When I plan a trip for a sunny, beach getaway there are certain criteria I use to build an itinerary. The water must be that perfect turquoise blue. The beaches should be vast, soft, and sandy. There should be delicious local restaurants, a myriad of outdoor activities, and a culture to explore. Other keys are comfortable accommodations and tasty cocktails. Tulum, Mexico, located only a 1.5-hour drive from Cancun, delivers on all fronts.
Another important element for me is peace. I don’t like to share the beach with too many people. And Tulum offers a feeling of being in a remote destination—away from crowds and engulfed in nature. Getting to this oasis is simple: You either can have your hotel pick you up from the Cancun airport, rent a car, or take a bus.
When I spent a long weekend in Tulum, I rented a car with my two best girlfriends and we drove down from Cancun. Tulum was put on the tourist map because of the impressive Mayan ruins that sit just north of town. The ruins attract more than 2 million visitors a year (if you go, get there by 8:30 a.m. to avoid the crowds). Most who visit don’t spend much time outside the ruin grounds—good news for those of us who plan to head to the tranquil beaches nearby.
Tulum Ruins from the sea
A couple of miles south of the ruins, Tulum caters to a laid back and discerning breed of vacationers with numerous bungalow-style hotels perched along beautiful strips of white-sand beaches. The region itself is “off-the-grid” and gets its electricity entirely by wind and solar power, so you can feel like you’re doing your part to protect the environment when you visit.
Certain hotels in Tulum provide a rustic experience akin to glamping, especially since some bungalows don’t have electricity. Other hotels have luxurious traditional suites with all the creature comforts one might need. Many properties hold wellness retreats where yoga and nutrition are a focus.
No matter where you stay, the area has a certain Bohemian vibe that will enchant you. If you want an all-inclusive, luxury resort experience Dreams Tulum Resort and Spa is great for family travel and couple getaways. Or try Las Ranitas Eco Boutique Hotel for its mix of comfortable beach accommodations and local charm. You also always can stay at one hotel and hop around during the day for spa treatments and meals. When the commute is just a stroll down the beach or a quick taxi ride, why not?
Viewfinder Tip: If you seek tranquility, stay in a hotel on the beach, south of where Highway 109 reaches the strip.
Beyond the more obvious beach getaway activities—such as lounging in the sun and bobbing in the waves—Tulum offers many unique attractions. In addition to the Mayan ruins, there is a reef to explore that is second in size only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. There also is a massive nature reserve called Sian Ka’an, where you can hike in the jungle, kayak through marshes, swim with dolphins, and see a lot of other interesting wildlife in its natural habitat.
Of course you also can explore the cenotes, which are naturally occurring, freshwater sinkholes that I feature in this video. The Gran Cenote, from my video, is only one of many cenotes that dot the region and it is the closest to Tulum. Cenotes are great places to snorkel or SCUBA to explore underwater caves. The water is clear and you easily can see the impressive stalactite and stalagmite rock formations.
Getting your bearings in Tulum is pretty simple because, outside of the ruins, the region only has two principal areas. There’s the main drag along the beach. Then, in town, most of the action happens along a three-mile stretch of Highway 307.
In town there are little shops to pick up souvenirs and Mexican art. Locally made dream catchers, Mexican blankets, hammocks, and ceramic figurines are available everywhere. An interesting quirk about Tulum is that the city has a sizeable Italian expat community. So amid the tangy fish tacos, chorizo eggs, and fresh seafood you can find great Italian cuisine! Try the restaurant at Posada Margherita for Italian, and the healthy Central American fare at Ahau. Other favorites are El Tabano and Cetli in town. Also, Hartwood across the street from the beach is gaining popularity.
Many restaurants and bars have unique cocktails with fresh fruit juices. I liked the fruit concoctions at Casa Jaguar. And I *love* to have myself a Michelada, a Mexican version of a Bloody Mary with beer instead of vodka. That you can get most anywhere.
Don’t go to Tulum if you want to party all night. By 11 p.m., there isn’t much going on, except for a couple late night venues that cater to the younger crowd. Before 11 you can find live music in various hotel restaurants and bars. You just need to do some exploring to discover it all.
As for me, one of my favorite nighttime activities is stargazing. In Tulum, I didn’t have to look up to see them—I could look straight out over the ocean and see stars in front of me. I’d never had that experience before. It made me feel like I had escaped completely from my everyday life. Which is precisely why I’ll be back.