Beach Clubs of Tulum, February 2009

By Mari Pintkowski

While lazily swinging in my hammock under a palapa roof on the 3d floor 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 that paradise of sun and balmy breezes, they are ready to spend their last few days experiencing the mesmerizing Mayan 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 our three cenote-style pools, sip a frosty margarita in their hammock, or luxuriate in our new spa beside a softly flowing waterfall with the healing hands of one of our professional masseuses performing their magic.

In the past, it seemed like a natural flow for a vacation in paradise to progress this way. This year, we are noticing 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 and made a plan to do just that the very next day.

I put on my swim suit, doused myself with sun screen, packed my camera and notebook and set off down the Coba Road. Within 15 minutes I was heading past the tourist mecca of Tulum and approaching the intersection on the beach road where Blue Tulum Hotel is located. 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 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 are shaded under a few sheltering palms. The atmosphere is lively with the activities of an assortment of tent campers interspersed among the cabañas and tall palm trees. $2 beers are plentiful and cold. Aquatic Dive Center is located on the premises as well as a massage 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 you can walk to the Tulum ruins only ¼ km away 

Mar Caribe, next to Don Cafeto’s old site, is located next to the public beach and area where the local fishermen pull their boats onto the beach when they are not out at sea. I parked along this sandy road that separates the beach from the paved road. A set of rustic wooden cabañas is sinking into the sand to the right, and some sturdier ones have been covered over with stucco and paint on your left. There is even a small chapel tucked in near the cabañas that adds some cultural charm. Mariachi Bar overlooks the beautiful turquoise waters and serves Mexican beer and cokes at the plastic tables and chairs in front of the bar. A friendly Mexican selling snorkeling/boat tours out to the reef for about $25 was standing beside a small table set up at the end of the road with a few sets of fins and snorkels. This amazingly wide beach was sparsely populated with sun bathers and a few swimmers.

At km 1.9, just beyond the signs that announce you are at Playa Maya public beach, I saw a large tattered sign blowing in the breeze that advertises a hotel in Playa del Carmen called The Tides. I looked again and saw a sign that said Paraiso Beach Club. I was greeted by the guard at the gated driveway and he asked me to sign in on his clipboard and asked about my intentions for the day. Unlike the last two beach clubs, I noticed a sign that said you could not bring in your own food or drinks. I parked under the palms to the right and when I stepped out of the car I sank my toes into the cool sand and walked toward the Caribbean Sea. When I reached the beach bar and chairs, 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 $5, and the beds with a table, chairs and umbrella rent for about $15. There are showers near the bar and a bathroom located in the concrete restaurant behind the beach area. Mediocre, overpriced food is served at the tables scattered around the bar or at your lounge area. Music with a festive beat is blaring from the gigantic speakers at the back of the bar. 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.

I jotted down a note to let my guests know that if they are interested in taking a lesson in kite boarding, Extreme Kite Boarding School is nestled in the trees at the south corner of Paraiso. They should stop in and talk to the friendly Italians who operate this school, and if the wind is blustery, they will more than likely see them putting on a show in front of Paraiso or giving lessons on the beach.

Driving south down the beach road, I came to La Vita E Bella at km 1.6. I parked in the lot in front of the weathered palapa covered buildings 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 with palapa umbrellas stretched the distance of the hotel perimeter. Some of them were set aside for hotel guests and had a sign indicating this. I found one that suited me and before long a friendly waiter came up and asked for 70 pesos.

On the road again, I passed the Mezzanine at km 1.3. This is not a beach club, but has a chic bar and Thai restaurant that overlooks a cenote-style pool on one side and the sparkling Caribbean on the other. This little gem has an afternoon happy hour with 2x1 margaritas.

I soon noticed that I was back where I began my journey north on the beach road at the Blue Tulum Hotel. I continued past this intersection until I saw Papaya Playa Cabañas and beach club. After parking in a space between palm trees, I walked toward the sea and noticed a dozen or so swinging mattresses under a shaded pergola and an assortment of lounges on the beach in front of the bar and three-story rustic restaurant. There were kayaks and bicycles for rent, and the bar that features a happy hour from 6-7 pm with 2x1 drinks. The beach is long and invites you to stroll along the shore or do some body surfing in the rough waves that roll in.

