By Suzane Crane
For some, vacation is a time to simply relax, reflect, and recharge. To check out, chill out and dine out, to push the pause button on “real” life… To lie on a golden beach with good novel in hand and dip a toe into the restorative waters of quietude.
But for others, full immersion is the goal. Do, see, experience as much as possible.
Both approaches are valid. But this guide to the “Hidden Tulum” is meant for those who fall into the latter category. Those who seek alternative Tulum experiences in a region brimming with history, culture and tradition — where a diverse international community converges with descendants of a civilization that dates back milleniums. Where shamanic rituals are still practiced in pueblos far removed from the modernity and amenities available in Tulum.
So back to our anonymous sources we went to provide you with ideas to truly engage, to experience life in Tulum as we who live here do. To eat and drink where we do. To study, learn, and exercise where we do… To propel you off the beaten track onto the off-the-beaten track… so to speak!
We’ve already shared some of our “secret” cenotes, beaches and parks… now permit us to reveal what treasures abound behind Tulum’s back doors. On inconspicuous side streets in non-touristic barrios. Up on a roof somewhere downtown. Shrouded by foliage, or just simply shrouded.
Tucked within the grounds of Harmony Glamping, which is in turn tucked on a small street south of town, Flow’s evolving vegetarian menu is notable for its bright approach to both ethnic and familiar meatless fare. Co Con Amor is a sweet little café/shop popular with health food aficionados while La Regia Tulum proffers great barbecue and Micheladas, a distinctive beer-based cocktail native to Mexico and Latin America.
Other local faves for grabbing a bite or drink in town… La Coqueta, Pozoleria La Mexicanita, and Don Cafetos for traditional Mexican chow, El Camello’s, Los Aguachilles, Barracuda, and El Capitan for the freshest seafood and ceviches, and Taqueria Honorio, Antojitos La Chiapaneca, and El Tacoqueto for outstanding tacos. Hermana Republica is a relatively new and lively pub two blocks off the main drag that features an enviable selection of craft beers and unpretentious food menu.
The concealed garden at Azafran is always packed with locals for breakfast while — less veiled but equally popular for morning coffee — is El Cielo, Babel, and Kibok. At lunchtime, one is almost guaranteed to run into an acquaintance at El Vegetariano (which offers non-veg options also), El Gourmet or Loyal Order Pueblo (not to be confused with its elegant seaside sister). Uno Noodles and Nao remain go-to spots for the best Japanese and sushi.
Manglar is –- in our opinion –- one of Tulum’s top purveyors of brick-oven pizza. Popular local haunt Chacabar also peddles great pizza alongside other simple — and simply delicious – dishes. Located in Aldea Zama, this is where expats often gather to watch sporting events in an open-air communal setting. You want to walk, talk, and eat like a local… head here.
Touted as the best burger joints in town are Roraima and Bonita Burger Bar (which is also veggie friendly) while El Clandestino on jungle side of beach road slings burgers for both carnivores and vegetarians. Open 24 hours (!!!!), this literally hidden hipster haven is set around a cenote (where drunk or not, guests often dive right in) and Tuesday Karaoke nights are a blast. A cheap fun place to hang out with the Tuluminati!
Also on the beach road… Tunich is the ticket for breakfast. A few doors down La Creperie serves savory and sweet crepes as well as other casual fare. Housed in a stationary Gulfstream, Pasha prepares fantastic falafel, crunchy fries and home-made hummus. Popping up last Christmas and serving food that we’re told is quite impressive, Bejuco Hotel/Restaurant is set on a divine little cove with private tent-like palapas and outdoor dining room while Loyal Order’s newly opened beach property is quickly becoming a favorite among those who relish unrivalled hospitality and amazing Turkish cuisine.
Loco Tulum — near the arches to Sian Ka’an — presents a unique take on traditional Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. Also down that way, Charly’s Vegan Tacos — not really secret, but relocated from its original location — persists as a local and tourist favorite.
Okay, after all that gluttony, you might need to work it off. What you do in the privacy of your room is one thing, but if it’s a gym, pilates, or martial arts class you seek, there are a plenty of options.
