Traveling to Tulum: Where to Stay, Eat & Play

I just got back from my second visit to Tulum (about an hour south of Cancun) and now feel like I know enough to be dangerous and offer recommendations.
The view from the bar at Papaya Playa Project
If you're like me, before going to Tulum, you'd mostly only seen it via Instagram. Via Insta-lens, Tulum looks beautiful... and it is... but there are a few things to think through as you plan your trip. There's not a ton of infrastructure and not every hotel has things you traditionally expect, so you'll need to ask basic questions about accommodations (if they matter to you)... things like:
  • Is there potable water to drink?
  • Does this place have beach access?
  • Is there air conditioning in the rooms?
Where to Stay
The first time I visited, we stayed at this fantastic AirBNB in the Artia neighborhood mid-way between the town and the beach. Free bikes came with the rental - and passes to Papaya Playa Project Beach Club, so we just biked down to the beach. The small complex had a great little pool, a concierge who was so helpful in calling taxis and giving advice, and was close to groceries (which rocked for quick ATM access and restocking bottled water.) I would definitely recommend this condo for four people, provided you're sharing rooms. (The two bathrooms came in handy when one of our team got sick also.) The condo was three levels: kitchen/dining/living/balcony; then two bedrooms and two bathrooms on the next level, then a rooftop with hammock, wine fridge and plunge pool.)

Booking through AirBNB was seamless and we were met on-site by the concierge. You may see several similar condos in Artia. They all seem to be similar and I believe have the same management. We had a brief lockout issue and they solved it with an on-site manager, which is a nice option.
The AirBNB is designed gorgeously and great for four people.
The second time, we stayed at Posada Margherita which is known as one of the top restaurants on the beach. What's not known well is that they have a handful of little villas and rooms tucked around the quaint Italian slice of paradise in Mexico.
The view our first morning at Posada Margherita
Service was so nice, with coffee appearing promptly as we emerged in the morning and focaccia and cocktails on the beach in the afternoon. The on-site restaurant remains one of my favorites in the entire town: simple grilled fish and pasta with fresh ingredients on the brief menu are a welcome break after a couple of days living on tacos and ceviche. They have a nice wine list when you're ready for a break from tequila and mezcal. And, house dog Feliche becomes one of your favorite parts of the stay.

Side Note: Posada Margherita only accepts pesos, cash or Zelle to pre-pay for your reservation. Don't let this cause you stress. They are legit and that's pretty normal for Tulum businesses. 
Feliche, stealing my seat

Other options on the beach that I've seen in person and would recommend to check out for your stays: ZamasTata TulumPapaya Playa Project, Be TulumNomade, Ahau TulumCasa Malca, Azulik, and Jashita (stunning and lux, but not walkable to anything besides Chamico's)

Where to Eat on the Beach
The Holy Trinity of Food on Tulum Beach includes Hartwood, Arca and Posada Margherita, in my opinion. Arca and Hartwood only accept reservations 30 days out, so set a reminder. Posada Margherita is walk-ins only. These three are not cheap, and all only take cash or pesos. All are worth every peso and every bite.

Hartwood has a nightly hand-written menu based on what is fresh, local and available. Things do sell out, so there is a slight incentive to take an earlier reservation. But, you won't be disappointed. I don't have a lot of food photos because it was dark and candle-lit and I didn't want to disturb anyone with a flash. If it's on the menu, definitely order the pulpo, the beet, and the sweet potato. That, plus one of the grilled fish options.
Menu at Hartwood, August 2019
The cocktails looked fun, but our server steered us to a great bottle of Mexican rosé - yes, such a thing exists! Tulum introduced me to a little bit of the burgeoning Mexican wine talent and now I want to visit vineyards and taste more in the years to come.

We were celebrating a birthday and our server sent us an amazing honey cake, which I would recommend saving room for!

