Our plan was to skip the gated mega-resorts lining the highway out of Cancun. Instead, we followed the advice and rave reviews of our friends, who’d recently returned from Tulum, a lazy cluster of eco-resorts lining a perfect beach about two hours south of Cancun.
We arrived at Nueva Vida de Ramiro on a steamy Saturday afternoon. The staff at the reception desk were warm, welcoming, and laid back. We slipped off our shoes to follow them along sandy paths overgrown with dense foliage to our beach bungalow on stilts. As soon as we dropped our bags, a woman returned with welcome drinks: tall mojitos with chunks of diced lime and sugar cane juice. Cold and shockingly tart, the first sip made me inhale quickly. Mmmm. Mexico.
We stayed in an “ocean view” bungalow hidden in the jungle with glimpses of turquoise water from our balcony. The room was perfect; simple and spacious. A pretty Mexican tiled bathroom, a hammock outside the wide double doors, and a breezy second-floor loft open on one side with a sloped thatched roof and two chairs, perfect for reading in the shade. Looking out over palm fronds from our window, I heard a flitting sound and spied a red-breasted hummingbird hovering over brilliant orange flowers.
Most mornings, after a breakfast of thick dark coffee, a plate of fresh fruit, and a basket of wheat toast and banana bread in Nueva Vida’s outdoor café, we headed to the beach. Neuva Vida’s staff sets up a private “living room” for each bungalow consisting of two beach chairs, a broad umbrella, a table, and the best ever beach mattress with pillows. We spent our days reading in the shade of the umbrella, occasionally breaking for a swim. When we got hungry, we’d either order from a waiter strolling along the beach, or we’d take a walk and poke into the first ocean-front restaurant that called to us.
The restaurants lining the beach are simple: thatched roofs, homemade wood furniture, barefoot patrons welcome. The food is perfect; lime squeezed over tender fish tacos topped with crunchy lettuce and creamy avocado. Salty paella with peas, heaps of whole prawns, clams, mussels, tender rings of calamari and flaky bits of white fish. Plump chunks of pink shrimp ceviche. Margaritas sweetened with fresh squeezed sugar cane juice.
After dinner we walked back along the beach, our toes sinking into sand as fine as powdered sugar. The clouds parted briefly, revealing a black sky dense with stars. Salsa music beckoned at La Zebra, a glowing strip of beach a few hundred yards beyond our bungalow. A circular wood deck built around two thick palm trees was packed with couples swishing hips to a live salsa band.
We ordered a pair of mojitos and plopped down on a sandy cushion on the beach to watch the crowd. One Mexican couple in particular was mesmerizing. Such rhythm. She in a red tank bra and black yoga pants, hips shashaying erotically to the beat. He in baggy cargo shorts and a preppy polo shirt- and odd pair but perfectly matched dance partners. As we left, a three-legged dog lying in the sand lifted his head and thumped his tail at me. I grinned at him and he hopped over for a scratch between the ears.
During the day, we rented bikes for the few-mile ride to Tulum’s Mayan ruins. The remains of ancient limestone pyramids edged by the turquoise coast are now home to herds of iguanas.