Tulum may no longer be the hidden gem it once was, but it’s got a ways to go before it becomes Cancún. To understand why, look no further than the town’s hotels.
We’re enough years into the dialogue about “places that were better before they got popular” that we can speak on the subject with some clarity — starting with Tulum, practically a poster child for the phenomenon. Tulum isn’t what it once was, sure, but it’s not like it turned into Cancún. The big chain resorts so ubiquitous 80 miles up Mexico’s Caribbean coast are few and far between here. In Tulum, boutique hotels still rule the day — an agreeable consolation for a town that developed from rustic hippie hideaway into one of the world’s most attractive tourist destinations, and did it with shocking speed.
Despite the runaway success, Tulum’s present-day appeal remains rooted in its 1990s rebirth as a counterculture haven for backpackers and spiritualists. You can’t stop progress, but you can stay tethered to what made you desirable. If you want all-inclusive family fun and a more mainstream atmosphere, Cancún has you well-covered. If you want a little more edge, a lot more lively bars and trendy restaurants, and a strong whiff of the bohemian ambience that brought everyone here in the first place, then you come to Tulum. (And if you want a sort of mixture of both, Playa del Carmen is located right in between.)
A few years back, we explored the reasons why Tulum has been called the “Williamsburg of Mexico.” The north Brooklyn neighborhood similarly changed rapidly while chasing the fumes from a previous era. Like Williamsburg, Tulum has begun to graduate beyond being known as a place that’s perpetually not what it used to be. It’s now something different, somewhat the same. Visitors might no longer be zen seekers and wandering mystics, but they’re still in the market for encounters more intimate and considered than they’ll find at your average internationally known beach attraction.
The proof is in the available accommodations. You’ll struggle to find many hotels in Tulum with 100 rooms, let alone 200 or 300. You’ll also find few of those vacation mega-compounds that seem engineered to ensure you never leave the property. The Tulum hotels in our selection are smaller and mostly independently owned. They prioritize native, eco-friendly materials that marry the town’s inherent laid-back eccentricity with the latest fashions in modern hotel design. They recognize the importance of the ends-of-the-earth vibe that put this pocket of coast on the global map, and they want you to experience it — within the hotel, and without.
It’s reasonable to believe that Tulum has boomed beyond its utility. Rest and relaxation can certainly be found, but so can a sometimes too boisterous nightlife scene. Our concern is for the locals. What usually follows waves of success like Tulum’s is a massive increase in the cost of living, forcing people who work service-sector jobs (like hospitality) further out of town. It happens everywhere, and it’s happening in Tulum. The answer isn’t the end of tourism, but the rise of more responsible tourism, led by hotels and guests alike. It’s an endlessly complicated situation. If you’re planning to visit, the relevant advice we can offer is to hone in on hotels that provide fair wages and benefits and that actively support the local community.
Check out all of the Tulum hotels in our selection, or start with the stunning samples below.
Be Tulum Beach & Spa Resort
Be Tulum knows better than to try to outshine the setting. Suites are spread throughout the property’s gardens and palms, and their pleasures are a bit on the subtle side — they’re set back slightly from the beach, and the vibe is more eco/spiritual than purely hedonistic. There’s a beach club and a poolside lounge, but Be Tulum can be as quiet as you want it to be. It all borders on the national park of Sian Ka’an, a coastal reserve that’s a world heritage site and an ecological conservation project at once.
Ahau takes Tulum’s typical low-key and low-impact approach to a higher level; it’s named for the Mayan sun god Kinich Ahau, who represents universal consciousness. Needless to say it takes great pains to minimize its ecological footprint. Where it really excels, however, is in the related goal of stepping out of the way and letting its guests experience the closest possible communion with nature (short of sleeping outside under the stars).
Located right on the beach, Nomade brands itself as a human-centered hotel, as a temporary habitat for, well, nomads. It’s a mission that’s perfectly in keeping with Tulum’s slightly starry-eyed vibe, as are the Nomade’s “self evolution” philosophy, not to mention the shaman-led workshops and meditation workshops. But even a nonbeliever has to admit: this is a gorgeous and thoroughly peaceful beach hotel.
