When searching for the perfect holiday, my criteria is not unlike my requirements for the ideal hombre – entertaining, stylish, reliable and calm with everything working as it should be. After a regrettable trip to Batumi in 2011, I no longer have any desire to innovate or get creative when allocating my 25 days a year. Seeing as the three-month summers of my university life are no longer, I prefer my down time without the bad dumplings and weeping over kittens with squashed paws. I’m sure it would be lovely to travel around Guatemala with nothing but a backpack and a dream, but full time employment requires a genuine chill and readily accessible snacks and alcohol.
All I ask from a vaycay is a week of sun, sand and stuffing face that’s preferably accessible via a direct flight from LHR. I also ask that my beaches be clean, free of thong-wearers and that the kittens be well fed and mobile. Finally, I ask that the cuisine accommodates my bipolar eating habits –aka, the ‘can I get a side of deep fried cheese bread with my ceviche?’ kinda vibe. If your needs are similarly high-maintenance and unreasonable, then you will be very, very happy in Tulum where all of your whims and fancies are catered to in smiling, non-ironic hipster fashion.
A short drive from Cancun airport, Tulum is niche enough to satisfy your vibrant, edgy side whilst being not at all off the beaten track. It has options for all manner of budgets, tastebuds and psyches and the best time to go is from the end of October – March. (sidenote: unless you want an elbows out, NYC fashion week experience that sucks, don’t go for Christmas or New Year). I also strongly recommend you hire a car whilst you’re there.
We stayed at The Papaya Playa Project in a new casita. These are some of the few rooms in Tulum with plugs and electricity and also benefit from both a private deck (complete with hammock) and roof terrace (complete with scenic views of sea and jungle). They are also conveniently situated on the beach upon which you can leisurely loll on your very own mattress. PPP is the only hotel in Tulum with an enormous private stretch of jungle fringed beach and is slightly set apart from the other properties which are somewhat cheek-by-jowel in their proximity to one another. A rustic water sports hut offers paddleboards, kite surfing lessons as well as a myriad of entertaining miscellaneous activities.
As with any well-trodden hippy destination, there are some horribly conflicting ideas about what you should be doing. A bit of light exploration is a must, of course, but you best believe I didn’t travel 11 hours to schelp around some doggy ruins with hundreds of sandal wearing tourists. From misinformed restaurant recommendations to straight up shitty places to sightsee, I am going to make sure you don’t waste a second of your precious time out.
Where to stay
Papaya Playa Project
On a vast stretch of private beach with a gorgeous wooden bar area, PPP is where the cool kids come for their R&R. The bar stays open late serving up jalapeno pineapple margaritas and there are special guest DJ’s on Thursdays. I loved my room, but it was definitely expensive by Tulum standards. Though all of the extras are very reasonable, there are plenty of other equally charming places to stay. My major gripe was a few of the other guests didn’t know when to shut the fuck up and leave their iPod speakers and American footballs in their room. Jeez! I’d definitely recommend getting a 90-minute massage with Hector too. From £79 per night.
Probably considered the most luxury hotel in Tulum, Jashita is where to stay if you don’t want to part with hot showers and room service. This is where you go if you want to truly escape as it’s a 10 minute drive to Tulum’s main street. Rooms start from £280 per night.
Hotel Be Tulum
Designed by owner-architect Sebastian Sas, this chic beachfront hotel is like stepping into your coolest friends rented house in Ibiza—each room is a pure work of art, with Brazilian wood floors, cowhide rugs, marble bathrooms, and outdoor showers. Rooms 16 and 20 have rooftop pools and glass walls, providing a 360-degree view of the ocean and Sian Ka’an Reserve. From £300 per night
CoquiCoquiA stupidly pretty hotel on the beach, Coqui Coqui was built by the owner’s own hand. It’s all polished concrete and driftwood with a sandy floored restaurant serving up spirulina smoothies and margaritas amidst billowy white muslin and sea breeze. The highlight is the little shop stocking perfumes by the same name. They’re made by the owner, a former model turned perfumer and his equally stunning wife. My favourites were the Coco for the girls, Agave for boys and Rosas Fresca for your mum. It’s also within spitting distance of the best restaurant in town – Hartwood. This is where I wanted to stay and where I’ll book when I return. From around £180 per night.
UNO is a super unique hotel with cabanas and tepees directly on the beach. There’s no electricity and everything is illuminated by hundred of candles. There are also amazing yoga classes and an excellent spa. From £25 per night.
Where to eat
Eric Werner formerly at Peasant in Manhattan is the bearded Brooklynite chef and co-founder of Hartwood, my favourite (and apparently everyone’s favourite) in Tulum. Werner has tight relations with local fishermen and farmers, which means the ingredients are ridiculously fresh and high quality. Their specialty is a slow cooked pork rib glazed with something heavenly and sweet and they offer up some bossceviche and a cheese and cinnamon ice cream that will blow your mind. Get there early (5.45pm early) to put your name on the list and wait for your table with a cinnamon, hibiscus and orange mescal cocktail at Casa Jaguar next door.
A plastic tables and chair affair, the food was every bit as delightful as meals we paid triple the price for. I asked the charming owner Marco to bring us a mix of specialties, which were served, on neon plastic plates with a huge array of sauces served in jam jars. We had dried tuna tacos, deep fried baby octopus with pork crackling as well as the local specialty, aguaschilles shrimp – ceviche served with avocado, lettuce and coriander. Sink a Sol and get your photos bombed by the waiters…man, those guys are CRAZY!
