It has now been over 7 months since the initial shock of COVID paralyzed the US and our "normal" changed forever. It's hard to believe how fast and slow time is moving all at the same time, but in the blink of an eye, we're already settling into Fall and have put summer behind us. I'm nervous to see how the upcoming months will continue to challenge all of us (can it even get crazier?), but excited for what positive things 2021 will hopefully bring. Until then, I want to share one of my recent trips to Tulum, where we celebrated my boyfriend's 30th birthday. Though it wasn't under the circumstances we wished, we still made the most of the situation and had an incredible time in Mexico on this family vacation.
There are currently no major travel restrictions to Mexico, although we had to fill out a COVID survey prior to arrival. Masks are mandatory in public, and all restaurants and stores were very strict on hand sanitizing, temperature checks and even shoe cleanings before stepping indoors. To be honest, I was surprised to see their precautions taken even more seriously than in NYC. I am a firm believer that as long as you take the proper precautions while traveling, it is okay to do so. Just be smart, stay safe, and keep others around you safe.
From my observations, Cancun was actually much more strict on the COVID precautions than Tulum. Blake and I spent an entire week in Mexico, split between Cancun and Tulum for half a week each. While Cancun is always a fun place to visit (this would be my 3rd time), I'll be focusing this post on Tulum, a city that we have visited on a day trip before, but did not get much time to explore the first time. Between its lush, tropical scenery, clear beaches, incredible food and bar scene and cenotes, I can't tell you one thing that I loved the most. 4 days was not enough time here, so I look forward to the day I can come back and continuing exploring this tropical oasis.
WHERE TO STAY
While many opt to stay at one of the many luxe hotels in Tulum beach, our group of 9 stayed at a private villa 20 minutes south of the main strip. Casa Godi is a fully staffed, 5-bedroom, 4.5 bath luxury villa located in the biosphere reserve of Sian Kaan, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The house is fully ecological and is absolutely stunning. It features an outdoor pool, multiple outdoor patios and terraces, and even has private beach access, perfect for a COVID-friendly getaway. Though we had to drive or take a taxi into town on a few occasions for dinners, it was a breath of fresh air to have our own, private space to relax and enjoy. Our group flew in from all across the country, so it was a great space to catch-up and celebrate the birthday. We certainly took advantage of all the sunny days and even ventured out on the beach at night to stargaze.
We started off every morning with a home-made breakfast from the live-in housekeeper, a luxury I wish I had back at home (even as someone who doesn't eat breakfast haha). One of our brunches was also catered right in our own kitchen by a private chef. She whipped up an incredible Mexican feast of chicken enchiladas, beef fajitas, seafood risotto and shrimp and mango salad.
I would highly recommend Casa Godi for large families and groups if you're looking for a secluded home with private beach access. You'll be well taken care of by the staff and I promise you'll never want to leave.
My biggest tip here is to make sure you rent a car to get around on your own. Though you can arrange for taxi transportation, it is quite far from the main strip and it'll be costly to go back and forth if you plan on exploring. Tulum is located around 2 hours drive south of Cancun, so pick up your rental car at the airport and drive down. Traffic is fine until you hit the main beach strip, where is gets pretty congested.
Note: Most of these photos were taken on my iPhone, but some of these are courtesy of my boyfriend's brother, Heath!
PLACES TO VISIT
Tulum Beach Strip
You can easily spend your entire holiday in Tulum just soaking in the sun on the beach from dusk to dawn. However, make sure to carve out some time to explore the Tulum beach strip, where you will find trendy clothing shops, outdoor bars and juice shacks, Tulum's best restaurants, and of course all the incredible beach clubs!
Check out some of Tulum's hottest beach clubs!
No visit to the Yucatan Peninsula is complete without visiting the Archeological Zone of Tulum at least once. Luckily for me, this was actually the second time I visited the Mayan Port City Ruins (check out my first site and read more about the history of the ruins here) and it was just as beautiful as it was the first time!
Tulum has an incredible history dating back hundreds of years, serving as one of the most powerful city-states during the 13th and 14th centuries. However, once the Spaniards invaded by the early1500s, the ancient Mayas who once called this majestic site their home abandoned it. It's hard to imagine what life was once like here when it was a bustling and thriving trading post, but I'm happy that the stories are still preserved and we are able to appreciate Tulum because of what this city went through centuries ago.
Admission is about $5USD if you purchase tickets on your own for a self-guided tour. Group tours are also extremely popular and I would recommend booking an excursion that includes the ruins in its itinerary. I found that having a guide really helps to paint the full story and history better than you can on your own.
With over 6,000 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula, it would take a lifetime to explore all of them. For those who are unfamiliar with cenotes, they are natural sinkholes that are formed when a cave ceiling has collapsed. Most of them are made of limestone and are typically filled with fresh water. Two years ago on our visit to Cancun, we did a day trip to Tulum and explored both a wet and dry cenote. This time around, I was excited to check out one of the more popular cenotes in Tulum.
