2014: Beach Clubs of Tulum (updated version)

The Winds of Change
by Mari Pintkowski  (March 2014)

While lazily swinging in my hammock under a towering Tzalam tree at La Selva Mariposa, I contemplate why so many of our guests are at first drawn to the Riviera Maya to play in the turquoise waters and sink their toes into the silky white sand that borders the gleaming sea. After a few days in that paradise of sun and balmy breezes, they are ready to spend a few more days experiencing the mesmerizing Maya ruins only 20 km away, shop in the local thatched-roof shops along the Cobá Road, and then explore the three cenotes near the Cobá Ruins, before coming back to La Selva Mariposa to float in one of our three cenote-style pools, sip a frosty margarita in their hammock, or luxuriate in our new jacuzzi on the roof top above the dining room with a sky full of twinkling stars overhead.

In the past, it seemed like a natural flow for a vacation in paradise to progress this way. In the last few years, we noticed a change in this pattern. More and more tourists want to stay in the jungle for a longer visit, and alternate their days between the jungle and the beach. They are eager to choose a different beach club along Tulum's coast each day to investigate and sample the sun, sand, surf and cervezas. I decided that it was time to do some exploring myself to check out what was changing along the coast, so I made a plan to do just that the very next day.

I put on my swimsuit, doused myself with sunscreen, packed my camera and notebook, and set off down the Cobá Road. Within 15 minutes I was heading past the tourist Mecca of Tulum and approaching the intersection on the beach road where Zincerity Hotel, formally Adonis, is located. A beautiful, new tourist information center is being constructed across from the hotel. I will have to include the details for this new site in another article. I turned left and drove 2.6 km past a blend of old and new hotels until I reached the first beach club on my list called Zazil Kin.

Zazil Kin is composed of a mixture of stucco-covered wooden stick houses and communal bathrooms sparsely painted bright Mexican colors, topped with palapa roofs. Sandy paths meander through the cabañas and lead to a waterfront bar where a handful of low-slung chairs and lounges are shaded under umbrellas or palapas, and a growing number of sheltering palms. There is currently a service charge of 50 pesos (less than $5 US) for the day. The price of the chair usually includes a cold beverage if you ask for it. The young men are happy to place the lounges wherever you like. The atmosphere is a mix of calm and lively, with the activities of an assortment of locals playing beach soccer just beyond the tall palms, and a small child or two selling rosary beads and friendship bracelets. Here you will find 20-peso beers, 15-peso Cokes/water and freshly made cocktails for 25 pesos that are plentiful and cold. No food is available on the beach front except for the cups of fresh fruit sold by the boys who pedal their snacks along this strip. Food is available in the restaurant near the parking area. The beach is wide and the sand is soft and cool. The surf tends to be calmer here than at the south beaches because of the existing reef a mile or so off shore. You can park here and, after a day at the beach, walk to the Tulum ruins only ¼ km away.

If you want to sample some local seafood, just walk along the beach a few hundred feet away to the Playa Pescadores Restaurant that is operated by the local fishermen's co-op and order the freshest seafood around, accompanied, of course, by a cold Mexican beer. There is often a lively Cuban orchestra playing on the stage. Some lounges are now strung in front of the open-air restaurant, if you want to catch some sun while sipping a cold beverage. Next door is a new, al fresco seafood restaurant called Adelita's.

A bit further down the road is a rustic sign indicating you are at Playa Maya, the public beach where the local fishermen pull their boats onto the beach when they are not out at sea. Park along this sandy road that is guarded by a policeman and wander toward the turquoise water. This is a good place to come if you just want to stroll along the beach and perhaps stop for a swim. You can even bring a cooler, chairs and umbrella, if you want to stay for the day. The Dorados (members of the fishermen's co-op) operate 2–3 hour snorkeling/boat tours out to the reef for about $25 US per person. Dive gear and drinks are provided on the tour. If you are with a group of five or more, the rate is about $15 US a person.

