Olas Tulum is an intimate, eco-friendly stay at the end of Tulum’s strip, with a laid-back philosophy and serious sustainability cred. The casa has just eight suites, all with earthy, organic design schemes that chime perfectly with the landscape. Breakfasts are served under the palm trees, masseurs can be summoned to the grounds and the private sandy beach – dotted with sunloungers and swung with hammocks – is only steps away. The delightful owners will happily curate your holiday activities, or join you for sundowners on the sea-facing roof deck. Most of all, this is a place to reconnect with nature and slip into a more natural pace of life.
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A bottle of Mexican wine and fresh flowers on check-in
Double rooms from £357.87 ($387), including tax at 19 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional service charge of 4% per booking on check-out.
Rates usually include home-made breakfast, WiFi and parking. Breakfast includes organic coffee, freshly-squeezed orange juice, fresh seasonal fruit, handmade granola and yogurt, an an entree of the day. Every item is made from scratch by the chef.
Have hotel staff arrange an on-site massage carried out by licensed therapists under the swaying palm trees.
At the hotel
Beach, rooftop sun deck, bicycles to borrow, free WiFi throughout and on-site parking. In rooms: five-gallon garrafon of purified drinking water (filled daily), beach bags and locally-made Lolita Lolita bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Oceanview Balcony Suites suit guests craving modern style; they’re bright and airy with sleek contemporary bathrooms. For small groups or families, the Oceanfront Master Suite provides plenty of space to spread out and relax, with two king-size beds, open-plan living areas and a large balcony with a hammock.
There's no spa, but there is a Caribbean-facing yoga studio that's flush with the tops of the swaying palms. If you pre-register for a class, it's $15 instead of the usual $20. Private classes ($100-$140) can be booked for up to four people.
Bring your binoculars to make the most of your boat tour through neighbouring Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
Olas Tulum may not be suited to guests with mobility issues, due to some uneven terrain. All water used in the showers is captured from natural, underground streams and gravity-fed from the roof, so shower pressure may not be particularly forceful.
Little Smiths aged five-and-up are welcome in the Oceanfront Master Suite and Oceanfront Suite of this grown-up beach spot for US$100 a night; outdoor toys, board games, bicycles and boogie boards can all be provided on request.
In the extreme: it’s the only Platinum LEED-reviewed property in Mexico; all cleaning and bathroom products are organic and biodegradable; all food is locally sourced – and hand-picked – from family farms. The hotel’s design allows it to capture underground water sources, it has multiple rain-collection systems and is powered completely by a state-of-the-art solar-panel system. Plus, the hotel's architecture was designed to be cooled by the natural Caribbean breezes, keeping you chilled out without the need to install air-conditioning.
All meals are served at the communal table, under a canopy of palm trees.
Easy, breezy boho beachwear, with a hint of 70’s chic.
There’s no formal restaurant, but food is a big part of the Olas lifestyle. The chefs prepare a seasonally-inspired menu for breakfast and lunch (dinner isn't served here), using the best local and organic ingredients they can get their hands on. Each day, let the staff know whether you'll be joining them for lunch, as everything is made from scratch, highlighting the unique, vibrant flavors of the Yucatan. A selection of snacks for the beach can be ordered on request, and vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets can all be catered for, too.
None, but beers, wine and margaritas are available on request; guests and the owners often share a beer together and catch up on the day.
Breakfast is served from 8am to 10am; lunch from 12 noon to 2pm.
Five out of eight suites have either a full-size or mini refrigerator that you can stock with goodies for out-of-hours snacking.
Beachfront Olas Tulum is nestled at the end of the Tulum strip before the entrance to the Sian Kaan Biosphere.
Fly into Cancún International Airport (www.cancun-airport.com), which is about a 90-minute drive from the hotel. Take your pick of airlines that fly direct from the US, including JetBlue (www.jetblue.com), American Airlines (www.aa.com) and United (www.united.com). From London, British Airways (www.britishairways.com) and Virgin Atlantic (www.virgin-atlantic.com) have direct flights from Gatwick (www.gatwickairport.com). One-way transfers with the hotel are $140 for two guests.
Rental cars are available at Cancún International Airport; from there, take Highway 307 south to Tulum. As you arrive in Tulum, follow the sign for Boca Paila. Keep right at the Y-intersection with a police casita to the left, and continue south for 10.6 kilometres. Olas Tulum is the last driveway on the left-hand side before you reach the large concrete archway entrance to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, just after Casa Chic. Turn into the driveway to unload your luggage, before parking in the hotel’s free car park.
