I visited Tulum for the first time in May of 2017. I’d heard so many wonderful things about this destination being the boho-travelers dream. However, the all-inclusive resort I stayed at for a friend’s wedding was nothing like the Tulum I’d been told about.
Just two years later, in May 2019, I decided to venture back for my own solo exploration of this magical beach destination. The purpose of my trip was to unplug, rest, relax, and experience the culture of this beautiful place. If you’re in need of a refreshing solo trip, Tulum is your destination - here is my guide.
When I went.
As I said, I traveled during May, which is considered “off-season” for Tulum (the busier seasons being November - March; with the first of the year being the heaviest time). This is important to note because I was able to have a more relaxed (and cost-effective) experience be traveling during the off-season. The weather was still in the 80s-90s, so I had plenty of sunshine and ocean breezes. The only downside was that there was a lot of seaweed washing up on the beach during this season. While workers at some hotels were raking and wheeling off mounds of seaweed, this meant jumping a mound of the stuff to dip into the water. However, because I didn’t have the intention of going in for more than a quick dip, it was a complication that didn’t bother me much.
In my opinion, the pros of visiting during the off-season far outweigh the cons. For example, I was able to book a room last minute at a great cost and was able to get into all of the most sought-after restaurants and beach clubs with little hassle. While there, I had amazing service and never had to fight for attention.
How I got there.
The best way to get to Tulum is to fly into Cancun Airport and hitch a ride. You can get a taxi ($$$), private or semi-private transfer ($$), or hop on the bus ($). Because I wanted an option that was comfortable and affordable, I opted for a shared round-trip transfer, which I booked in advance here. The transfer only cost about $80 total (which was much less than the private transfer I was quoted from another local company ($200). Though I took the chance of being in a van full of people, I embraced the idea that maybe I’d make a few friends during the 1.5 hour ride. In the end, I was completely solo on my transfer there and had only one other passenger with me on my way back. You’ll need to book your transfer more than 48-hours in advance so they can have a driver meet you around your arrival time.
Where I stayed.
I’ve found that my favorite travel experiences are had when I stay at a boutique hotel or wellness-focused property. There are certainly some posh properties in Tulum such as Sanara, Nest & Be. I found these properties to still be rather expensive, even during the off-season.
In Tulum, you have the option of staying in Tulum town or choosing a property on either the jungle-facing or beach-facing side of the beach strip. Because Tulum beaches are open, there really is no “bad” location to stay. Although I would recommend staying somewhere located centrally on be beach strip. After a lot of deliberation of where I wanted to be situated, I choose an adorable boutique property called Mamasan on the jungle-facing side. The property looked dreamy, quaint, and conveniently located as compared to some of the other hyped-up beach destinations. Mamasan was located directly across from easy beach access and within walking or biking distance of everything on the beach.
I loved the hospitality and jungle-vibes of Mamasan. I booked a garden room (because my trip was last-minute all of the tree-houses were booked), but couldn’t have been more pleased with the experience. My room was cozy and private. While it didn’t have A/C, the ceiling fan and 360-degrees of screens provided more than enough breeze to keep me comfortable. Not only was the setting picturesque and serene, service at Mamasan was welcoming and wonderful. I love staying at smaller properties as it gives me a chance to interact with the staff. The hotel concierges were so welcoming and kind, always checking in with me after I’d returned from an adventure (and almost always greeting me with a fresh bottle of water).
Where I ate.
Make no mistakes, I was in Tulum to rest and eat. I made sure to keep a running list of all of the most-recommended spots. Here’s where I grabbed food during my stay:
I ate an appetizer here upon arrival and breakfast here my first morning. I adored the focus on fresh and healthy food and also loved spending time with my hosts chatting about my plans for the day while sipping coffee.
Notes on this location: Accepts credit cards. Free WiFi. Instagramable.
