On a tiny stretch of land, flanked on one side by turquoise water, and the other by jungle and cenotes, you’ll find yourself in the bohemian heart of the Riviera Maya: Tulum, Mexico. What was once a dirt road dotted with a handful of rustic cabins, has now become one of the most talked about beach destinations in the world. As with all good things, the word gets out and sometimes the quality suffers. But thanks to the passionate designers, hoteliers, artists, and restaurateurs who are committed to preserving the spirit of Tulum, the community is thriving and continues to feel like worlds away from the mega-resorts and commercialism you’ll find in the rest of Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
Since my last visit in 2014, the amount of hotel options has exploded. I’ve narrowed down the four boutique hotels that best embody the Tulum spirit and have done the most to preserve the magic of this special place.
Ahau is the vision of New York City designer David Graziano, who came to Tulum for the first time in the early 2000s and discovered an intense connection to this land. Heavily influence by his experience at Burning Man, particularly the judgement-free mentality of Burning Man campers, he set out to design a Tulum hotel that gave everyone from luxury-seekers to low-budget backpackers a home in Tulum. The concept worked and the result is one of Tulum’s most talked about hotels where good vibes flow freely through the winding jungle pathways. You can book a Bali Hut for under US$100 a night, or experience the complete Ahau dream in a 900 ft. master suite (up to US$600 per night) with a 20 ft. palapa and giant oceanfront decks some of Tulum’s best sunrise views.
Viewfinder Tip: Climb to the top of Ahau’s popular water tower for one of the best places to see the sunset in Tulum!
The Ahau mentality is “nature is the new luxury,” and their commitment to environmentally conscious living is reflected at every turn. All organic wastes, from the seaweed that washes up on the shore to leftover food from the restaurants, are composted. Everything you see on the property was built by David and his team, using trees locally harvested by Mayans in their woodworking shop down the street. From delicate dreamcatchers, to hand-carved art, to a yoga loft that inspire even non-yogis to get on the mat.
For dinner, Ahau’s outdoor grill beckons guests to grab a seat al fresco and sample the catch of the day. Or for one of the best raw vegan menus in all of the Riviera Maya, there’s Raw Love, Ahau’s boho jungle hut serving up smoothies, raw pizza and acai bowls, and the most decadent vegan desserts. It’s one of the best restaurants in Tulum and not to be missed.
As soon I as I stepped foot through the entryway of Alaya Tulum, I felt instantly inspired by the space and energy. Completely unpretentious and created with love and attention to detail, Alaya is a retreat in every sense of the word. As a kid, I always wanted to live like the Swiss Family Robinson. This is as close as I’ve ever gotten. Handcrafted spiral staircases lead you up to your treehouse style room with stunning palapas, mosaic-tiled rain showers and bifolding doors that open completely to make you feel totally connected to nature. There are little details that you start to notice one by one each day of your stay. Like the hand-painted signs saying “breath love” or “be the best version of yourself,” or the heart-shaped piece of stone I found built into the wall next to my headboard. Here the staff feel more like friends than strangers who are there to serve you. Everyone knows everyone by name. It feels like a family.
One of the best features of Alaya is its rotating schedule of Life Source Retreats. They are weeklong all-inclusive yoga and wellness retreats run by a passionate and dedicated team of experts in a wide range of themes from mother-daughter yoga to mastering the art of stress free living. As I sit writing this article, a couples retreat of six people has gathered in Alaya’s restaurant. They are sipping Mescal by candlelight, laughing, and listening to the ocean waves.
Just one mile from Tulum’s ancient Mayan ruins on a stretch of pristine beach, you’ll discover Villa Pescadores. The incredible ocean breeze from Playa Pescadores creates an airy and dreamy atmosphere at the resort, where 17 independent cabins look out onto blowing palm trees and white sand. Swing in your porch’s private hammock, or take a snorkeling day trip which departs just steps from your room! For lunch, head to Villa Pescadores’ restaurant. With a prime location on Playa Pescadores, your seafood won’t get any fresher. Tulum’s fisherman work hand in hand with Chef Angel Aguilar to bring mahi mahi, red snapper, and fresh hog fish ashore daily.
Hotel Nomade Tulum
Spend a day hanging out at the Nomade Tulum and you may never want to leave. This is one of the closest properties to Tulum’s incredible Sian Ka’an Biosphere, and the energy of Tulum’s natural landscape is present throughout this beachfront retreat. Rooms are exquisitely designed with locally crafted art and minimal earthiness. “Culinary shamans” and a rotating panel of speakers take every nomad who checks in on a journey of openness transformation.
Breathe in the beauty of Sanara Tulum, and you will feel instantly relaxed by its simple eco-chic style. Co-owned by wellness expert Daniella Hunter and partner Charlie Stuart Gay, Sanara makes your well-being their priority—from the stunning beachfront yoga studio that hosts at least three classes daily, to the hotel’s restaurant, the Real Coconut Cafe, which makes some of the most delicious smoothies and cold-pressed juices on Tulum Beach. For the full Sanara experience, try one of their Cleanse and Heal detoxifying programs.
Which hotel would you love to stay at in Tulum, Mexico?