Boca Paila Road
The cutest little liquor store.
This stretch of road between the beach and the jungle is where Tulum gets its rep for being a crunchy yoga paradise. Here you'll find open air juice bars, yoga studios, boutiques, and ocean-side bars with beds on the beaches. You'll see VW buses driven by dreadlocked European transplants, shirtless long boarders, and ageless women who wear bathing suit bottoms as pants. The white sandy beaches, with their shores studded with kite surfers and fishing pelicans, are absolutely perfect.
Hartwood - (Boca Paila Road, km. 9) I'd been wanting to go here since I tried their recipe for agave-glazed pork belly with grilled pineapple. The restaurant is just a scattering of candlelit tables in the jungle, and everything is prepared fresh and by hand, without electricity. Their menu changes daily, because they only use fresh, local produce, meat, and fish. I think this is the most fantastic meal in Tulum.
El Tobano - (Boca Paila Road, km. 7) This place is as homey as a palapa roof restaurant in the jungle can be, with mismatched wooden furniture and chalkboard menus. Perfect for breakfast. They serve fresh, simple Mexican dishes from organic ingredients, along with a few other comfort foods fresh baked bread and homemade yogurt.
Mixik - (Boca Paila Road. km 5) We loved this boutique for handicrafts and other treasures. Compared to other touristy roadside shops in Tulum, Mixtik has a more carefully curated selection of art, textiles, pottery, and knick-knacks. the prices seemed better here, too. Mixik was featured in New York Times. They have two locations, one on Boca Paila, another on Avenida Tulum.
Caravan de Hacienda Montaecristo - (Boca Paila Road, Km 7.4) Beautiful, locally made scarves, leather sandals, bags and accessories. Everything from this company is made by them from they ground up; They tan the leather, weave and dye fabrics, embroider - the whole shebang. Read more about them, here.
La Troupe - (Boca Paila Road, Km 7.6) Stylish linens, clothing, scarves, and accessories. Mostly handmade in Mexico.
Cesiak and Sian Ka'an - At the very end of Boca Paila, you'll enter the gates of Sian Ka'an, the nature reserve I mentioned in this post. Definitely check it out, if you're looking for a quiet secluded beach away from the tourist drag.
Chedraui - Not exactly a cool, hip place, but this was our grocery store of choice when stocking our villa's kitchen with groceries. These trips generally yielded cocktail supplies, doughnuts and avocados, but what else do really need? Whatever it is, this super-sized mercado will have it.
Scenes from our stay at Villa Luminosa.
Our neighbors at Casa del Perro Feliz. / The villas are located on a private road through the jungle.
Crab skeleton friend / Casa Cenote Dive Shop
Drinking Sol on the balcony of our villa. / Our awesome travel companions, Nick and Megen!
We rented one of these beautiful beach houses with three other couples. The cost was about $400 per person for a seven day stay. I think that's a killer deal considering that I SLEPT IN A PRIVATE BEACH MANSION. Our house (Villa Luminosa) had a pool, rooftop terrace, courtyard garden, and it's own private beach. There was plenty of room for a big group or family, with lots of hammocks, beach chairs, and quiet nooks for relaxing. We were among a group of 50 wedding guests staying in rental homes in this area, and when visiting friends during the week, we noticed that all of the villas were as fantastic as ours.
Staying in your own villa is great for when you want to pretend that you've abandoned your life in a landlocked town to move to a tropical paradise. Not just for vacation - In my daydreams, I'm an fluent ex-pat who paddles a kayak to work, only occasionally wears pants, and rolls deep with an entourage of newly spoiled, half-feral, small-headed dogs. The peak times for these delusions are in the mornings, when you can stare out the window, practicing the few Spanish phrases you know in your head, while drinking coffee and spreading mashed avocados on toast. It also helps that most villas come with a resident beach dog, scraggly but sweet, who drinks pool water and escorts you on walks along the beach. Did I mention that the villa had a live-in staff? With the stealth and quickness of ninjas, they occasionally appeared from their adjoining apartment to provide fresh towels, take out the trash, and rake the beach. Lavish, right? I almost fainted.