Everyone gushed over Hartwood and, even though it’s recommended you make a reservation a month in advance, I was able to wiggle in due to my solo status and off-season arrival. I sat at the bar where I could chat with the bartender. As promised, service and food were spot-on. My server carted around a giant chalkboard menu to all of his guests, explaining the fresh fare available for the day. I allowed him to choose my appetizer, and I also went with his recommendation for my main course. The experience was delightful and I’d definitely recommend it if you’re able to get a reservation. I had absolutely spectacular service from my bartender and server, the entire experience was a delight.
The menus change daily based on the catch and, based on my experience, I don’t think you could go wrong.
Notes on this location: Reservations recommended. Cash only.
When I walked by this little spot on my first full day, I couldn’t decide if it was intimidating or incredibly charming. Although I was hesitant to enter, I found myself drawn in by the shabby-chic garden vibes that Posada Margherita was putting off. Imagine my delight when the rustic garden opened up into an adorable restaurant overlooking the beach. During my visit, I ordered a fresh juice and soaked in the view while reading and was also brought a plate of delicious hand-made bread and nuts to snack on, which I thought was incredibly generous (and maybe standard).
I returned to Posada Margherita the next night for dinner after I heard how amazing their homemade pasta was from multiple sources. For dinner, I ordered the Caprese salad and a shirmp pasta. While the pasta was definitely worth the hype, I can’t tell you how amazing the fresh mozzarella on the Caprese was; I’ll be dreaming about it for weeks.
Notes on this location: Cash only. Free WiFi, beachfront views, cabanas & lounge chairs, Instagramable.
This jungle-view spot was another must-visit recommendation that I decided to try out. I visited Casa Jaguar my second night in Tulum and was pretty exhausted from a day in the sun, so decided to grab a couple of appetizers and call it a night. I (accidentally) ordered two tostada dishes, Panucho De Mar (octopus) and Tostadas De Atun (ahi tuna). The ahi tostadas were by far one of my best things I ate while in Tulum. While the octopus was still interesting, it was definitely overshadowed by the amazing ahi.
I bellied up to the bar during my visit here. Though I don’t think it’s a reflection of the service overall, I will say that the bartenders weren’t nearly as friendly here as at other places. The bar also wasn’t the most conducive to eating. If I were to eat here again I’d definitely grab a spot at a table!
Notes on this location: Accepts credit cards.
As soon as I heard that Casa Malca was a former mansion for Pablo Escobar, I knew it would be a must-visit on my trip. The pictures of the restaurant and hotel were absolutely stunning. I stopped for breakfast my third day there and ended up staying the full day. I had Chilaquiles, one of my favorite traditional Mexican dishes. Casa Malca’s breakfasts come in a couple of different package options. My breakfast came with unlimited trips to their continental breakfast bar as well as a fresh juice and unlimited coffee. It’s important to note that Casa Malca was one of the only (if not the only place) that offered brewed coffee that could be refilled (versus Americanos, which requires you to pay for every cup). Because I almost always have at least two cups of coffee, this is an important distinction for me.
I have to say that service at Casa Malca was some of the best of all the places I dined while in Tulum. Keep reading below to hear about my experience hanging out in their cabanas & snooping around their luxe property.
Notes on this location: Accepts credit cards, has WiFi (but you have to ask for a daily code), beachfront views, Instagrammable.
Raw Love is a cute little raw juice and food bar inside of the dreamy Ahau Tulum. I was only able to swing in for a quick iced matcha. I had read a ton of great things about this little spot and was disappointed I wasn’t able to make it back for a more in-depth experience.
Notes on this location: Closes early.
Located inside of the Sanara hotel, The Real Coconut was another widely-mentioned dining destination for the wellness-minded traveler. This eatery had the triple threat of great views, great food, and great vibes. Something about it just felt comforting to me. Spoiler, I ended up visiting three times in one day.
For my first visit, I arrived just after open and ordered a stack of their gluten-free pancakes and house-made coconut yogurt. The food was absolutely amazing and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to relax during the first few hours of my day.
I loved the vibes of The Real Coconut so much that I actually came back for a smoothie that afternoon and ended up having dinner there as well after deliberating over several locations that just didn’t feel “right.” For dinner, I enjoyed the catch-of-the-day while looking over the water just after sunset.
