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Experience Tulum’s Off-Beat Charm: Tacos, Skeletons and Coco Locos

On the southern end of Mexico’s sun-kissed Riviera Maya lies the magical little beach town of Tulum. We’ve already written about our love for Tulum, including how we rappelled into underwater caverns on an adventure tour and how we found our inner zen exploring the mangroves and ruins.

But Tulum is perhaps best known for its off-beat charm. A haven for expats far and wide, Tulum attracts those who follow their own path– artists, bohemians and even burned-out city folk. These Tulum newcomers aren’t seeking to change the local ways but instead to blend in– while adding their own updated twist.

In Tulum, you’ll find local taco joints selling tacos al pastor for a buck– and a transplanted New York chef cooking innovative dishes over an open flame. Mayan crafts sit side-by-side with local, up and coming designers. It’s a mix of old and new that somehow works perfectly, all under palm-fringed streets.

How do you best experience Tulum’s boho, off-beat spirit? Seek out both the authentic and the new to find the beloved quirkiness that is the heart of this tiny beach town.

 1. Hop a Bike on Tulum’s Beach Road

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Many Tulum hotels provide free bikes to guests, otherwise rentals are easy to come by.

tulum beach road

Biking Tulum’s lush beach road.

Sure you can grab a taxi to get around beach road, but it’s easier (and way more fun) to rent a bike. Your fellow cyclists will be everyone from aging hippies with waist-long ponytails to fresh-faced fashionistas in flowy beach dresses. Bike all the way to Tulum’s ruins, or head to Tulum’s pueblo (downtown) for a slice of local life.

2. Walk the Colorful Streets of Tulum’s Town

Get a taste of local life by exploring Tulum’s town. We loved walking the pueblo’s lively streets at night, shopping from the vendors lining the street and eating tacos (see #3 below). One of our favorite Tulum pueblo stops was Batey’s, a mojito restaurant and bar owned by a friendly Italian ex-pat. Batey’s is famous for its mojitos– made with fresh sugar cane, pressed in a converted VW bug/sugar press out front.

3. Do a Tulum Taco Crawl

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We were starving after visiting the Tulum ruins– this stand on Tulum’s ruin grounds hit the spot with off-the-chart delicious tacos.

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The legendary al pastor tacos at Antojitos La Chiapaneca are a must. Photo credit (and taco recommendation)  courtesy of Jeremy Jones, of the fantastic travel blog Living the Dream

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Taco envy. Photo Credit: Jeremy Jones of Living the Dream

If you haven’t heard, Tulum has good tacos. Insanely good tacos. The best tacos are sold on the street, in makeshift stands and open air restaurants with unreliable hours. You’ll want to try them all so we recommend a taco crawl. Head to Tulum’s downtown pueblo area, and start at our favorite taco spot, Antojitos La Chiapaneca. Order a taco al pastor (off the spit) and here’s the critical part, order just one.

If you can’t resist the deliciousness, you’ll end up overeating at the first taco joint, and your entire taco crawl will consist of a grand total of maybe two different stands.* So while our own taco crawl fail prevents us from providing you with a complete list of recommended taco stands, judging from the crowds of locals at each stand, I doubt you can go wrong.

*As a service to our readers, we hope to return to Tulum soon for the express purpose of reporting on this taco crawl.

4.  Enjoy Tulum’s Ridiculous Tropical Drinks

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These drinks reminded me of a tropical version of Mr. Potato Head.

Confession: I love ridiculous, fruity drinks. The more over-the-top the better. So while lounging on our beach bed at the Ahau Tulum hotel, we asked for some fun tropical drinks. I think they nailed it.

There are so many welcoming places to stop for a cocktail along beach road. A couple of our picks for Tulum’s best restaurants and bars to grab a drink:

best restaurant in tulum casa jaguar tulum. best bar

I loved the cozy jungle atmosphere at Tulum’s Casa Jaguar.

tulum best restaurants hartwood gitano

Gitano is the go-to spot in Tulum for sampling artisanal mezcal.