Arca was also a birthday celebration and stunned with beautiful design, creative and innovative food and wonderful service. '
Arca's gorgeous bar set in mangrove jungle
Memorable menu items at Arca remain the soft-shell crab taco and bone marrow - both of which I still think about nearly a year later! And the bar rocked everything from mezcal cocktails to grower Champagne.
Marrow and mezcal cocktails at Arca
It feels criminal that I don't have photos from the great food at Posada Margherita - after all, I've eaten dinner there three times and only been to Tulum twice. It starts with drinks and a complimentary basket of house-made focaccia. The caprese salad, shrimp pasta, and fresh grilled fish are the way to go (and some of the only options on the restaurant dinner menu.) If you're feeling more like pizza, you can pick that up at the street front - or sitting on the beach - during select hours (but, it's not offered during the dinner service in the restaurant.)
Since I don't have food photos from Posada Margherita, enjoy this gin-n-tonic photo
What I didn't know until I stayed there is that Posada Margherita also has a wonderful breakfast menu. We loved everything from the toast (fresh bread, toasted and served with Nutella, butter and jam,) fresh-squeezed juice and French toast... but my pick of them all is this gorgeous egg-in-the-hole dish. The ricotta! The avocado! The mushrooms! Swoon.
Egg in the hole at Posada Margherita
Beyond those three, there is still a ton of talent to check out:

  • There are juice shops and fresh fruit bowls at Matcha Mama and Raw Love at Ahau
  • Beachfront ceviche, guacamole, juices, coffees and cocktails at Papaya Playa Project (you can reserve beach palapas for a minimum tab of 1,000 pesos or about $50 per person between 10am and 5pm... which is an awesome way to spend the day because they also have a DJ and a pool.)
  • Tacos and beers on the beach at Taqueria Eufemia (note, if you feel like you are walking down a long, weird corridor and wondering if you're in the wrong place, you're about to emerge into the taqueria, keep going.)
  • In town, don't miss Taquería Honario which had my favorite lunchtime tacos - with live music. Just run the menu and order one of each to decide what your favorite is. For traditional al pastor tacos, visit Antojitos La Chiapaneca - just get there early, they do run out and when it's done it's done. I was forced to have the chicken taco and feel like I missed out! Make sure you walk around town, there are cute shops, fun bars to pop into and it's a nice anecdote to the beachfront Instagram vibes.
  • Tempura avocado tacos at Tata Talum - and then stay and hang at their pool and beach. Wonderfully welcoming. 
  • For breakfast tacos, my favorite ones are at Zamas Beach. I've ordered them twice and only want more. It's also fun for sunset (and probably any other time.)

Breakfast Tacos at Zamas
Where to Play
I've mostly done restaurants, but a couple of favorite bars have also emerged:

  • Mateo's is a great spot to sit down and chat up the bartenders. They took me on a bit of a mid-day mezcal tour when I mentioned to him that Tulum had made me a fan. 
  • MurMur has swing seats, great cocktails and fun bartenders. It's a great spot to go before or after Hartwood and Arca, which area also nearby. To be fair, the food is actually great here also, I've just never sat down for dinner (yet.)
  • Rosa Negra will draw your interest with their fiery celebrations -- and the drinks and atmosphere are magnetic and fun. I just would waive you off of the food there. But, hit up the bar, particularly after 9pm.

Is it terrible that I still haven't done cenotes or ruins? Part of me just loves the beach and food... part of me knows that the glut of tourism is bad for the environment and historic architecture... part of me is just... lazy on vacation? Let me know if there's one that I've missed that you'd recommend. There are also things like sound baths, yoga classes, full moon parties, a gym completely made out of the jungle and more. A couple things I've actually done and loved:

  • I had a private tarot card reading via a relationship therapist (that I found on Instagram.) She was great - so inviting about learning more. It's only the second time I'd ever had it done and she explained it to me along the way. She's also a relationship therapist, so you know, really these two skills go hand in hand. Highly recommend if you're interested in checking it out, or for a girls weekend activity. She just came to our villa. 
  • We took a taxi to Chamico's to spend a laid back day snorkeling Solimon Bay and eating ceviche. You can also rent campsites here. It is a nice getaway from the overproduced experiences on the beach... if that's your thing... and it's mine.

Now that I've been to Tulum, would I go back? Sure. I really do love it. Great food, chill atmosphere and stunning beaches. I'd pick it over Cancun any day. But, I also am ready to explore more of Mexico - especially Merida, Mexico City and Isla Holbox. So, we'll see what 2020 brings.

Got other faves? Advice? Hit me in the comments below.

Until next time, Mexico...

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