Beyond the all-inclusive resorts that dot the beaches between Cancun and Playa del Carmenlies, Mexico’s Tulum, whose popularity has skyrocketed in the last decade or so, stands apart for its more bohemian beach town feel—an effortless kind of cool that translates to its recent influx of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops.
Before making my own trip to Tulum, a few well-versed friends handed off a list of must-hits: Mayan ruins, yoga classes, cocktails, and more. For my part, I was writing down how to get to the coffee shop with the Instagram account I had been stalking for photos of its homemade fruit bars and huevos rancheros.
Ahead: the best places to dine, drink, and get lost in the beauty of this rustic beach town.
Ki’Bok Coffee Shop
The streets in Tulum teem with quirky souvenir shops and fabulous restaurants, but the best place to hit up first thing in the morning would be the Ki’Bok coffee shop. Order a latte and sit back in the colorful courtyard lined with local palms.
If you want to save a snack for later, grab their tasty fruit bars made from scratch every morning.
Posada Margherita is an Italian gem that serves handmade pasta on the Yucatan Peninsula. Its menu lists classic Italian favorites like tagliatelle with red sauce or drizzled in olive oil and topped with prawns.
The atmosphere is Grade-A as well: ceramic vessels adorn the top shelves and empty glass bottles in wooden crates reflect the light coming from the beach. If you stop by the beach restaurant early enough, try their famous egg-in-a-hole with a side of beans and roasted potatoes.
Zamas + Que Fresco!
A trip to Tulum is incomplete without a late lunch or sunset drinks at Zamas. The rustic hotel was built on an abandoned coconut plantation along the coast in 1993 and has remained an iconic spot for both the locals and tourists.
Its restaurant, Que Fresco!, is known for its fresh food and dynamite view of the rocky coastline. Guests can sit out on the seaside terrace while feasting on some of Zamas’ specialties, including pollo en relleno negro—wood-fired chicken breast simmered in charred chile and spice paste.
Executive Chef Gerardo incorporates classic Mayan flavors with some tricks he learned while cooking in his grandmother’s kitchen. Gerardo presents his unique take on traditional gambas pil pil with white wine, garlic, and crushed pepper accompanied by toasted bread points to soak up all the broth.
The main building at Zamas is perched on a peninsula that’s protected from the ocean’s swells by a cluster of rocks and hedges. If you climb up and over the barrier, you can get a glimpse of pelicans diving for sardines or the local fisherman reeling in an evening catch.
After my own experience waiting in Hartwood’s notorious line to jot down my name on the reservation list, I can tell you it’s well worth it. When hungry visitors return at dusk to dine at the pinnacle of Mayan cuisine in Tulum, the space lights up: candles are placed along the pathways and illuminate the open dining area.
The menu changes every night based on what local fisherman and sometimes the owner, Eric Werner himself, brings in. All the ingredients are locally sourced from nearby farms and markets. The menu is drawn on a large chalkboard and brought to each table when ordering. Try to grab an early reservation, because when the waiters cross out a dish on the board, it’s gone.
Since its opening two years ago, Gitano, a mescal bar, has quickly become the place to go for cocktails, dancing, and lite bites. Tiny lanterns are hung on overhead branches and an array of beautiful chandeliers glitter from above. Hungry? Try the pickled beets with lime yogurt, jicama, and sunflower seeds or the beef and pork meatballs topped with queso cotija.
Two Gitano cocktail classics not to miss: the Mescal Mule and the Stardust. The traditional mule—mixed with Gitano’s own house made mescal—is smoky and sweet, while the Stardust, made with mescal, dark rum, and a plethora of fresh juices, is light and fruity. Each beverage is topped with an assortment of unique trimmings, like a smoking cinnamon stick.
Where to stay? Some recommendations:
Each of the nine beachfront bungalows that make up Nest is designed to be the antithesis of the big-box resorts. Owners want guests to feel like they’re at their own vacation house, and the beachfront accommodations are supremely comfortable, with the rustic, perfectly undone feel of an Anthropologie ad. Heads up: Nest is a referral-only guesthouse. For inquiries email firstname.lastname@example.org. Rates range from $150-$295 per room or book the entire property for $1900-$2500.
Zamas is where old Tulum meets the new. In addition to Que Fresco!, Zamas has 18 cabins sited along the jungle-side of the beach road and are built on stilts, giving guests a prime view of the beach. Better yet: each room has a lookout balcony with hammocks. Doubles start at $180.
After a thorough renovation, the much-anticipated Casa Malca has opened its doorsto reveal a contemporary sprawl decked by Lio Malca, an art specialist from New York who’s curated shows for Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Throughout the hotel you can find pieces from the owners’ private collection. And bonus: three swimming pools. Doubles start at $700.