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 last month for a 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.
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. Four of us stayed in an Airbnb a few blocks from the main road in Tulum Town, and the other two were in an Airbnb right on the beach. This was great because we had options for crashing, depending on what we were doing that day/night.
And when I say the second 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!
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. I think there were only 2-3 meals in the 5 days we were there that I didn’t eat some form of seafood. And since prices are in pesos and the USD is super strong in Mexico right now… there’s no reason to treat yourself. (Just make sure to tip fairly and generously!)
One of our favorite restaurants turned out to be a super 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 on our last day there.
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. What a gem!
Of course, if you want brunch-type food here, you can’t go wrong with the chilaquiles (pick red or green sauce).
For fancier seafood, Zamas on the beach is incredible. We ate dinner a bit later at night so the photos aren’t impressive, 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!
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. I forced myself to eat the whole thing because it was that good, but I could have been satisfied with just a half. Burrito Amor uses coconut flour in their tortillas and the texture is just delicious. 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.
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.
We ended up having a couple memorable Italian meals during our time in Tulum, too! Our second night there, we went to indulge in dinner at an incredible beach restaurant, Posada Margherita. You have to go. It’s not the cheapest in the world, but it was worth every penny and considering what you’d pay in the US, it’s still a deal. We started out with a round of cocktails (delicious and strong), then they brought out a platter of antipasti and amazing bread to share – usually I can take or leave the bread in this situation but it was so good. Then we got a caprese salad which ended up being 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.
At the behest of our friends Katie & Tony who had recently visited Tulum, we also stopped for lunch at Casa Violeta after our day at the ruins. This open, bright, and breezy cafe is right on the beach and serves up probably the best margaritas and pina coladas of our whole trip, 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.
Our first night in town, we didn’t get to Tulum 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 fresh mixed ceviche was my favorite thing we sampled that first evening. I made fun of Rob for ordering a burger (in Mexico, come on!) but it was actually really fantastic as well. So there, I was wrong. I’m not a big mezcal person (sorry!) but everyone in our group raved about their mezcal drinks. Either way, major shout out to Coyote for serving us food and booze when nobody else on Tulum beach would. You’ll always have a place in my heart/stomach.
You will find some taco trucks scattered about the town side during the wee hours, and 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 after hitting some of the bars in town.
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. Sadly, you can’t believe Todos Santos’ website when they say they’re open til 2am… we tried to return the next time we were going out in town and they were already closed for the night at 11pm. But hey, that’s part of the unpredictability of travel, just have to roll with it.
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 suggests, Encanto often has live music, including a seriously awesome Beatles cover band the first night we stopped in. Exactly the kind of cover band you’d hope to find at exactly this kind of bar, if that makes sense.
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 seriously is 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 (I had shrimp fajitas yet again, go figure). They also had fresh passion fruit margaritas on special, so they were playing me like a fiddle. 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. I put away my phone for the evening to soak up the sights and sounds, but the bar was gorgeous – literally right there on the sand, as was the dance floor – complete with live meringue band, the sound of crashing waves behind us, and a clear starry sky that felt like it went on forever. Oh, and fresh blended watermelon margaritas. Let’s not forget that.
That about wraps up my Tulum recap… I could gush on and on, though. Please visit as soon as you can, I’m slightly terrified that its growing popularity will mean more development and more crowds – I do hope that Tulum can preserve its magic and unique vibes as it grows!