When I drove the road from Tulum pueblo to the beach, I was handed a flyer at the tope that described the next beach club, Ana y Jose. This official looking beach club, just 2.74 km from the beach road intersection, has a large parking lot and often has tour buses parked there while its passengers frolic in the sand and surf. If you see the buses just pass by, if not it is a beautifully maintained place to pass a few hours. There is even a children's playground with a climbing wall at the back of the property. The bathrooms and change rooms are very nice as is the restaurant with seating indoors and out. The menu ranges from $6 to $18, and although the presentation is beautiful, the food is nothing to rave about. The beach was much eroded the day I visited, but there are many comfortable lounges with or without shade and an active massage area that looked very inviting. They charge 100 pesos for a double mattress.

The next section of beach has a few beach clubs tucked away behind rustic signs and landscaping that seems to be growing right before your eyes. One such unsuspecting treasure is, Puerto del Cielo. The staff and amenities are welcoming, and they offer 2x1 drinks, including beer and margaritas all day beside their new pool or in a lounge under a swaying palm tree as you watch the turquoise waves crash on the shore of one of the most spectacular beaches in the world. There is no charge to enjoy the beach and swimming pool. 

Playa Azul is the next beach club I encountered on my journey. Its recently opened restaurant offers an interesting menu and the beach sports a dozen or so lounges, some under newly constructed palapas, and others waiting for the serious sun worshipers to plop down and bake in the glorious sun. They have a happy hour from 11 until 3 pm, so there is plenty of time to sample more than two of the frosty Mexican beers.

The restaurant/ hotel Areciefes, a little further down the beach, is not officially a beach club but is situated on a long stretch of beach and has a good assortment of beach lounges with shade, and welcomes the public to relax, buy a beer and an order of tapas and enjoy the view.

The beach gets even more spectacular as you drive further south. At km 5.5 I saw signs for La Zebra cabañas and salsa bar and cantina. I parked on the right side of the road in their parking lot and sank my toes into the soft white sand that leads to the palapa topped building with colorful lounges and hammocks scattered in front facing the shore. Except for the very busy times of the year (Christmas, New Years, and Easter), they welcome restaurant guests to use the lounges and delight in the beachside service provided by the waiters from the bar. They specialize in mojitos made with fresh sugar cane.

Om and Ochos are two beach club/hotel/restaurants next to each other as I traveled a little further south (km 5.8 km). Om serves wood fired pizza after 3 pm and a sparce menu before that. There are a few lounges in front of the restaurant, but they seem to be limited to the hotel guests. Ocho Tulum, as it is officially called, has a large assortment of comfortable lounge chairs and mattresses. Some are set aside for hotel guests, but the ones in front of the bar/restaurant are for the beach club guests. No charge at this time is required to relax at the club. You will notice that a kite boarding school is also available here and it is a treat to watch these athletes perform their stunts on a windy day.

Last, but not least, 6.9 km from the beach road intersection before you enter the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, lies a new hotel/ club on a beach made in heaven. Milamores, formerly Casa Magna, is a very elegant and romantic spot to spend the day in paradise. This was once the property owned by the famous drug lord, Pablo Escabar, so perhaps the staff can tell you a story or two that will send a chill down your spine. There are lounges scattered on this stunning beach and a very chic restaurant that welcomes the public to dine along with their hotel guests. You will have to see this one for yourself.

I did discover after a long day of exploring the most gorgeous coast line in the world that “there is no place like home.” Insert photo: la selva mariposa 14

Mari Pintkowski and her husband operate a popular Botique Hotel called La Selva Mariposa, located 15 min. from Tulum off the Coba Road. Read more of Mari’s stories about Mexico on or in her book, Embarking on the Mariposa Trail