Go anywhere in Mexico and you will receive a very warm welcome, but Tulum exudes a different kind of friendly. Maybe it’s because the people there have had eons of practice. The Mexican Riviera has been a premier destination for centuries. One of the last cities built by the Mayan people in 1200 BC, the area was a major port for the Yucatan peninsula and a hub of trade between Central America and Central Mexico. Though no longer a trade route, today, it’s idyllic location and spiritual underpinnings makes it the go-to destination for a well-heeled girlfriend getaway. A place guaranteed to please your foodie and fashionista friends.
Grounded in hippy routes (vestiges still remain), today Tulum is anything but. A once sleepy two-lane road Highway 307 stretches the length of the town and it is bustling with taxi’s, bike riders, Grade A eateries and plenty of 5-star properties. For quiet elegance stay at Casa Malca. Once the peninsula’s hideaway home of Pablo Escobar, this 35-only room boutique hotel boasts one of the best beaches in the area. It is near the entrance to Sian Kaan with a stunning 360 view of the ocean and surrounding jungle from the entryway rooftop. The current owner, Lio Malca, an art collector with galleries in NY and Ibiza has littered the estate with stunning original works from his personal collection. Be sure to check out the underground pool and relax in one of the many colorful handmade hammocks that dot the property.
For an equally relaxed but super hip vibe spend a couple of nights at BeTulum. This place is a gem. As GM Ana Martin told me “we want visitors to slip off their shoes and feel like they are at home.” And you do. The rooms are heavily wooded and en-suite. I relished my daily outdoor shower! There are plenty of nooks and crannies around the property for alone time or meditation as well as public dining areas to meet and mingle.
The confluence of modern upgrades, fresh local sourcing, and a highly trendy crowd has made Tulum a mecca for world-class chefs. Noma did a pop up which was divine and a virtually impossible get, but the mainstays are just as delectable. Book a reservation as soon as you know your travel dates at Hartwood. It is one of the best dining experiences in the area. If you can’t get in don’t fret, there are plenty of other good spots for casual fine dining. Our first night in town my girlfriend Christina and I happened upon Casa Banana. We were blown away by the food and the music. Try their beet salad.
Every hotel along the highway has on property dining choices. Executive Chef Fran Liobert, an import from Spain, heads the Philosophy kitchen at Casa Malca. As with the rest of the venue, interesting contemporary art fills the space. Malca chose an artful doll collection for the restaurant. Don’t let their eerily realistic eyes watching your every bite keep you from savoring Liobert’s famed 21 ingredient Chicken Mole.
At BeTulum, beachfront restaurant Marsesius offers a stunning array of seafood and meat choices charred to perfection and delivered to your table right off Chef Gabriel’s grill. The pinnacle of dining in Tulum is at Ocumare. A small-shared-plate theme restaurant, the menu items have been curated under the direction of Michelin star chef Mauricio Giovanini. The various Chipa dip appetizers are savory and spicy. An absolute must try are the jumbo prawns. Then dive into the smoked fish dishes like the Thai inspired burning grouper and flavorful hog snapper.
For a truly unique Mayan experience make a reservation for the Chef’s Table at La Zebra. Born and bred in the Yucatan executive chef Eleazar Bonilla prepares a stunning eight-course dinner each steeped in the tradition of his grandma’s kitchen. The menu is very very authentic. Test your mettle with starters like the guacamole & worm salt chips and stuffed jalapenos. For a main course, the New York with chocolate and chili sauce is a delicious burst of contradicting flavors in your mouth.
When you’ve had your fill of Yucatan and seafood meals, Posada Margherita serves typically great Italian dishes.
Across the highway from BeTulum is wellness center, Yaan Spa. It was a highlight of this trip for me. Their mission is to immerse visitors with an overall sense of health, relaxation, and well-being. And that is exactly what you feel as you pass the burning flame in the front yard and cross the bubbling stream to the entrance. The spa offers a variety of modern and traditional services including a Temascal, a Mayan sweat lodge. I found it transformational. The Sobada Maya is a deep massage designed to heal and cleanse your overall body. The therapists aim to disperse energy through a realignment of internal organs.
Of course, after a good cleanse one needs to re-pollute! The Thursday night Jungle party at Casa Jaguar is a girlfriend getaway bucket list must. As soon as you walk in you know you’re in for an unforgettable night. There are private rooms to dine intimately with your friends or see and be seen at one of the center tables. The food and drink are divine. There’s a Mayan woman who hand makes fresh blue corn tortillas all night. Savor the sea bass followed by a shot of indigenous Mayan Mezcal and a cricket chaser, (Yes, the real bug) before heading to the backyard where the DJ spins danceable tunes till 5 am.
Travel to Tulum is via Cancun Airport with a 1.5 hour ride. There are plenty of transports, like Cancun Shuttle that most importantly will safely get you to your property of choice. Once there you will never want, nor need, to leave. There are bikes and local taxis to get you from one end of the town to the other. Most of the shops only accept cash but there are multiple ATMs all along the road – very convenient for spending! Enjoy.