Worth getting out of bed for
Join a personalised nature tour at Unesco World Heritage Site Sian Ka'an (boating and kayaking trips are available too). The largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean is home to manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, impressive big cats (including jaguars and ocelots) and hundreds of bird species. Arrange a private two- to three-hour sailing trip with Captain Fabian (ask staff at the hotel for his number); pick-up is right on the beachfront at Olas Tulum and you can choose to head north and take in views of the ancient Mayan ruins, or south towards Boca Paila into the Biosphere Reserve.
Owner Sam is an expert on local restaurants and is always armed with top suggestions for your meals out. At beachside Hartwood Tulum, chefs Eric and Jamie champion the incredible flavors of Yucatecan produce via locally sourced ingredients. Expect modern dishes cooked over a wood-burning fire, served alfresco. It’s Med-meets-Mexico at Maresías, Be Tulum’s in-house restaurant, helmed by chef Angel Martínez.
For prime pork tacos, make your way to Antojitos La Chiapaneca (Cancun, Chetumal Mz 6 Lt 8, Centro) in Tulum Pueblo. Sit outside and order as you eat, so you get them fresh and hot; the salsa station is inside. If it's coffee you're after, head to Tulum Art Club and you'll find organic artisanal coffee from Veracruz and a selection locally-sourced food, including homemade gorditas and fresh smoothies, all surrounded by eye-catching pieces from local artists.
Continue the 70’s-inspired trend at Gitano and sip mezcal cocktails under the dancing lights of the disco ball beneath the palm trees.
After a mad dash to catch the red-eye to Cancun, Mr Smith and I were in need of relaxation. And so it began, after touching down in Mexico’s beach-fringed, palm-fanned Yucatan Peninsula. Collected by luxurious mini-van, we travelled through thick, exotic jungle as far as the eye could see until we reached the entrance of Olas Tulum. Bags dispatched, a white stone pathway led us to a communal outdoor table, adorned with fresh fruit and coffee, set beneath a grove of coconut trees. The first of many subtle yet hospitable touches during our stay, it was a great introduction to the barefoot beach scene of Tulum: where many hotels run on sustainable power and food is often sourced from tree or sea.
Gathered around the table were other guests and James Greenfield, the hotel’s owner. Jimmy, as he is known, is a hotelier like no other. Straight away, he set about finding out who we were, how we discovered Tulum, and just like that, we had a hand-drawn map, with a full itinerary of off-the-beaten-path ruins, cenotes, restaurants and bars, including Chamico’s, a fish shack on nearby Soliman Bay.
A reflection of its owner, Olas Tulum is also a hotel like no other. One of the first structures to grace the shores of Tulum, it was built in the 1970s by an Austrian engineer. Now transformed into a boutique B&B, it has just seven suites, each facing out towards the ocean which gives Olas Tulum its name — Tulum waves . Privacy is ensured, but company is on hand should you need it at the communal meals.
Since 1986, Olas Tulum has also stood on the doorstep of the 1.3m-acre Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, giving the hotel a unique location between beach and jungle. If you’re into wildlife, look no further: you can spend one day snorkelling amid 84 coral species, turtles, tropical fish and sharks, and the next seeking out manatees, monkeys, jaguars and pumas in the Unesco-listed reserve.
Symbiosis with nature even percolates through to the hotel’s design. The entire hotel runs on solar power and water is irrigated from the nearby cenotes. Instead of cutting down coconut trees to make room for the buildings, they’ve been harnessed back. Vents in the rooms allow air to flow, even though there’s no air conditioning. Wildlife is everywhere, from the iguanas that seem to perch on every hotel corner, to Jimmy’s dog, who pops up regularly for a cuddle and a hello.
Breakfast finished, itinerary planned, we grabbed our coffee cups and strolled through the lush jungle to reach the hotel’s private swathe of the beach, where I collapsed under a palapa and basked in the stillness, as Mr Smith played in the waves. Napping ensued. Just enough to revive us for dinner in the communal dining area, where chef Lulu lavished us with fresh Baja tacos and guacamole like I’d never tasted.
Miraculously, we did manage to pull ourselves up away from the hotel on occasion. Making use of the car rental that Jimmy had suggested, we aimed for some far-off ruins, feeling free and very local as we stopped off at the grocery store to pick up supplies. On the way back, I couldn’t resist a detour, so we found ourselves at one of Jimmy’s approved hideaways for ceviche and margaritas.
With sunset was approaching, we made our way back to Olas Tulum, where Mr Smith suggested we move down to the beach for a treat that Shawna, the hotel’s manager, had set up.
As we walked through the canopy, and turned the corner, rose petals emerged. Against a Tulum’s beautiful backdrop, Mr Smith got down on one knee and popped the question, before champagne was popped and toasts were made. A hotel like no other; it couldn’t have happened in a better place.