2014: Beach Clubs of Tulum (updated version)
The Winds of Change
In the past, it seemed like a natural flow for a vacation in paradise to progress this way. In the last few years, we noticed a change in this pattern. More and more tourists want to stay in the jungle for a longer visit, and alternate their days between the jungle and the beach. They are eager to choose a different beach club along Tulum's coast each day to investigate and sample the sun, sand, surf and cervezas. I decided that it was time to do some exploring myself to check out what was changing along the coast, so I made a plan to do just that the very next day.
I put on my swimsuit, doused myself with sunscreen, packed my camera and notebook, and set off down the Cobá Road. Within 15 minutes I was heading past the tourist Mecca of Tulum and approaching the intersection on the beach road where Zincerity Hotel, formally Adonis, is located. A beautiful, new tourist information center is being constructed across from the hotel. I will have to include the details for this new site in another article. I turned left and drove 2.6 km past a blend of old and new hotels until I reached the first beach club on my list called Zazil Kin.
Zazil Kin is composed of a mixture of stucco-covered wooden stick houses and communal bathrooms sparsely painted bright Mexican colors, topped with palapa roofs. Sandy paths meander through the cabañas and lead to a waterfront bar where a handful of low-slung chairs and lounges are shaded under umbrellas or palapas, and a growing number of sheltering palms. There is currently a service charge of 50 pesos (less than $5 US) for the day. The price of the chair usually includes a cold beverage if you ask for it. The young men are happy to place the lounges wherever you like. The atmosphere is a mix of calm and lively, with the activities of an assortment of locals playing beach soccer just beyond the tall palms, and a small child or two selling rosary beads and friendship bracelets. Here you will find 20-peso beers, 15-peso Cokes/water and freshly made cocktails for 25 pesos that are plentiful and cold. No food is available on the beach front except for the cups of fresh fruit sold by the boys who pedal their snacks along this strip. Food is available in the restaurant near the parking area. The beach is wide and the sand is soft and cool. The surf tends to be calmer here than at the south beaches because of the existing reef a mile or so off shore. You can park here and, after a day at the beach, walk to the Tulum ruins only ¼ km away.
If you want to sample some local seafood, just walk along the beach a few hundred feet away to the Playa Pescadores Restaurant that is operated by the local fishermen's co-op and order the freshest seafood around, accompanied, of course, by a cold Mexican beer. There is often a lively Cuban orchestra playing on the stage. Some lounges are now strung in front of the open-air restaurant, if you want to catch some sun while sipping a cold beverage. Next door is a new, al fresco seafood restaurant called Adelita's.
A bit further down the road is a rustic sign indicating you are at Playa Maya, the public beach where the local fishermen pull their boats onto the beach when they are not out at sea. Park along this sandy road that is guarded by a policeman and wander toward the turquoise water. This is a good place to come if you just want to stroll along the beach and perhaps stop for a swim. You can even bring a cooler, chairs and umbrella, if you want to stay for the day. The Dorados (members of the fishermen's co-op) operate 2–3 hour snorkeling/boat tours out to the reef for about $25 US per person. Dive gear and drinks are provided on the tour. If you are with a group of five or more, the rate is about $15 US a person.
At km 1.9, just beyond Playa Maya public beach, I saw a large sign that said Paraiso. There is a well-marked parking area with an attendant and many taxis which are congregated just outside the entrance. They require that you bring your food/drink tab from their beach restaurant to show the attendant or pay 50 pesos. I parked under the palms and stepped out of the car, sinking my toes into the cool sand, and walked toward the Caribbean Sea. When I reached the beach, I was aware that there were some choices to make if I wanted to spend my day on this beach. Do I want sun or shade? Do I want a wide mattress or a lounge? The lounges rent for about 50 pesos, and the beds with a table, chairs and umbrella rent for about 200 pesos. There are showers near the new bathroom located behind the concrete restaurant beyond the beach area. Mediocre, overpriced food is served at the tables scattered around the beach or at your lounge area by friendly waiters dressed in pink shirts. Music with a festive beat is often blaring from the gigantic speakers on the property, so if you come to the beach for peace and quiet, rethink this as your choice. If you need a bit of diversion from the sun, wander over to the table set up with handmade jewelry, or have a massage under the swaying palms. The sea is often calm here and the beach is heavenly. I observed hip young people, as well as families with young children, stretching out on and around the mattresses with plenty of shade provided by the wide umbrellas. This is a good place to go with young children, rent the bed with table and umbrella, and camp out for the day. If you want to avoid crowds, you may want to skip this one, as busloads of people visit after touring the ruins for a short time each day.
