South of Riviera Maya, nestled between the tropical jungle and Caribbean beaches, Tulum is trying to preserve its bohemian spirit in the face of increasing tourism. A guide to the top ten best hotels on the Riviera Maya.
Until recently, this was home to a handful of beach bums, but in the last decade, Tulum has become a firm favourite of the American 'gypset', a group of artists, entreprenuers, surfers, and bon vivants who live a semi-nomadic life. While this part of the world, just six hours from New York, still cooks on open fires, the 'Cool Gang' now parade there every winter, followed by a colony of hipsters longboarding barefoot, beards in the wind. Boutique hotels line the beach, while across the road, yoga retreats, Mayan spas, boho chic shops and trendy restaurants and bars border the edge of the forest.
Just south, in the Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka'an, new luxury cocoons are hatching under the watchful eye of UNESCO. This stretch of sand between mangrove forests and the Caribbean Sea is home to numerous protected species and a few privileged visitors. Punta Allen, a two-hour drive south, and Mahahual stay true to their 'Swiss Family Robinson' essence. This spirit is echoed in the north of the peninsula on Holbox Island (pronounced 'Hol-bosh'). For a few years now, this raw jewel with its sandy streets facing the emerald sea has brought this spot's sparkle back. Welcome to pure bliss, Holbox is barefoot and car-free, balancing its quiet fishing life with fledgling tourism. It's a bohemian happiness that should be enjoyed before it too loses its magic. Explore the best hotels in Riviera Maya...
Design villa for rent
Seven miles along the road from the Mayan arch you reach the entrance to the Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka'an. Stop the car under the shadow of a native palm tree. You'll see a high wall whose pearly colour matches the sand dune it sits on. Kick off your sandals and climb the stairs, refreshing marble underfoot. Enter a wide-open space, with Californian lines framing a stunning view. Casa Ikal ('wind' and 'poetry' in Mayan), is a contemporary house designed by the Mexican architectural and design company De Yturbe, and balanced on a sandy stretch between the blue Caribbean Sea and the emerald Campechen lagoon and mangrove forests. Sit back and relax on cushions matching the yellow and pink marble of the wall. Watch Fabiola, chef to the world's more private celebrities, discreetly prepare a sublime ceviche. Finally, choose between the rooftop swimming pool, the deserted beach or napping in a hammock tied to palm trees and swaying in the wind.
At home in your hacienda
Tulum is just a stone's throw away, and in the jungle there is trendy beach bar. In this Caribbean picture postcard location is a private hacienda designed by Salvador Reyes Rios, an architect specialising in the restoration of historic homes. The encounter between Yucatan's colonial echoes and Quintana Roo's Mayan style works wonderfully. The arches overlooking the terrace mirror the curves of the coconut trees, as the rooftop swimming pool matches the colour of the sea. The mosaic floor opens onto a wooden deck leading to a bed suspended under a palapa roof that blends into the biosphere. Shower under the canopy, happy as a gecko.
The Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka'an
When the sun goes down, Tulum reveals its other side. Gitano stands out from the other jungle bars with its flaming pink neon lights, which attract night owls who come to dine on a salad of sunflower seeds on the lush green terrace. They then rest under the chandelier of a large tree, illuminated by myriad incandescent bulbs. Then, following the candles scattered through the garden, you approach the bar under an incongruous disco ball. A jungle fever (mezcal, coriander and jalapeno) blended with Brooklyn's gypset crowd definitely gets the party started.Tulum
Moroccan meets Mexican. Recently opened at the southernmost tip of the beach, Nomade has chosen to stand out from the crowd with a chic Berber look. A wide wooden staircase ascends a sand dune to reveal a large open-plan oriental living room, lined with burlap sails, letting the sea air circulate between the mottled furniture and huge pillars of gnarled wood. Wake up in a stylish cabana under a tataoui (patterned wooden sticks) ceiling and sleep under the protection of a dreamcatcher and earthy tones. After a morning session of rooftop yoga, meditation under a canopy or sound therapy, the sarong-clad youth join the communal table, a 30ft tree trunk split in two, to enjoy a Mayan cocoa smoothie. Vegetarian cuisine is prepared by a New York-based chef and shaman. The turquoise waters act like a tractor beam, almost forcing you to wander down to the beach and the little hut that prepares the catch of the day just as you like it, and to the hammock hanging between two coconut trees, a gentle reminder that you're in the Caribbean. Tulum
Design hotel on the beach
Rumour has it that this house south of Tulum beach once belonged to Pablo Escobar. Converted into a Design HotelTM, the establishment abides by its motto: 'live hidden'. A signless, discreet gate masks a theatrical entrance: club chairs float beneath gigantic embroideries reminiscent of traditional Colombian dresses. A door made from rough tree trunks opens onto a beautifully arty parallel universe. Lio Malca, the new owner, decorated the house with his private collection. In the entrance, a Companion, a toy-like sculpture by New York artist Kaws, covers its eyes, blocking out the crazy rock 'n' roll vibes around it, from the faded sofa hanging from the curtains to the image of a barmaid barricaded behind old Mexican railway sleepers. Keith Haring's graffiti makes the bar dance, and the artist Vik Muniz graces the walls of the dark cubic suites, which contrast beautifully with the beach and crystal clear waters nearby. Tulum
You don't have to venture far to discover this place on the side of the little road that divides Tulum into beach and jungle. A few minutes from the village and its fauna, this 'taqueria' is housed in an Airstream trailer in the middle of lush foliage. In addition to a touch of style, Luis uses the caravan to prepare the 'best tacos in the area', that's the opinion of locals who come to taste shrimp pancakes and 'mole verde', grilled pineapple pork, and other fried goodies. In the early evening, a stylish crowd with buns and moustaches can be found under the bar's tropical wallpaper for a few shots of mezcal or passion fruit soda against a backdrop of local music remixed with chill-out beats. Tulum-Boca Paila road (five miles)
The essence of zen
Behind the Cancun to Tulum highway there's another world waiting to be experienced. Passing a Mayan hut, the tarmac turns to gravel. Curious blue birds perch under foliage. The adventure continues on foot, through an elegant jungle to a group of stucco cubes. Some 30 suites and a handful of private villas, renovated by new owner Kevin Wendle, surround the former home of an Italian duchess, beautifully retaining the family spirit of the place. White dominates the spacious rooms, with an Indian bedspread enhancing the tone. Outside, there's a large garden that's home to peacocks and iguanas, a delicious Mayan spa and a swimming pool looking out over the wild Xpu-Ha cove. On the soft sugary sand, in the shade of a small palapa or at the Al Cielo bar, the Esencia is the perfect place to relax. Plage de Xpu-Ha
A re-creative refuge
Behind its traditional high white wooden facades, Casa Sandra invites you to return to your roots, with Holbox as boho backdrop. Kick off your shoes and keep them at the bottom of your suitcase next to your phone. From the garden oasis to the soothing rooms there is no internet, no TVs, no screens nor alarm clocks. The clear preference for books and calm is a throwback to the origins of the house, which was designed as a creative retreat by Cuban artist Sandra Perez and her husband, singer Pablo Milanes. Today, each guest is welcomed as a friend whose first name and tastes are remembered for next time. This reflects the spirit of an island where everyone knows each other but respects each other's privacy and differences, whether they were born there or visited on holiday and never left. Holbox Island
Casa Las Tortugas
A family house
Sadly turtles (tortuga in Spanish) no longer lay their eggs on the soft, white beach in front of the the round bungalows here. Seeking more tranquility, they now migrate to the three-quarters of the island that are covered with uninhabited mangrove forests. However, Francesca Golinelli, owner of this small paradise built by her parents when Holbox welcomed its first visitors (only a decade or so ago), continues to take care of this rare place and its guests. She chooses the seafood for her sushi creations from the exceptionally blue-green sea without disturbing the peaceful whale sharks that visit Cabo Catoche in summer. After a soothing bath, lay in the shade of the palapas before being pampered at the spa. Holbox Island