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Tulum

Tulum Beach by TheSavvyExplorer.com

The bustling city of Tulum is of three worlds – an old Yucatan town full of cheap taco spots, high end designer rental houses, and environmentally conscious beachside resort living. With this year’s Noma pop-up putting Tulum on the radar of every travel publication in the world, we decided to take a look at what’s happening in this town two hours south of Cancun.

Tulum does takes some getting used to. For starters, while the Zona Hotelera “hotel zone” starts just a few miles from the center, you can expect a good 20 minute drive from downtown. The single lane roads are narrow – oh and watch out for the “topes” or speed bumps – and busy. Once you hit beachside, the road is often congested with traffic jams in the middle of nowhere. Then there are the pickup trucks full of Mexican cops patrolling everywhere. Don’t worry – Tulum is as safe as they come. But it’s still a frequent sight.

Tacos at Taqueria Honorio

Travelers flock to Tulum for many reasons but the miles of unspoiled beaches are the primary draw for most. The electrical grid ends before the resorts are so the focus is on eco consciousness and healthy living. Think yoga, massage and more. Thankfully this makes it much less rowdy than Cancun.

The city has a burgeoning food scene but as with much of Mexico look for traditional spots for a great – and cheap – meal. Without a doubt the best tacos in town are at Taqueria Honorio (Av Satelite Sur). Here the star is cochinita pibil, the local specialty of slow roasted pork. Get there by noon as the supply is limited and generally runs out before closing (Hours: Tues – Sunday 6am – 2pm). Another well-known taco spot is Antojitos La Chiapaneca, but the tacos here left us wanting. They are undoubtedly cheap though at 7 to 10 pesos apiece. Beachside, some swear by Safari but we found the place overpriced and not worth it.

Hartwood at Night

Hartwood undoubtedly put Tulum on the foodie circuit with its wood-fired cooking and lack of creature comforts. Edge of the jungle? Check. Electricity? Not really. There’s no phone and web presence is, let’s say, lacking. One note if there is heavy rain, they will close and not have a way of informing you. After a 20 minute ride from downtown that can be extremely annoying. Pretty much everything we sampled was good but short of mind blowing.

If you want a more authentic Tulum experience, El Camello jr. (Av Tulum s/n) is the place. The food is good – portions enormous – and the vibe is true Mexico. The specialty here is seafood. Friendly, bustling and almost always a line.

Just north of the city center, the Tulum Ruins are a major draw. This well preserved walled Mayan city dating back to the 13th century is the only Mayan city directly on the sea. It is thought to have had religious or ceremonial significance as the population never topped 1,600 people.

Get there early to beat the crowds and the heat as shade is in limited supply. If you see a long line at the ticket booth look for the machines where you can pay by credit card. Also note that the ruins are ¼ mile walk from the parking lot. Wear comfortable shoes and bring water. The paths inside are well marked and lead you to all the major sites including the Castle and the beach. Open daily 8am – 5pm.

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