Beach Town Escape: Tulum

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Shaking things up at Casa Banana.

Mexico’s Riviera Maya

A playground for tequila sippers, not shooters.

Guestroom at the Viceroy Riviera Maya.
The Mayan ruins.

By Emma Sloley
Photography by Luis García

Here you’ll find the small miracle of a destination that has been discovered by the jet set without losing its supremely relaxed, back-to-nature vibe. The beautiful people don’t come here to party, but to ride bikes, perfect beachside yoga poses, and worship the heady combination of sun, sand, and Caribbean Sea. 

When to Go
November through April is optimum, when temperatures are balmy but not sweltering, and hurricane season has ended.
Dine and Drink
Few venues epitomize Tulum’s new spirit better than Hartwood: The clientele at this alfresco hot spot wouldn’t be out of place in Saint-Tropez or Milan, but the atmosphere is still laid-back, shoes-off casual, and the menu, courtesy of New York transplant Eric Werner, highlights simple cooking on an open grill.
Argentine Casa Banana channels a similar vibe—trees hung with lanterns, perfectly grilled steaks, and killer guacamole.
For an old-school Tulum staple at the north end of the beach, hit Mateo’s, an open-air cantina-style joint that serves fish tacos and icy margaritas under the stars. (And they make a mean espresso.)

Founded by a New Yorker, tiny Josa Tulum stocks racks of sexy dresses inspired by vintage caftans in silk charmeuse and chiffon. Try Hacienda Montaecristo for handmade leather goods, Coqui Coqui candles, and rebozos, locally made traditional shawls.
Beach Town Tips

  • Best Beach: The far south end of the hotel zone, close to the entrance of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, lays claim to the strip’s most beautiful beach, with waving palm trees, acres of white sand, and gin-clear water. (All beaches in Mexico are public, although some beachfront hotels try to stake out guests-only zones.)
  • Souvenir: Stock up on Day of the Dead figurines and traditional talavera ceramics at Mixik, which carries an array of Mexican folk art.
  • Nature Walk: The rocky headlands near the start of the hotel zone are full of family-friendly rock pools.
  • Locals Know: Recharging is a given for visitors to Tulum. Their devices are a different story—most of the hotel zone is off the grid, relying instead on solar and wind power, so take the opportunity to unplug.
  • Best Happy Hour Deck: Settle in with a mezcal-and-hibiscus cocktail at bar/restaurant Casa Jaguar, where a wood-burning oven, glowing lanterns, and lounge music help to kick the evening off right.
  • Don’t Miss: Visit Sian Ka’an, the pristine UNESCO reserve of mangroves, canals, and wetlands that lies at the end of Tulum’s one road. More crowded but no less captivating is the famous Tulum Archaeological Zone, a collection of pre-Columbian Mayan ruins perched on a bluff above a flawless beach.
  • Barefoot Factor: Bring flip-flops, or perfect your firewalking technique.
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Originally appeared in Virtuoso Life magazine, March 2014.


Viceroy Riviera Maya
All 41 thatched-roof villas feature posh comforts like private plunge pools, outdoor rain showers, and daybeds. Get More Details
Fish tacos at Mateo's.