On my second day in Tulum, over lunch with my girlfriends, we read a short bit about “the manatee spirit” on a napkin and it has since become our mantra. The manatee spirit is “being adaptable and flexible without losing yourself in the process and accepting life on ‘life’s terms’.” It took a while to shake off thinking about work, our endless to-do lists and checking our phones, but once we did, it was an indescribable peaceful feeling that I never get in LA. I went for the hype but came away with a different attitude. And who doesn’t need that?
Tip: Bring cash. Most places don’t take cards and the ATMs may or may not work. We went on a lot of cash missions.
…where to crash and get some R&R
Most properties in the area embrace the natural surroundings, rather than build over them — this is all part of the charm of Tulum. With thatched-roof cabanas, jungle trails and basic amenities that support rather than thwart nature, Papaya Playa’s free spirited environment is the perfect choice. If you want some modern luxuries (AC, a bathroom with a door, outlets), I would suggest either the rustic (Room 97!) or modern casita.
If you want to stay in the lap of luxury amidst the jungle scenery, Be Tulum’s modern bungalows and hippie chic atmosphere is the place for you … but it’s not cheap (think honeymoon). I opted for a bottle of Rosé while putting my toes in the sand at their beachfront restaurant, which is exquisitely decorated with shabby chic, eclectic furniture.
If you walked by it, you would miss it. With only a handful of rooms, Coqui Coqui is an unassuming, intimate hideaway that will make you feel like you discovered something no one else knows about. The vibe is what you might expect — beachy complete with cool breezes and A-list clientele to match.
I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Amansala because this is what first set my sights on Tulum, and in a way, it put this little Mexican town on the map. Started by a New Yorker who needed an escape from the city, this eco-chic resort (as they all are now) is famous for their Bikini Bootcamp, a “tune up for the mind, body and spirit.”
…where to chow down and then unbutton the top button
Special Note: Hartwood has graced the pages of many a magazine and I was dying to try this joint where the menu changes every day, BUT there is some kind of a line system and it’s hard to get into without a major wait. Sometimes you just want to get away from that.
All hail Posada Margherita – no trip to Tulum would be complete without it. Upon arriving, it feels like you’re walking into a garden – a comfy version of restoration hardware. The quaint setting is magical and the Italian fare is fantastic from handmade pastas to melt-in-your-mouth fish to shrimp dishes. For breakfast, they have a fresh juice bar and your coffee fix, serving cappuccinos and lattes.
An Argentinian restaurant in the heart of “the strip,” this place has great energy — always a lot of people at dinner but not hard to grab a table. The wood- fire oven produces steak and seafood options, while the focus on unique cocktails (the liquor of choice is tequila) will keep the mood light. This is where you go when you want a heartier meal or something substantial to soak up the cocktails.
I had the best tuna tostada of my life here. Can’t. Stop. Thinking. About. It. This place lives up to its name by maintaining the integrity of the fresh catch and letting it speak for itself. Sharing ceviche with the table is a good way to start your meal off right. Great. Now I want a tuna tostada.
There’s always that moment in a vacation where I want pizza. And there’s nothing quite like a wood-fired brick oven pizza with a view of the beach. If you’re not craving pizza (and who are you?), they have fresh fish and veggies too.
… where to drink up and get down
Every Saturday night, Papaya Playa has a big party complete with DJ and dance floor. But it’s not what you might think. The dance floor is made of sand and the moves are more flow as opposed to grind; the music is mellow and everyone is just in a state of relaxation without any agendas.
A great place to grab before or after dinner drinks and snacks, Gitano has set the ultimate Tulum party vibe that they call dining in the jungle. The cocktails are fancy and delicious — from Jungle Fever (Mezcal, Chile, Lime, Cilantro) to Kisses in the Car (Mezcal, Passion Fruit, Tangerine, Habernero).
This place definitely has the laid-back resort vibe and is a little more polished than some of the other options for afternoon cocktails. On Sunday nights, they step it up with some Salsa.
I JUST BOUGHT THESE PANTS
…where to nab the best threads
Note: Don’t think that because you’re in Mexico, you can nab some great deals. This spot has been frequented by way too many New Yorkers, so the prices match. You can find some amazing jewelry, clothes and décor on the main drag, but be ready to pay.
A decadent selection of perfumes and candles at the Coqui Coqui Hotel. I bought the Flor de Naranjo candle and linen spray and am still enjoying my little piece of Tulum.
ANTS IN YOUR PANTS
…what to do when you can’t sit still
There is a big focus on health in Tulum — from the food to the environment — so it would be a shame if you didn’t embrace this in some way. I’d recommend a morning beachfront yoga (I took classes at Papaya Playa) or Pilates at Amansala. It’s not too taxing, I promise.
I don’t know if it was the ocean breezes, but the beachfront massage I had at Azulik Eco Hotel was the most relaxing I’ve ever had. What’s even better — a little over $100 for an hour and half! Many opt for the special Mayan Clay Massage as well and almost every spa offers this option.
There are a lot of these and I didn’t know that before I went, so I came in blind. El Gran Cenote and Cenote Dos Ojos seem to be the most picturesque, but I went to Casa Cenote — super cool and serene swimming and snorkeling once you got beyond the entrance. (It was reminiscent of Myrtle Beach, NOT a compliment.)
You can rent a bike and head over to one of the areas most popular sites – the Tulum Ruins set against an amazing view of the coast. And if you’re wanting more, the Coba Ruins are only 30 miles away where you can climb to the top of the Grand Pyramid for views of the jungle.
As you know, I love finding cool spots. For a trip out of the hustle and bustle of Tulum (laughing as I’m writing this), check out the beach at Chamico’s. Just don’t tell your friends.