There are a lot of things that Mexico does really well. The weather, the food, the crafts, the people. But if there’s one thing that it really excels at, it’s beaches. The country boasts some 9,300 kilometres of coastline, of which nearly 3,000 km front the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. Along this stretch of sand sits one of Mexico’s most beautiful, and increasingly popular, destinations, Tulum.
Laidback Tulum is nothing more than a two-kilometre road flanked by small hotels and even smaller restaurants. On one side lies the jungly scrub and the other the sapphire waters of the Caribbean Sea, the sunshine dancing off its surface. And yet this low-key town has become a magnet for the A list with one New York Times journalist remarking that Tulum was “a destination so popular with the fashion crowd…that it almost fees like Fashion Week”.
We were, however, unaware of Tulum’s hip factor when we booked our 10 days away in early January. We just wanted a family holiday on the beach. There were seven of us in total, my husband and I and our two kids, then aged 3 and 5 and my in-laws and sister-in-law who were visiting from the UK.
Our choice of hotel was Posada Margherita, a small eco-chic hotel positioned directly on the beach that reportedly had a fantastic Italian restaurant. Tulum is very eco-minded and is consciously off-grid, which means that hotels and restaurants use solar generators and wind turbines to keep the lights on. Water pressure can be low, lights dim and A/C non-existent. Posada Margherita was no exception, but for someone who is fond of shabby chic design, the hotel suited me perfectly.
We hadn’t been in Tulum long, however, before we realised that this beach address definitely attracts a certain type of person. Our fellow hotel guests were stylists from L.A., documentary filmmakers and art dealers from New York. We even spotted the actress Demi Moore having breakfast there on our first day! Needless to say, our very British family stood out somewhat. But despite the fact that Tulum really is very cool, it is also a wonderful destination for a family holiday
Where to go
You can easily spend all your time in Tulum. The beach, although very narrow in parts, is gloriously white and the sea a spectacular shade of blue. Currents can be strong, however, so keep an eye on the kids. It’s more of a splashing kind of sea than a swimming one.
There are some fantastic restaurants – we particularly loved Casa Banana and the restaurant at Posada Margherita – but there are dozens of others that are equally popular including the uber trendy, Hartwood.
But if you wanted to do more than just top up your tan then there’s plenty to do. The pre-Colombian Mayan site of Tulum is quite magical, owing in no small part to its position on a bluff facing the Caribbean Sea. The Maya structures are now home to dozens and dozens of iguanas that bask in the Mexican sun all day long.
As well as being home to glorious beaches, the Yucatan Peninsula hides underground pools where Mayans communicated with the gods. These cenotes are natural swimming holes formed by the collapse of porous limestone bedrock. There are literally dozens of these underground pools with water so clear and pure that you can often see the bottom and the fish swimming among the plant life. Some of these cenotes are found in caves and others are open to the sky above, either way, however, swimming in these pristine waters is quite magical.
About 50 km away from Tulum is the Coba Archaeological Site, a wonderful Indiana Jones setting that feels almost undiscovered. In fact, this Mayan site, set among the jungle and between two lagoons, is still largely unexcavated. What has been discovered are three settlements, two ball courts and Nohoch Mul, the highest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan. Explore the site by foot, by bicycle or by cycle rickshaw, which the kids loved.
Another day trip saw us visit Akumal, a small beach town located between Tulum and Playa del Carmen. In Mayan language Akumal means “land of turtles” and it’s here that you can snorkel with turtles off the beach. There are three sheltered bays – Half Moon Bay, greater Akumal Bay and Aventuras Akumal Bay. All are good for snorkelling, kayaking and swimming – make sure to bring kiddie sized snorkels and flippers if you do want to swim with the turtles as the hire shops only have adult sizes.
The best part
It’s hard to pick a favourite day as we enjoyed everything that Tulum had to offer. However, early morning walks along an almost deserted beach with my son and family meals out were definite highlights. As far as family beach holidays go, this one was near perfect.
Three things you should definitely do
1. Book accommodation well in advance if travelling over busy periods such as Christmas and Easter. As well as Posada Margherita, we recommend Villa Las Estrellas.
2. Have dinner at Casa Bananas. Despite the terrible name, this Argentinian restaurant is a lot of fun and has fantastic drinks and – not surprisingly – great steaks.
3. Visit the Tulum Ruins in the morning, before the crowds and before it gets too hot! Oh, and if it’s a choice between Tulum, Coba or Chichén Itzá, opt for Tulum and Coba.
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