Tulum has really been "discovered" in the past five to ten years. Even today, though, there is still an off-the-beaten-path vibe that you will not find in Cancun or Cabo San Lucas. Tulum is full of boutique hotels and rental villas, and the fact that there are no major resorts has kept this little beachside village on Venuelust's radar. On our recent trip to Tulum, our goal was to visit and experience as many boutique hotels, restaurants, bars and celebration locations as possible. While we did not get to try everything, we managed to scout quite a bit for our "Venuelusters" to help with the planning for your Tulum honeymoon, wedding or getaway.
One thing is certain: Tulum is perfect for an intimate destination wedding, a yoga or health retreat, a corporate retreat and for honeymooners looking for something more off the beaten path than the usual all-inclusive destination. Tulum is not a “luxury destination” per se. But it doesn't try to be anything other than what it is: a cute beach town where you can spend your day laying in a hammock without a care in the world.
We have compiled a list of where we stayed, ate, drank and visited. More detailed reports on each venue and experience are still to come. But for now, here is your ultimate guide to Tulum.
Where To Stay
Mi Amor is one of the newest chic boutique hotels on the Tulum scene. It is located on the north side of the main beach of Tulum (just off the main road). The hotel only has 14 suites, most of which include a private plunge pool. With a mix of modern design and intimate ambiance, Mi Amor has a setting perfect for young couples seeking a romantic spot for a honeymoon or getaway. Unico, the onsite restaurant run by Chef Sernatinger, offers items like grilled octopus, seared tuna tostadas and whole local fish. Guests can often enjoy a special cocktail hour. These are hosted a few times each week between 6:30-7:30. These "sundowner" events include complimentary champagne and trays of delicious hors d'oeuvres. Mi Amor has an extensive list of champagne cocktails and a menu of local craft beers. According to some, the local Día de los Muertos IPA craft beer served at Mi Amor is a favorite of Mick Jagger. More on our review of Mi Amor Tulum.
Mi Amor is set about a mile off the main strip, so a cab or bike ride into town is required. Bikes can be rented for 150 pesos (or $13.50 USD) per day. Mi Amor is on a cliff overlooking the ocean, so there isn't a hotel-side beach. However, daybeds and beach chairs are scattered throughout the beachside cliffs. These offer a level of privacy that you cannot find at most of the boutique hotels in Tulum. If you do desire a day on the sand, you are welcome to visit Amor's sister property, La Zebra.
We highly recommend Mi Amor for honeymooners and couples looking to get away but still be close enough to Tulum to enjoy the restaurants and nightlife. For wedding parties or young groups looking for the Tulum party scene, Mi Amor is probably not the place for you.
La Zebra Tulum is exactly what many visitors are looking for: daybeds on the beach, bright colors, shabby-chic furnishings, traditional Mexican textiles and great margaritas. Is this a luxury retreat? Not necessarily. Is it a Venuelust-worthy hotel? Absolutely! We had the opportunity to stay at some of the “luxury” boutique hotels in Tulum, and while La Zebra may not fully be “luxury,” it is certainly chic and definitely boutique. Because of this, it easily earned the Venuelust stamp of approval.
We had an opportunity to have breakfast, lunch and dinner at La Zebra. All meals were great, and the value was amazing. La Zebra serves Mexican cuisine, with highlights including a great selection of ceviches. If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, La Zebra is the place to be. With live music, a happening beach party and fantastic margaritas and mojitos, it’s the best place to watch the sunset and enjoy the beach vibes of Tulum.
We had two minor recommendations that we feel would make La Zebra better: adding nespresso or coffee machines in the rooms and providing complimentary bikes. Having a bike really is a necessity in Tulum and making bike use complimentary would be a nice touch. Bikes should be included EVEYWHERE in Tulum.
La Zebra is ideal for wedding parties, retreats and group travelers.
Tips: Try the margaritas and mojitos. They are delish! If you have an opportunity to stay in an ocean-facing room, do it. It's worth it.
For celebrators and party planners, Be Tulum is more than perfect. Even if you do not stay at Be Tulum, it's worth stopping in for cocktail and lunch. With its shabby vintage décor and beachfront cantina and mezcaleria, this place screams "it's time to party!" With 20 villas and built-in beauty, Be Tulum is a fantastic option for a destination wedding or corporate retreat.
Large groups can rent the entire hotel for their event or celebration.
If you are looking for a cool, clean beach vibe with tented cabanas, modern design and sophisticated style, Sanara Tulum is the place for you. One of the newest boutiques to join the Tulum scene, it's easy to fall in love with Sanara. The hotel offers daily yoga classes and has a fantastic beachfront restaurant, the Coconut Café, which offers a healthy menu focusing on mostly gluten-free and vegetarian cuisine. Although we did not stay at Sanara, we did take a tour and dine in the restaurant. Everything about this place screams Venuelust!!
Here are a few other places to check out:
Casa Violetta – Palapa-style cabanas in the heart of Tulum.
