Tulum, Mexico. Feels Like Paradise
Updated: Dec 8, 2018
The Riviera Maya has plenty of beach and sand where you can spread out and and soak up the sun while taking in the multi-colored green and blue hues of the Caribbean ocean. Tulum among all of the beach side towns of the Riviera Maya stands alone for several reasons, a lot of them good. If you drive down Route 15 from Highway 307, the first thing you notice once you've neared the beach is the jungle like canopy draping the roadway from an ever present sun. Feels like you've entered a special place and you have. While commercialized (think in some cases expensive eco-chic, an overused term here) it still has that charm. Roadside restaurants, some expensive, some cheap eats are all sitting out in open nature, most powered by solar or generators. Tulum is light on infrastructure (think green) but painstakingly makes use of natures bounty. Choose any restaurant or destination on the beach side of Route 15 and you'll feel like you're experiencing beach life the way it was supposed to be - inviting, serene and picturesque. This is the magic of Tulum.
Tulum as beautiful as it is, straddles a juxtaposition between the needlessly expensive and modestly priced. That is not to say that there are not inexpensive (cheap) options as there are, but they are hostels (and some inexpensive hotels) that dot the very top of Route 15. As they say location, location, location is everything and there is a price to be paid for that. When we visited Tulum it was on a whim. We were staying in Playa Del Carmen for part of our trip and wanted to get a taste of Tulum having visited the Tulum ruins during a previous trip so we booked a night's stay. Our beach side destination was Hotel Suenos near the bottom of Route 15. If I had an idea of what I thought heaven might be like, this could very well be a version of it. Upon entering the large wooden gates and subsequently closing the door behind us, the world fell silent. Hotel Suenos is beautifully landscaped and the architecture of the main building was reminiscent of classic Mayan construction. With just 13 suites on the property serenity was assured. As mentioned previously you are off grid from an infrastructure perspective. There is limited lighting and electric, no ac (it's not needed), but you can keep your devices, if you've brought them along charged through the various USB ports available. Almost every suite has a view of the ocean, the grounds provide an environment buffeted from every intrusion with the exception of the well laid out grounds and the Caribbean ocean. There is a restaurant and a bar (very decent eats as well as breakfast), both of which face the ocean and are adjacent to the pool. Both of these elements are situated about 10 feet above the beach. Beach accommodations are outfitted comfortable daybeds with umbrellas (if required) with beach side service for food and drink readily available. Slip on your sunglasses, get out of whatever you were wearing and recline into your own oasis.
You may never want to leave Suenos but there is more of Tulum to see. Venture outside the gates of Suenos and your well coiffed "jungla" awaits you. Walking on Route 15 you'll share the roadway with other pedestrians, bikes, motorbikes, cars, taxis, buses and trucks. It can be busy, not crowded (at least people wise) but busy with traffic running up and down the roadway. During your walk you'll see what Tulum has become. It feels a little exclusive because it is with the limited space for development, so the nooks and crannies that have been carved out are like little plots of gold and "some" of the pricing reflects that. There are restaurants and "wellness" centers that cater to the large walleted, deep pocketed class charging "mucho dinero". Should you treat yourself to an Aroma Therapy, Mind Cleansing, Free Range Bees, Mud Bath, Spirit Healing, Hocus Pocus, Colonic Enema Session? That will be $1500. Yes there are places like that here. There are also simpler places. Tulum vacillates between a sort of nouveau riche "pamper my ass" and backpack humility, although it is moving more toward the former. Wellness centers or places that resemble them are scattered through out. Do with them what you will, hey it might be your thing. I am not demeaning them in anyway, it just seem some types of "wellness" comes at an unenlightening cost.
Among the mashup of Tulum "cultured life" you will find some great eateries and also some magical beach clubs / restaurants. The theme? Serve very good Mexican cuisine and fresh seafood, pair it with potently delicious drinks, mix in good company (that's your job) and let the Caribbean do it's thing. Ziggy's and La Zebra are two of my favorites along the beach for hanging out. Both are beachfront bar restaurants although La Zebra does have hotel accommodations. The world seems to conspire in Tulum's beach side hamlets to let you know that "life is great, relax my friend".
If you're looking to stay in lower Tulum (my words) pricing for overnight stays start typically in the low $100's per night for a semi decent lodging (the hostels are lower) and run to the moon ($600 per night as of this writing). You can also stay in Tulum "the town" and walk, bike, drive or bus it in to the beach. It's a cheaper option that's becoming more and more popular than staying at the beach hotels. Tulum the town has a lot happening as well, as the beach becomes more expensive, the town is developing as a place nearby to travel to the beach. There is plenty to see, do, eat and drink.
Hotel Suenos, our stay, starts just about $290 per night depending on the season. We originally booked a one night stay, but wound up staying two nights as we fell in love with it. If we didn't have reservations elsewhere on the Riviera Maya we would have never left. Nope, not at all.
If you're visiting the Riviera Maya, Tulum has to go on your list at some point. If you have to "day trip it" in, do it and take advantage of the many beach clubs that exist there for your pleasure. Or you could just book some time there and get lost in this idyllic jungle by the sea.