There are many changes on the south side of the beach in Tulum. If you have not been to Tulum in a few years, or even a few months, you will be shocked at all the development, including some changes that apply to the beach clubs as well. The big beach club Ana y Jose has been torn down and a new structure is going up. We soon will see what will emerge.
La Luna is hidden away behind a wall with Moroccan accents. Park across the street and stroll in along the sandy paths lined with thick, tropical foliage. The restaurant is on the right and serves light and delicious items from their menu. We ordered a Caesar salad with five large seasoned prawns, and two avocado halves stuffed with yummy tuna salad, along with a basket of fresh totopos and salsa. This is the first year they are offering a beach club and have added a dozen lounges, many even under umbrellas. I have always loved the colorful Adirondack chairs that are spaced between the lounges. There is no charge to enjoy the beach here, and they hope you will also spend some money in their restaurant and bar. There is service to the lounges, and secure WiFi. The manager, Reuben, was especially friendly and accommodating.
Zulum is another beach club that welcomes the public. They have a variety of lounges, hammocks and beds, as well as a pool and restaurant. There is no charge for using the beach and lounges but, as is the custom, you are expected to order something from the menu, that even includes sushi, along with just about any beverage you desire.
A rather hip-looking beach club and restaurant opened a couple of years ago on a large stretch of beach that is called Ziggy Beach. They have lots of lounges, some under the swaying palms that grow on this amazing beach. The comfy beach beds do not have any sun protection, but can be moved under a palm if you like. There is no charge for the lounges, but it is expected that you spend some money in the bar or restaurant. We had lunch on another day at their restaurant, El Bistro, and were very impressed with the food and presentation, and the prices were typical for the beach. Beautiful bathrooms lie across from the restaurant. This seems to be "the happening place," and gets quite crowded, especially on the weekend.
The beach gets even more spectacular, but sometimes a bit congested on the road, as you drive farther south. At km 7.5, La Zebra is not officially a beach club, but if you are having lunch during the slower times of the year, you may be able to snag a lounge or hammock to relax in and enjoy the view. I parked on the right side of the road in their parking lot and followed the path that leads toward the reception area. The back wall is covered with a stunning zebra sculpture and a colorful mandala decorates the floor. I continued walking toward the beach on the beautiful boardwalk that leads directly to Lela's Mexican Cantina restaurant. They specialize in mojitos made with fresh sugar cane, and the newly revised menu offers very interesting and tasty Mexican fare.
Om is also a beach club/hotel/restaurant along this stretch of road as I traveled a little farther south (km 7.8 km). Om serves wood-fired pizza after 2 p.m. and a sparse menu before that. There are some lounges in front of the restaurant that give priority to the hotel guests. There is a parking lot on the jungle side of the road.
Hip Hotel is now operated by Ana y Jose and is located along the palm-lined road at km 8. Park in front or across the street and walk through or beside the reception area and toward the beach. There are plenty of lounges with thatched palapas to provide shade from the tropical sun. They are now charging 65 pesos, about $5 US, for a lounge on the beach and expect you to spend about $10 US each or 150 pesos for the use of their charming amenities.
Las Ranitas is an older hotel that soon will be closing for a very large remodel. BUT, until that time, the beach is heavenly and the staff very welcoming. Let the receptionists know you are here to enjoy the beach club (no charge) and restaurant and they will guide you to the lovely pool with comfy lounges, or straight ahead through the chic restaurant and to the sandy shore where palapa-covered lounges are scattered on this stunning beach. Beach service is provided by the restaurant staff. Some of our guests have mentioned that this is a "splurge" spot. It is expected that you will spend some money to eat and or drink during your stay.
Last, but not least, before you enter the Sian Ka'an Biosphere, you will see two new beach clubs: Mestizos and next door is Rosa del Viento. Mestizos is a bit rustic but is involved in some reconstruction at the moment. Rosa has a fabulous entrance with many pink oleanders soon to be blooming. Both are very large properties with lounges and restaurants and bars but, because of their location at the end of the south beach, there are not many visitors, other than the hotel guests.
Most properties along the south end of the beach have WiFi if you need to combine a little work with your day of relaxation.
I did discover after a long day of exploring the most gorgeous coastline in the world that "there is no place like home."
Mari Pintkowski and her husband operate a popular boutique B&B called La Selva Mariposa, located 15 min. from Tulum off the Cobá Road: www.laselvamariposa.com. Read more of Mari's stories about Mexico on www.sac-be.com or in her book, Embarking on the Mariposa Trail, available at www.amazon.com.
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