• BLOG •
My birthday, hits in the last week of February. Absolutely the worst week of the year (in New England). Every year I think my memory may have exaggerated my dislike of winter. I think, "Wow! I'm really ok with this whole thing! This year I will embrace the crisp cold days and see the beauty." And I do...then February hits. And I don't. I hate February! That's all there is to it.
I really should be able to run away to a warm spot every year around my birthday week and then I'd be fine! I've ALMOST managed it on a regular basis but this year it just isn't in the cards (or the wallet, actually). So, I will travel back in time to my birthday last year when my sister gave me the best birthday gift of all. She took me to Tulum Mexico for 5 nights. It was perfectly fabulous. Many friends have asked for my tips and recommendations on what to do there. Here's what I've passed along!
First off, Tulum is a bit different than what I usually gravitate towards for a vacation. I like to be off the beaten path and Tulum is not that. There are a lot of people. The beach is lined with bathing bodies lying on lounge chairs sipping from various drinks. It took me a bit to get comfortable with the close quarters but once I did, I really enjoyed the people watching. There are a lot of completely different folks enjoying the beach side-by-side and some of the contradictions are really entertaining.
"It's an easy, breezy dress and
flip flop spot rather than
t-shirts and surf shorts."
There was a girl that obviously frequented the beach a lot. It was obvious because she opted not to wear anything but her leather colored skin and was always asleep on her back spread eagle in the sand. She lay in the same spot every day and I never saw her awake. It was fun watching the neighboring family navigate their way past her clad in their sun hats, sun shirts, zinc smeared noses and a plethora of blowup animals and floating rafts.
That said the latter was more of an anomaly than the sun sizzling girl. Yoga swans and bohemian chic couples was more the norm. Not so over-the-top-stylish that you felt you need to go buy a whole new wardrobe for the trip, but stylish as in it's a nice excuse to get a long, gauzy dress and a cute bathing suit. It's an easy, breezy, dress and flip flop spot rather than t-shirts and surf shorts.
I would recommend going with the cash you want on hand rather than waiting to get it once there. There are plenty of easy to find cash machines but I know of a lot of people whose cards were hacked and it was traced back to those machines. Even a particularly careful friend who biked to town to get cash from a machine at the bank itself, had the same issues. Everyone accepts cards but it's nice to have some cash for tips and getting drinks from those lounge chairs.
The airport is about an hour away from Tulum so you want to arrange for a service. A taxi will knock you back big bucks and there's no need to rent a car once there if you stay on the beach (which I feel is the only way to go). Plus if you did, you'd miss out on the best part which is using the cool cruiser bikes to get around. My sister arranged to have American Transfers pick us up and it was smooth, easy, and well worth it. If it seems too pricey to you, I have friends who took the ADO public bus and said it was fine too.
Where to Stay (on the beach)
We stayed at Casa Violeta and I loved it. The rooms had the rustic beach-hut feel I was really hoping for but with an easy stylish flare.
Violeta also has a beautiful little restaurant on the beach which served a simple breakfast and great pizza in the evenings. It was the perfect spot to gaze at the life of the beautiful owner, Karla. She looks like the queen of all yoga swans, while bouncing her cute little baby on her bikini framed hip with little awareness to the idyllic dream-life she seems to embody.
There are tons of places to stay and there are much fancier choices but Violeta's low key beauty matched my personality perfectly. I loved it. We did tour around to check out a few other places in case we were to return and here were my thoughts:
We got a tour of Casa Encantada and it was my top pick for the most romantic rooms. Ana Y Jose looked like it would be nice if you have kids with you because it had a lot of little pools here and there and a bigger area to explore and more restaurants on the property, though a bit swishy for me. Cabanas Tulum had the best location with more room on each side of the hotel so it felt a bit less crowded in front. A friend stayed at Nueva Vida de Ramiro and she loved the location and the "adults only" section which had newer, nicer rooms (pick one with a balcony!). She liked the breakfasts delivered to the room but didn't love the restaurant.
