Feature: Tulum Style

Eight tastemakers share recommendations.

By Stirling Kelso | Photograph and video by Matt Dutile

This chic beach town south of Cancún has seen unprecedented growth over the past decade and nurtures a creative, low-key vibe that attracts chefs, designers and artists. Many arrive with both a fresh perspective that helps shape Tulum’s evolving culture and a keen interest in preserving the region’s natural beauty. We spoke with eight current influencers for the restaurants, shops and cultural experiences that most capture their imaginations and will leave you eager to visit.

Eric Werner

Acclaimed chef Eric Werner opened Hartwood, an outdoor restaurant shaded by a jungle canopy on Tulum’s beach road, in 2010. His Mayan-based cooking techniques (everything is prepared over an open flame) and use of indigenous Yucatecan ingredients—versatile jackfruit, crunchy jicama, sweet Caribbean lobster—quickly earned him rave reviews and a nightly jam-packed house. Werner also has a best-selling cookbook, Hartwood, and he recently wrapped up a pop-up collaboration with chef René Redzepi of Copenhagen’s famous Noma restaurant.

What are your favorite taco joints?
I recommend the tacos al pastor from El Rincon Chiapaneco (Calle Júpiter Sur, across from the ADO stop). The orange glow from the pastor’s achiote, a blend of spices, lures you in. Taqueria Honorio (Andromeda y Satélite Sur) has the best tacos de lechon, or suckling pig.

What’s a great place to sample local food?
They constantly change locations, but try to hit up one of Tulum’s farmers markets. I keep an eye out for fleshy sapote fruits, squash, climbing beans and dragon fruit.

Day-trip idea?
I love Tamcach-Ha and Choo-Ha, the cenotes (underground rivers) outside of Mayan archaeological site Coba, for a quick and cold dip.

Best souvenir?
A limestone molcajete (mortar and pestle) from the Yucatán is a necessity in any kitchen.

Berenice Apostolo, Ana Thenor and Lorena Surra

These three Argentine designers opened La Troupe, housed in a recycled shipping container on Tulum’s beach road, in 2011. Here they design clothing and housewares—often inspired by centuries-old Mexican crafts, textiles and even poetry—that are sewn, crocheted and embroidered by Mayan women. Along with embracing the fair-trade model, they use organic materials such as cotton, linen and silk, all colored by hand using natural dyes. La Troupe expanded to Playa del Carmen (the shop is made entirely of recycled shipping pallets) and opened in Valladolid in September 2017.

What are your shopping tips?
Our favorite stores are in Valladolid. Pop into Hacienda Montaecristo (222 Calz. de Los Frailes), an exquisite design shop, for its well-edited accessories, necklaces, bags, hats and rebozos, or traditional Mexican shawls, all made by hand. And Dutzi sells bags made from eco-friendly materials, also handmade by Mayan artisans.

Where to fuel up?
For lunch, we love La Popular, a waterfront restaurant at the Nômade Hotel Tulum. Order the octopus confit, the sarandeado-style (grilled) fish of the day and the couscous with pesto. For dinner, opt for the Michelin-starred Ocumare, located in Be Hotel Tulum. Chef Mauricio Giovanini’s dishes draw from Moroccan, Argentine and Spanish influences and change daily.

Other sources of inspiration?
Coba, the Mayan old city 40 minutes northwest of Tulum, is a magical place to stroll, spend time with family and even watch the sunset over a jungle lagoon. There’s no better place to relax and enjoy Yucatecan nature.

Guillermo De Anda

Growing up on books such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth, De Anda took an early interest in ocean science. Today he is an underwater archaeologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, as well as a National Geographic Explorer recognized for his vast body of work, which includes discovering Mayan remains in Chichén Itzá’s Holtun cenote. Travelers, take note: In his free time, De Anda also leads private land and diving tours through luxury tour operator Catherwood Travels.

What are some underwater sites of interest?
It’s hard to recommend a submerged archaeological spot to travelers as these areas are protected. But with every dive around Tulum you can spot really interesting archaeological remains such as pot shards.

Favorite cenotes near Tulum?
The cenote Aktun Ha (Hwy. 109, 5.6 miles northwest of Tulum), known as the Car Wash cenote, is great for beginners. It’s a huge cavern, big enough to park a 747 plane in, and the beautiful blue water is teeming with turtles and fish. Along with snorkeling and swimming in the clear cenote in Tankah Pueblo Park (Carr. 307, km 233; 011-52-984-218-9076), visit the old Maya Village, where you can have an excellent traditional lunch.

Advice for visiting Tulum’s archaeological sites?
In the Old City of Tulum—we don’t call them ruins—you can check out the Templo de los Frescos for its well-preserved mural paintings and corners carved in Mayan warrior faces. Another important building, Casa Cenote, is a temple constructed right on top of a cenote. It’s a great example of architecture dedicated to the underworld.

Other must-see cultural stops?
Go to Carrillo Puerto, a city about an hour south of Tulum, to see 16th-century churches. And just 20 minutes south of Tulum is the Muyil Archaeological Zone (011-52-983-837-2411), located on the edge of an enormous lagoon, where you can hire a boat to take you to a Mayan temple in the middle of the water. 

