72 Hours in Tulum, Mexico
Austin to Cancun is a short 2 hour 45 minute, direct plane ride. Rent a car and drive 2 hours south to the jungle-encroached beach town of Tulum. Save money (and avoid the crowds) by booking the end of the weekend through the beginning of the week.
Wake up to the sound of waves crashing outside of your beachfront cabana at the Papaya Playa Project. Eat a breakfast of fresh fruit with yogurt and local honey down by the water. Go for a dip in the ocean and warm up in the sunshine on one of the resort's plush daybeds. Order a Michelada with Pacifico once the sun is halfway up into the sky and sit back, relax and enjoy. Explore the hotel grounds after a lunch of fresh guacamole with shrimp quesadillas at the hotel bar. Watch the sun set in your private hammock.
For dinner, head to Hartwood, a bohemian, open-air restaurant run by two expat Brooklynites. Order the Passion in the Jungle with rum, lime, passionfruit and a fresh stick of sugarcane to nibble on while you wait for your table. For dinner, get the whole grilled fish and the pork ribs which are slow cooked over the open grill - the delectable meat falls off the bone and comes paired with a cabbage slaw and fresh pickled white peppers. After dinner, meander back to your hotel and dance the night away at the beachfront DJ shack, complete with disco balls and groovy beats.
Enjoy your coffee overlooking the beautiful caribbean. Rent snorkel gear at the local dive shop and hop in the car, heading to the Coba ruins before the crowds arrive. Get one of the $3 bikes and cycle your way through the jungle, stopping off at the different ruin sites along the way. Hike up 138ft of stone steps and enjoy the view from the tallest point in the Yucatan peninsula.
Head back towards the beach in your car and stop off a several of the cenotes along the way. Gran Cenote is particularly beautiful with crystal clear water even in the off season. Snorkel through the caves and enjoy the fresh water dip before heading back to the salt and sand. Eat dinner at one of the many italian restaurants like Juanita Diavola. Try the spicy namesake pizza and the Fettuccine del Mar.
Wake early and drive the short distance to the Tulum ruins. Explore the grounds, climb the stairs to the overlook and swim at the beach nestled in between the ruins. Stop off at one of the public beaches on the drive back to town and take photo looking back at the ruins from afar.
Once you've had your Mayan fill, head into town and peruse the shops. Stop in for a drink (or two), guacamole & fresh ceviche at Be Tulum.
Head to Coqui Coqui and go for a dip in the ocean looking back at the medieval stone perfumery & hotel. Resort hop on the way back hitting the early happy hour and enjoying the sunset and beach from every angle in Tulum. Order the Baja Fish Tacos with mango salsa at Mateo's for a casual last-night dinner.
The Weekend Edit Guide to Tulum
Papaya Playa, A Design Hotels Project: For the experiential gypset traveler. Think open-air beach huts with mosquito nets and slightly warm showers. What it lacks in comfort it makes up for in prime beachfront real estate. There are only a handful of eco-chic hotels on the strip of beach that it occupies, making it seem like a private oasis.
Be Tulum: For the hipster traveler. Think Mexico's South Beach. A little too upscale for my tastes, but beautiful, young and very now. Most of the guests seemed to be American when we stopped in for lunch (which was one of my favorite meals of the entire trip).
Coqui Coqui: For the eco-luxe traveler. This place looks like a medieval castle. It is broody and beautiful. All stone and white linens, it is a dream of a hotel, from the outside at least. It did look a little more weathered in person than some of the photos I've seen floating around online, so I guess take this one with a grain of salt.
Editor's Note: As of June 2016 Coqui Coqui Tulum and 20 neighboring hotels are temporarily closed.
Eat & Drink
Coba ruins - 2 hours northwest of Tulum, connected by a single highway road
Cenotes - there are literally thousands in the area. I would recommend gran cenote and dos ojos.
Tulum ruins - go early, this place is a tourist trap. But where else do you get to see beachfront ruins?
Tulum beachfront - Rent bikes or walk along the strip that runs along the beach. Poke into all the little hotels and shops along the way. It's nearly impossible to get lost here, as there is only a "beach side" and a "jungle side" of the one road.
Sunscreen, bug spray (which we forgot and paid a pretty penny for there), a hat, good shoes for hiking the ruins, a book, a lightweight sarong/towel and if you are anything like me, an RX of filled Cipro.