The Greener Guide to Seeing Tulum More Sustainably

Azulik is a back-to-nature clutch of cliffside villas with no air conditioning or electric lighting
Azulik is a back-to-nature clutch of cliffside villas with no air conditioning or electric lighting | Courtesy of Azulik / Expedia
Photo of Emma Sparks
1 September 2021
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Many of the highlights in this remote jungle town are low-impact by virtue of their wild location, with peaceful cenotes and earthy vegan restaurants to explore.

On the Caribbean coast of Mexico‘s Yucatán Peninsula, Tulum has gone from sleepy backwater to hyped tourist town in just a decade, though its hotels are still very much of the bohemian, barefoot variety. While it’s undeniable that Tulum’s seaside Mayan ruins, palm-fringed beaches and protected Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve are spectacular, all this rich natural beauty means it’s especially important to tread lightly here. Luckily, with community farms, reefs and mangroves to explore, an ecofriendly trip to Tulum comes easy.

Azulik

Azulik_a39f72ef
Courtesy of Azulik / Expedia
Look no further, treehouse fans: Azulik might just be the best there is. This clutch of cliffside villas is connected by a network of wooden walkways and bridges, featuring terraces with sea views, swinging daybeds and artisan mosaic bathtubs. While there is hot water and wifi, there’s no air conditioning or electric lighting; staff fill your room with candles come sunset to help reduce light pollution, which can confound sea turtles and other wildlife. Clothing is optional at this secluded beach, so you can go totally au naturel if you choose to.

Cenote Dos Ojos

Natural Feature
Tourist relaxing in Two Eyes Cenote (Cenote Dos Ojos), Yucatan, Mexico.
© Jan Wlodarczyk / Alamy Stock Photo
There are around 6,000 cenotes scattered across the Yucatán Peninsula, and no trip to Tulum is complete unless you’ve plunged into a sinkhole or two. Cenote Dos Ojos – named Two Eyes after its two distinctive baby-blue openings – is a 30-minute drive away. Claustrophobes will prefer to stick to the surface, but if you’re cool with cramped spaces, bring a snorkel and flippers, or join a scuba-diving tour, to get the full experience.

Alaya Tulum

Courtesy of Alaya Tulum / Expedia
The thatched suites and villas at this seafront eco-resort are made from local materials and include ocean-friendly toiletries. Lounge on the beach with a green smoothie, or rent a hotel bike and cycle along the coast to the open-air Tulum Jungle Gym. Alaya guests get complimentary access, and much of the fitness equipment is made from natural materials such as bamboo and stone.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

Natural Feature
The observation tower and boat dock at the Muyil Lagoon in Sian Ka'an, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
© Jon G Fuller / VWPics / Alamy Stock Photo
For an ecofriendly day trip from Tulum, head south to the Unesco-listed Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a sustainable tourism hub on the Riviera Maya. It’s not the easiest place to get to, so it makes sense to hire a guide so that you can focus on the fun part: kayaking through a maze of mangrove-knitted canals, snorkeling along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, or spotting flamingos, dolphins and rare manatees on a sunset cruise.

Laylo

Restaurant, Mexican, Vegan
Homemade Quinoa Tofu Bowl with Roasted Veggies and Herbs
© Brent Hofacker / Alamy

Wondering where to find the best vegan eats in Tulum? Created by the minds behind Tulum’s trendy alcohol-free bar, Elysium, Laylo Tulum Vegan Lounge serves up a vibrant, plant-based menu that’s good for both people and the planet. Eco-conscious meals have never looked (or tasted) this good – try their smoothie bowls, beet burgers and Baja-style tacos to see for yourself.

Palmaïa

Palmaïa_b03c3d8f
Courtesy of Palmaïa / Expedia

Just an hour north of Tulum, Palmaïa goes the extra mile when it comes to sustainability. The solar-powered property uses 50 percent less energy than the average Mexican resort and is ultimately aiming to achieve carbon neutrality. They’ve eliminated plastic bottles and put plant-based dishes – think vegan tacos and soy-marinated watermelon poke bowls – front and center in their restaurants. The swim-up and ocean-view suites are thoughtfully designed with cruelty-free furnishings: no feathers, no leather.

Verdant

Restaurant, Eco-friendly
Ingredients for cooking, copy space, top view, flat lay. Purple vegetables, fruits on grey background. Violet eggplant, beets, cauliflower, purple beans, plums, onion, grape, quinoa, rice.
© Jchizhe / Adobe Stock Photo

Many of the herbs and vegetables served at Verdant are grown at its urban community farm, and the rest are sourced from local producers. The kitchen is almost 100 percent zero waste, with scraps used to make condiments or – if they can’t be turned into something tasty, or composted – cooking fuel. Treat yourself to the ever-changing tasting menu to enjoy the likes of Caribbean grouper and coal-roasted Bacalar cabbage.

Playa las Palmas

Natural Feature
Playa Las Palmas beach near Tulum in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico on a sunny day before a storm set in.
© Elizabeth Wake / Alamy

What’s more ecofriendly than a lazy day at the beach? The Tulum coastline is trimmed with broad stretches of white sand and impossibly clear waters, but they do tend to attract crowds. Playa las Palmas is one of the quieter, more laid-back options, especially come sunset. The usual advice applies: take only pictures, leave only footprints – and bring your reusable water bottle.

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