Tulum can claim the Maya empire’s most dramatic ruins and incredibly scenic beach breaks. Live Tulum, a charming owner-run bed and breakfast at the edge of the archaeological park, lies close to the scenic shore, but also shows off the town’s easygoing nature, encouraging guests to live like locals. Many of the apartment-style stays have kitchenettes for cooking up ingredients from the local market, a fleet of bikes allow easy exploration and – uniquely for a riviera stay – there’s a lushly landscaped pool in the garden.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in: 3pm.
Double rooms from £62.48 ($79), including tax at 19 per cent.
Rates include a buffet breakfast, with egg and bean dishes, and sweets including pastries, muesli, yoghurt and tropical fruit.
From 7.30pm, there’s a daily film-screening by the pool. If you need local recommendations, look no further than the receptionist who has a wealth of suggestions. In-room massages (US$60–135) can be arranged at reception.
At the hotel
Garden, terraces, roof deck, reading room with a small library, free WiFi throughout. Bikes (adult sizes only) are available to hire, on request (guests must pay a deposit of MXN$2,200 a bike). In rooms: LED TV, minibar, free bottled water, air-conditioning and Bio2 bath products. All rooms except the Suites have a fully equipped kitchen, and the Royal Jacuzzi suites have a Nespresso coffee machine and Jacuzzi on a semi-private terrace.
Our favourite rooms
Bubble away your stresses in the Royal Jacuzzi suite; this room also has a peaceful terrace and walk-in access to the pool. We love the wicker-shaded pendent lights, Cath Kidston-esque rose prints and the motto painted on the dining room wall – ‘Always be strong, always love deeply, always give everything’ – is rather sweet. Up to four people can stay, so families will feel at home here, too.
The sun-warmed pool (open 8am–10pm) snakes around the back garden, with grassy sides and a sunlounger-topped wooden deck. It’s a peaceful spot, sheltered by rocky walls, and ground-floor suites have their own terrace just steps away from a cooling dip. By day, palms are reflected in the clear water; by night, candles are lit around the sides and submerged lights emit a romantic glow.
Pack some waterproof shoes for safe cenote exploring. Leave space in your suitcase for a rainbow-striped serape – the shawls are sold in the local market and are best wrapped around your shoulders while sitting on the terrace after sundown.
Head to the gym two blocks away if you're itching for a work out. Alternatively yoga classes, personal trainers and a soothing in-room massage can be arranged on request.
Welcome. The apartment-style rooms are suited to family breaks; under-3s can share their parents’ bed for free, and older children can stay on the lounge’s sofa bed for US$20 a night. The pool has a shallow end for kids to play in.
The water used for cleaning is recycled in the garden, the bath products are environmentally sound, and the hotel recycles where possible.
Informally flopped down onto your terrace or balcony’s Acapulco chairs.
Follow the hotel’s lead: go for a plain base with subtle pops of colour, flowers in your hair, turquoise hanging round your neck.
Breakfast is served in a homey shaded open-air alcove leading off from the garden. Hand-painted tables and chairs are laid out on an intricately tiled floor, and trinkets hung on a rugged stone wall. There’s no lunch or dinner, but you can cook up market-sourced goodies using your personal kitchenette.
Since there's no bar, the hotel has a DIY approach to drinking: acquire some bottles of rum and coke (and fresh limes) from the 7-11 across the street, then sip from plastic cups by the pool.
Breakfast is laid out from 8am–10.30am.
None available, but most rooms and suites have a full kitchen, and Tulum is filled with tempting eateries. If you're feeling lazy, pick up fish tacos and ceviche from El Camello Junior, along the Chetumal–Cancun highway.
Calle Andromeda Oriente manzana 18 lote 3 esquina Escorpión Sur
Tulum, Quintana Roo, 77780, Mexico
Live Tulum is at the junction between two quiet residential streets, lined with palm trees. Its immediate surroundings are unassuming and tourist free, but it’s just on the border of the archaeological park and the beach is five minutes by car.