At km 1.9, just beyond Playa Maya public beach, I saw a large sign that said Paraiso. There is a well-marked parking area with an attendant and many taxis which are congregated just outside the entrance. They require that you bring your food/drink tab from their beach restaurant to show the attendant or pay 50 pesos. I parked under the palms and stepped out of the car, sinking my toes into the cool sand, and walked toward the Caribbean Sea. When I reached the beach, I was aware that there were some choices to make if I wanted to spend my day on this beach. Do I want sun or shade? Do I want a wide mattress or a lounge? The lounges rent for about 50 pesos, and the beds with a table, chairs and umbrella rent for about 200 pesos. There are showers near the new bathroom located behind the concrete restaurant beyond the beach area. Mediocre, overpriced food is served at the tables scattered around the beach or at your lounge area by friendly waiters dressed in pink shirts. Music with a festive beat is often blaring from the gigantic speakers on the property, so if you come to the beach for peace and quiet, rethink this as your choice. If you need a bit of diversion from the sun, wander over to the table set up with handmade jewelry, or have a massage under the swaying palms. The sea is often calm here and the beach is heavenly. I observed hip young people, as well as families with young children, stretching out on and around the mattresses with plenty of shade provided by the wide umbrellas. This is a good place to go with young children, rent the bed with table and umbrella, and camp out for the day. If you want to avoid crowds, you may want to skip this one, as busloads of people visit after touring the ruins for a short time each day.
I jotted down a note to let my guests know that if they are interested in taking a lesson in kiteboarding, Extreme Kiteboarding School is nestled in the trees at the south corner of Paraiso at a small resort called Playa Esperanza. They should stop in and talk to the friendly Italians who operate this school and, if the wind is blustery, they will more than likely see them putting on a show in front of Paraiso or giving lessons on the beach. There is now a cute little restaurant called Nuestra Cocina, operated by two gals from Argentina. The menu is limited, and the food is ok, but the atmosphere is very special. 
Driving south down the beach road, I came to La Vita E Bella at km 1.6. I parked in the lot in front of the weathered palapa-covered buildings and walked past the reception area and public bathrooms on the left and through the large sand-floor restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner to hotel guests and the public. Out on the gorgeous, white sand beach, lounges placed close together with palapa umbrellas stretched the distance of the hotel perimeter. Some of them were set aside for hotel guests and had a sign indicating this. I found one that suited me and, before long, a friendly waiter came up and offered me a menu. Currently there is no charge for the lounges if you eat and drink a minimum of $10 US/130 pesos each in the restaurant.

Just south of this is a beach and camping spot in the palms called Playa Palmas that sports a few tables and chairs in the shade. We saw mostly a bar crowd consisting of the campers that were staying on the property.

On the road again, I passed Mezzanine at km 1.3. This is not a beach club, but has a chic bar and Thai restaurant that overlooks a cenote-style pool on one side and the sparkling Caribbean on the other. This little gem has an afternoon Happy Hour with 2x1 margaritas. The beach just below Mezzanine is public and the waiters from Mezzanine will bring cocktails to your mat if you walk up the steps from the beach and talk to them.

I soon noticed that I was back where I began my journey north on the beach road. I continued past this intersection until I saw the beach club sign for Papaya Playa Project. After parking in a space between palm trees, I walked toward the sea and noticed 20 or more mattresses and lounges, some under a shaded pergola or umbrella, and some open to the sky in front of the bar and three-story rustic restaurant. The beds rent for 500 pesos of consumption of food and/or beverages whether there are one, two or more persons sharing them. Hotel guests do have priority, as is the case with all other beach clubs. The management told me that many surprises are in store for the upcoming high season, including a Kids Kamp they are putting together with members of the Maya community. There are kayaks and bicycles for rent, as well as kiteboarding and dive trips. I peeked into the new boutique that was closed the morning I was there. The splash of color from textiles, jewelry and pottery looked very intriguing. The bar features a Happy Hour with 2x1 drinks and has WiFi. Music is a key element at the new Papaya Playa and they offer special concerts in their big theater that are advertised along the beach road. A temazcal and yoga classes are also on the menu. The beach is long and invites you to stroll along the shore or do some body surfing in the rough waves that roll in. No pets please.

There are many changes on the south side of the beach in Tulum. If you have not been to Tulum in a few years, or even a few months, you will be shocked at all the development, including some changes that apply to the beach clubs as well. The big beach club Ana y Jose has been torn down and a new structure is going up. We soon will see what will emerge.
The next section of beach has a few beach clubs tucked away behind rustic signs and landscaping that seems to be growing right before your eyes. One such unsuspecting treasure at km 6.5 is Puerta del Cielo. Parking is inside the gates and seems pretty secure. The staff and amenities are welcoming, and serve food and beverages beside their pool or in a lounge under a palapa as you watch the turquoise waves crash on the shore of one of the most spectacular beaches in the world. If you prefer, waiters will come to the beach and take your food and drink orders and bring them to your lounge. This club seems to be deserted during the week, but busy on the weekend. There is now an expectation of each guest spending at least 150 pesos or about $12 in food or drink to enjoy the beach and swimming pool. 
Playa Azul is the next beach club I encountered on my journey. Park your car across in the lot on the jungle side of the road. This club has a stipulation that you spend 250 pesos a person or 350 pesos a couple, about $20 to $30 US, at the restaurant. Its restaurant, L'Ola, offers an interesting menu. The beach sports a dozen or more lounges and hammocks, some under palapas, and others waiting for the serious sun worshipers to plop down and bake in the glorious sun. You can partake in beach volleyball or take a kiteboarding lesson, if you want a more active choice. This is another fun spot to watch the kiteboarders do their tricks.

