For Alistair's 23rd birthday last year, I surprised him with a trip to LA, which kicked off a sort of tradition of annual birthday trips for us. I'm BIG on planning especially when it comes to birthdays and, personally, find that material gifts sort of suck the excitement and anticipation out of the occasion. Plus, this way the birthday festivities usually span anywhere from a week to a month which is a win for anyone involved. For Alistair's 24th birthday, we settled on Tulum. At this point neither of us had ever been to Mexico and Tulum felt like the perfect, peaceful, and quaint getaway we were both in search of. It should be noted that the all-inclusive experience has never appealed to either of us, so Tulum's boutique sensibilities made it all the more attractive as the choice for a vacation.
Tulum is a little town located on the Caribbean Coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Since Tulum doesn't have it's own airport, the easiest way to get there is a quick and painless 3 to 4 hour direct flight from Toronto to Cancun, followed by an hour and 45 minute long drive to beach heaven. We flew Sunwing, since it was the most affordable option that also aligned with our schedules. Aside from one unannounced (and mildly frustrating) flight schedule change, both flights to and from were very comfortable.
For first timers, the easiest way to get to Tulum from Cancun is by pre-booking an airport shuttle or transfer. Most hotels will either provide one free of charge or for an added fee, so make sure you check with your accommodation. Our hotel option was a little pricier than we'd hoped, so we booked externally via Cancun Airport Transfer for USD $175 roundtrip (you can pre-pay online or pay in cash upon arrival). Can't recommend the service enough - they were right on time when we arrived in Cancun, as well as when we were leaving Tulum at 5:45am on our last day. The transfer service was also very accessible at all hours via telephone to answer questions and confirm pick up details.
Once in Tulum, we got around on foot or using local taxis. Neither of us are confident enough bike riders to trek up and down alongside traffic, so we passed on the bicycles that many visitors opt for when in town.
From doing a little digging online we found out that you can use USD virtually anywhere in Tulum, which made carrying currency around much easier since carrying pesos can be quite cumbersome, especially if you're unfamiliar with the currency. From hotels to taxis to street side stalls, all vendors accept USD; however, some of them will give you change back in pesos.
Check in at Coco Limited Tulum:
We arrived in Cancun at around 10:00am on a Friday, and got to our hotel in Tulum close to 12:30pm. We stayed at Coco Limited Tulum, which is a sister hotel of the larger Coco Tulum located a 3-minute walk from where we were staying. Coco Limited is a boutique gem that's not too crowded, allowing you to really take in the property and enjoy your vacation without the overcrowding you might experience at a larger resort. The all-white decor was a perfect little oasis amidst the wrath of the heat in Tulum in May. The staff were so pleasant and helpful, going out of their way to make sure we were happy and having a good time. For the price we paid, Coco Limited Tulum went above and beyond to surpass our expectations.
Since check-in was a while away, we made our way to Juanita Diavola at Coco Tulum for lunch, which we read about in a fellow Toronto blogger's Tulum travel guide. Juanita Diavola serves up fresh wood fired pizzas that are honestly something else. You don’t go to Mexico and expect to be blown away by pizza, but it happened! I’m also a massive fan of the habanero hot sauce that came along with each of our meals in Tulum. Proceed with caution if you’re not a frequenter of spicy foods.
I’ve probably mentioned this in a previous post, but we are not the type of travellers to chalk out every hour of our itinerary. We are very much your ‘go with the flow’, ‘get there when we get there’ type travellers. So, after inhaling two full-sized pizzas and a couple of coffees, we checked in and lazed in our room for a little while. The view overlooking the ocean and two-person hammock on the balcony certainly didn’t hurt. After a quick little cat nap on the hammock, we changed into our bathing suits and hit up the beach at Coco Limited.
NOTE: To our surprise and dismay, a large part of the shore and water was covered in some type of seaweed or kelp. It was a thick enough layer that you would not be able to get into the ocean without getting entangled in kelp. After some digging, we found out that the stuff is Sargassum or brown algae that has been speculated to be found in increased volume because of global warming, or pollution, or winds and spiralling currents that disperse the Sargassum throughout the ocean. We were a little discouraged having seen the Sargassum span the entirety of the coast that was visible to us, but luckily found out that some larger hotels do their best to clear their shores of the Sargassum so guests can take a dip in the ocean. Some pristine beaches that we did find were at Ahau Tulum, Akiin and Be Tulum, although you will definitely find more by simply asking other guests and hotel staff. Be warned that although the beach may look clear there is still some Sargassum in the ocean itself, which you will feel when you get in but it’s really quite manageable.
Gitano was by far the most talked about restaurant I’d found in my research, and I totally get why. A short 15 minute walk from Coco Limited, Gitano is a jungle paradise from the moment you step into its lush outdoor location, and that’s only the beginning because the food was even better. We ordered an abnormally large portion of the shrimp and steak tacos and split them. I’m not exaggerating when I say we literally crawled home. We had hoped to stay at Gitano longer to take in the live music and dancing, but suffered some serious itis immediately following our taco feast and had to retreat to the room to unbutton our pants and lay out. P.S., Do yourself a favour and order the Mezcal Mule while you’re there!
