This April marked three years since I traded my adventures in New Zealand and Southeast Asia for a return to Los Angeles - THREE years! Each one flying by faster than the last, all filled with memories and milestones that have brought me to where I am today.
I'm thankful for every minute, but my biggest frustration with a transition back to American life is the lack of time (or time off, i should say) for personal travel. For me, wandering is like breathing. It equals growth, knowledge, inspiration, active imagination... all of the things i need to come back to my daily life as a richer, truer version of myself. I'm sure there's research on it, but I'm too busy to track that down. ;)
When I realized this much time had passed by without taking a trip that was all mine - not a family trip, not an office holiday - I made it a priority to book one. Tulum was on my radar for a couple of years, after seeing posts from family, friends, my most beloved travel influencers, and I wanted to get there before it goes full Cancun or Playa del Carmen status. Despite the evident construction and high-end establishments moving in, there's still a quiet, comfortable charm that makes you want to stay "just one more day."
Lucky for me, I have a wonderful friend with the same thirst for adventure. And because we had such an amazing time, I want to share a few of our favorite finds with you!
SLEEP SAFE AND SOUND
The Universe handed us a big 'ol blessing with the AirBnb we booked for this trip. Our full-time concierge, Jose, is one of the most lovely human beings ever to exist. He's full of jokes which made us immediately feel at home and thought of literally everything we could need as guests; including recommendations on the best local restaurants and money exchanges, as well as immediate service and guaranteed good rates from his friendly taxi drivers. He even cracked open our first Coronas in Tulum the night we arrived and took us to the local supermarket to stock up on essentials. I will always cherish his generous hospitality and would be lucky to cross paths with him again someday.
Personally, I don't see the need to spend upwards of $500-600 per night to be right on the beach, where you never escape the sand. If you're interested in booking this spot or something similar, you can check it out here.
PACK SMART AND STYLISH
Beyond the obvious sunscreen and bikinis, Tulum consists of opportunities to show off your sense of fashion whether you're biking into town for breakfast or salsa dancing with the locals. Of course, you can bring as much or little as you'd like but I'm a fan of carrying on anytime I have the option. If you're packing light like me, make sure you have the essentials:
Bug spray (with DEET) - This is a mandatory. I repeat. Do not leave home without it. I brought some baby-safe version of bug spray given all the health warnings about deet, but ended up using my friend's more aggressive version from REI to survive the madness. We still ended up with bites on nearly every part of our body, but can you imagine what we'd have done without this stuff?! I shudder.
Straw Hat - I pretty much never took this off while the sun was out. Having fair skin and living in Southern California means religious sunscreen application, but it also means straight up keeping my face out of direct sunlight. Good skincare is always on-trend and it just so happens these hats look cute with everything so it's a win-win.
Fun, flirty dresses or jumpsuits - Overall, the vibe in Tulum is very casual. But I love an excuse to dress up, especially on a getaway. It will depend on your itinerary, but our Friday/Saturday AND Sunday nights were the perfect opportunity to play a bit more with the fashion.
Simple sandals - Footwear is the least of your worries here. To be safe, we packed a pair of hiking sneakers, flip flops, strappy day sandals and one pair of block heels for when you're feeling dangerous. I'll state the obvious: heels are not necessary at the beach; but unless I'm purely on a backpacking trek I just really don't feel complete without them.
EMBRACE YOUR INNER EXPLORER
Coba Ruins - Transportation was the biggest hurdle for this one. Once you're there, the entrance fee is really inexpensive (55 pesos, or roughly $3 USD). I would have paid a LOT more for this legendary view. At the highest peak, it's as if the trees never end, blending into the sky and beyond. For those few moments, you're reminded just how small we are and any ounce of stress or worry fades away.
Cenotes - Just a few miles from the Coba Ruins, our driver led us to the beautiful underground Cenote Multum-Ha. I can't even do it justice with a description, you have to go and see these wonders. After rinsing off with some fresh water to rid our body of any sunscreen or other chemicals, we descended into the cenote via a short spiral staircase. You could feel the air get a bit mustier as the light above disappeared and found ourselves fully enclosed in a cavern, surrounded by bright turquoise water with the glassiest reflection (see photos below and watch in wonder). With no one else around, we took a few jumps before simply sitting and indulging in the madness. The fact that we could see all the way to the bottom, could hear only the tiniest trickles as the water barely moved and were joined by just a few algae eaters. With plenty of cenotes in the area to choose from, It's a level of peace and stillness everyone should experience.