Cancun International Airport (www.cancun-airport.com) is the closest, a 90-minute drive from the hotel. From the US, American Airlines, United, Delta and Virgin America fly direct from major cities; from the UK, British Airways arrives with a pit stop in the US and Iberia connects via Madrid and Mexico City. The hotel can arrange private transfers from there for US$125 for two guests.
If your MO is admiring the handiwork of the Maya followed by beach lazing, you’ll get by without a car. However, if you’re after a tour of Cobá, plan to check out party towns Playa del Carmen and Cancun, or just fancy a quicker way to reach the shore, a set of wheels will come in handy. There’s a car-hire booth at Cancun International; from there, take coastal route 307 for unforgettable shoreline views. There’s free parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Few beaches can boast of scenery as spectacular as Tulum’s – a headland topped with 13th-century Maya castillos and deity-carved temples soars above pristine white sands, with the Caribbean Sea beyond. The town was formerly called City of Dawn, for its sunset views, which are especially spectacular from the clifftop. The archaeological park is a five-minute taxi ride from the hotel (or a half-hour walk), and there’s a steep staircase down to the beach if you’re craving a sunbathing session. The hotel’s concierge can arrange trips to the other famed ancient settlements in the region: Cobá’s crumbling pyramids set between picturesque lakes, Chichén Itzá’s pyramid of Kukulcan, and the large ruin complex at Ek’Balam. Snorkel with dolphins, spy alligators in a scenic lagoon or float past the Xlahpak temple (built more than 1,000 years ago) in Sian Ka’an Biosphere (+91 512 308 1111), a 40-minute drive south of Tulum. Cenotes reveal a magical underwater world as you swim through crystal-clear waters in deep stalactite-studded caverns. Don’t let their ominous names, (the Pit, Pet Cemetary, Temple of Doom) spook you – it’s a magical experience. If you’re claustrophobic, snorkel or dive off a boat from Cozumel island instead. Tulum’s theme parks tend to be quite splash happy, so pack swimwear for trips to Xcaret (+52 800 292 2738) and Xel-Há (+52 800 009 3542). Ride a trajinera (brightly painted boats) along Xoximilco’s canals – a ride that ends in feasting and Mariachi music, or try to catch baby turtles hatching in Akumel, from July to October. Locally, borrow one of the hotel bikes to explore the town there’s a farmers’ market every Sunday, just off Calle Okot, where you can gather cooking supplies. Turn your wheels downtown to hang with ageing hippies, snap eye-catching graffiti murals and shop in cool craft shops; La Llorona’s intricate jewellery and rugged furnishings are a favourite.
Dining in Tulum is as informal as cutlery-free adventures in wolfing down flavour-packed tacos and quesadillas made in ramshackle stalls, or the full five-star experience by a transplanted Michelin-star-awarded chef. The hotel has enough eateries nearby for guests to dine diffferently each night: La Nave (+52 984 871 2592) pizzeria, a 10-minute walk, is an unpretentious, locally loved spot. Cetli (+52 984 108 0681) on Calle Polar Ponte serves up authentic Mexican dishes with a modern spin; diners can try the variations on mole before deciding which they’d like to pair with their meat or fish. Appetisers (house-made bread and local cheese) are paired with tamarind-infused margaritas. Sharing platters and paella pans are bountiful at La Gloria de Don Pepe (+52 984 152 4471) on Calle Orión Sur.
Tulum best street-food joints are usually the least showy, so you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled. It’s easy to overlook corrugated-iron-fringed joint Antojitos La Chiapaneca (+52 1 984 114 6386) on Carratera Chetumal-Cancun, but it’s well-renowned for its zingy, heavily filled tacos. El Camello Jr (+52 1 984 871 2036), along the same street, has gained a reputation for its ceviche – the large portion is saucepan sized, so order the small if you’re after a light(ish) lunch.
Gitano Tulum mezcal bar has equally talented mixologists, shaking up concoctions such as Kisses in the car, with mezcal, passionfruit, tangerine and habanero chilli pepper. And, they have a fairylight-strewn courtyard to enjoy them in.
