Los Amigos. It's actually Pablo Escobar's old "guest" house. The run down house to the right of the hotel, between Malca and Los Amigos, was his actual house. An art collector now owns this small boutique hotel, and even as an artist I would describe this place as quirky. The restaurant looks like a bride of chucky museum, but the service, drinks, and view are great! It also has a great pool with an underground pool cave thing. Pretty cool place. Make sure you get an ocean front suite on level 1. $800/night.
3. Maria del Mar. This one is pretty centrally located. I love the beach and the food is some of the best. But its very eco. No phone, iron, shampoo, and you don't have A/C during the day. They cut it off. But it is beautiful. On campus you have a great pool, beach, bar, and restaurant. $300-500/night.
4. Azulik - this is the bloggers haven. I have never been, just because there is no electricity or showers. You bathe in big tubs. But the place looks pretty cool. You can go for dinner only by reservation. $500-600/night.
HELP ME I'M POOR:
1. Del Ceilo - Downtown Tulum. Great for breakfast, lunch, or lattes. Best coconut milk porridge.
2. Kibok Coffee - Downtown Tulum, near central Tulum. Coffee shop known worldwide.
3. World Famous Legit Taco Stand (Not sure of the name) on Calle Satelite. Look for blue and white taco cart awning. They serve you on blue plate with plastic bag over it. See below.
4. Pizzaria Manglar - Pizza in the jungle.
5. ZINE - Dinner and a movie theater in the jungle. WATCH JUNGLE BOOK! Beautiful on a rainy night.
6. El Asadero. Great queso flameado and margaritas! It is downtown.
I HAVE MONEY TO BURN:
1. Gitano - my favorite place on the beach strip. Amazing drinks, candlelit chandeliers hanging from the trees, and home of my favorite cocktail in the city, JUNGLE FEVER (with Mezcal). Drink as many mezcal drinks as you can. Also try the chorizo lettuce wraps, sweet potato, baked almond avocado, and the ribeye. They also had an amazing dessert in a cup, but I don't recall.
2. ACRA - Shawn's favorite. Must order the soft shell crab taco. Photo below.
3. Casa Banana - Chirizo sausage for an app, and dulce de leche crepes with coconut ice cream for dessert!
4. Be Tulum - Pick your whole lobster grilled on the beach. Great breeze, great view.
5. The Real Coconut - Dairy free? This is your heaven. Everything made with coconut milk. On the beach, great view.
6. Mezzanine - Thai influence on the beach. Get the endive lettuce wraps and Tom Kah level 2.
7. Casa Malca - Get the berry mezcal drink when you go! You can also get divorciados at pretty much any hotel. Half green, half red sauce on eggs with avocado, onion, and sour cream.
So many must-dos that it's hard to tell you what to do first! Ekkkk.... I'll start with the cenotes. Only because I had no clue what I was missing in life until I saw one in person.
I got in what I thought was a ice cold pool surrounded by rocks. Think Hamilton Pool in Austin. When I put on my goggles and looked underwater, this is what I saw. Caves that have filled up with water! The most beautiful thing I had ever seen in God's creation, and I had zero expectations. My first one, and one of the biggest and best ones in town, was DOS OJOS. I have to say though, you must visit a few. They are amazing, and all over the area.
COBA MAYAN RUINS:
The next must do is the 45 minute drive west to COBA. Rent bikes and climb the ruins. It is the only Mayan ruin they allow you to actually climb on. The first time I went, I nearly shit my pants from an anxiety attack and only made it 1/4 the way up. I sat on the steps, with ants in my pants, and watched 4 year olds walk up and down with NO HANDS! Here I was in sheer panic and I just couldn't do it. So I made a pact with my JKC team, 6 months later, and we climbed it together. I am still not sure how I made it down that damn thing! My triceps hurt so bad the next day from the death grip I had on that rope getting down. But I was able to conquer my fear of heights and I did it! Steps are slippery, bring tennis shoes.
If you like privacy and adventures, drive all the way down to the end of the beach strip and head into Sian Ka'an. There is a private beach 1-2km down on the left. It is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. No hotels in sight, no cell service or wifi. Just a little ole beach bar, nobody speaks english, 1-2 stray dogs, but they have fish tacos and chips with the spiciest habanero salsa you have ever put in your mouth. Apparently there are several day trips you can take back in Sian Ka'an, I've just never done them. Google before you go so you can maximize your stay, and try things I have not yet tried.
The place is full of bloggers, euro travelers, and super models. It makes me, at 37, feel like grandma's day out. Ha! Overall it is a hippie retreat, eco friendly, vegan lovin', and full of the unexpected. If you decide to make this your next vacay destination, don't just stay in one place. Really move around and see all the things! Also, I wanted to mention that the last 2 times I went the seaweed was pretty bad and you couldn't get in the water. You might want to do research on that before booking if you are a turquoise water looker kind of person. Enjoy!