La Luna is hidden away behind a wall with Moroccan accents. Park across the street and stroll in along the sandy paths lined with thick, tropical foliage. The restaurant is on the right and serves light and delicious items from their menu. We ordered a Caesar salad with five large seasoned prawns, and two avocado halves stuffed with yummy tuna salad, along with a basket of fresh totopos and salsa. This is the first year they are offering a beach club and have added a dozen lounges, many even under umbrellas. I have always loved the colorful Adirondack chairs that are spaced between the lounges. There is no charge to enjoy the beach here, and they hope you will also spend some money in their restaurant and bar. There is service to the lounges, and secure WiFi. The manager, Reuben, was especially friendly and accommodating.

Zulum is another beach club that welcomes the public. They have a variety of lounges, hammocks and beds, as well as a pool and restaurant. There is no charge for using the beach and lounges but, as is the custom, you are expected to order something from the menu, that even includes sushi, along with just about any beverage you desire.

A rather hip-looking beach club and restaurant opened a couple of years ago on a large stretch of beach that is called Ziggy Beach. They have lots of lounges, some under the swaying palms that grow on this amazing beach. The comfy beach beds do not have any sun protection, but can be moved under a palm if you like. There is no charge for the lounges, but it is expected that you spend some money in the bar or restaurant. We had lunch on another day at their restaurant, El Bistro, and were very impressed with the food and presentation, and the prices were typical for the beach. Beautiful bathrooms lie across from the restaurant. This seems to be "the happening place," and gets quite crowded, especially on the weekend.

The beach gets even more spectacular, but sometimes a bit congested on the road, as you drive farther south. At km 7.5, La Zebra is not officially a beach club, but if you are having lunch during the slower times of the year, you may be able to snag a lounge or hammock to relax in and enjoy the view. I parked on the right side of the road in their parking lot and followed the path that leads toward the reception area. The back wall is covered with a stunning zebra sculpture and a colorful mandala decorates the floor. I continued walking toward the beach on the beautiful boardwalk that leads directly to Lela's Mexican Cantina restaurant. They specialize in mojitos made with fresh sugar cane, and the newly revised menu offers very interesting and tasty Mexican fare.

Om is also a beach club/hotel/restaurant along this stretch of road as I traveled a little farther south (km 7.8 km). Om serves wood-fired pizza after 2 p.m. and a sparse menu before that. There are some lounges in front of the restaurant that give priority to the hotel guests. There is a parking lot on the jungle side of the road.

Why not stop in at the Mayan Clay Massage House next door and sign up for one of their fabulous massages, or perhaps register for an appointment to enjoy their new Mineral Bath House in Macario Gómez?

Hip Hotel is now operated by Ana y Jose and is located along the palm-lined road at km 8. Park in front or across the street and walk through or beside the reception area and toward the beach. There are plenty of lounges with thatched palapas to provide shade from the tropical sun. They are now charging 65 pesos, about $5 US,  for a lounge on the beach and expect you to spend about $10 US each or 150 pesos for the use of their charming amenities.

Las Ranitas is an older hotel that soon will be closing for a very large remodel. BUT, until that time, the beach is heavenly and the staff very welcoming. Let the receptionists know you are here to enjoy the beach club (no charge) and restaurant and they will guide you to the lovely pool with comfy lounges, or straight ahead through the chic restaurant and to the sandy shore where palapa-covered lounges are scattered on this stunning beach. Beach service is provided by the restaurant staff. Some of our guests have mentioned that this is a "splurge" spot. It is expected that you will spend some money to eat and or drink during your stay.

Last, but not least, before you enter the Sian Ka'an Biosphere, you will see two new beach clubs: Mestizos and next door is Rosa del Viento. Mestizos is a bit rustic  but is involved in some reconstruction at the moment. Rosa has a fabulous entrance with many pink oleanders soon to be blooming. Both are very large properties with lounges and restaurants and bars but, because of their location at the end of the south beach, there are not many visitors, other than the hotel guests.

Most properties along the south end of the beach have WiFi if you need to combine a little work with your day of relaxation.

I did discover after a long day of exploring the most gorgeous coastline in the world that "there is no place like home."

Mari Pintkowski and her husband operate a popular boutique B&B called La Selva Mariposa, located 15 min. from Tulum off the Cobá Road: www.laselvamariposa.com. Read more of Mari's stories about Mexico on www.sac-be.com or in her book, Embarking on the Mariposa Trail, available at www.amazon.com.

Ziggy Staff

Akumal Villas