With beautiful beaches and a laidback air, Adam Jacot finds a piece of paradise in the Mexican resort of Tulum.
With Bali, Goa and Ibiza creating an eastern-to-central continental axis of hedonism and bohemian delight, the Americas have enjoyed a relatively unsung partner in Tulum.
In less than 15 years, this small village has developed from a cheap, chilled-out paradise for backpackers into an uber-cool destination, the ultimate in barefoot chic.
Situated on a long strip of glorious sand, it divides the jungle from Mexico’s only Caribbean coastline and is an hour and a half drive along a straight road from Cancun Airport. I witnessed a shiny smart set hopping from a cab to take them en route to New York fresh from their “Bikini Bootcamp”. This is a resort that attracts many of the A list including Cara Delevingne, Michelle Rodriguez, Demi Moore, Jared Leto, Reese Witherspoon, Cameron Diaz, Orlando Bloom and Heidi Klum.
Little has changed thankfully since I was last there seven years ago: a few more boutique hotels have opened up and there are a few more advertising signs. There’s also none of the hassle you might expect say in Goa. There’s only the occasional beach hawker and even then they show a respectful lack of persistence.
Dipping into the inexorable waves of “body-surfing” strength became my daily routine, alongside regular walks. In the midday heat I preferred the road but otherwise chose the beach. With such a lengthy strand there’s never any risk of coming to a dead end. I strolled in and amongst the local Mexican families enjoying their picnics.
Popping in on half-hidden huts, on closer inspection, I discovered delightful places to stay. Real style hit Tulum with the arrival of the Italian hoteliers and restaurateurs since the Millennium. Each venue plays on the aesthetic themes of hammocks, with some tasselled and others in mauve or orange, and swings, which in one venue act as bar seats.
There’s no booking, no queues. All hotels and restaurants were breezy and spacious. The classiest hotels, with a special feel, were Be Tulum for its isolation and its translucent purple deckchairs, Ana y Jose for sheer comfort and The Beach for the glorious decking and stylish swimming pool.
It does matter in particular seasons to get the accommodation right, especially having air con rather than a simple fan.
These “hangouts” always tastefully play second fiddle to nature. Pelicans patrol with an apparent lack of effort, and baby turtles on their debut venture out. Native petn, a teak-like wood, supports all the thatched roofs and local flowers zopitolera and agave morado, the green and purple leaf plants and orange-flowered trees called framboyant decorate the fronts.
I needed time off from time off. I went to the local town that was my only regret across my 10 days. It’s a tourist trap complete with loud restaurant renderings on the guitar of Guantanamera across my table. No, I was not going to buy red roses!
I loved both the Mayan temple that was a holy site for worship and the burial of the dead and later on the entrances to the half-covered cenotes, underwater rivers, where sunlight slants through foliage and into the caves, making the transparent water luminous. The best one I learnt was a local one called Dos Otos.
And also there’s the Sian Ki’an Biosphere, the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean. Here at last I found solitude, alone with the mangroves and wetlands, making my way across channels and unroughened waterways to a long decking walkway. Looking around at the expanse was as much fun as down through the water. It’s what they call donde San Pedro perdió el guarache, meaning the back of beyond; at the ends of the Earth (literally where St Peter lost his sandal).
I decided to explore further up the Riviera Maya, to Playa del Carmen. It has an altogether more American feel (but it’s not like Cancun where every attempt is made to manicure nature, with trucks raking the beach at dawn).
I was driven up a dust road that led to a discreet sign for Viceroy. It’s a hotel that is all style, bang opposite the island Cozumel and tucked between under-developed wasteland plots so while it’s still unspoilt it’s pretty clear what’s to come.
On arrival I was put into the local spiritual dimension with a traditional Mayan blessing. All bells and smells. Wherever you wander someone is monitoring with a clipboard in an attempt to “upgrade the stay”. It’s all thoroughly thought through, right down to the offer to clean my sunglasses! All perhaps to ensure the resident monkeys swinging from above don’t mar the view.
For somewhere so beautiful it is perhaps no surprise that two American wives, flown down from the Southern States in no time, were waist deep in the pool (despite the sea being yards away) smoking, drinking cocktails and gossiping while their other halves vacuously threw miniature American footballs like missiles at each other.
The Mexican Spanish glossary I consulted has expressions indeed for each stage of losing your patience with someone. Alucinar a alguien is to be fed up with someone’s constant and not very welcome presence; pararse de pestañas describes losing it completely (literally, to stand on your eyelashes) while estar como agua para chocolate is to be absolutely furious (literally, to be as hot as the water needed to melt chocolate).
Adam Jacot travelled with Latin American specialists Chimu Adventures which offers a seven-day Mayan Riviera & Beaches itinerary from £535 per person including hotels on B&B basis, transfers and excursions. All itineraries can be tailor-made.
Virgin Airways and British Airways offer direct flights from Gatwick to Cancun while British Airways and Aeromexico offer direct flights from Heathrow to Mexico City. International flights can also be arranged by Chimu Adventures – www.chimuadventures.com, phone 020 74038265.