2016: Beach Clubs of Tulum

The Times They Are a Changing
by Mari Pintkowski  (Dec. 2015)

While lazily swinging in my hammock under a towering Tzalam tree at La Selva Mariposa, I contemplate why so many of our guests are at first drawn to the Riviera Maya to play in the turquoise waters and sink their toes into the silky, white sand that borders the gleaming sea. After a few days in the paradise of sun and balmy breezes, they are ready to spend a few more days experiencing the mesmerizing Maya ruins only 20 km away, shop in the local thatched-roof shops along the Coba Road and then explore the three cenotes near the Coba ruins, before coming back to La Selva Mariposa to float in one of the three cenote-style pools, sip a frosty margarita in their hammock, or luxuriate in our new Jacuzzi on the rooftop above the dining room, with a sky full of twinkling stars overhead.

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 or Tulum pueblo for a longer visit, and alternate their days among the jungle, pueblo 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, threw on a cover-up, and packed my phone with all the necessary apps to take notes and photos. I was off, heading toward the coast along the Coba Road. Within 20 minutes I approached a traffic light at the major intersection, Highway 307. I continued straight through the light and passed the 7-11, a gas station and Aldea Zama development, until I came to a large stone pillar with the word Tulum. There is a new hotel and wellness center, Kore, in front of you, a little police casita on your left, and on the right there is a line of impressively strong directional signs herding the masses toward the south end of Boca Paila beach road. Today, I decided to turn left and go north toward the Tulum ruins. I drove 3.6 km just .3 km before the Tulum ruins, past a blend of old and new hotels until I reached the first beach club on my list called Santa Fe Tulum

If you want a rustic, no-frills spot, as in the early days of Tulum, this may be your choice for the day. Parking in the shade is plentiful after turning in off the beach road. The short drive down the entry road is a bit rough, so drive slowly. The man in charge will direct you to a parking spot under shaded palms and a friendly local with a printed guidebook selling tours will greet you and lead you in the direction of the beach club. You will notice that bathrooms are located near the parking area. There is a very rustic kitchen in this area as well. They will be busy preparing the typical beach fare: fried fish, ceviche, fish tacos and even a hamburger, along with a variety of drinks, alcoholic and other choices. A line of plastic lounges, without padding, under umbrellas are just beyond. These are rented for the day for 100 pesos each, about $6. You will notice that there are lots of tables and chairs on the beach and on several raised decks, indicating that the place is frequented mostly by tourists stopping briefly to eat, drink and sneak in a swim after a tour of the ruins. It can be a pretty crowded place mid-day. You can pay 50 pesos to park and go to the ruins, but parking is free if you are going to the beach club.

I returned to my car and started heading south (backtracking) until I came to the next club. There is a large, concrete sign with yellow sunflowers and the Mayan name, Zazil Kin. Turn in and drive to the end of the sandy road then turn left and park under a palm tree. This historical spot (once belonging to Don Armando) is composed of a mixture of stucco-covered, wooden-stick houses with palapa roofs and communal bathrooms that have been newly painted white and brown. There are also bathrooms inside the restaurant near the parking area. Sandy paths meander through the cabañas and lead to a waterfront bar where tables and chairs are set up under a few palapas. New lounges are set up under shaded palms and umbrellas with a small table between them. There is a service charge of 100 pesos (be firm about paying this if they say the price is 125 pesos) and this includes a beverage: cocktail, beer or non-alcoholic. There is no charge to just toss your towel under the palms. They have a small menu for food that is prepared in the little beach shack: ceviche, nachos, quesadillas and sometime fresh-caught lobster and fish. The atmosphere is calm compared to most clubs. I love just to come here to relax and read a book and sip a beer, or chat with friends without the distraction of loud music and other activities going on around me. The beach is wide and the sand is soft and cool. Notice the remains of the seaweed ground into the sand in front of the palms and on the right side, piled high. We are all hoping that it remains out at sea and does not come to haunt us this year. The surf tends to be calmer here than at the south beaches because of the existing reef, a short distance off shore.

If you are walking along the beach heading south, you may notice a change in the fisherman's restaurant, Pescadores, that now has a chic hotel and large outdoor restaurant and lots of beach lounges. The boats are moored out front on the sand and the seafood is rumored to be the freshest around. There are a few covered areas with some neat tree-topped tables and plenty of activity. The attendant told me the price of a lounge with pad and umbrella was 100 pesos, and another report from our guests said they were told the lounges are free when you spend 700 pesos a couple. You can always just stop in for lunch and enjoy the fresh seafood and go back for happy hour (2 PM) 2-for-1 drinks at Zazil Kin or walk a little farther to the Mezzanine for their Happy Hour in a very chic atmosphere.

I walked back to my car and drove south along the beach passing Pescadores, found the very faded beach access sign at Playa Maya and drove in. A new camping place, Pancho Villa's, with a bar and grill welcomes the public beach walkers to stop in for a cold one. You can park along this sandy road that is guarded by a police officer 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 two-to-three-hour snorkeling/boat tours out to the reef for about $25 per person. Dive gear and drinks are provided on the tour.

At km 2.9, just beyond Playa Maya public beach, I saw an old sign that said Paraiso and a new sign announcing that they have a new restaurant called Sensations that is open till 10 PM. There is no charge for parking if you bring your receipt from lunch. The attendant will direct you to park under the palms. Time to take your shoes off. You will know you are in paradise when you sink your toes into the cool, soft, white sand. When I walked toward 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 and umbrella rent for 200 pesos. The price has not changed in years! There are showers behind the restaurant along with nice bathroom facilities. Beach food is served at your lounge or on the terrace of the restaurant and you can’t miss the huge ice cream cone indicating that they serve ice cream and coffee drinks. Music is playing, there are tables set up with people selling jewelry, and others inviting you to come to the open-air massage palapa for a treatment. The sea is often very calm here and the beach is well maintained. This week the shore between the lounges and the water was not very wide, but this changes with the season.