AdrinAdrina and Elliott Coon

These artistic entrepreneurs originally hail from Virginia and now split their time between Tulum and Oaxaca, a city in Mexico’s interior. They distill Gem & Bolt, a bold and smoky mezcal that differentiates itself from its sister spirits thanks to damiana, a native plant with Mayan and Aztec roots that’s believed to have myriad health benefits. Gem & Bolt is served at bars throughout Tulum; at Gitano, an open-air mezcal bar, you can try it in the Ruby Bolt, made with freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, a damiana elixir and local honey.

Top late-night scene?
Casa Jaguar is a beautiful place to gather and celebrate, thanks to its secret-garden-like lounge illuminated with candles.

Where to eat?
We love the fresh organic bites at Co.ConAmor (Av. Cobá Sur, Tulum; 011-52-984-871-2600), a small café outside of Tulum. It has a simple menu that includes healthy elixirs, fresh fruit smoothies and delicious vegan and vegetarian items.

Top day trip?
Visit Valladolid, a tranquil town about 1.5 hours northwest of Tulum, for its cobblestoned streets and brightly colored colonial buildings. It’s a great place to decompress, wander aimlessly and visit local markets and artisan and antique shops.

Favorite sunset spot?
Tulum is all about sunrise on the beach, but it’s beautiful to head to the lagoon, 15 minutes from downtown Tulum, at the end of the day. If you can find a high perch, you might catch the moon rise above the ocean as you watch the sun set over the lagoon, all in one panorama. 

Sebastian Sas

Sas is the creator and owner of Tulum’s Yäan Wellness spa, as well as the boutique hotels Be Tulum and Nômade. He was drawn to the beach town’s Mayan heritage and culture, much of which he incorporates into Yäan’s treatments. Wandering around the spa grounds, it’s easy to see why it has attracted a loyal following. Six treatment rooms are surrounded by gardens made up of restorative native plants—aloe, rosemary, hierba buena—that are often incorporated into spa rituals. And along with traditional massages, Yäan has daily yoga and meditation classes, healing water ceremonies and juice cleansing programs.

What’s your preferred evening hangout?
Casa Banana has the best Argentine steaks in town, as well as a good selection of wine.

Where is a good place to clear your mind?
Sian Ka’an, located on the same road as Tulum’s hotels. I visit the reserve, just minutes away from the bustle of the beach, at sunrise to watch the birds.

My favorite shop is Caravana because it manages to capture the spirit of Tulum in its designs. Look out for the sonajeros, or rattles, and handmade drums used in shaman ancestral ceremonies.

Other tips?
Put away your tablet so you can truly enjoy Tulum’s natural beauty.

RCI® affiliated resorts in Tulum include:
Dreams Tulum Resort and Spa by UVC C583

Relax in luxury in marble-floored units with twice-daily maid service. Carr. Chetumal–PTO Juarez km. 236.7, Tulum, Quintana Roo
Member Review: “Perfect pool area.”

3 Night Dreams Tulum Resort and Spa by UVC D645

Shares amenities with Dreams Tulum Resort and Spa by UVC. Carr. Chetumal–PTO Juarez km. 236.7, Tulum, Quintana Roo
Member Review: Not yet rated

4 Night Dreams Tulum Resort and Spa by UVC D646

Shares amenities with Dreams Tulum Resort and Spa by UVC. Carr. Chetumal–PTO Juarez km. 236.7, Tulum, Quintana Roo
Member Review: “Friendly and efficient staff!”

Kore Tulum Retreat and Spa Resort DB82

An adults-only getaway with a wellness focus (think yoga, meditation and spa services). Carr. Tulum Boca Paila km. 3.8, Lote 48, Tulum, Quintana Roo
Member Review“The area is full of beautiful beaches.”

RCI® Tip

Tulum offers something for everyone. Many resorts offer world-class spas and nearby golf courses for relaxing days on the green. Be sure to also check resort schedules, since many offer on-site activities unique to the area, such as watching baby sea turtles taking their first steps into the ocean.

For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

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Non-RCI affiliated resorts in Tulum include:
Be Tulum Hotel

This adults-only retreat on the water has a toes-in-the-sand beach bar, Michelin-starred restaurant and 44 suites dressed in bohemian décor. Carr. Tulum km. 10; 877-265-4139; betulum.com; doubles from $700 a night

Casa Malca

Owned by New York–based art dealer Lio Malca, who works with museums such as the Whitney in New York, this Design Hotel has 35 plush suites, all of which have ocean and garden views as well as showstopping contemporary art. Carr. Tulum km. 9.5; 011-52-1-984-167-7154; casamalca.com; doubles from $500 a night

Coco Tulum Hotel

A collection of minimalist rooms and cabanas, many of which have thatched palapa roofs. Opt for an oceanfront tower room to catch the best Caribbean breezes. Carr. Tulum km. 8; 011-52-1-984-688-8592; cocotulum.com; doubles from $142 a night

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Winter 2017