Image by Mexico-based illustrator Luis Pinto

The Insider Guide to Tulum

Come to Tulum – the hippie (and hipper) smaller sister of Cancun and Playa del Carmen – for an alt version of the Riviera Maya. It’s still popular with out-of-towners, but there’s a distinct yogi vibe, ecofriendly attitude and a slew of excellent vegetarian and vegan restaurants. A sacred spot on the Caribbean coast and a fascinating archaeological site round out the offerings nicely.

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¡Vamos! The Main Attractions

You could happily pass a blissful week in Tulum finding inner peace at beach yoga sessions, enjoying Maya therapies at a jungle spa and swimming in the Caribbean Sea. But this backpacker destination in Quintana Roo has so much more to offer. Start by unwrapping the mysteries of the beachside archaeological ruins, where you’ll discover the gray-stone remnants of the walled city known as Zama (or Dawn in Mayan). The best known – and most imposing – ruin is El Castillo, which probably acted less like a castle, as the name might suggest, and more as a religious center and control tower for incoming boats. Also make sure you stop by Templo de las Pinturas, home to a collection of Maya frescoes and Templo de la Estela, named for a stela found inside that baffled archaeologists, predating any predictions they had for the city’s age. Combine that with a trip to Playa Paraiso, a tropical beach as beautiful as the name might suggest that’s just a 15-minute walk away. Alternatively, hire a car and head outside town to visit Chichen Itza, home to the stepped pyramid of Kukulkan and a grand ball court, or you could visit the climbable pyramid at the ancient Maya city of Coba. While you’re at it, drop by one of the thousands of cenotes – freshwater sinkholes – found in the Yucatan Peninsula; Cenote Dos Ojos and Gran Cenote have brilliantly clear water and plenty of opportunities to gather social feed fodder. Embark on further natural adventures with a drive south to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a protected swathe of land and sea south of Tulum, home to manatee, pink flamingos and howler monkeys. Alternatively, man-made wonders can be found at Sfer IK, a surreal art gallery that looks like it’s been taken straight from a Dali dream. Reconvene in Tulum for an evening tipple – there are plenty of excellent bars nearby, while (the hard to say after a couple of tequilas) Papaya Playa Project hosts a full moon party once a month. Read on for more insider tips and bookable places to stay.

Neighborhoods in Tulum