It’s strange to think that a programme that episodes such a dark subject would entice visitors. However, four tremendous seasons of ‘Narcos’ has done just that. Netflix have graphically documented South America’s chequered drug-lord back stories, and despite the jagged topic has managed to carefully capture the region’s soul. The most recent chapter majors on Mexico; its incredible varied scenery, rich cultural heritage, family oriented status quo – as well as fresh, fast and fabulous food. This amalgamation of such viewing pleasure sparks a desire to take a peek at what else Mexico has to offer (aside from its reputation of hosting America’s young boisterous spring-breakers).
Stepping off the plane at Cancun International you’ll feel a warmth rising from the hot tarmac, coupled with the intoxicating smell of spicy salt-lime mix. With shrimp ceviche, jalapeños and Mezcal in abundance, you’ll get used the that heady blend, and it won’t tire. Tourism is so important here, that a clunky entrance, wouldn’t be right. Mexicans are laid back, yet organised. Subsequently passing through security is a breeze (n.b. there is short paperwork to fill out, and you’ll need an ESTA if you’re passing via The States), but as long as you’re not behind a plane of 700 strong Russian visitors, you’ll be out of the airport and onto your next destination within minutes.
Assuming you’re not geared up for a hedonistic booze fuelled spring-break, venture south from the airport just 70 miles and you’ll arrive beachside in Mexico’s boho-chic gem, Tulum. It has much to offer for those seeking something beyond the wonder of a pristine coastline and a fantastic cocktail.
Made famous as a hideaway destination for the rich and famous, Tulum’s endless white beach strip hosts a myriad of boutique hotels, sea view cabanas and mind-body-soul wellness retreats. Closer to the bustling town (Tulum Pueblo) you’ll find hip Air BnB’s abound, which provide a great option for those who don’t have the $200 plus a night to spend on a beachfront view.
However, wherever you find yourself, what will remain constant are the Yoga offerings on almost every corner. Take advantage of all types of practice as you have the pick of some of the best Yogi practitioners from around the world. They flock to practice in Tulum, and to host sessions in chakras blessed with perfect positions to watch the sun rise from the Caribbean Sea.
Before the concept of paid-for ‘wellness’ arrived, tourists came to marvel at the historic Mayan ruins in Tulum, which now host more visitors than any other heritage site in Mexico. The visitor numbers are not a surprise, as the ruins are ultra-accessible, and you can cycle from any of the beach front resorts, or from the town itself. Most hotels and hostels offer free bicycles, and it’s a great way to see the sights. To avoid the crowds, go first thing or late afternoon.
As well as the ruins and yoga, Tulum is famous for its limestone sinkholes called Cenotes. They are open water pools, naturally created over time as a result of eroding limestone, which exposes fresh water underneath. The pools boast a clarity that’s unrivalled, and in days gone by, these waters were seen as the passages to the next world.
Tulum’s Grande Cenote (which is a car ride towards Coba) is the biggest and most famous, connecting many sink holes via caves and a series of wooden bridges. But if you are bound to the beach, you don’t have to miss out, as you can take a stroll along the Carretera Tulum and arrive at Clan Destino’s. Not only will you find a small cenote tucked away moments from the roadside, on a Tuesday evening there is karaoke for those of voice and late-night prowess. You’ll find their restaurant bustling with revellers taking advantage of good food and music, and the cenote full of swimming Sinatras.
Mexico’s ancient Mayan culture is intertwined with both spirituality and healing. In Tulum you can readily pick up a massage, but if you can, make time for a Mayan ritual. These often involve a clay mud mask and a cleansing incense ceremony. You’ll leave with a feeling of other worldliness, relaxed, and ready for the best sleep of your week.
When you wake from your slumber, you’ll need a decent feed, and due to the competition that jostles for the tourist Peso, you’ll find one. The standard of cuisine is high, and many hotel restaurants on the beach serve food all day and late into the night. However, don’t miss Tulum Pueblo where you can eat Tacos for $3 apiece and pico de gallo to your hearts content.
The seafood here is fresh, so fish anything is good. Whether the upmarket restaurant table or roadside shack, a dollar in Tulum will improve your service, but better than that, a beaming smile and tourist charm goes further… add in a dash of any level of Spanish, and you’ll be treated like royalty.
You’ll notice that Tulum is growing, and fast. No sky rise buildings, but three level haciendas and condos are seemingly springing from the ground amidst the tropical tree-lined streets. It’s a sure-fire bet that in 5 years’ time Tulum will be a different place; busier, more expensive, less authentic. Go now and beat the rush.
It’s a short hop from American hubs (4 hours from New York & Philadelphia), and longer but direct 10.5 hours from British soil. BA flies direct from Gatwick to Cancun three times a week, with flights & transfers starting from £400pp.
Where to stay
If you are on a budget, try Jeronimo and Humberto’s AirBnb Casa Toloc, a newly renovated studio apartment (with KingSize bed), located in the middle of the town.