Updated October 2017!
Ah! Tulum. Where do I even start? I LOVE TULUM. I’m not one to use the word “magical” to describe most things… but truly there is something magical about Tulum.
On the Yucatan Peninsula, nestled below Cancun in the Mexican Caribbean, Tulum is a laid-back paradise of beautiful white sand beaches, dramatic palm trees against big blue skies, fresh-caught seafood, a surplus of tequila and rum, and people – locals and visitors alike – who are there to soak in good vibes and just love life.
My friend Dayna and I headed to Tulum in February 2016 co-birthday celebration, bringing along our significant others and two other friends. It was the perfect retreat for three couples in their 20s-30s. In fact, I would say that Tulum is a perfect retreat for almost anyone. [Note: So perfect that we went back for our friend’s bachelorette party a year later, in April 2017!]
The two demographics I wouldn’t recommend it to: packs of 21 year old bros who want to club all night (Tulum wakes up early and most places are closed by 10pm, especially on weeknights) or big families with lots of kids who want the all-inclusive resort experience (Tulum doesn’t have any big-box resorts/developments and it’s fairly adult-oriented. No playplaces or water slides to be seen).
Tulum is not a big town at all, which I love. It’s separated into two main parts, Tulum Town and Tulum Beach. The two areas are cut down the middle by a big, lush patch of jungle. Everything here felt very tropical, natural, and alive thanks to the combination of bright beach and dense jungle. We’ve stayed in an Airbnb a few blocks from the main road in Tulum Town, and also an Airbnb right on the beach. Both were fun, but man… you can’t beat the beach side.
And when I say this Airbnb was on the beach, I mean it was ON the BEACH. Here’s the view from the back of the house, our own slice of heaven:
None of the boutique hotels, businesses, or private residences have fences, so you can walk up and down the entire Tulum Beach and explore different little beach bars and cafes. So unspoiled and peaceful! I was in love with it immediately.
Now that I’ve set this up for you a bit, let’s go over one of the most important things on any vacation: the food & drink!
Tulum Food & Restaurant Recommendations
Seafood is the name of the game in Tulum. I mean, obviously, you are right there on the Caribbean Sea. Fresh fish and shrimp abound. And since prices are in pesos and the USD is super strong in Mexico right now… there’s no reason not to treat yourself. (Just make sure to tip fairly!)
One of our favorite restaurants turned out to be an inconspicuous open-air place on the Tulum Town side. We originally picked La Coqueta for brunch because it was on the way to the grocery store which was on the way to the beach. (There are like three main roads in Tulum because the jungle obstructs most traffic, so you have to plan these things if you’re hungry.) We ended up loving it so much that we went back to brunch a couple days later.
What should you order? Shrimp! The shrimp tacos at La Coqueta were phenomenal. On our second trip I changed it up dramatically (not) and ordered shrimp fajitas. Also excellent. Oh, and the mojitos and pina coladas here were both A+. And I have to give a shout out to the owner, Erika, who was so friendly and funny.
Of course, if you want brunch-type food here, you can’t go wrong with the chilaquiles (pick red or green sauce).
Now, on the exact opposite end of the spectrum, we have Hartwood. It’s also completely delicious, but where La Coqueta is colorful, casual and no-frills, Hartwood is minimal, chic, very hard to get into, and impeccably thoughtful. It’s kinda famous if you’re in the restaurant industry.
I think Hartwood is absolutely worth every penny (and the effort of making reservations ahead of time, and waiting for your table etc.) and if you are into see and be seen, this is THE place to eat in Tulum. I loved every second of it. The restaurant and its food are off-grid and zero waste, everything is cooked over an open flame and locally sourced literally every single day.
If you’re looking for another fancy-ish dinner out on the beach, check out Arca. Elegant, stylish, and just hipster enough. Also a little pricier than other restaurants on the beach side, but not outrageously so. I don’t have any good photos because, spoiler, it was open air outside like most restaurants in Tulum beach, and it was so dark outside!
