I Moved to Tulum During the Pandemic — Here's What It's Like to Live There

Get an insider's peek into life in Tulum.

Blurry figure of person in the foreground staring at the cliffs and ocean of Tulum
Photo: Santiago Baravalle

Propelled by the pandemic exodus from New York City, I headed straight into the heart of the Mexican Caribbean in August 2020. I was looking to break away from the constraints of city life, made more difficult by the world health crisis. Tulum's idyllic white-sand beaches and azure seaside offered a glimmer of hope. Who wouldn't want to live in paradise? It was a chance to be outside in nature and free-wandering while the world got moving again.

While Tulum is now known as a fixture on the global DJ circuit, reigning in only the best of the parties, it actually started out as a fisherman's village built on the ruins of the Mayan civilization. It's the only place in Mexico where an ancient Mayan city was built on the coastline. Today, it has evolved as a luxury travel destination, with many hotels going for an average of $500 per night. In comparison, a COVID price drop now allows for contemporary apartment rentals at around that price per month in the swanky Aldea Zama neighborhood, La Veleta, or even in the town center.

With Mexico's regulations allowing for up to six-month traveler visas, Tulum became an overnight fiber-optic haven, with professionals from all around the world (including myself) coming to live and work from this approximately 50,000-person town.

I've always loved Mexico, taking every chance to visit, so it was no surprise that I was first stranded in Tulum as a result of a press trip at the brink of the pandemic. It became my solace. COVID cases were regulated and the crisis was managed through a traffic-light occupancy system. Plus, Tulum, in essence, is a socially distant town with a large majority of its establishments outdoors.

Tulum harbors an ecosystem that balances a perfect work-life relationship, shifting away from the hustle and grind culture. While I was used to planning, scheduling, and long subway rides back in NYC, Tulum offered me a "wing-it" kind of atmosphere. Sometimes, I worked at the beach; other times, I took meetings from the jungle or disconnected in an artistic workshop. And in this manner, I was immediately embraced by one big international family.

I had arrived to continue my writing career, but also to indulge in the local culture and its happenings. I landed a position at one of the world's most followed hotels on Instagram: Azulik. I entered as a storyteller, with the freedom to express myself in a magical setting of sustainable creation. It presented a chance to challenge myself in the middle of the jungle in the village of Francisco Uh May (not to be confused with the hotel's Tulum location), with nothing around but an empanada shop, a few poisonous snakes, jaguars, scorpions, and tarantulas.

A 30-minute jolt down the Coba highway, past the handmade dreamcatchers, we'd take an off-road left turn. From here, it was a roller coaster of potholes for several miles until you reached what's called the City of the Arts: Azulik Uh May.

Azulik's magic is otherworldly — a place where I wandered and wrote in between ceramic, fashion, culinary, and architectural, workshops. It was here that I was reminded about the importance of handcraft. And though our paths have separated, I discovered a side of Tulum led by art and conscious living.

Vibrant pink and purple sunset on the beach in Tulum
Leandro Bulzzano

Go to Town

While many vacationers want to be in the Hotel Zone, the pueblo (town) is where locals live and make rounds. The spirit of eating good food, making friends, and enjoying a convivial vibe is one that binds the village and keeps its dwellers here to stay. Its street art represents social values, and it even has its own non-profit foundation, Ladle, created to empower local Mayan children's efforts.

Tulum pueblo is a story of its own. I live in La Veleta, the hippie-chic southernmost part of town. My Tuesday nights are traditionally spent dancing salsa at Palma Central, Friday evenings are fun at Bandera (get ready for some pétanque), and just about every night is worthy of pizza at La Pizzine, a local favorite. I'll never give up a chance to indulge in cochinita pibil tacos at Taqueria Honorio (featured on Netflix's show, Taco Chronicles), or a morning taco at Tacos de Canasta, even after a sweaty yoga class. I'll get all this for no more than 100 pesos (about 5 USD). And in each of these places, I'll always know a person or two, making it really feel like home.

Sustainable Living

One of the reasons I was drawn to Tulum was its sustainable efforts, as I was focused on making my own life as ecologically friendly as possible. For example, Yucatan's only regenerative farm, Mestiza de Indias, was founded in 2015 in the middle of the jungle. It's built on the ethos of counteracting harmful effects from the agrochemical industry by regenerating soils, not practicing deforestation, and rescuing heirloom fruits and vegetables. It graciously delivers my greens every two weeks in a handmade wooden box, with one or two indecipherable veggies thrown in. While I definitely dabble in a greasy taco here and there, the organic options available facilitate a healthier lifestyle.

The Yucatan peninsula is also home to a plethora of artisan creations, be it Mayan embroidery, henequen (Yucatan agave), local pottery and ceramics, petrified wood artwork (like dreamcatchers), handwoven hammocks, or natural linen textile work. The art here is inspired by the region's biodiversity as well the available resources.

Person with a bag of coconuts on the beach in Tulum
Leandro Bulzzano

Tulum is an artist's town and I revel in being surrounded by creative souls. The local artistic process is sustained with eco-friendly practices. And it has now been adopted by contemporary local brands, including De La Rosa Tulum, which works with local artisans on limited edition pieces; Ossa, known for handcrafting leather design in Valladolid; Manara, which weaves henequen interior design creations; and Anikena, which creates upcycled, naturally dyed fashion. With this, Tulum unveils itself as a locally sustainable design and cultural center.

While Tulum has its moments of heavy tropical rains, electricity outings, and more, it's also a place to be and stay. I often think about returning to New York City, but then I cannot imagine where I would go to be by myself and reconnect with nature. And perhaps it's a delightful vacation flight for some, but for me, Tulum is my backyard. With limited Wi-Fi, I still wake up every morning grateful for this little corner of the jungle.

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