Casa Malca - This was by far our most luxurious stop. Everywhere you turn has a remarkable aesthetic and a new piece of art, including work from Kaws, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, along with noteworthy pieces from Pablo's personal collection. Can you believe they had a chaise lounge from the Titanic perched atop the foyer? Get your cameras ready! Also, fun fact: Long before the resort was purchased by a New York art collector and flipped into a trendy resort for tourists, it was the reputed hideout of the Pablo until he died in 1993. With just nine rooms total, you're paying a pretty penny to stay here so my recommendation is - put on a cute outfit, snap some photos at the insanely gorgeous entrance, take a walking tour of the carefully curated designs and grab a drink at the bar. Step into the shoes of a Colombian king for the day.
Salsa Dancing - If you're into shaking it on the dance floor or watching some of the best salsa dancers in Tulum, we switched things up one night with a trip to La Zebra. Winds were high so it was a little chillier than expected and the drinks were just alright, but we had a blast dancing with the locals and people watching from a swing on the beach. If you're looking for more of a club atmosphere, we spent another night dancing on the beach to electronic beats spun by a DJ at Papaya Playa Project. This was definitely more of a party, younger crowd, with entry fee and drink tickets, but there's something special about making new friends under the moonlight on the beach.
Raw Love (raw vegan cafe, $$)
Literal heaven, this was one of our first food stops after day one of sunning at the beach. Between the two of us, we tried the Shroom Brew, Maki Roll and Chia Pudding. All were fresh and delicious AF. The nice part about this spot is they have a great variety on the menu, plenty of more filling items when hanger sets in or the lighter fare we went for if you're in the mood for a snack between meals. Also, worth noting it's packed with shiny, happy people (I immediately wanted to know all their beauty secrets) and the cutest little hammocks and handmade stools to cozy up. If there weren't so many amazing places to try in Tulum, I'm confident this would have been an every day occurrence.
FEAST ON THIS
Arca (fine dining, $$$)- During the 5 night stay, we treated ourselves to a few upscale dinners because why not? We're worth it. Also, because Tulum's gastronomical scene is in its prime, with several booming restaurants paying homage to the region's fresh ingredients from farm and sea. Arca was an instant favorite. The menu is seasonal based but if you can ORDER THE ROASTED PEPPER TARTARE. I cannot even describe to you the flavors of this dish. Topped with a cured egg yolk, roasted almonds, this dip is unlike anything I've ever tasted (and I'm a little hummus obsessed). The house grilled bread paired perfectly and set us off to a ripe start for the roasted squash with pepita sauce and the whole fish with citrus fennel + cashew salad. A couple of beers later, we were in heaven and headed down the street to Gitano for more magic.
Kitchen Table (fine dining, $$$)- Big fan of the Quesadilla de cuitlacoche con flor de calabaza (mushrooms with squash blossoms), and Bori could not stop raving about the Octopus. I love it when food makes people happy. Those moments are the ones you remember forever. Drink special was the Caipiranhas so we had at least a few of those. Kitchen is definitely worth making a reservation. It was nice to head north of Tulum Road for a night and get a different point of view.
Matcha Mama (coffee/tea shop, $) - Well, isn't this just adorable? I'll admit, it's more of a photo opp. than anything. But maintaining one of my favorite morning rituals while away from home makes the trip that much sweeter. We had the Mango Tango and an iced matcha, just enough to give a little boost of energy before heading out for more exploration. Fair warning, it can be tough to spot from the main dirt road, but it's located in a small grouping of businesses including a pizzeria near the south end of Tulum beach. The folks behind the counter are just lovely.
La Eufemia (tacos/drinks, $) - Come here for the best of all worlds. A casual, chic beach club with umbrella tables if you're into some shade or sunbathing lounge beds where you can chill for the afternoon. The vibe here is very low key with zero sense of urgency and comfortable sassiness on the menu (it literally reads: "today relax and eat some f*in tacos"), accepting of everyone to enjoy the music played on glass bottles by one of the staff. They also have killer tacos (I had one fish, one shrimp) and we finally got our pina coladas!
At the risk of sounding cheesy, I'm going to bring up one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." During the week we spent here, Tulum was my 'people.' I left feeling alive again, overcome by gratitude and a renewed sense of adventure that often gets lost in the daily grind. I also came home with a stronger friendship that I will cherish forever, so this magical Mexican paradise will always hold a special place in my heart.
What are your favorite places to getaway and recharge? And what do you look for when booking a trip? Drop me a comment so I can get to know you a little better.