Mezzanine – On the north side near Mi Amor and the Tulum Ruins, this place is trendy and hip.
Amansala – A health retreat boutique hotel in the center of Tulum.
Where To Celebrate
If you are headed to Tulum to celebrate your honeymoon or anniversary, we highly recommend staying at Mi Amor or Sanara Tulum. Have dinner on Saturday night at Unico and sit back and enjoy the live music. Relax at the beach and do nothing else. Or stroll into town and have dinner at one of the many trendy restaurants before enjoying an after-dinner cocktail at Gitano. For a little adventure, make a visit to Cenote’s from a swim in a freshwater pool.
Tulum offers an abundance of options for a destination wedding. Your special weekend will be filled with fun for you, your family and your guests. Consider a buyout of Be Tulum, which has 20 rooms for guests and an amazing beachfront event space. Another option is just down the street. La Zebra offers 24 rooms and can be a place for guests to stay and/or celebrate. There are many great villas in the area, all of which can be used to accommodate additional guests. One of the newest boutique hotels to open, Sanara Tulum, offers a completely different vibe and feel compared to what you typically see in Tulum. Sanara Tulum is located right next door to La Zebra, so combining the two venues for accommodations and events would be ideal!
With companies like Apple and GoPro heading to the “secluded” beaches of Tulum, more and more companies are considering off-the-beaten-path location for their retreats or incentive travel getaways. Unlike the high-rise hotel district of Cancun or been-there-done-that Cabo San Lucas, Tulum offers the opportunity to take over an entire boutique hotel or villa and get your team thinking “outside of the box" (or "outside of the hotel room" as it were). For a corporate retreat, we suggest taking over La Zebra or Be Tulum. You could also take an adventure tour with Adventure Tour Center Tulum. Another option is to take a health retreat with your team at Amansala, a beautiful venue that has yoga lessons and “beach body bootcamps.”
Where To Eat
The New York Times included Hartwood in their "36 hours in Tulum" guide. Ever since, people have been lining up to try this hotspot. What do we love about it? Everything is run on solar panels and all the food is cooked on an open grill or in a wood-burning oven. If you are dying to try this place, they do not take reservations, so plan to arrive early and wait in line to score one of the few tables. Hartwoods is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
I am sure I will get attacked for saying this but EVERYONE in Tulum will say this is their favorite place, Our opinion is that it was just okay. It's overpriced, and the food is average. That said, Posada Margherita has amazing d��cor and we LOVE the overall style, but the food is so-so.
I am sad to say it, but I think this place will join the rest of the group of trendy spots as it grows in popularity. But for now, the vibe is perfection, the craft cocktails are on point, and the food is great. Get here soon before it becomes too popular to get a table.
The eatery is located on the jungle side, near the rest of the happening joints that provide outdoor Argentinian-stlye and local-style barbecue. We did not make it here, but the smells as we walked by were "oh so good." We will definitely get here next time.
Located at the Mi Amor Hotel, this restaurant offers a five-star dining experience. It is ideal for a romantic dinner for two - especially when they have one of their fantastic live music nights. We sampled a variety of items including the grilled octopus, tuna tostadas, and the salt-baked whole fish. Everything is delicious. You can also sample one of their many champagne cocktails or local craft beers.
This hip and trendy bar on the jungle side of town serves an extensive and delicious list of mescal cocktails alongside delicious tapas. This is a great place to stop in before or after dinner for a cocktail.
Since we are seafood lovers, we could not get enough of El Cameo. There is nothing fancy here; it's plastic chairs, plastic tablecloths, baskets of hot sauces and local clientele. Ceviche is what they do best, and the serving sizes are massive! If you come here, you have to try the pulpo ceviche!
Another great local hot spot. There is nothing fancy about it, but they do great authentic Mexican food. We had shrimp tacos, enchiladas, and guacamole. We could barely move after leaving. It was so good. Don’t forget to try one of their agua frescas. They have more than two pages of different flavors to choose from.
This is another great local hot spot in the middle of downtown Tulum. They specialize in seafood tostadas and ceviches.
Great location, great beach, great cocktails and great fish tacos.
Surprisingly, Zamas was not on the “list” of restaurants that everyone will tell you to go to. We ended up here after running into a Tulum expert who has been visiting for over 20 years. Here is what we thought: great location on the water, good live music, and a nice selection of Mexican and fine dining dishes without the high price tag.
The Real Coconut
Located in the Sanara Tulum boutique hotel, they serve mostly gluten-free and vegetarian cuisine. The breakfast is not to be missed.
Located on the north side of Tulum just past Mi Amor, this spot is a quick bike ride to the Tulum Ruins. This place is great for happy hour, tapas and watching the sunset.
Flor De Michoacan – Paletas – Head to downtown Tulum for the best homemade paletas in town. With over 20 delicious unique flavors, it's hard to decide, so be prepared to try a few.