Brunch At Coco Tulum:
For brunch, we hit up the beach club at our parent hotel, Coco Tulum. There's nothing quite like tacos on the beach on a sweltering 30ºC morning. You can even eat your meal on little rope swings directly overlooking the water for maximum vacation effect. We ordered the steak and peanut butter tacos, which sounds bizarre but believe me when I say you need these.
Exploring The Streets Of Tulum:
With bellies full, we took off for a little expedition on the streets of Tulum, popping into boutiques every so often to check out handcrafted clothing and accessories.
We stumbled into Ahau Tulum because I saw that Raw Love, another wildly talked about spot, was located inside Ahau. This is where we discovered that Ahau actually cleans up their portion of the beach and also has a fantastic beach club scene - unpretentious, great live band, and lots of dogs. I'm sold. We spent a few hours sipping on coconut water, sunbathing, and people watching. Pure bliss.
On our walk back to the hotel, we stopped at a gelato shop we had discovered the night before and picked some up to help cool us down - Ferrero Rocher for me and Mango for Alistair. Unbeatable.
Habitas Tulum (Moro Restaurant):
After cleaning up at the hotel, we got changed and took a taxi up to our absolute favourite spot from the whole trip - Habitas Tulum. We were initially supposed to stay at Habitas, but ended up missing the room we had in mind before it sold out (and boy, are we sorry we missed out). Habitas is an absolute paradise. One with nature, the front desk is located in a tent, from where the concierge guides you through a sea of tents, and trees, and incense clouds to the open space where Moro is located on the beach. Set against the backdrop of the ocean and palm trees, Moro has both floor and table seating, a live DJ, hammocks and is lit up entirely in lanterns and candles at night. The service at Moro is incredible, and the food is fresh - there's nothing more you could ask for from a Saturday night.
On Day 3, we set out in search of another hotel with a clean beach to spend the morning at. After some back and forth, we ended up at Be Tulum, which is another absolutely breathtaking space. The property is massive, crawling with palm trees and incense clouds, and modern glass-walled villas. Unfortunately, beyond decor nothing about Be Tulum impressed us. We really wanted to like it, but the service was below par and we felt quite unwelcome in spite of checking with the front desk that we could eat lunch at the hotel restaurant and access the beach club for a minimum spend of USD $50 each. Given the experience we'd had over brunch, we decided it wasn't worth spending anymore no matter how pristine the beach looked and took off for Ahau Tulum for a second time. I can't stress enough just how easy going the beach club at Ahau was - good vibes all around. You must visit it if you're in Tulum.
It should be noted that when I mentioned the mildly frustrating schedule change that Sunwing made to our itinerary earlier in this post, it meant slicing an entire day off our trip. We had reserved our final day to soak in some cenotes (natural sink holes) and Mayan ruins; however, by the time we'd found out about the schedule change we had little time left to do damage control. Not wanting to leave Tulum without taking a dip in a cenote, we asked around for local recommendations. The obvious choices were Gran Cenote, and Dos Ojos; however, given that it was the afternoon we would definitely have faced some serious crowds at these two spot. Eventually we settled on Cenote Cristal, which we found in Julia Hengel's travel diary. Cenote Cristal is an unassuming little nook located just off of 'downtown' Tulum. There were quite a few groups already at the cenote when we arrived, and Alistair was pretty intimidated by the live fish and the depth of the sinkhole, as was I. Nonetheless, I took the plunge. I won't lie it was a little intimidating as I'm not the most experienced with swimming in open bodies of water, let alone alongside fish. All in all, it was an experience I'd definitely try again, I just wish we'd had more time. Make sure you visit your cenotes of choice early in the morning to make the most of your (and grab some pictures for the 'gram).
After a third and final stop at Origami for even more gelato, we decided we wanted to switch up our taco and ceviche diet, which is when we found Mezzanine, a Thai restaurant located at a hotel of the same name. Mezzanine was located a little bit of a drive away from the spots we usually frequented on our trip but it was an actual gem. We couldn't have been happier to have found it! Everyone at Mezzanine was super hospitable and friendly and the view was one of the best we had seen on the trip. We ordered our standard Thai fare of tom yum soup and some pad thai, which was delicious, but the real showstopper was the dessert - chocolate orange flavoured ice cream wrapped in filo pastry. Flaky goodness I'd eat every hour of every day if possible.
And so our trip came to an end. We got on our shuttle to Cancun Airport at 5:45am the following morning and were in Toronto by lunch time. Three days felt like a full week in paradise, and we're already planning our next trip back.
Have more questions about Tulum? Pop us a question in the comments below or in a DM on Instagram.