Era Hotel & Spa
Era Hotel & Spa Tulum is set in a leafy residential neighborhood on the western edge of town, which means urban life isn’t far away — but the immediate surroundings are verdant, quiet, and exceedingly private. Balconies face an interior courtyard with a pool; while a hut on the beach might feel more private, Era’s modest size means it’s incapable of feeling crowded.
A beachfront villa and a handful of bungalows, with the jungle on one side and a spectacular white sand beach on the other, La Valise is a slice of heaven — and it’s packed with the modern comforts, traditional crafts, and eclectic, bohemian design that Tulum is supposed to be all about.
The difficult balance for Tulum’s boutique hotels is how to balance deep immersion in this location’s inimitable atmosphere and unique environment with the high-end comforts modern travelers have grown accustomed to. Hotel Bardo, set on the lush, forested west side of town, walks precisely this line: its minimal-modern concrete-clad villas open onto private jungle gardens with hammocks and little plunge pools, and while air conditioning and wi-fi are present, you’re gently encouraged to go without.
Neither in the beachfront resort zone nor the busy downtown, Majaró Tulum finds itself instead in a residential neighborhood just to the south of the city center, a location that allows it a bit of extra quiet and privacy, without sacrificing much in the way of convenience. All of which is maybe secondary to the fact that Majaró is simply a lovely hotel: a luxe little 12-room oasis, one whose clean-lined modern exteriors are softened by a profusion of greenery.
Not every hotel in Tulum is right on the beach, but Hotelito Azul is just about as close as you can get to the Caribbean and still wake up warm and dry. Here they’ve renovated a formerly undistinguished property, adding front-facing full-length glass doors to every room, in order to maximize the impact of the views. And while only the front row has that unobstructed vista, the effect in all of them is to bring the environment inside.
Una Vida Tulum
Set on a verdant piece of land to the west of the city center, where the rainforest meets the town, Una Vida is a villa-style hotel, its rooms and suites clustered together in groups of two or three across the property. The king rooms open onto terraces, for maximum interaction with the environment; some come with plunge pools, while the jungle studios add kitchenettes and outdoor bathtubs.
With its thatched roofs and its handmade craftsmanship, Encantada Tulum is as rustic as can be, but rustic doesn’t mean spartan — look a little closer and you’ll find luxuries, just not ostentatious ones. Eight rooms means it’s quiet and intimate as well, and they’ve all got plush king-size beds, hardwood floors, wraparound decks, and air conditioning, for when the delightful breeze isn’t quite getting it done.
Jashita — perched on the shore of the Caribbean just up the beach from the pre-Columbian archeological site — is a small, sophisticated hotel where the pared-down decor echoes the calm of the sky and sea. The look is relaxed and contemporary, with beach-inspired straw loveseats, airy bathrooms, and pillow-topped sofas in shades of pale sand and bright seashell white.
Tago Tulum, with its close-set suites surrounded by wild greenery and its splendid little stretch of white-sand beach, combines modest size and thoughtful luxuries to create a cloistered, serene little world in the heart of one of Mexico’s most famous places.
Its founder, an American music-business veteran, was a Tulum traveler before he was a hotelier, and Nest is his chance to create the hotel he always wanted to see. Along with alums from other well-known Tulum hotels, he’s established a stylish 12-room boutique hotel just off the beach to the south of town, at the far end of the Riviera Maya from busy Cancún.
Hotel Tiki Tiki Tulum
While the coastal hotel zone is where most of the hotels are — you’ve got to admire the clarity of that logic — the western edge of the town center, two miles inland from the beach, is where you’ll find the low-key, affordable, and charmingly mid-century modernist Hotel Tiki Tiki Tulum.
Habitas Tulum offers tented rooms, with hardwood floors, palapa roofs, and canvas walls, one of which opens onto either a terrace or a picture window facing out to sea. Outdoor showers add to the back-to-nature feeling, and the wellness program includes yoga classes and spa treatments on an elevated open-air deck. Moro, the wood-fired restaurant, serves sustainably sourced seasonal fare with a Mediterranean accent.
Mark Fedeli is the hotel marketing and editorial director for Tablet and Michelin Guide. He’s been with Tablet since 2006, and he thinks you should subscribe to our newsletter.