For our guests staying at any of Colibri’s four beach-front properties, Tulum Jungle Gym is conveniently located in the Hotel Zone near Amansala. In town, Evolve, Adventure Fitness Club, and the health center at Los Amigos are well equipped gyms with personal trainers on staff. Tulum Dharma Gym specializes in “muscle and fitness” while Tulum Fighters provides cross-fit and Muay Thai training with Brazilian Jiujitsu, Judo and Karate on offer at the Martial Arts Academy. For pilates, residents flock to Pilates Tulum.
If you want to mix it up with the real locals (ie: Mexican nationals!) try slipping yourself into a soccer or basketball match at the courts. Worst case, you get to watch the boys at play! Casa De Cultura is a wonderful community venue that offers workshops and performances for kids and adults. African and belly dance, music, painting, and more (www.mexicoescultura.com). A variety of dance genres are also taught at Colibri Art Dance Studio.
Should you care to spend part of your holiday learning or improving your Spanish skills, check out Metzli Spanish Language School, Tulum Language School or El Camino. Better yet, engage a native speaker in conversation. Any attempt to communicate in the mother tongue when visiting a foreign country goes a long way towards enhancing the experience… and most locals love the challenge and cultural exchange. For a triple whammy — practice Spanish, learn traditional customs and Mexican cooking techniques at Riviera Kitchen Tulum.
Since 2011, Mercado Comunitario de Tulum has been staging weekly markets that showcase crafts and locally produced food products. Beginning at 6 pm, this neighborhood affair culminates with the showing of a family-friendly film. Located? And speaking of markets, community group Ladies Who Lunch/Chicas Who Chat Tulum organize dynamic all-female heARTisan Markets in various locations several times a year. Conceived as a vehicle to support female artists/designers/entrepreneurs, this revolving interactive event provides free space to local NGOs and donates a percentage to area charities.
Although not known for the sort of conventional galleries you might find in a city, Tulum itself has long served as an organic canvas for local artists. Just look up and around to discover wondrous manifestations of visual creativity on walls and structures throughout the pueblo.
One glaring exception is the recently opened IK Art Lab, a contemporary experiential art space at Hotel Azulik conjured by Peggy Guggenheim’s grandson. Whether or not the installation lives up to its “promise to transcend the traditional confines of the art museum,” the fantastical structure itself commands a visit.
And if you ARE an artist, consider sharing your skills at Los Amigos De La Esquina, a non-profit center providing a safe haven for kids… giving the gift OF yourself is actually also giving a gift TO yourself. Donations are welcome and much needed. (www.facebook.com/LADLE.mx)
Some visitors to Tulum — especially those unaccustomed to “developing nation” travel — are struck by the homeless animal pandemic here. There exists no shelter in Tulum, and tragic as it is, tourists can help ameliorate the crisis. Donating money towards sterilization will abet efforts to stem overpopulation. This can be done through veterinary clinics such as Clinica Veterinario Tulum (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by supporting Help Tulum Dogs and Mestiza Pet Project (Facebook: Mestiza Malas & Pet Project).
These organizations will also do all the footwork necessary for those who want to adopt or serve as an escort back to the US or Canada where some of these animals have forever families awaiting them.
Altruism obviously heals one’s heart but there are innumerable traditional and esoteric wellness options available in Tulum for body and soul, as well. In addition to ubiquitous yoga and meditation classes, Tulum boasts top practitioners in acupuncture, biomagnetism, chiropracty, and fascial stretch therapy.
Sound and crystal healing sessions, tantra, temescal, tarot and reiki, and Mayan shamanic healing and are all here for the taking. Lots of high priced commercial choices, but our hidden healing havens include Holistika and Euphoric Yoga & Wellness in the Akumal jungle.
So, here we are… Instead of wondering where to begin? the question now is: where to end? — so bountiful and seemingly limitless are the riches and niches endemic to Tulum.
For now, the answer to that query is: Here. We end here in hopes that we have ignited in our guests a spirit of adventure. Inspired a desire to explore beyond the obvious, to expand horizons outside the well-trodden… to truly experience the people, places, and things that have long remained the “Secrets of the Tuluminati.”