Leaving the uninspiring Cancun highway behind, the drive down to Tulum on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, is somewhat a relief. This is exactly what I was looking for in my Mexico holiday.
A single pretty paved road is flanked by verdant jungle with rickety wooden signs to mark hotel entrances. Beautiful people cycle serenely up and down; their dresses floating behind them. Clothes hang from branches that sway in the breeze signalling a small business venture. Palapa shacks with driftwood bar tops sell fruit cocktails and pancakes. Then there is a break in the palms and I catch sight of the glittering topaz-coloured Caribbean Sea with its sugar like sands that summon travellers to its shores.
The once undiscovered beach at Tulum, is a breath taking slice of white coral sand and turquoise waters. Those that had bothered to venture this far, were welcomed to this secret coast by only a handful of hotels providing rustic accommodation, in tune with their surroundings, on impossibly idyllic beaches. Happy campers arrived with their psychedelic vans to find themselves, ending up wonderfully lost.
Today, Tulum has seen a rebirth of accommodation. A new era of Eco Boutique (sustainable upscale hotels) hotels is in full swing with A-list celebrities for guests including Jude Law, Mick Jagger and Drew Barrymore, all executing their ideal Mexico holiday. With the increasing popularity of Tulum every inch of the coast has been swept up by investors jumping on the bandwagon and the hotels are packed like dominoes along the coast, all offering their version of a bohemian beach holiday, but they don’t all get it right. Like the shabby chic furniture, some pieces pull off the distressed look and just about warrant the whopping price tag, others just look tatty and overpriced. Many of the Tulum hotels, I have discovered, fall into the latter category, failing to recognise the difference between a hostel and an upscale boutique hotel. With the majority of hotels now charging in excess of US $500 per night, one would hope for more than a curtain for a loo door or a rusty pipe for a shower. So who does get it right?
Top Trumps in Tulum
For the 30-50 somethings wanting to escape city life but maintain a certain level of cool. The adult only hotel has a welcoming reception with pretty gardens that lead to a stunning fine white sand beach. Just 20 rooms, beautifully decorated, some with private pool others with a jacuzzi. It all happens at the beach club with a beach shack bar, open grill kitchen and inviting pool. Movie nights are held on the sand. They do have a ‘b green with us’ policy and have gentle reminders to guests to be conservative with their water and electricity consumption.
The Yaan Spa across the road is quite simply amazing. Vast angular cabins like something out of Grand Designs are dotted through the gardens, each its own treatment room offering energy healing therapies. One only needs to stand in the wafts of Copal smoke to feel completely healed. Herb gardens provide organic remedies and oils used in the treatments and there is a Temazcal in which cleansing and purification rituals can be experienced. For spa lovers, this is a must and the bonus is you get an hours’ treatment included with your booking.
The Beach Tulum
For the more conservative traveller who wants a slice of the Tulum action Beach Tulum offers 20 spacious rooms. Fresh, clean lines, white decor they make a point of no plastic bottles. The beach is to die for, and the swimming fantastic, with a range of water activities allowing you to enjoy the Caribbean waters. A pool has been created to give swimmers privacy as it meanders in figure of eights through a tropical garden. The superior rooms all have roof terraces with spectacular ocean views. It also boasts a jolly restaurant with swings for bar stools that add a unique dimension.
Ana y Jose
One of the first eco boutique resorts in Tulum. The success of Ana y Jose started with their restaurants and the food is certainly excellent. Whereas many other properties cater for adults only, families are welcome at Ana y Jose. The beach is beautiful and continues inside to the restaurant which has a sand floor. Unlike many other properties they are on a spacious plot and even the lead in category offers a pool to be shared between 4 rooms. The ground floor luxury rooms, however have their own private pool. Amidst the luxurious oceanfront suites, Ana y Jose maintain a level of sustainability, using recycled water, environmentally friendly a/c and refrigeration systems as well as waste separation.
Located on the beautiful Bay of Soliman, Jashita sits a little further north of Tulum. It is its own little oasis on a white sand coral beach, the epitome of sophistication. Popular with the British and European guests, afternoon tea is served between 4 – 5pm. There are 16 rooms of which the Waterfront bungalows are the closest to the beach. It is a delightful set up with small patio hammocks and those on the ground floor have direct access to the beach. Soliman bay is protected by the reef (the second largest after the Great Barrier) offering wonderful swimming and snorkelling. For the more active, kayaks are available to explore the bay further.
A charming and stylish property with a warm welcome, and outstanding views to the ocean on entering the hotel. This is a small hotel with 18 rooms, located just inside the national park of Tulum. Focused on couples it is a quiet retreat so children are not allowed. Perched on the rocks, there is no direct access to beach here, but there is a trail to a large rock pool for swimming.
Tulum is a mystical, almost mesmerising place. An unusual mix of well to do and dreadlocked travellers holiday side by side. The vibe is relaxed, though clearly an effort is made. Hot water supply is iffy, if you get water at all. The electricity is run from generators and Wi-Fi and phone signal connections are intermittent, so don’t rely on paying your hotel bill by card and don’t expect the ATM’s to give you any cash. But that is the charm of Tulum. No high rises, no sprawling resorts, no techno into the early hours, with its blindingly beautiful beaches, where turtles still come ashore to nest, Tulum definitely ticks the ‘beach escape’ box. One should treat Tulum like an expedition. Be prepared, choose your hotel carefully and it will come up trumps.