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

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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.

best restaurant tulum mexico tacos al pastor antojitos

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.

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

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:

best shopping tulum souvenirs day of dead skeleton figure best souvenir mexico tulum

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?

[box style=”rounded” border=”full”]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 [/box]

Thanks to the Riviera Maya Tourism Board and Ahau Tulum.

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Top 42 Best Souvenirs and Gifts from Mexico to Bring Home - Souvenir Finder

Saturday 18th of May 2019

[…] destination for American tourists. It has everything an American tourist could want– sandy beaches, lush jungles, colorful villages, cultural attractions, delicious food, local artisan shopping and […]

Emma Brown

Monday 25th of September 2017

Wow I didn't know there was an opportunity for water massage in a cenote? I only tried snorkeling in Dos Ojos cenote which was also a lovely experience. Next time I should try the massage as well.

Kristin Francis

Tuesday 24th of October 2017

Hi Emma! I know it looks amazing!! I had a water massage at Blue Lagoon in Iceland before and can't recommend it highly enough. I'm sure the cenote would be fanatastic

Hannah Marquardt

Friday 30th of June 2017

What restaurant did you get the "Mr potato head" drinks at? They are so cool!!

Kristin Francis

Tuesday 24th of October 2017

hannah-- at Ahau Tulum, where we also stayed. Highly recommend the Coco Locos!

Kristin Francis

Tuesday 24th of October 2017

Hi Hannah! Those were from the restaurant where we stayed at Ahau Tulum (gorgeous both the restaurant and the hotel).

Earlene

Thursday 18th of February 2016

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

Thursday 18th of February 2016

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!!

Claudia

Tuesday 19th of January 2016

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.