No sooner have we turned left out of the bus station in Tulum than three barefoot, dreadlocked men emerge from the dust, carrying a banner painted with the words ‘Love Army’. It seems a fitting welcome to a town where hippy meets yuppie. Tulum’s new age reputation has made it a favourite spot for holidaying LA-natives who have brought with them juice bars, sunrise yoga and, recently, big name chefs that jostle for space along the playa.
The perfect white sandy beaches are the main attraction here, but the bus station is in the town a couple of miles away: taxis shuttle between the two for around 100 pesos a pop. Live Tulum is tucked on a side road just behind the turning to the beach. These streets are home to some of Tulum’s newest developments. White Escher-like structures are under construction opposite and behind Live Tulum during our stay, while the turquoise glow of interior swimming pools in finished hotels are just visible to passers-by beyond shaded front desks.
Live Tulum is more homely and playful: vines cascade from the upper balconies while blooms of pink and yellow flowers draw guests past a sign reading ‘Love’ and into the reception area, where a portrait of Frida Kahlo watches over new arrivals.
Mr Smith and I are welcomed out of the heat and handed keys to our first-floor suite. This is the smallest of the four room sizes available so we are surprised to open the door and find a large kitchen area with wooden work-surfaces and white stools at a breakfast bar, plus a full-size dining table and rustic benches. Past the bathroom, there’s a comfortable couch and coffee table in front of one of two flat screen TVs. The second is in the bedroom, beyond a dark wood partition which can be closed at night to keep children out or cool air in.
The highlight is undoubtedly the balcony overlooking the pool, which is furnished with candles and a rocking chair. Ground floor rooms descend into the pool from the back door, so guests can swim from their room across to the sun-loungers on the other side. But from our spot we have prime viewing platform for the daily films at 7.30pm. So do the iguanas: we saw a huge fellow enjoying Iron Man 2 on the top of the wall.
Bikes are available to hire from reception. They are free, but will set you back a MEX$1,000 (US$50) deposit, which seems a little steep, though this can be given on credit card. If the bikes feel clunky and heavy to start with, you’ll soon be grateful. Like the town, the roads are under construction and fat tyres help to roll over the rubble at the sides of the roads.
We use the bikes to duck out to visit the nearby Mayan ruins before breakfast one morning. A tranquil 15 minutes along the main road, most of it on a cycle path deserted at 8am. After making a right, we head past the tourist shops at the entrance and cycle all the way down to the entrance to the site, where you can park your bike in the racks provided. The site is almost empty, leaving us free to mosey around the ruins and take dramatic pictures of the pyramids emerging from the rocky coastline, without being disturbed by too many other tourists. You can swim on the beach here in good weather, though a red flag warns against it today.
It takes a good hour to enjoy the site. We leave around 9am and cycle back up the long road that leads to the entrance, feeling smug as we pass enormous tour buses and independent groups on foot heading in the opposite direction.
Back at Live Tulum, host Wendy is welcoming people to the breakfast room. This simple dining area has the same cosy feel as the rest of the hotel. Guests help themselves to icy jugs of peach juice and huge vats of coffee. There are trays of scrambled eggs with ham, black beans and other cooked options, or cold cheese and meat, plus slices of cake and toast with marmalade and jam. Wendy roams between the tables making sure everyone has what they need and making chit-chat about the royals.
Aside from the obvious trips to the beach and for roaming around the town, the bikes are also handy to get to the nearby cenotes. These underground limestone caves are only found in Mexico’s Yucatan and can make a nice alternative to the white sandy beaches, which are bursting with tourists. Gran Cenote, a 20 minute cycle up the road, is a deep cave inhabited by tiny birds that nest in the nooks, live tortoises that rest on the rocks, and crystal clear blue waters.
After a dip, we head back to the hotel to return the bikes and wash ready for dinner at the fabulous Casa Margarita, an Italian restaurant overlooking the bay, where we watch the sunset and our fellow diners with equal interest. Tulum’s combination of the fancy and the hippy might not be for everyone. Live Tulum strikes that middle ground: a place to feel at home as the resorts boom all around.