When you think “dining out in the Mexican Caribbean” you probably don’t think “Italian food” but that’s where you’d be wrong. Posada Margherita is an incredible beach restaurant that specializes in, you guessed it, authentic Italian food, especially fresh pasta. Startt with a round of cocktails (delicious and strong), share a platter of antipasti and amazing bread, then check out a fresh octopus appetizer or a brilliant caprese salad (basically a giant ball of creamy, melty burrata garnished with fresh basil and tomatoes). Then finally… the FRESH PASTA. You guys. Don’t count carbs on your night at Posada Margherita. Just eat everything in sight and feel happy about it.
No judgement on these photos please… as with so many other Tulum restaurants, it’s outside and d-a-r-k!
For upscale seafood, Zamas on the beach is incredible. We ate dinner a bit later at night and just like Posada Margherita, these photos don’t do the restaurant justice, but I promise Zamas is not to be missed. They offer spear-caught fresh catches of the day, and fat, succulent shrimp. Oh, and great ceviche, and awesome guacamole, and wonderful cocktails (any drink you order with fresh passion fruit will be a winner).
You can stay at Zamas too, as it has a hotel portion, but we were just there for the food!
On my second trip to Tulum, I fell in love with bright, airy Canopia. This beach-side cafe is technically part of the Yoga Shala Tulum hotel, which I didn’t even realize when I was dining there. Touting fresh juices and healthy, fruit-filled breakfasts, Canopia is definitely the place to go if you feel like you’ve been indulging in too many tortilla chips and cocktails. (Although don’t worry, they have booze too!)
Canopia apparently turns into a Thai food place at dinner. I’ve only been for the healthy daytime eats, but I’d definitely be intrigued to go back and try their pad thai, spring rolls, and curries. You don’t see much Asian food in Tulum.
For a quick-ish breakfast or lunch, Burrito Amor is a must. At first I thought it might look a little too gentrified or trendy so I wasn’t sure how the food would be… but the joke was on my and my suspicious attitude, because this is one of the best freakin’ burritos I’ve ever had!
I went with the pork and pineapple burrito and added avocado, and I was NOT disappointed. Burrito Amor uses coconut flour in their tortillas and the texture is addictive. They also bring out four house-made sauces for you to garnish your burrito with – all of them were great, there was one that was almost like a spicy creamy.. dare I say ranch…? and it was out of this world.
Burrito Amor also offers fresh-pressed juices made to order, fresh coconut water (amazing and very necessary hydration), and awesome coffee. Like some of the best iced coffee I’ve experienced in recent memory. It was the perfect place to fuel up before hiking the Tulum ruins.
Finally, for the quickest morning pick-me-up of all, Matcha Mama, a white-washed shack on the beach side, offers just that: matcha! You can also grab green smoothies and fantastic cold brew at this adorable little stand.
At the behest of our friends Katie & Tony who had recently visited Tulum, we also stopped for lunch at Casa Violeta and it ended up being one of my favorite spots, another must-visit when we were back earlier this year. This open, bright, and breezy cafe is right on the beach and serves up some of the best margaritas and piña coladas in Tulum, plus light and flavorful flatbread pizzas and tacos.
Plus, just look at this view!
As for late night eats… as I mentioned, most bars and restaurants in Tulum shut down around 10pm, except for a couple beach clubs (and even those wrap it up around midnight for the most part) and some bars in town, which seem to operate on a schedule of being open and closed whenever they feel like it.
Tulum Boozin’ & Nightlife
As I mentioned earlier, partiers beware. While Tulum has no shortage of gorgeous places to grab a cocktail and people-watch, most bars and “late night” joints close up shop around 11pm or midnight. And most restaurants stop serving food around 9pm, maybe 10pm on weekends. Once the strip of bars shuts down for the night, it can also be a little tougher to grab a cab. We ended up walking home a few times, which was safe from a crime standpoint but a little nerve-wracking from a “walking through the jungle on a narrow sidewalk-less road in pitch darkness” standpoint. There’s no Lyft in Tulum. Just something to keep in mind!
