By Osman Can Yerebakan
September 18, 2019
SFER IK Francisco Uh May
Credit: Courtesy of SFER IK

With its crystal-blue waters for nature lovers and beautiful ruins for culture buffs, Tulum is undeniably the vacation capital of the Yucatán peninsula. It makes sense: there’s an abundance of places to stay at a wide range of price points, from budget-friendly lodgings to high-end hotels. North American, European, and more recently, South American tourists also flock there because of its accessibility—the spot is a less than two-hour drive from Cancun’s airport.

The challenge to stand out among a saturation of resorts dotting Tulum’s coastline has been best tackled by Azulik, a 48-villa eco-resort nestled just outside the city center. Opened in 2003, it offers an alternative understanding of luxury and meditation to visitors who are charmed by the hotel’s mesmerizing architecture and connections with nature. Upon checking in, travelers submit to a new order where electricity is replaced by candlelight and access to the digital realm is limited. Azulik’s founder, Eduardo Neira, commonly referred to as “Roth,” spearheaded the creation of the unconventional resort. It's composed of wooden log bridges that connect the rooms and facilities, which include a spa, several restaurants, a meditation center, and an art museum called SFER IK. The whimsically designed museum is Azulik’s most distinctive feature among Tulum’s many hotels.

SFER IK Francisco Uh May
Credit: Courtesy of SFER IK

“It’s important to confront and open visitors’ conceptions, and the architecture inside our museums helps people gain their control,” Roth told Travel + Leisure.

He worked with local craftsmen to orchestrate a symphony of materials and natural elements that absorbs hotel guests into an unexpected art-viewing experience. Unlike the kinds of museums that resemble white cubes, SFER IK immerses its visitors into an architectural work of art that competes with the art on view. Plants cut through pathways made out of logs while smooth concrete walls resemble drapes flowing in the wind, contrasting the woods’ darker tones.

SFER IK Uh May Museum, Tulum, Mexico
Credit: ALLIGA, Courtesy of SFER IK

“When people leave art museums, they might feel frustrated, but here, nature and art complement each other to create meditation,” added Roth, who uses the ancient Greek word museion, which means temple of the muses, to describe his vision behind SFER IK.

Azulik operates two museums located a forty-minute drive from each other — one in Tulum and one in Francisco Uh May. In a smaller space inside Azulik, SFER IK’s Tulum museum is hosting a group exhibition called Alchemistry, featuring artists Kelly Akashi, Bianca Bondi and Rochelle Goldberg. In the exhibit, each artist responds to the museum’s unique interior with works that underline the materials’ natural substance as well as their spiritual impacts on viewers. Visitors must take off their shoes before setting foot on the gallery’s curving floors.

SFER IK Francisco Uh May
Credit: Courtesy of SFER IK

“We provide a space that favors connection and collective intelligence that engages with senses, and this process starts with removing of shoes,” explains curator Claudia Paetzold, who has been overseeing both museums’ exhibition programs since 2018.

The property’s second museum in Francisco Uh May promises a stimulation of the senses at a massive scale. This second, bigger museum is architecturally similar to its Tulum satellite — it equally reflects Roth’s architectural sensibility but its soaring ceilings and tucked-away nooks allow for larger exhibitions. A new show there, titled ALLIGA, features works by artists Cecilia Bengolea, Aki Inomata, and Sissel Tolaas. It urges visitors to think about environment and future of Tulum with works created in response to the threatening seaweed surge on Caribbean shores due to insufficient sewage systems, Amazon fires, global warming, and changes in the area’s wind currents. Berlin-based Tolaas’ work is a direct call for action, asking guests to smell two separate walls, covered with clean and contaminated seaweeds she extracted from the region.

By the end of this year, SFER IK’s Francisco Uh May museum will debut a huge addition that will further the founder’s boundary-pushing taste in architecture. Case in point? Water will cover the ground, and the floors will be replaced with nets suspended over it.