2015: Beach Clubs of Tulum

The Times They Are a-Changing
by Mari Pintkowski  (Dec. 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 Coba Road and then explore the three cenotes near the Coba 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 or Tulum pueblo for a longer visit, and alternate their days between the jungle, pueblo 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 Coba Road. Within 15 minutes, I was heading past the tourist Mecca of Tulum and approaching the intersection on the beach road where Zenserenity Hotel 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 3.6 km, just .4 km before the Tulum ruins, past a blend of old and new hotels, until I reached the first beach club on my list called Santa Fe Beach.

If you want a rustic, no-frills spot, as in the early days of Tulum, this may be your choice for the day. Parking in the shade is plentiful after turning in off the beach road. The short drive down the entry road is a bit rough, so drive slowly. The man in charge will direct you to a parking spot under shaded palms and a friendly local with a printed guide book will greet you and lead you in the direction of the beach club. You will notice that bathrooms are located near the parking area. There is a very rustic restaurant offering the usual beach fare: fried fish, ceviche, fish tacos and even a hamburger, along with a variety of drinks, alcoholic and other choices. The plastic lounges without padding under umbrellas are just beyond. These are rented for the day for 75 pesos each, about $6. You can also book a snorkel tour out of this location. The best thing about this club is that it is adjacent to the Tulum ruins, so you can park here and walk over to tour the ruins when you are ready for a little culture.

The sign on the road leading to Zazil Kin, our next stop, is difficult to read as it is covered with photos. Drive to the end of the road and turn left and park under a palm tree if you want shade. This historical spot (once belonging to Don Armando) is composed of a mixture of stucco-covered wooden stick houses and communal bathrooms sparsely painted with 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) for a chair, and 100 pesos for a lounge for the day. There is no charge to just toss your towel out and enjoy the beach. The price of the chair includes a cold beverage, alcoholic or otherwise if you ask for 1 (2 drinks for the lounge). 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 soft drinks/water and freshly made cocktails for 25 pesos that are plentiful and cold. They also offer 2x1 cocktails later in the afternoon. (Prices are always subject to change in Mexico.) No food is prepared on the beach front except for the cups of fresh fruit sold by the boys who pedal their snacks along this strip. The waiters will offer you a menu if you request it for simple food like quesadillas and ceviche that is prepared 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 short distance off shore. You can park here and, after a day at the beach, walk to the Tulum ruins only 1/2 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. Portions are huge and the tab is not cheap. There is often a lively band 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, hip seafood restaurant called Adelita's.

A bit farther 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 a person.

At km 2.9, 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 receipt from their beach restaurant to show the attendant to get your 50 pesos back for parking. 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. Beach food is served at the tables scattered around the beach or at your lounge area by friendly waiters. 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.

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. There is a 50-peso charge for using the beach club and 25 pesos for parking in the shade with security. We saw mostly a bar crowd consisting of the campers that were staying on the property, but simple restaurant fare is available to the public.

Driving south down the beach road, I came to La Vita E Bella at km 2.3. I parked in the lot in front of the weathered palapa-covered buildings (they were actually repairing them the day I stopped in) 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. Currently there is a 30-peso charge for the lounges and no minimum required in the restaurant.

The road gets crowded with parked vehicles, because the public beach access starts here. On the road again, I passed Mezzanine at km 2.0 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 from 1 to 4 p.m. with 2x1 margaritas. The beach just below Mezzanine is public and the waiters from Mezzanine may even 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. There are kayaks and bicycles for rent, as well as kite boarding 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 theatre 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. There are many interesting restaurants and shops emerging from the mangrove side of the road, but parking is very, very sparse. If you are interested in browsing in the shops, find a parking space at the beach club of your choosing and just cruise on foot and explore the hidden treasures. Parking is becoming a bigger and bigger issue for those not staying on the beach. Delivery trucks, construction vehicles, taxis and bicyclists flood the narrow road all day long and make driving very difficult and slow moving

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. The bread is homemade and the grilled veggie sandwich is fabulous. As you approach the beach, you will notice that the beach club (public) lounges and umbrellas are on the right and the left side is set aside for registered guests of the hotel. 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, Edmunda, is especially friendly and accommodating. Let the front desk know you are from La Selva Mariposa and they will give you a 10% discount on purchases.

Zulúm is another beach club that welcomes the public. There is parking inside the property on the beach side. 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. They sometimes have a Cuban band playing in the afternoon. There is a restaurant by the same name across the street from the hotel/beach club.

On a large stretch of beach is a rather hip-looking beach club and restaurant called Ziggy's Beach Club. There is parking for at least 15 cars and it is easy to get in and out if there are no buses. They have lots of lounges, some under 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 there is room. There is no charge for the lounges, but it is expected that you spend some money in the bar or restaurant. There are signs that indicate that the left side is for hotel guests and the right for beach club guests, but when it is not busy, I have never been asked to move. We had lunch on another day at their restaurant, 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.

Las Estrellas, is a beautiful little property that welcomes visitors to enjoy their restaurant, specializing in Italian cuisine, and relax on one of their lounges lined up facing the turquoise waters. There is no charge for the lounges as long as you are spending the normal amount in the restaurant and bar. There are parking spaces inside for about 10 cars and five more across the street.

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 are able to snag a lounge or hammock to relax in and enjoy the view. They are going through a huge expansion and have added many more lounges and even a playground for the little ones. I parked on the right side of the road in their parking lot and followed the boardwalk that leads toward the beach and their newly expanded restaurant that boasts a state-of-the-art kitchen. They specialize in mojitos made with fresh sugar cane, and the newly revised menu offers very interesting and tasty 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 Studio next door and sign up for one of these fabulous massages, or perhaps register for an appointment to enjoy their new Mineral Bath House in Macario Gomez.

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 $6 for a lounge on the beach and no minimum of consumption in the restaurant. They are expanding their restaurant fare to include an elegant evening menu. For parking, pull into the front reception area and the valet will park your car in their secure parking area.

Las Ranitas is an older hotel with a new facelift. The beach is heavenly and the staff very welcoming. Let the receptionists know you are here to enjoy the beach club (no charge)/rest