While I’m usually in “party til dawn” mode on most vacations, we got into a rhythm of staying out til 11-12, then going home to bed or having drinks back at the Airbnb. Then waking up early to have a relaxing morning!
On our first visit to Tulum in 2016, we didn’t get into the beach side of town until almost 10pm and we were starving, so we had to search around for eats. We ended up at Coyote mezcal bar near our beach Airbnb. Lit with colorful lanterns among the thick palm brush, it was a beacon of hope in our long, hungry night.
Coyote’s food was only aiight to me but to be fair to them it was the end of the night and they were out of most things. Their fresh mixed ceviche was my favorite thing we sampled that first evening. I’m not a big mezcal person (sorry!) but everyone in our group raved about their mezcal drinks. Either way, shout out to Coyote for serving us food and booze when nobody else on Tulum beach would.
If you get hungry after hitting the bars on Tulum Town side, there are taco trucks scattered about during the wee hours. These are open the latest of anything. You can duck into El Carboncito for a quick, dirt-cheap, no-frills, and absolutely delicious pastor fix. Like you can get 3 tacos for under $5 USD. A worthy late-night stop!
Check out those baggies of to-go sauce! Yes please.
Speaking of bars, our two biggest favorites during our carousals around town were Encanto Cantina and Todos Santos, the latter owned by the equally trendy and hip Casa Jaguar, a beach-side restaurant and club. The cocktails at Todos Santos are complex and flavorful – try its namesake, made with passion fruit, mango juice, and mezcal, or the Tikal, made with guanabana, pineapple, coconut cream and mezcal. And yes, I realize I said earlier I didn’t love mezcal, but these cocktails were some of the best of the trip.
While Todos Santos is hip, dark, and slightly mysterious, Encanto Cantina is its rollicking, open-air, convivial counterpart. We hit them up a couple times for blender margaritas and daiquiris made to order (seriously order a mango daiquiri, so fresh!) and beers – all Encanto’s drinks were a steal of a deal. As the name would suggest, they often have live music.
Another bar you’ve got to hit is Mateo’s Mexican Grill on the beach. It looks like a giant treehouse/pirate ship full of nooks and crannies and seems a bit touristy at first, but it’s the best place to watch the Tulum sunset and has 2-for-1 cocktails during happy hour (which is during the sunset hours, score). We had such a good time sipping and watching the sunset that we decided to stay for dinner, and the food absolutely hit the spot (shrimp fajitas for me, go figure). They also had fresh passion fruit margaritas on special, another favorite. Everyone really loved their dinner and we all agreed Mateo’s was an ultra-solid way to start our night.
Word of warning, slash also a recommendation: if you order a Coco Loco off the cocktail menu at Mateo’s, it comes served in a GIANT COCONUT. And if you order it during the 2-for-1 happy hour, you will get TWO GIANT COCONUTS. Just make sure your hands/body are prepared for that kind of responsibility. Luckily I was up to the challenge.
After our Mateo’s happy hour and dinner, we headed to Zebra to drink and dance the night away on the beach. Complete with live meringue band, the sound of crashing waves behind us, and a clear starry sky that felt like it went on forever, this beach bar is perfection. Oh, and they make killer fresh blended watermelon margaritas. Let’s not forget that.
Another beach side favorite is Gitano. This sleek jungle bar specializes in creative, beautifully presented mezcal cocktails and slick DJ beats, complete with hot pink lighting and a sparkling disco ball.
Hike off the Tequila!
Oh, and yes you have to hike the ruins while you’re there! They are so gorgeous, with dramatic views of the sea. They definitely get a little crowded, so I’d recommend getting there as early as you can.
That about wraps up my Tulum recap… I could gush on and on, though. Tulum’s growing popularity will mean more development and more crowds – I do hope that this little jungle town can preserve its magic and unique vibes as it grows!