Monday, April 18, 2011

Tulum, Mexico

Boston’s winter was brutal this year.  I love snow, but January was relentlessly snowy.  February was bitterly cold and grey. By March Mohit agreed it was time to escape.  We used’s mapped fare deals to find out where we could fly for about $300 round trip.  Bingo!  Direct, cheap flights to Cancun.

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.

The eco-resorts along Tulum’s beach are off the grid; all power is provided by the wind and the sun.   The first night, the power ran out in the middle of the night; we both woke up sweaty when our fan shut off.  We threw open the windows and big double door to our room to let in the ocean air.  The mosquito net over our bed brushed against my face with each gust of salty wind blowing through the open windows. 

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. 

The wind was constant.  I’ve never been anywhere so windy in my life.  During the day, if I stood facing the ocean, in moments the wind coated my face in salty spray.  Everything glistens with a coating of surf and salt.  The air is thick, moist, luxurious.  Like when you drape a towel over your head and push your face above a steamy bowl.  I hung my wet bikini to dry on the porch rail: pulling it down to pack two days later, it was still damp.

At dinner one night at Posada Margherita, the restaurant owner plunked down in the empty seat at our table.  He had a shaved head, a black T-shirt with a skull on it, and arms painted with tattoos.   He waxed poetically about the finer points of his special for the night- red snapper braised in butter and lemon.  Just like everything else in Tulum- it was simple but perfect.

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. 

At lunch on our last day in Tulum, a woman and her ten year old son sat at the table next to us.  She wore a flowing Indian-printed cotton dress woven with threads of glittery gold.  I asked if she knew whether any places to stay along the beach have fresh-water showers (the running water in our bungalow was salt water only- and she confirmed most places are the same).  I loved her reply.  She said “Every time I come down here, the first night I swear I’m never coming back again.  But then the whole hippie beach-camping vibe sinks in and I just don’t want to leave“.  She’s been back four years in a row.  We’re already talking about coming back next year.


  1. Great blog! I have been doing some research for a while on a good, relaxing place to visit in Mexico, and after reading this, the decision was made! I'm even looking into the same hotel that you guys stayed at. Quick question about the hotel, though - they only take reservation payments through bank account transfers and paypal accounts, which seems a little shady to me, but I wanted to see if that's the same thing you guys did? Any feedback would be appreciated!

    San Francisco, CA

  2. Yes, we paid a 50% deposit using Paypal, and the balance when we arrived. Although this also made us nervous, we had no problems. We chose Nueva Vida based on the rave reviews of friends who were there only weeks before our trip, so we decided to just trust the circumstances. Good luck and enjoy!

  3. Beautifull Pic's!!

    Thank you sharing your amazing holiday!!