When the first developers decided to build a resort in Cancún in 1970, the seaside town had only three permanent residents. By 1990, there were over 167,000. Today, more than 722,000 people call the once-quiet stretch of Yucatán Peninsula home, and that’s about 700,000 more people than we want to see when we’re trying to get away from it all.
Enter the town of Tulum, a two-hour drive from Cancún down that same stretch of pristine Caribbean coast, with a population just over 20,000. For now, at least, it’s a wholesome treasure tucked into the jungle, with tourism yet to affect its eco-friendly, bohemian style and relaxed, tranquil atmosphere. Tulum offers everything you’d want out of a Yucatán vacation, unless, of course, that’s a Carlos’n Charlie’s.
1. Lovely Hotels
High-rises are close to non-existent here; in their place, you’ll find beachfront villas or cabana-style suites, along with low-rise boutique hotels, mostly located within the Zona Hotelera Tulum. Like the town itself, the lodging has a casual, laid-back, modern-day-hippie vibe: simple and pared down, even at expensive spots. Forget paved parking lots or sidewalks; instead, sand-filled pathways crisscross the town. Forget A/C too, for the most part; because hotels rely on solar and wind power or generators for electricity, it’s only offered during certain hours, typically from late evening to early morning. You won’t find a TV, phone or other electronics in your room, either.
2. Soothing Cenotes
Escape the heat of the beach and experience the area’s equally famous cenotes, natural sinkholes that form when the roof of a cave collapses, perfect for snorkeling, scuba diving and swimming. If it’s your first time, visit the Gran Cenote, which, despite its name, is a relatively shallow 30 feet to the bottom. There’s also Cenote Dos Ojos, one of the largest of its kind in the world.
3. Mayan Ruins
Tulum National Park, near the Zona Hotelera, dates back to around A.D. 564. Its massive stone palaces are believed to have been constructed as a walled city, either to protect the Mayans from invaders or to house the noble priests. The ruins are located right by the ocean, so bring a bathing suit and towel. Up for more exploring? Make the half-hour drive inland to Cobá, an ancient, massive Mayan city in the jungle.
4. Turtle Watching
Turtle-nesting season occurs from May through October. During the evening, see loggerhead or green sea turtles make their way up the sand to lay eggs before slowly returning to the water. Since both species are endangered, conservation organizations troll the coastline each night checking on nests. Flashlights can scare and confuse the mothers, so bring a red LED light instead.
5. Beautiful Beaches
The town’s secluded coast is covered in soft, bleach-white sand, and the warm ocean, no longer congested with seaweed as it was last year, is crystal-clear. Many hotels offer hammocks, cabanas, beach beds, swings and beachside service. Although there are no official nude beaches, expect to see the occasional topless traveler. As our hotel bartender said, “En Mexico, todo está permitido”—pretty much anything goes.
6. Healthy Cuisine
If there’s one place in the world where vegans, vegetarians and health-conscious eaters can all find food, it’s this one. More often than not, ingredients are fresh and locally sourced. Breakfast calls for smoothies, açai bowls and avena, or Mexican-style oatmeal. Lunch and dinner bring everything from ceviches and curries to tacos and tostadas.
7. Yoga, Yoga Everywhere
It’s no surprise that yoga is a popular activity here, thanks to the town’s peaceful, calming energy. Nearly every boutique hotel offers in-house yoga throughout the week, and there are countless locations in town where you can practice your sun salutations. Some hotels even offer guests their own yoga mats for self-guided sessions.
- Eat: Restaurare
- Stay: The Beach Tulum Hotel, from $369 per night
- Do: Most choose to bike around with iBike Tulum, but there’s also an Avis location in town.
- Fly: Southwest to Cancún, starting at $168 one-way
- Tip: Ask the hotel for some of the all-natural mosquito repellent common to the region, made with orange peels, vodka and cloves.