Not only does this twee Argentine joint serve up the finest steaks in town, they also offer the most outrageously wonderful breakfast. Start with the bread basket (naturally) which is a giant loaf of fresh-out-the-wood-fire Argentine bread plus some slices of hot banana cake served with fresh butter and apricot and lavender jam… I can’t get it out of my mind. Follow up with huevos rancheros and a side of Argentinian sausage. You won’t regret it. Dinner is good too… but the breakfast.
What to buy
Coqui Coqui Perfumes
Once inside the chic, mirrored beachside shop, you’ll feel like your home couldn’t possibly be without an excess of Coqui merchandise. From the gigantic glass diffusers to the stunningly packaged mosquito repellent, you’ll be all Veruca Salt and want everything NOW. They also make heavenly leather goods like gladiator sandals as well as muslin kaftans and shirts. It’s all gorgeous, but the perfumes and candles will bring you back to the beach with every whiff. Coco, Agave, Floplum and Tabaco are stunning.
Visit the tiny little hut near the Biosphere Reserve selling genuwine Mayan Clay. Once you’ve experienced the hell that is a Mexican mosquito bite, you’ll be very happy to have this mustard hued mud to hand. Ideal for everything from bites to sunburn, wrinkles and eye bags, Mayan Clay has your back.
Always a sucker for a handcrafted good, I adore these multi-coloured, macabre figurines. They come in all different shapes, sizes and genres and are such a kitsch reminder of your trip. I also picked up a handful of glitter matchboxes, which look really adorable propped up next to my Coqui Floplum candles.
Tequila and Mezcal
Obviously you’ll be well refreshed by lunch each day so relive the laid back mornings by taking home some artisanal tequilas and mezcals from the region. Mezcal is an acquired taste as it’s verrrrrry smoky and not unlike burnt tyres. Once you’ve had tequila here, you’ll never drink Café Patron again. This stuff is like honey and slips down a bloody treat.
A one stop for all of your kitsch souvenir needs located near Mateo’s restaurant. Grab some linen napkins embroidered with skeletons in Victorian dresses, hand woven hammocks and lobby cards from 1970’s films. Bring cash everywhere you go as most places don’t accept card payment.
AKA Mayan honey, which has mad medicinal properties and can be used to treat everything from digestive issues, respiratory problems to bacterial infections. Made by special stingless bees in the Yucatan Peninsula, they’re treated like pets by beekeepers due to the sacred nature of the honey. There’s a famous honey shop en route to Coba, which is well worth the stop off if you go. I’m not sure how immigration feels about its import into the UK, but it’s cool to see if you can.
Kiteboard – take a lesson at Papaya Playa where you’ll be taught over three days by one of the amazing instructors.
Sian Kan Biosphere Reserve Muyil Lagoon – 1.3 million acres of national park. Embark on a three hour, naturalist led kayak tour to spot the tropical birds and cross the canal dug out by Mayans over 1000 years ago. Alternatively hike along the lagoon at your own pace to spot sea turtles and unexcavated Mayan ruins.
Snorkel in Cenotes – Plunge into the crystal clear depths of sinkholes at Gran Cenote or visit the smaller and less crowded Cenote Dos Ojos. Snorkel over stalagmites millions of years old or suit up in scuba and explore the gorgeous ivy-clad caves.
Get organic – visit the organic market behind El Jardin De Frida and pick up loaves of artisanal bread, local watermelon and bottles of amber Mayan honey.
Posada Margarita was raved about by many. Apart from the bread basket and the candlelit beach setting, this was a very expensive let down. The homemade pasta was poor and the mains were bland and overpriced. I even went back a few days later just to check I hadn’t caught them on a bad day…I hadn’t.
El Camello Jnr – Supposedly the best place for authentic ‘mom’s style’ cooking on the cheap, this was raved about. The food tasted like it was made by someone who hates me. Go next door to Las Aguaschiles for a friendlier, more palatable experience.
Tulum Ruins – Such a dire waste of time. Unimpressive at best.
Coba – Better than Tulum ruins, but still kind of whatever. It was a pretty walk around and nice to see, but the highlight was the coconut I bought on the side of the road en route.
- You’re going to need A LOT of mosquito repellent if you plan on getting any sleep.
- Take out cash at the airport, then stock up as you need. Few places accept cards.
- Hire a car
- Pack lightly – all you’ll need are chic cover ups for the day and a few pretty dresses for evening. Only pack flats. It was chilly at night when I went in November so definitely pack a light jumper and a shahtoosh.
- Don’t bother with hair dryers or much make up. There are barely any plugs around and everything is lit by candle light anyway.
- My trusty La Roche Posay Gel Physiologique to cleanse
- Skinceuticals B5 Gel to moisturise at night
- Lancaster Sports Sunscreen SPF30
- Skinceuticals High Defense SPF50 for face
- Higher Nature’s Pure Aloe Vera to moisturise post tanning
- Sisley’s Black Rose Mask on the plane
- Caudalie Elixir Beauté to refresh on the beach
- Nars Matte Lip Pencil in Red Square
- Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage
- Bare Minerals Bronzer in the Skinny Dip
- Charlotte Tilbury Lip Cheat Pencil in Pillow Talk
- Charlotte Tilbury Colour Chameleon eye pencil in Bronze Garnet
- Mermaid Hair Conditioner (forget shampoo here)
- Mermaid Hair Shine Spray
This is a list of my Tulum highlights, but please feel free to ask any questions if you’re visiting.