To me, finding zen isn’t about meditating in a rock garden or following a religion. Instead, I think of zen as a state of mind, relaxed and distraction-free, leaving plenty of room for the more important stuff to surface– like creativity and intuition. Getting into that zen-like zone isn’t always easy. Sometimes I find it when I’m lost in the pages of a novel. Or when I stop reciting the steps in dance class and allow myself to just feel the movement.
But then there are times when I am feeling burned out and uninspired and I all I want to do is hit a reset button.
My reset button is a simple as booking an escape to the tiny Mexican beach town of Tulum.
Why Tulum is the Best Antidote to Burn Out
Unlike its busy neighbor Cancun to the north, quiet Tulum is a haven for artists, bohemians and nature lovers. Creative types are drawn here, in part, because of the natural, low tech environment.
- Literally off Mexico’s electrical grid, there are no blaring street lights in Tulum (though most hotels do generate their own, sometimes limited, electricity). You can walk in complete darkness (but you might want to bring a small flashlight) and see the stars above.
- Tulum’s WiFi can be spotty, and might be completely down during any kind of weather mishap. On the plus side, that makes disconnecting easy in Tulum– you can put away your phone for real, knowing it won’t work that well anyway.
- Bicycles and barefoot walks are the most popular form of transport.
- No need to get dressed up in Tulum– bikinis, sarongs, cut-offs and maybe a floaty beach dresses are all you’ll need (flip-flops optional).
Once you ease into Tulum’s laid-back lifestyle, it can be hard to imagine living any other way. But even now that I’m back in my busy New York life, all I need to do to find that zen state of mind is to think back on some of my favorite Tulum moments:
1. Best Tulum Hotel for Zen: a Beachfront Palapa that Kisses the Ocean
Nothing makes me feel like I’m on holiday more than a hotel that offers a sense of place. You can’t get any more authentic than Ahau Tulum– our airy palapa felt straight out of Swiss Family Robinson. We spent most evenings out on the enormous deck, hanging out with a bucket of Mexican beer. We felt like castaways–extremely spoiled ones, that is– Ahau’s plush beds and waterfall shower definitely put the “luxe” factor in this eco-luxe resort.
2. Best Tulum Zen Alarm Clock: Crazy Burnt Orange Sunrises.
You won’t look for a snooze button when the first slice of Tulum’s famous sunrise peeks through your window. Leap out of bed and run out to the water’s edge to join your neighbors for the show– it’s ok, jammies are acceptable viewing attire. After the sunrise, sleepy heads can return back to bed– the sound of the gentle waves are a natural sedative and will lull you back to sleep in no time.
3. Best Tulum Zen Workout: Yoga
I love yoga, but in my New York City studio, it’s not always exactly a zen experience. Mats are jammed into every possible space. It’s hard to relax because I always have one eye on my neighbors, hoping I don’t get kicked (yes it’s happened before).
Yoga in Tulum is different story– we joined a class in a gorgeous cathedral-ceilinged palapa, with plenty of space to spread out and breathe. And you don’t have to worry about sacrificing class quality just because you’re on vacation– Tulum’s laid-back lifestyle seems to attract some of the best yoga instructors out there. We loved our class held at Las Ranitas– a challenging workout that had us sweating– and feeling completely rejuvenated.
4. Best Tulum Zen Pick-Me-Up: Fruit Juices you Won’t Find at Your Local Juice Bar
In Tulum (and really the entire Riveria Maya area) delicious fruit drinks are everywhere. Refreshing fruit waters (called aguas frescas), green juice concoctions, smoothies– I tried them all, as often as possible. Nothing felt more restorative after a long flight, a tough yoga class or just a long day in the sun than these tasty fruit drinks. If I absolutely had to pick a favorite juice, I’d give it to the post-yoga smoothie enjoyed with my chilaquiles verdes at Las Ranitas.
5. Best Tulum Zen Activity: Playing in the Jungles at Sian Ka’an Reserve
While you can reach your inner zen by sitting still and meditating, it’s way more fun to reach zen by summoning your inner kid and playing.
There is no better place to play than at Tulum’s Sian Ka’an reserve– a 1.5 million acre Unesco World Heritage site. With lush jungles to explore, crumbling ruins to discover and lazy rivers to float through, the Sian Ka’an reserve is practically a jungle gym for adults.
Feel like an Explorer Discovering Ruins for the Very First Time
Practically tourist-free, Sian Ka’an reserve offers something few attractions can these days– a sense of discovery. Deep in the jungle, we got our first glimpse of ruins through the shadow of the trees. We felt like explorers unexpectedly coming upon these ancient structures. Sian Ka’an is filled with these unexpected moments– like the long boardwalk, cutting a swath through the jungle brush, that ends at yet another mysterious Mayan ruin.
Crown yourself the King of the Jungle.
Your guide will warn you not to touch a lot of things at the Sian Ka’an reserve. Don’t touch any trees, they might be poisonous. Don’t touch the ruins, they are protected. So when our guide described how it was possible to climb a large root, I got my camera ready, knowing full well the adventurer in the group wouldn’t be able to resist the invitation.
Your captain will guide you through this mangrove in a ponga boat– sit up front for the best views of the many indigenous birds that nest here. But the best part of the tour comes when you’re dropped off and left to float with the current in the lazy river– one of our favorite memories.
6. Best Tulum Zen Immersion: Sinking into Tulum’s Warm Waters
The best way to feel completely immersed in a zen moment? Just find yourself some water and sink right in. Whether it’s the spectacular Grand Cenote (Tulum’s freshwater sinkhole that’s perfect for snorkeling), the turquoise waters lapping at the Tulum ruins or even just the gentle waves at the beach in front of your hotel, Tulum’s many swimming options all give you that same feeling of complete relaxation.
7. Best Tulum Zen Sensation: Walking Barefoot Along Palm-Fringed Streets
There is just something intoxicating about walking under the palm fronds along Tulum’s beach road. During the day, pop into the simple shops and spas lining the street and take in the random bits of zen everywhere– like this charming hand painted sign and psychedelic VW van. At night, take a walk guided only by moonlight, ducking into some of the cozy bars and restaurants along the way.
8. Best Tulum Zen High: Shop Local Artisans who are Devoted to their Craft
Think shopping is anti-zen? Not so with the kind of shopping you’ll find in Tulum. First there’s the setting– shopping here is an indoor-outdoor affair, as shops blend in with their natural jungle surroundings. Next are the items on offer– practically everything I saw was handmade and made locally. Shopping here isn’t about accumulating stuff but instead about appreciating the traditions and skills of local artisans (as expressed in user-friendly items like gorgeous embroidered pillows, blankets and beach cover ups).
9 & 10. Best Overall Tulum Zen Moments: Sunset and a Storybook Moonrise
Don’t get me wrong, the sunsets in Tulum are to die for. And best enjoyed with a cocktail from your balcony.
But there is something about a Tulum moonrise that outdoes a sunset any day. I felt like I was looking at a page out of a child’s storybook as I watched these moonbeams bounce off the ocean. Yes, I had found my zen state of mind.
Have you been to Tulum? What are your favorite zen moments?
[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Souvenir Finder Shopping Tip Sheet
- What to Buy: Chic cover ups, home decor and accessories at La Troupe. Flowy dresses at Josa Tulum.
- Where to Get it: La Troupe, km 7.5. Josa Tulum is practically next door, also at km 7.5.
- What to Know: Our hotel, Ahau Tulum was perfectly situated for shopping, cenote dips, and tours of the Sian Ka’an reserve. [/box]