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The Tulum Travel Guide

Say hello to beach front hotels, powder soft sand, spicy margaritas and a lot of fish tacos

WHERE — Tulum, Mexico
PHOTOGRAPHY — Sam Flaherty & Jessie Bush
IN COLLABORATION WITH — Sezane

A guide to the Mexican destination on everyone’s lips (and Instagram) right now. The low-down on where to stay, swim, eat and drink. Don’t forget your SPF.

Sam and I recently got back from Mexico, where we got our fill of fish tacos, spicy margaritas and crystal clear cenotes. Tulum is no backwater coastal town – it’s got enough hip cafes and restaurants to rival even the coolest New York neighbourhood. And yet there’s still a relaxed vibe that descends over the entire place; bare feet are entirely appropriate the majority of the time, biking is the preferred mode of transport and everyone’s there for a good time.

It’s as beautiful as Instagram (aka the modern day postcard) would have you believe. The people are friendly and Mexican food never disappoints. The only word of warning – which I wish we knew before we went – is that visiting Tulum is just like taking a trip to LA, with prices to match. Tourism is big business here, and nothing comes cheap, sometimes not even the street food.

Also, a quick side note about my city and destination guides (that I should have mentioned many moons ago – whoops). When we create these we pay for 100% of our trips ourselves; flights, hotels, food. My guides are always a true reflection of what we actually did, what we ate, and what we loved the most from each trip.

Wearing above: Sezane one-piece, vintage Levi’s and Sezane
Opposite: Sezane top and vintage Levi’s
Below: Hope & May hat, Sezane bikini

HOW TO GET AROUND

Tulum has been affected by tourism in a big way, which means that taxis inflate their prices, simply because they can. The plus side of this is that it’s the perfect motivator to grab a bike (most hotels have free rentals for guests but you can rent them all over town), slap on some sunscreen and explore the local spots this way. We biked everywhere for most of our time in Tulum, and then near the end we hired a car for longer day trips and cenote hunting.

We had initially been put off from hiring a car as there are bountiful negative tales online, but I would totally recommend it. The roads are great, and it’s almost the only way to explore the more untouched spots of the area.

WHEN TO GO

Like any tropical, coastal destinations, Tulum has a rainy season that can often deliver torrential rain for days on end. June, September and October are the wettest months, although in truth tropical downpours can happen at any time of the year. Anytime from October through May is your best bet.

SLEEP AMONGST THE PALM-TREES, LISTENING TO THE SEA

For a unique experience with beautiful interiors and a boutique feel, Habitat is a hotel made up of luxury tents dotted throughout a sandy, palm-tree filled spot right on the beach. We stayed in one of their ocean-front rooms and it was pretty magical listening to the waves crash below every night; although I have to be honest and say even though the luxury tents are more like luxe canvas cabins, prices felt unjustifiably steep.

On the plus side their restaurant delivers thoughtfully produced fare, the ocean-front pool is the ultimate spot for maximum relaxation and their cocktails were perhaps the best I’ve ever had.

Otherwise for a slightly more bohemian experience nestled right on the beach, Nômade is one of Tulum’s OG hip hotels with impeccable service, dreamy grounds (you feel like you’re in a huge tropical garden) and rustic bungalows. We loved our stay here so much – the only downside was the lack of pool, although in truth we spent so much time biking to cenotes it didn’t matter one bit. Plus their breakfast buffet is incredible; other hotels should take note.

DINE ALFRESCO IN THE JUNGLE

At Kitchen Table, which is nestled in the jungle amongst the trees with small, but considered menu. Uncomplicated but delicious in a uniquely serene setting; we had one of our favourite meals of the trip here. Make sure you order the quesadillas to share and the salted caramel for dessert.

Wearing below: Sezane tea dress

FOR A SPECIAL NIGHT OUT

For a place with a lot of hype, ARCA lived up to expectations. They take traditional Mexican cuisine and put their own spin on things; somehow making a menu that feels totally unexpected but food that tastes completely authentic. Go early and put your name down, then head to the bar for a cocktail while you wait for a table.

STEP BACK IN TIME

If you do one touristy thing whilst you’re in Tulum, make it the Mayan Ruins. The 13th-century, walled Mayan archaeological site set right on the edge of turquoise seas is a sight to behold. And yup, like everyone else online suggests, it pays to go at 9am when it opens to avoid the tour buses and instead Tulum heat.

FOR THE ULTIMATE MARGARITAS

Even if you don’t stay at Habitas, head to their restaurant, Moro at Habitas, for bespoke cocktails made with a kick. Their spicy mango margarita is worth every penny.

Wearing below: Celine sunglasses, white tee and Sezane shorts
Sezane printed dress. MaxMara sunglasses
Sezane one-piece and vintage Levi’s

FOR THE BEST FISH TACOS

Head to Safari (where, alongside the fish they conveniently also do the best prawn tacos which may or may not be the tastiest tacos I’ve ever had). Chic dining al fresco cooked up in a food truck in the courtyard. Thoughtful food and drinks without being the least bit pretentious.  And while it’s not dirt cheap it’s still more wallet-friendly than most other spots in the area.

Wearing below: Sezane blouse and bikini bottoms
Opposite: Celine sunglasses, Sezane bikini

TAKE A DAY TRIP TO THE MEXICAN MALDIVES

It’s not exactly close by, but it’s definitely worth the trip. Lake Bacalar is easily one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful places I’ve ever been that manages to fly below the radar. It’s a 2 hour drive from Tulum, which makes for a long day. Thankfully the roads there are great and the pay-off comes in the form of an expansive blue lake that looks like it should be in the Maldives.

FOR THE FRESHEST CEVICHE

Recommended by locals and tourists alike, El Camello Jr does cheap beer, strong margaritas and impeccably fresh ceviche that’s served up in a plate bigger than your head.

GO CENOTE HUNTING

Ah – so many cenotes, so little time. Hands down my favourite thing in Tulum; there’s just something so serene about the fresh, turquoise water-holes that appear seemingly out in the middle of nowhere.

Although it can get pretty busy, Grand Cenote is worth visiting for the baby turtles alone. Cenote Calvedera (a few mins from Grand Cenote) was our all-time favourite as its 100% natural; no boardwalks, locker rooms or tour buses. Just a beautiful, crystal-clear hole in the ground.

Like the name suggests, Cenote Azul is made up of every shade of blue (plus every shade of green). Made up of three cenotes, the beauty of this place really has to be seen to be believed.

If you want to experience a huge, cave-like cenote then Cenote Dos Ojos is pretty special. Other than the crazy price ($22 versus the usual $4 or $5), it’s an epic spot to swim, take a picnic and wile away an afternoon in a hammock.

FOR THE ULTIMATE VEGAN FOOD (THAT WILL SATISFY ANY CARNIVORE)

Hippie vibes aside, Co.ConAmor has legitimately delicious vegan and vegetarian food that would rival anywhere in New York or London. The kind of vegan food so tasty even a carnivore will love it. Head here when you need a healthy-fix and a green juice (you gotta take a break from margaritas some time right?)

FOR NO-FUSS, FRESH STREET FOOD

El Habanero & Taqueria Don Beto for straight up, no frills Mexican food, just as it should be. Grab an ice-cold beer, share some guacamole and order plenty of tacos.

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