The villas are located down a private beach road, about 15 minutes from town. Within walking distance, there are a couple of beachfront restaurants, a cenote, and a small dive shop that offers the most affordable scuba lessons, snorkeling, and fishing trips in Tulum. Kurt recommends the scuba. He went two days in a row, and weeks later, he wistfully asserts that, "Scuba is the only thing I care about now."
Endless quest for snacks.
The town of Tulum is located a 5 minute drive away from the touristy beach road. The main drag, Avenida Tulum, is lined with restaurants, shops, banks, pharmacies and produce stands. Here you'll find lots of delicious street food and my favorite treat ever, paletas. My husband has a habit of wandering alone into the neighborhoods of the places we are visiting, on the hunt for authentic, local snacks served from carts, bicycle baskets, garages, grandmother's living rooms ... If there is something good to be eaten, he'll sniff it out! Tulum did not leave him disappointed. Instead of eating where the tourist crowds are, the trick is to look for the largest crowds of locals.
Flor de Michoacan - This palateria sells a spectacular assortment of homemade palateas (Mexican popsicles) in flavors like chile mango, rice pudding, and toasted coconut. They also have fresh fruit juices and ice creams. The lady who runs the place might be the sweetest person in Tulum. We bought her paletas several days in a row. There is a cute, shaded patio in the back, too!
Jugo de Cana cart - A woman turned her VW beetle into a sugar cane juice bar. She built a hand-crank cane juicer into the back seat, and juices fresh sugar cane for every drink. I really liked the bitter orange ginger-aid. This is my favorite street vendor concept ever.
Carmen Barkey (Near corner of Osiris & Av. Tulum) - This bakery has delicious warm croissants, baquettes, cinnamon rolls, and classic Mexican pastries. Yep, I tried them all.
::: Day Trips Near Tulum :::
Playa Del Carmen is just 40 minutes from Tulum, or an hour from Cancun. I wish we could have stayed longer to explore the town, but during our brief visit we did discover some magical places:
Best tacos: El Fogon - When searching for "best tacos in Playa del Carmen," this place always comes up. It's more of a locals' place, so you know the tacos are going to be legit. Best tacos of the trip, for sure.
Best margarita: Yaxche - Get the house "Mayan" margarita made with cucumber, chaya, sour orange, tequila with a salt-chile rim. So good!
Neat Hotel: Reina Roja - Wonderful and weird. The lobby/bar feels like a sexy euro club, with mini wading pools and beds strewn all around, illuminated by red lights. Each room is different and designed around a theme. Supposedly the rooftop garden sees some epic dance parties. We just stopped by to meet up with friends who had booked two nights there, but they seemed to really enjoy their stay.
The Coba ruins is an easy day trip, only a half hour drive from Tulum. On the highway to Coba, you'll pass through a couple of small towns; Don't be afraid to stop! You wouldn't want to miss the road-side food stands selling cocos frios (fresh, cold coconut water), elotes (Mexican grilled corn on the cob served with mayo, lime juice, chile, and cotija cheese!) or the popular Mayan dish, conchinita pibil (slow roasted pork, marinated in citrus and cooked in banana leaves).
The ruins at Coba are neat because they are deep in the heart of the jungle, and much of the site remains unexcavated. A lot of the attractions within the park are pretty spread out, so you are best off renting one of the janky bicycles just beyond the park's entrance and spending a couple hours wandering from site to site on the dirt roads. Unlike the Tulum ruins, most of the area is shaded under the jungle canopy. This makes for optimum bike riding conditions. Alternatively, for about $10 you can hire a triciclo to cart your lazy asses around.
Coba is home to the tallest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan, Nohoch Mul. And guess what else? You can climb all the way to the top! All there is to aid your climb is a single rope fastened from the pyramid's apex. Don't be a wiener, suck it up and CLIMB! The view from the top is spectacular. Going down is the pits, but I made like the fanny-packed grandma in front of me, and held the rope with a death grip while slowly easing my butt from step to step until I was safely on the ground. Worth it.