Tulum: A Dreamy Bohemian Beachtown

Papaya Playa Project, Tulum (Photo Credit: www.designhotels.com)

Tulum is a very difficult place to describe. It seems to always stay perched atop the pinnacle of magic, charm, and a graceful elegance void of judgmental stare downs. Its dreamy and unrestrained natural beauty provides the most splendid backdrop for any day or night, and has throughout the years drawn tourists and backpackers alike.

Just an hour and a half south of Cancun lays the heart of a small and trendy bohemian subculture, Tulum. The resorts in Tulum are eco-friendly yet appealing to the design eye. My bungalow consisted of two double beds, two stools, one table, a sink, a shower, a toilet, and a hanging rod. Nevertheless, the eclectic interior design — the dream catcher on the wall, the uneven bathroom floor made out of raw stone painted turquoise, and the array of windows draped with sheer white curtains overlooking the shore — made this place indescribably alluring.

Papaya Playa Project, Tulum (Photo Credit: www.designhotels.com)

The hotel was a bohemian traveler’s dream, the Papaya Playa Project. In the evenings, the sun rays emanating through the leaves of the swaying palm trees lit up the seemingly levitating dust and provided a picturesque view anywhere you looked. The bar had a lineup of Mezcal cocktails that will have you second-guessing why you ever had a tequila margarita when such a creation exists. For those who have never tried it, Mezcal is a cousin to tequila. It is generally more smoky, smooth, and sometimes fruity than its blue agave cousin. The cocktail creations in Tulum’s bars will surely have you scouring for a bottle (or four) to bring back home from your trip.

We arrived around 5:00 PM on a Friday so after a quick change of clothes, there was only one place we were going: Gitano. Gitano is the Spanish word for gypsy that doubles as a dreamy jungle bar in Tulum. It is hard to get a table for more than 3 hours so I would recommend making a reservation before you arrive; we had our table from 6:30 to 9:30 PM.

Gitano, Tulum (Photo Credit: Gitano Restaurant)

The first thing I noticed upon our arrival at Gitano was that every single person (diners, hostesses, and servers included) was stunning. What it seemed like to me is that Tulum attracts people of all cultures and classes with bohemian souls who somewhere along the lines lost their sense of snob, are extremely down to earth, and beautiful. Shortly after our arrival the drinks started flowing, the “Baby Dragon” was definitely a highlight. A Mezcal cocktail infused with dragon fruit, it was definitely a fascinating combination of smoky and sweet. The food was salivation worthy; the pork-belly dish specifically was our favorite (Served with half a grilled pineapple). It will melt in your mouth.

Our good conversation with our waiter allowed us to extend our reservation long past 9:30 PM, a benefit as Gitano turns into a lively party after sunset. Around 11PM the jungle bar fills up with Palma Santa, a refreshing and energy resetting strong and smoky incense. Once the smoke starts to clear, you begin to hear the tribal kick of a drum, and a DJ plays tracks familiar to any burner, deep and mysterious.

The next morning we rose early, with the intention that time wasted sleeping in the room would be better spent sleeping on the beach. After a yogurt, granola, and fruit bowl for breakfast, we headed to one of the beach beds to enjoy a relaxing day. Being from the city, we are both unaccustomed to seeing reptiles roaming free so when a two-foot long iguana hopped up on our daybed and started eating our ketchup, we were thrown into — how should I call it — a minor panic. After a quick laugh with the people around us, we shooed the iguana away and weren’t bothered after that (not going to lie, I was shook for about 20 minutes after).

Coco Hotel, Tulum (Picture Credit: Victoria Van Ness)

The water at the beach was crisp and clear, a stunning melody of blues and greens danced into the distance, and the warm white sand added to the anxiety numbing ambience of Tulum. Everything was just right.

At sundown we made our way to Mateo’s, a slightly more commercialized restaurant that serves good tacos and has some live music. Since there are no real late night food options in Tulum, we took 4 tacos to go to be saved for after our night of debauchery that was to come.

Around 10 PM we met with a few friends we made at the beach at the Papaya Playa Project’s bar where we had some Mezcal margaritas. By this time the resort was starting to flood with all the beautiful people of Tulum. It seems like the Saturday night party in Tulum is consistently at PPP, attracting over 1000 people, their full moon parties that are every Saturday closest to the full moon are not to be missed. The party ended around 3:00 AM and was followed by a light rain, naturally indicating that it was time to leave and go to bed.

The next day, also our last, we headed downtown to have a traditional Mayan Breakfast at Don Cafeto. The food hit the right spot, and once we refueled, we were ready to visit a cenote. The cenote we visited was called Grand Cenote. The entrance to Grand Cenote costs about 120 pesos or $7, and what you will get is a cold and refreshing, picturesque, large, and natural sinkhole inhabited by fish, turtles, and lily pads. A portion of the cenote is inside a cave where you will see small bats flying around while you snorkel.

After another stint at the beach, we prepared ourselves for dinner. We wanted something less typical by this point as we were almost burnt out on tacos. Our restaurant of choice was Kitchen Table. Kitchen Table is a jungle kitchen with a rustic vibe made entirely of only reused and natural materials, the energy produced is through solar panels, which is used only for the dim lighting and subtle (yet perfectly ambient) music. Èdith Piaf mesmerized the ears while we sipped on an El Diablito (a spicy Mezcal cocktail) and chowed down the delicious food. While here, you must order the quesadilla to start (made from mushrooms) and the octopus to end. Both were out of this world. Keep in mind Kitchen Table is cash only.

For the night we made our way downtown. It was our last night in town and we wanted to see where the locals hang out. After hopping around a few of the bars, we ended up at Pasito Tun Tun; a dreamy local hang out with a small bar and backyard. The backyard has a small stage where you can hear a local band play an eclectic mixture of tunes that will seduce you onto the dance floor. At this venue, we bumped into some of our servers and bartenders from our trip and had some delightful conversations about culture and Mexico, and we got to hear some of their stories of how they ended up in Tulum.

Signage at Pasito Tun Tun

After an unforgettable experience in Tulum, I can without a doubt say that I will be back soon. There is more to Tulum that can be explored with every trip, and I am thankful that I was able to experience this side of Quintana Roo, a bohemian beach haven where open minds mingle and free souls blend.

Other recommendations for Tulum –

Hartwood Restaurant (Reservations required at least a month in advance)

Coco Hotel

Safari Restaurant (Re-opens in October)

Casa Jaguar (Thursday nights)

The Real Coconut (Breakfast)

Tulum Ruins