Where to Eat, Shop and Explore in Tulum
It's been a week since we've been back from Tulum, and a few days of beach and good friends was exactly the type of refresh that we needed. Creatively, mentally, and (after a week of biking everywhere) physically, Tulum is a great place to reset your mind and find some serious inspiration.
It took us a day or two to get in the type of laid-back groove that Tulum is known for, but once we figured it all out, we had a hard time leaving. From the incredible Mexican food to the rocky cliffs and powdery beaches, here are all of our favorite things that we think you shouldn't miss in Tulum.
Food & Drink
- The Real Coconut. We ate here more times than any other place in Tulum, and we're still dreaming of the plantain toast with fresh avocado. This is a super healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner spot within the Sanara eco hotel with food that will make you feel really damn good after you eat it (think gluten-free avocado toast, vegan-friendly nachos, locally sourced meats and fresh salads galore). Plus, the beach-front seating and breezy interior totally encompass the design style that Tulum is known for.
- Gitano. We originally found this jungle-front dinner spot while searching for alternatives to Tulum's famous Hartwood restaurant (which was closed when we visited), but we're so glad that we did. Gitano may not be as recognizable as Hartwood in name, but as far as wood-fired food goes, it's just as impressive. Our meat-eating friends got the whole grilled fish, our vegan friends got the whole grilled cauliflower, and everyone got the delicious mezcal cocktails that Gitano is famous for.
- Safari. We wandered into this little lunch spot on our last day in Tulum, and while it was one of the only places we went to without doing research online first, we were blown away by the food and the incredible cocktails. Safari is a bit more casual than most restaurants in Tulum's beach area, with outdoor seating, an open-fire grill outside and an airy, spacious bar area complete with an airstream trailer. We loved the ceviche and the tacos, but this place also had the most memorable cocktail of our whole trip: the Ruby Red, a grapefruit mezcal drink that we're still dreaming of to this day.
- La Hoja Verde. Our group of friends is a mixed bag of vegans, vegetarians and omnivores (for lack of a better word), and this is one spot that we all absolutely loved. It's a casual juice bar and beachy, diner-style restaurant located in Tulum town (if you've never been, you should know that Tulum is divided into two main areas: "Tulum beach" and "Tulum town" — the beach is the pricier, more scenic beachfront area, and the town is the original main street popular with locals and backpackers). If you're looking for a cheap, healthy meal or a fresh-pressed juice, go here.
- Mezzanine. All week, our group kept wondering why more people didn't recommend Mezzanine to us. This beachfront Thai restaurant is a bit removed from the main drag of the beach, but it was one of the best meals we had all week (and some of the best decor). Think colorful, handmade tile, an open-air dining area perched on top of a rocky cliff along the ocean, modern patio furniture situated around tiny plunge pools and a romantic, dimly lit indoor dining area that overlooks it all. We loved the spicy margaritas and spring rolls, and strangely enough, the Pad Thai was some of the best we've had anywhere.
- Sanara. While staying at the super exclusive Sanara resort is way out of our price range, enjoying all of the beachy amenities isn't — as long as you know how to do it. Grab breakfast or lunch at the on-site restaurant the Real Coconut, and then ask your waiter if there are any beach beds available. Many of the pricey resorts in Tulum beach are open to outside guests so long as you spend money at their restaurants (really any amount will do the trick), and in exchange, they'll give you access to their gorgeous beach chairs and cushy beds in exchange. For example, when our group of six grabbed breakfast at the Real Coconut one morning, our waiter reserved three huge beach beds for us afterward at no extra charge.
- Papaya Playa. While Sanara is great for people-watching and balling on a budget, Papaya Playa is a bit more fun. This beach is largely the same deal as most of the others, but you'll likely have to pay a day rate to reserve a bed. Lucky for us, our Airbnb offered free access to Papaya Playa with our stay in the Aldea Zama condo community, but we still had to "consume" — which means that in order to use the beach, you have to order food or drinks from the on-site restaurant (although sipping margaritas on the beach? Not such a bad deal).
- Cenotes Dos Ojos. While the Gran Cenote is Tulum's closest and most well-known, Dos Ojos is widely regarded as the superior option (or so the locals told us). For around $35 USD, you'll get to rent a wetsuit, life jacket, goggles and snorkel and a guide will take you through one of Tulum's famous cenotes, or limestone sinkholes deep in the jungle. Dos Ojos features a "bat cave" portion that is definitely not for the faint of heart (or the claustrophobic), but we strongly recommend doing the whole thing, as it's one of the coolest natural phenomenons we've ever seen.
- Rent bikes. We can't recommend renting bikes enough — and for those without a car, it's probably a necessity. There's nothing better than cruising Tulum's beachfront street and colorful town on two wheels, and it will save you a ton on taxis if you're traveling on a budget.
- The Mayan Ruins. While we loved checking out Tulum's modern design and architecture, it's nothing compared to seeing the architecture of the thirteenth century. The Mayan ruins in Tulum are especially incredible because they offer scenic views of a popular beach below, as well as the iconic view of a most famous Tulum ruin, which sits on top of a cliff overlooking the sea (pretty dreamy, right?)