When looking for a place be pre-warned, none have what i thought of as Mexican beach shack prices, but rather American style rates—no amazing bargains to be had unless you want to camp or go stay in town which during busy seasons can mean an hour ride to the beach.
Where to Eat (and drink)
Everything in Tulum is beautiful. It is as if a designer came in and created a style guide for the whole place. I wanted to bring it all home! Beyond the beautiful style, the food is amazing. My sister is a true foodie, while often I opt for an inspiring, well-designed space. Tulum checks off both boxes at almost all spots so we were both super happy. Here are some of our top picks.
- La Eufemia: on the beach, BEST fish tacos ever! But, it is hot in the sun so if they don't have seats available under the roof it may be good to try at another time.
- Casa Banana: the BEST Margaritas and Ceviche Carpaccio. And is was so beautiful sitting out under the stars and twinkling lights! I loved this place.
- Hartwood: (right across the street from Coqui Coqui) WAY too popular for my liking and very difficult to actually get in. But my sister gets in EVERYWHERE and I've never really understood how. But far be it from me to figure it out now! If you do want to go they recommend lining up at 2:00. We stopped in at about 6:00 pm to see if they could fit us in, and of course somehow they did! If you do get in, they have THE BEST ice cream I’ve ever had. I got a scoop of cheese and a scoop of cinnamon. I don’t actually like ice cream, and this was amazing. (A keepsake idea, when you get home, pick up this beautiful book!)
- Be Tulum: Beautiful decor Worth going for a romantic cocktail or lunch. Pricey but so, so pretty.
- Casa Jaguar: Nice spot for dinner. Beautiful outdoor eating and cute waiters!
- Posada Margarita: A lot of people recommend it for Italian. It was a bit out of the way for us to walk and Italian is not exactly what I desire when in Mexico, so we didn't eat there but we just went to check it out. It was really pretty with lots of candles but it was absolutely PACKED. I bumped into Jake Gyllenhaal so that was fun, but I'm not sure I would bother with that kind of wait and crowd. But I really liked the boutique. It's pricey but if you haven’t gotten anything yet, I would recommend it as the boutique to hit.
- Coqui Coqui: A fancy pants spot that the movie stars like to frequent had is beautiful. It is a bit obscure but pretty cool. I bumped into Jake Gyllenhaal there (literally, almost knocked me to the ground!). I now have a mini crush on him because he seemed very humble and sweet despite the fact girls were all fluffing up around him and feigning coquettishness while he bought them expensive hats as they exclaimed how "cute" they were.
"...bringing home a scent is a
perfect way to remember Tulum."
Coqui has a pretty little boutique, priced for movie stars, but they also are a perfumer. I got a small bottle of "Flor de Naranja" (the bottles in the store are not nearly as pricey as online) and I'm so glad I did. Incense and scented salts are EVERYWHERE in Tulum. The smells there are really, really nice so bringing home a scent is a perfect way to remember Tulum. My sister added to my birthday with a massage for me at Cogui. It was in a truly spectacular room at the top of the building.
- We also biked down south to the biosphere and tried to get to a bridge we heard had a lot of crocodiles under it. After biking for EVER, we never made it to the bridge. So it is a bit far I’d say. But I do wish we had poked our head in to the cenote right at the entrance to the jungle. We had biked for too long and weren’t sure how safe it was for 2 girls alone so turned around. Don’t bother with the cenote in the middle of town behind the wooden fence. You have to pay to get in, which we did, and it was totally nothing.
- The little shops and boutiques in Tulum all had really interesting designs. Most of them were made from containers. Once you noticed that fact, it was so fun to see what they did with a simple metal box. Seemed like the result of some great design challenge!
Tulum is a great spot for a girls getaway or romantic escape with beautiful design inspiration and delicious food. It is the perfect birthday runaway gift and I would certainly go back!
Katie Craig is available for travel writing (family, with kids, girls getaways and romantic escapes)