Driving south down the beach road, you have to pay close attention because it is often very crowded with bike riders and cars moving or parked on the side of the road, which drops off unexpectedly in spots. Soon I arrived at La Vita e Bella at km 2.3. I parked in the lot in front of the weathered palapa-covered reception area and walked past the public bathrooms on the left and through the large sand-floor restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner to hotel guests and the public. Out on the gorgeous, white sand beach, lounges placed close together with palapa umbrellas stretch the distance of the hotel perimeter. Some are set aside for hotel guests and have a sign indicating this. Currently there is a 100 peso charge for the lounges and no minimum required in the restaurant.

I headed south again past where my journey began, past the metal stations in the road and past the very large Papaya Playa Project. I did not stop this year to check out the beach club, as huge construction was taking place on the property. Be sure to check this out once it is a little more accessible. It has always been a place where large music venues take place on the beach. The rustic cabañas are obviously being replaced with sturdy, modern buildings. I have always thought the beachscape here was really interesting, but I know that development changes this, so we will see.

There are many changes taking place on the south side of Tulum beach which has become the place of chic, expensive restaurants and hotels. Don't let this stop you from enjoying this gorgeous stretch of beach that is lined with hotels. If you drive to the arch that indicates you are entering the Sian Ka'an Biosphere, you will have covered about 12 more km. The sand is gorgeous, the vegetation lining the narrow road is lush and the structures popping up are unique and worth exploring. Parking is definitely an issue for shopping and eating along the jungle/beach road. Bikes have taken over as the transportation preference for those staying at the beach and in the pueblo of Tulum. The road is very slow moving at this time, and expect it to get worse as the season is in full swing, as construction vehicles, workers' cars parked along the edge (local workers did not used to have cars of their own), delivery trucks, bikes, pedestrians and tourist cars slither by at a snail's pace while the taxis speed by without much consideration for the rest of us.

I was feeling brave, and Lou was in the driver's seat, so we proceeded to check out the newest beach club on the strip, Viento de Mar. In the past, this property was known as Playa Azul. It has been given a thorough coat of white paint, with a few light turquoise touches added, and has been transformed into another chic spot along Tulum's famous hotel zone. They have added a fabulous pool and waterfall in the center of the property which will be a welcome addition on those windy winter afternoons. The beach club did not charge for the beach beds (at that moment) and there were lots of them spread out under the tropical sun and some were under palapa umbrellas. The management said that they expect the guests to spend $30 US during their day on the beach. I have decided that I will have to investigate this one further and sample the food from their kitchen. Sounds like a plan for next week. 

La Luna, the next beach club on the south end of the beach, 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. The bread is homemade and the grilled veggie sandwich is fabulous. As you approach the beach, you will notice that the beach club (public) lounges and umbrellas are on the right and the left side is set aside for registered guests of the hotel. 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, Edmunda, is especially friendly and accommodating. Let the front desk know you are from La Selva Mariposa and they will give you a 10% discount on purchases.

Zulu'm, with their burro for a mascot and a restaurant across the street on the jungle side by the same name, was also going through a big construction project, so I was not able to park and go investigate. They have always welcomed the public to enjoy the pool, beach and restaurant, so I am assuming it will be even better this year.

A rather hip-looking beach club and restaurant is located on a large stretch of beach called Ziggy Beach. There is parking for at least 15 cars and it is easy to get in and out of, if there are no buses. Follow the wooden boardwalk to the beautiful sandy-floored restaurant located across from the bathroom/changing rooms. As you walk down to the beach beyond the restaurant, follow the path and you will see a little weathered sign directing you to the sun beds and restaurant tables and chairs. Each year there is a little more shade because the swaying palms in the area have grown and not been compromised by tropical storms. So, get there early to get a spot in the shade, if that is your preference. The food at Ziggy's is excellent and the waiters are very friendly and attentive. They are happy to serve you at your lounge or at the tables set up in the area.

Las Estrellas is a beautiful little property that welcomes visitors to enjoy their restaurant, specializing in Italian cuisine, and relax on one of their lounges lined up facing the turquoise waters. There is no charge for the lounges as long as you are spending the normal amount in the restaurant and bar. There are parking spaces inside for about 10 cars and five more across the street.

Why not stop at the Mayan Clay Studio across from Hotel OHM and sign up for one of these fabulous massages, or perhaps register for an appointment to enjoy their new Mineral Bath House in Macario Gomez.

Hip Hotel is operated by Ana y Jose and is located along the palm-lined road at km 8. Stop in front and the valet will park your car in a secure, private parking area nearby. There is no charge for the valet parking, but of course, a tip is much appreciated. 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. Towels are included in the $10 US price of renting a lounge for the day. A full restaurant offers a variety of tasty dishes served indoors or on the sun-drenched patio.

One of the original hotels, Las Ranitas, is doing a huge tear-down/remodel that will not be finished until sometime in 2018. This is going to change the face of Tulum Beach forever.

If you dare venture farther, Rosa del Viento, has a gorgeous beach and is very welcoming, as long as you are willing to spend money in their restaurant. 

Ask your hotel or the staff about their favorite beach location. Maybe they will mention one of ours at Solimon Bay or in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere. Happy beachcombing!
Mari Pintkowski and her husband own and operate a popular boutique B&B, La Selva Mariposa, 20 min. from Tulum off the Coba Road.

Note from Sac-Be.com: If you want to see how Tulum Beach has changed, look back at some of Mari's Beach Club articles from past years, starting in 2009.

Tulum Beach Matt Pontius

Akumal Villas