When a close friend of mine discussed the idea of getting our “group” together to escape to Tulum for a well-deserved vacation, I hesitated. I’d done the Cancun thing in my late teens and early 20’s, which was everything you’d expect – a touristy, beachy, party down time. Trying to pull myself away from my past shot-slinging recollection of Mexico, I did some quick research on Tulum. Within 5 minutes and a brief conversation with my friend, I was tracking flights, booking our room, and planning an escape for the end of September.
After flying into the Cancun airport, I was relived to part ways with the typical Cancun crowd and hop on a shuttle to a place that many call magical. Being the first to arrive (the rest were flying in from Nebraska and Oklahoma) at our resort (Papaya Playa) I was greeted and shown to our cabana with a spectacular ocean view. Most lodging in Tulum is “eco-friendly” for our resort, this meant no AC, no outlets, and reasonably priced. I unpacked the small amount of belongings I had and moseyed along the jungle lined pathway to check out the bar and restaurant.
One by one, my friends arrived and we all gathered for our first dinner and drinks. Papaya Playa’s menu was ample with an expansive range of farm-to-table dishes from ceviche to salads and of course mexican classics like tacos and fajitas. My white mole chicken was decent but didn’t hit the spot. I wasn’t troubled, I would have all week to graze. For breakfast they served freshly squeezed orange juice, which makes Florida’s Own taste like garbage. As simple as it sounds, their morning bread (free if you’re staying there) with papaya spread was marvelous -I’ve never really had Papaya anything, I was quite happy.
The next day, following paddleboarding and snorkeling at Casa Cenote, our friendly/awesome/helpful guide, Mauricio (his site here) took us to a local joint, Taqueria Honorio, with the promise that we’d be having the best tacos in Tulum. Mauricio suggested we get one of everything … I like the way he was thinking. In no time, three colorful tacos were waiting in front of me for just enough time to snap a photo. The seasoning of the savory chicken, the spice of the beef, and the pork (tacos de lelchón – baby pig to be exact) was amazing and the crispy strip of pork skin added a perfect crunch. Unlike the other tacos we had in Tulum, these were served on flour tortillas.
Besides the authentic flavor and spice, I quickly appreciated the smaller size of the tacos in Mexico. It’s smart really, because you’re able to load up on different ones (for really cheap) to experience all the flavors. Toppings are not overwhelming, everything is balance between the protein, carb, veggie, and of course, spice. There’s an art to Mexico’s taco’s that I wish would translate here.
Tulum restaurants are generous with sauces and dips, so naturally (as the condiment-loving gal I am), I was overjoyed when my first order of tortilla chips came with 3 different dips. Later during the week, I’d become accustomed to the plethora of condiments which accompanied our breakfast bread, tacos, and chips. Puro Corozan served an amazing black bean dip, El Camello Jr. had a spicy fish salsa, and Antojitos Mexicanos came with 4 sauces that ranged from sweet to hot as hell.
Doing some food research before the trip, Flor de Michoacan topped almost every list. This place serves popsicles, fresh juice, and ice cream all worth multiple trips during your vacation. I recommend finding this place on your first day, you’ll go again. My coconut popsicle was light and fluffy packed with dense sweet flakes of coconut and a hard shell of chocolate covered the outside with toasted coconut flakes. I don’t know what gets more perfect than this besides the chocolate dipped banana I had moments later. I don’t resist indulgence if I find something really good.
Another noteworthy restaurant was discovered after our original restaurant destination closed during off season. Our cab driver took us on a detour to the heart of downtown Tulum to Antojitos Mexicanos. If you’re not sure about anything, always ask the locals – they’ll always steer you to a good meal. This warm night, I underestimated just how good this was going to be. Each of us loaded up on chips, cervezas, tacos, and passed around a traditional dish – mole enchiladas. Having a meal this authentic is spoiling – the dread of getting back to the states only to have mediocre “Mexican” was in the back of my mind but tried to let it go. This was one of the most memorable meals for me. Good conversation, ambience, and beers – I don’t know what more you could ask for. Oh yeah, maybe a total bill of under $30. Yes, this happened, for our 5 beers, 11 tacos, and mole enchiladas, our bill was $24.
A few other quick mentions …
Puro Corozan – their 2 for 1 happy hour drink special was a pleasant discovery. Their speciality, lime soup was wonderful and a nice change from heavier meals. This place is real sexy so if you’re with your special someone, I’d suggest canoodling here.
El Tabano – Another sexy eatery nestled in the jungle that dishes up fresh farm-to-table items listed on a blackboard menu. The collaboration of flavors here are not to be missed – from pumpkin seed fish, ginger and coconut shrimp, to cold avocado and cucumber cream soup.
El Camello Jr. – Local seafood hotspot with tons of fresh seafood options including octopus, seafood soup, and shrimp. Like spice? Try the Camarones la Diablo = spicy shrimp, my friend declared this as her best meal in Tulum.
Beside the food, Tulum is a place that can fulfill almost anyones vacation needs. The jungle paradise offers snorkeling, spa treatments, yoga, and beach lounging. Although this might sound like typical beach destination, Tulum is different. I’m still trying to pinpoint exactly why but I think I’m coming to the conclusion it’s so sexy. Not sure if it’s the dim lighting, intelligent conversation with other holiday-ers, open kitchens, jungle ambience, or the treehouse-like architecture – I don’t think it’s explainable unless you go. Maybe people coin Tulum as magical.
Yes, it’s magical indeed.