Panna e Cioccolato – Gelato - This shop is located in downtown Tulum and almost right across the street from the paletas (making it a tough choice where you should go to satisfy your sweet tooth).
Mateos - Juice Bar - Mateos may be a happening sports bar serving up Mexican favorites, but we give it five stars for its coffee and juice bar. They serve some delicious detoxifying concoctions to get you through your day.
What To Do
Coba Ruins - Located about 40 minutes from Tulum, this attraction is a great alternative to the Tulum Ruins and Chichen Itza. We love that there are a ton of trees at Coba, so you have a nice canopy for shade while you explore the ruins. They also have bikes available to cruise around since everything is bit more spread out than other sites. You can climb to the top of Coba (something that you cannot do at Tulum or Chichen Itza).
Tulum Ruins- Located right on the water, this attraction can be accessed by bike from Tulum. The views of the ruins running right up to the edge of the ocean are unbeatable.
Cenotes- There are so many cenotes near Tulum that you can spend days exploring these underground pools.
Rio Secreto - Located in Playa Del Carmen (about 30 minutes from Tulum), Rio Secreto is a network of underground caves that span for miles. You can canoe through some of them.
Sian Ka’an Muyil River Float - Head out for a true off-the-beaten-path day of fun with a river float down the Sian Ka'an Muyil River. Take a quick boat ride out to the Mayan canal and hop on a tube. You simply let the current take you out to the Caribbean. A few Tecates may be on the itinerary as well.
Swimming with sea turtles at Akumal - Tulum is known for its sea turtles, and almost anytime of year, they can be spotted at Akumal.
How To Get There
We had the opportunity to experience some of Adventure Tour Center Tulum itineraries while in Tulum. What a wonderful time we had! While there are many large commercial tour companies based in the Tulum and the Yucatan area, we are always looking for the mom-and-pop shops and off-the-beaten-path experiences. We met husband and wife team Jeff and Kate and hit it off immediately. Kate and Jeff are living the dream in Tulum, and it’s easy to see that they absolutely love what they do. We have been on tours all around the world, and the people conducting the tour can make or break your overall experience. Before we even arrived at the Coba Ruins, which was our first stop of the day, we already felt like we had made new friends, and we were spending the day with our buddies rather than tour guides.
Adventure Tour Center Tulum also specializes in taking out wedding parties, bachelor and bachelorette groups, corporate retreat groups and honeymooners. So they really are the kind of outfit that we love to feature on Venuelust. We also loved that we were not packed into a large tour bus with 50-60 strangers for hours at a time. That is really not the way to experience any place, especially a place like Tulum. Adventure Tour Center is located right on the main strip in Tulum next door to Mateo’s. They are easy to find, and it is easy to book a trip even if you decide to go at the last minute.
Merida - A small colonial town about 3 hours from Tulum.
Chichen Itza - Famous Mayan Ruins located two hours from Tulum.
Cozumel - An island just off the coast of Playa Del Carmen. Known for its snorkeling and scuba diving.
Playa Del Carmen - If you are looking to head where all the spring breakers go, then Playa Del Carmen is for you. Large hotel chains, clubs, and all inclusive resorts.
Things To Consider
Cash –most restaurants in Tulum do not take credit cards. There are ATM machines everywhere but they charge high fees, so come prepared.
Prices- Restaurants are bars in Tulum can be quite pricy so be prepared to spend $12-14 per beverage and $30+ per person on dinner. Restaurants in Downtown Tulum are much more affordable if you are looking for cheap eats.
The Seaweed – Tulum is known for having some of the most beautiful white sand beaches and turquoise water in all of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, there has been a massive seaweed problem since October 2014 that has yet to clear up. While the hotels are doing their best to try and remove the seaweed from the sand, there is just to much that is hard to really make a big difference. Hopefully it will eventually clear up, but if you are planning a trip to Tulum for the white sand and turquoise water, we highly recommend consulting with a local before booking to assure that it has cleared up before your visit.
El Bano (the bathroom) – Unfortunately, there is no real sewage system in Tulum, which means you cannot flush anything (I mean "anything") down the toilets. Yes, that includes toilet paper. Whether you are spending $100 a night or $700 a night, the same rules apply: no toilet paper in any toilet in Tulum. If that is a problem for you, then head to Cabo San Lucas or Punta Mita.
Weather – Like most places in the world, there are good times and not-so-good times to visit Tulum. We highly recommend visiting between October and May to avoid the heat and humidity.
Mosquitos – Bring lots and lots of bug spray... when you feel you have packed enough, pack more. Tulum is a haven for mosquitos. So if you are planning a destination wedding in Tulum and you hate mosquitos then you may want to reconsider your location. The beach side is not that bad, but if you go anywhere on the jungle side, be prepared to lather up or get eaten alive.
With so much to do, things to see, places to stay, and places to eat, there is just too much in Tulum to conquer in a week. Have a favorite place or tip we missed on our Tulum guide? We want to hear about it!