My server at dinner (who I believe was named Pablo) was so charming and kind (even though I came in nearing closing time). It was too dark for me to snap a photo of my dinner, but ordered a fresh fish (“Today’s Catch”) and devoured every bite.
Notes on this location: Accepts credit cards, free WiFi, beachfront views, Instagrammable.
Where I Went To Hang.
The purpose of this trip was to disconnect from reality and reconnect with me. With that in mind, I was specifically seeking out quiet, peaceful destinations and avoiding “party” vibes like the plague. Here’s a list of where the scene was just right for me:
As I said before, Posada Margherita is absolutely cute as a button. It’s basically a shabby-chic secret garden overlooking the beach. I grabbed one of their fresh-squeezed juice concoctions there during my first full day and stuck around for the rest of the day to read on their covered porch before moving to one of their many beach loungers. Posada also offered six-to-eight covered cabanas that I didn’t take advantage of (though I probably should have, based on the sunburn I had from my first day). During my visit, all beach seating was open, though it’s possible they may charge or only allow hotel guests during peak season.
Beach Side Massage Tent
After visiting Posada Margherita for an afternoon, I decided to walk back down the beach towards my hotel. Approximately two beach clubs over, I encountered a woman standing near a sign that said “We <3 Massage” (I estimate this was somewhere near My Way boutique hotel. Nearby was a shaded massage tent with several open-air tables. She promised me a one-hour massage for $40 USD. That’s exactly what I received and my only regret is not returning for another the next day.
This place is an Instagrammer’s dream. Again, the property was formerly one of Pablo Escobar’s mansions and the current owners left no stone unturned when it came to transforming it into a commercial property. There are moments to be taken in around every corner, my favorite being the hanging sofa installation, flanked by grande drapes constructed of wedding dresses.
However, the visuals aren’t all Casa Malca has going for it. I actually spent two full beach days here because the setting was so delightful. Again, because it was off-season, I was able to have my pick of covered beach cabanas (a luxury typically reserved for hotel guests) and received absolutely amazing service both days. Even though it was at least a 20-minute bike ride from where I was staying, this destination was absolutely worth it. Though I have no empirical proof, I would posit that Casa Malca has more beach cabanas and loungers than any of the other properties on the strip.
Let’s be clear, I didn’t stay at Mateos long, I was just there for the epic views on the sunset deck. While it was a fun and funky place, it was pretty far from the more inhabited part of the beach road strip and just not the vibe I was feeling for dinner. So, as soon as the sun dipped below view, I was out of there!
Spots I Didn’t Get to See
Here are some additional highly recommended spots I didn’t get to scope out during my stay. Most of these destinations were too far off the beaten path, didn’t have the vibe I was looking for, or simply didn’t fit into my schedule. Nevertheless, these spots came across my must-see radar several times.
Hotels & Beach Clubs
Nest, Be, and Azulik were all highly touted and recommended for their great atmospheres and beach clubs. When it came down to it, I didn’t have enough time to do everything, but the photos and reviews of these three spots are amazing.
Taqueria La Eufemia - While everyone raved about the tacos at this beach-front spot, the nighttime vibe was a little too…lively...for me. Because I was looking for quiet vibes, I chose to foregoe this spot when I dropped by around 8 PM or so
Gitano Tulum - I heard many good things about this modern mexican kitchen and mezcal bar (less appealing to me as a non-drinker), but just didn’t have the time during my trip to check it out.
Matcha Mama - Let’s be honest, I LOVE a good matcha, and this place came highly recommended as a go-to spot. I biked past several times, but was never ready for a matcha. However, this spot couldn’t be more adorable. Wooden swings serve as bar seating at this road-side find. It was cute as can be and I’ll definitely make it a point to stop by during my next visit!
Overall, my solo trip to Tulum was beyond enjoyable. I was able to rest, relax, and explore at my own pace. I found the trip to be tremendously healing and rejuvenating and will definitely be back soon.