 5. Get a Janzu Water Massage in one of Tulum’s Cenotes

I didn’t personally get the Janzu water massage because I had no idea it existed until after I came back from Tulum (another reason to make a return visit). But I did chat with fellow Tulum-lover, Pepper, who raved about the experience.

a wonderful healing experience…I’m still processing some of it…it went deep into the delta stage of feeling unattached

You’ve got to watch the video to see what the Janzu massage is all about because I’m not sure I can describe it beyond “spiritual body work.” To book your own Janzu massage, head to Cenote Encatado (look for the wooden sign right in the heart of beach road) and ask for Sol.

6. Tulum’s Best Shopping: La Llorona for Quirky, Beautifully Made, Artisan Goods and Souvenirs

The shopping in Tulum is fantastic, we wrote about our favorite Tulum zen shops here and our love for Mexican scrunchies here.

But the best shopping in all of Tulum is at La Llorona (I may have visited three times in one trip). La Llorona (translated as “the weeping woman”) aims to reflect the region’s diverse culture. Handicraft souvenirs called “artesanía” have a long history in Mexico, dating back to pre-conquest times, when artisans were part of the privileged class.

La Llorona stocks gorgeous, classic Mexican artesnia, including ceremonial objects, textiles, embroidery, rugs, jewelry and toys. The shop is huge, with an entire top floor dedicated to antiques and furniture. Here is just a sampling of the beautiful artisan items on offer:

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I adored these cheeky Day of the Dead skeleton figurines.

We loved practically everything in La Llorna and spent ages browsing for Tulum souvenirs. The shop attendants are super friendly here and let you linger as long as you like.

best mexico souvenir skeleton tulum best shopping

I so wanted to bring this guy home with me, he would be perfect for greeting guests in the foyer.

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Have you been to Tulum? What are your favorite off-beat spots?

Souvenir Finder Shopping Tip Sheet

What to Buy: Gorgeous handmade textiles and handbags are great Mexican souvenirs and make La Llorona my top pick for the best shopping in Tulum.
Where to Get it: La Llorona, at km 6 on Beach Road
What to Know:
Head to Tulum’s town for delicious tacos

Thanks to the Riviera Maya Tourism Board and Ahau Tulum.

9 Responses to Experience Tulum’s Off-Beat Charm: Tacos, Skeletons and Coco Locos

  1. Sue Slaght 10/12/2014 at 11:32 am #

    Kristin i really enjoyed reading about these out of the way spots in Tulum. As far as the greeter you wanted to bring home I would imagine that would afford you some peace and quiet , well other than people screaming while running from the foyer. 🙂

  2. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer 10/12/2014 at 6:40 pm #

    I am going back to Mexico next July and I am seriously considering visiting Tulum now 😀

    • Kristin Francis 10/12/2014 at 9:44 pm #

      You have to, you will love it!

  3. Beth 12/01/2014 at 4:40 pm #

    Water massage in the cenote? Umm, I think I need to go back to Tulum!

    • Kristin Francis 12/05/2014 at 8:59 am #

      Yes this reader said this experience really took massage to a new level– I definitely want to try it!

  4. Isa 01/27/2015 at 1:17 am #

    There are many other options to buy souvenirs in Tulum. I recommend a tiny secret shop called “La Casita de Xaman” located opposite the restaurant Mateo’s.

    This magic spot proposes comfortable, multifunctional and feminine crocheted designs inspired by the Caribbean, all by hand with hook and natural mexican materials.

  5. Claudia 01/19/2016 at 8:23 pm #

    I had never heard of Tulum Mexico before, Thank you so much. I think it will be a lovely anniversary for me and hubby. Which month of the year you went? mind if I ask. BTW
    Your pictures are beautiful.

  6. Earlene 02/18/2016 at 6:01 pm #

    Visiting Tulum next month. Staying at Catalonia Royal. Is it safe to go out in Tulum? So many people are saying it’s not safe to leave the resort. I want to explore!!!

    • Kristin Francis 02/18/2016 at 9:06 pm #

      Where did you hear it was unsafe? I felt the very opposite (as did the dozens of friends who have been)– it is a small community, it’s very safe, both along the adorable bars and restaurants on beach road as well as in the town. Of course you should explore!!

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