After our stop at the ruins, we drove to the nearby Gran Cenote for a quick afternoon dip. You must shower before getting in to swim, but otherwise are free to explore the cenote at your leisure. In total, we spent about an hour there although I definitely could have relaxed for a few more hours! Entry is $15 per person, and snorkel equipment and locker rentals are also available for an additional charge.
During my next trip here, I would love to spend a day cenote-hopping and exploring as many as I can in the Yucatan. After all, they are what makes Tulum so unique and it would be a missed opportunity not to pay them a visit. For the divers out there, you can go cavern diving in the cenotes, which sounds like a once in a lifetime experience.
Tip: If you do end up visiting Gran Cenote, make sure to check out Cenote Calavera just down the road!
Driving in downtown Tulum, you'll notice that one of the most popular photo ops is the entrance of the Ahau Tulum Hotel. Once you're able to navigate through the horrible traffic from the tourists here, find a parking space and head to the Ahau Restaurant and Beach Grill toward the back of the hotel. You won't be disappointed with the large selection of yummy drinks and brunch options. My passion fruit juice was so fresh and delicious, and the mixed ceviche and guac definitely hit the spot after a long morning exploring the ruins and swimming. But man, I really can't stop thinking about the fish tacos! They were the BEST fish tacos I have ever had in my entire life - spicy, sweet, tangy and bursting with flavor in every single bite. I will look forward to the day where I can eat them again.
Make sure to check out Raw Love Cafe right next door, Tulum's #1 vegan spot with superfood smoothies and bowls, vegan entrees and soups and plenty of other matcha and latte options.
Image courtesy of Google
If you've heard of one restaurant in Tulum, it's probably Hartwood. Known for its open fire cooking and local dishes using only the freshest ingredients, it's one of the hottest spots in town. Reservations fully book sometimes almost two months in advance and there is no wonder why - the food here is incredible!
The menu may be small (~14 items between appetizers and main courses when we came), but it's for the best because any larger and you'd have an even tougher time choosing what to order. Luckily, with our group of, 9 we were able to order most of the menu items to try. Between the delicious jicama salad, jumbo prawns, fresh fish ceviche and tender, juicy ribs, it was hard to pick a favorite. Of course, we also went big and ordered the largest lobster they offered for the night. I'm not sure how many pounds they said it was when they showed us prior to ordering, but it was easily over 20 pounds. In case you're curious, the lobster cost 4500 pesos (or around $220 USD) and it was worth the "whoa" factor alone when it came out!
While you wait for your food to arrive or during your meal, make sure to try a few of their creative cocktails. They'll tailor anything to your liking, so just ask!
Tip: This restaurant is completely outdoors, so there is always a chance that unfavorable weather conditions can cause the restaurant to close for the evening. Also, make reservations well in advance as I mentioned because most likely, it will be completely booked if you cut it too close.
We came to La Zebra specifically for the spicy peanut oil salsa that someone in our group kept hyping up, and boy did it live up to expectations! La Zebra is a restaurant located in the La Zebra (of course) Hotel in Tulum Beach. It's a chic and casual place with great Mexican food and even better views. Make sure you leave some room for the actual food when you devour chips and salsa for the table. The beer battered fish tacos were A+.
Taboo is a beach club in Tulum with an energetic vibe and impressive, extensive menu of Mediterranean cuisine. It really set the bar high as our first dinner in Tulum. We started off with a bunch of apps that I honestly can't even remember now, but the stars of the show were the incredible octopus entrée and the surf and turf pictured below.
The best part of the evening was actually the music, specifically the incredible violin player who slayed the entire night. We absolutely loved the energy at Taboo, and though we came for dinner after dusk, I would love to come back and enjoy the chill beach club vibes during the day!
While on our drive to another reservation on our last evening in Tulum, we spotted WILD from the car and decided on a whim to turn around and change our dinner plans. It turned out to be one of the best decisions because it was an incredible last dinner to end our trip.
"WILD’s atmosphere is seductive and serene with copal incense adding to the ambiance and the etherealness, tables are set under the canopy of the concrete jungle showcasing an internationally inspired cuisine with a Mexican twist. "
Though I didn't drink, our group thoroughly enjoyed their creative cocktails and mezcals. The food didn't disappoint either. WILD features a farm to table international menu with a Mexican twist. Their menu isn't very extensive because their specials change depending on what fresh produce and ingredients they can get their hands on from local producers and farms. Family style here is the way to go because you'll want to try everything on the menu!
See below for all the descriptions of what we ordered. The only thing missing here is their famous white truffle ravioli, which we devoured before even snapping a pic haha. Make sure to get it - it's a MUST.
Grilled octopus, squid ink adobo, white cucumber, garlic aioli, chipotle togarashi
Left: Aguachile curtido en sal y mezcal, gel de mandarina, jícama, leche de tigre,chile morita
Middle: Beetroot salad, herbed chèvre cheese, beetroot pesto, citrus
Right: Aguacate crujiente, sikil pak, pico de gallo, trebol mixtos
Black recado braised pork belly, spicy mustard greens, fresh green papaya salad, lime vinaigrette
Thank you Tulum for an incredible adventure and for helping us to escape reality for a brief moment in time. We'll be back soon!