TIDE TURNS HIPPIE TO HIP
Is Tulum, on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the next big thing or so over already? It depends who you ask. But its powder-white sands, calm Caribbean waters and Mayan history translates to an undeniably appealing beach holiday destination, 1½ hours south of Cancun International Airport. “It’s the place to be in Mexico,” says Carolina Rodrigues from Casa Malca. “Cancun has had its time, I’ve been here six months and you see a lot of new things happening.”
The tides of change have seen Tulum grow from tiny hippie outpost where travellers would stay in huts with no electricity to a beachfront-resort strip where the hottest restaurants come with a two-hour wait for a table and you can easily drop $500 on a dress in a designer boutique.
However, with the spread of real estate has come a variety of options and downtown Tulum is where you’ll find the ADO bus station, buzzy bars, shops and an art-gallery-cum-coworking space, should you need to balance work with play. But if you’re here for the beach alone, it’s worth spending a little extra to stay sand-side. Here are three options for all budgets.
EL PARAISO HOTEL OVERNIGHT RATE $US176 (ABOUT $225) + TAXES (STANDARD ROOM)
Ask a local for their favourite Tulum beach stay and they’ll tell you El Paraiso. Staying at El Paraiso Hotel means you have first dibs on those sun loungers and a picture-perfect outlook after your complimentary continental breakfast. Inside your room there’s plenty of bang for your budget buck with two queen-size beds, airconditioning, fan, satellite TV and private bathroom with hot water – a selling point in Mexican hotels, though you likely won’t need to use it. You’ll find the Tulum ruins a seven-minute walk away – arrive on opening time to avoid the crowds. Book a beachside massage and grab lunch from the onsite restaurant. At night, there are restaurants and bars within a 10- to 15-minute walk.
PAPAYA PLAYA PROJECT OVERNIGHT RATE $US286 (ABOUT $373) + TAXES (MAYA OCEANVIEW CABANA)
In 1994, Papaya Playa Project began with six tents dotted along the beachfront. If the owner received six guests, he would sleep in his car. Fast-forward 24 years and the ecominded resort stretches 1km along a private beach with 130 rooms and a beach club hosting DJs every Saturday night, while retaining 93 per cent of the jungle. Kick your shoes off and relax into the chilled-out vibes. You’ll find yoga classes on the beach, spa treatment rooms opening to the Caribbean, plush daybeds, stand-up paddleboards, and kitesurfing lessons. Spot endangered native Melipona bee boxes in the trees, pass the jungle nursery, and learn of the reverse-osmosis water treatment plant that supplies ice to the bar and bottled water in the rooms. DESIGNHOTELS.COM
CASA MALCA OVERNIGHT RATE $US539 (ABOUT $690) + TAXES (JUNIOR SUITE GARDEN VIEW)
Once the hideaway of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, Casa Malca opened four years ago at the southernmost end of the Tulum strip and has grown from eight rooms to 41. Owned by New York art dealer Lio Malca, everything from the theatrical curtains fashioned from antique wedding gowns with floating velvet lounge chairs at the entrance, to the Keith Haring-print bar is an expression of his taste. Leonardo DiCaprio has stayed twice, Elle has been snapped on the swinging couch, and Cara Delevingne had her birthday on the open-air rooftop. After lunch under the gaze of the kooky doll collection in Philosophy restaurant, descend the stairs into the cenote-style steam pool, and sip cocktails in the secret bar – you’ll feel like a total A-lister. DESIGNHOTELS.COM