Next stop on our vacation after chaotic Mexico City was Tulum for some serious R&R.
We arrived from Mexico City to Cancun which was about a two hour flight. From there it takes about another two hours by car to get to Tulum since there’s no airport near the city. Cancun and Playa del Carmen were along the way to Tulum, both very popular tourist cities but definitely more commercial with large resorts. Tulum on the other hand has more of a carefree hippy vibe with gorgeous boutique hotels and feels more exclusive and secluded.
We arrived at our hotel, The Beach, in the afternoon and were greeted by the concierge with delicious refreshing slushies. Once we checked in, we admired our beautiful room, the hotel grounds, and the stunning view of the beach. Our room came equipped with champagne (heyyy, time to pop bottles 😛 ), a private balcony with a hammock overlooking the beach, a private rooftop with a jacuzzi tub, and another private balcony overlooking the pool. Pretty sick.
After settling in and sipping on some bubbly, we headed down to the pool to relax before our first dinner out.
Our first night we dined at Ocumare, a relatively new restaurant with a gorgeous interior. The chef, Mauricio Giovanini, actually has a Michelin starred restaurant in Spain so I was intrigued to see if the food was up to par.
This was the strangest way to start a meal, just a random collection of ingredients. I can’t recall what exactly each one was but none of them were tasty.
A simple prawn crudo with sweet confit baby tomatoes as well as fresh slices of tomatoes and a creamy shrimp emulsion. A decent combination of various sweet flavors.
Chipá is a type of cheese flavored baked bread originally from Paraguay and Argentina. As you know, I love any type of bread so I actually really enjoyed this dish. The chipá had a fluffy texture and a mild cheesy flavor that paired nicely with the Thai inspired coconut milk dip and fresh greens on the side.
The octopus was nicely charred but the combination of the octopus emulsion and potato cream is something I’ve seen done numerous times. While it was tasty, it was slightly mundane.
I rarely eat grouper but I liked the meaty heartiness of the white fleshed fish. The onions underneath were confited so it had an intense sweet caramelized flavor which I adore. All the various sautéed vegetables were simple seasoned but everything harmonized well together.
The cake itself was indeed crumbly but in a good way with an airy light foam and velvety Ricotta cheese. The citrus zest on top added necessary freshness and tanginess.
A classic combination of chocolate and coffee and it was satisfactory. The moist chocolate cake with the soft coffee cream was simple but delicious.
For the price point, I expected a little more from Ocumare but we were both pleasantly surprised and satiated. After the odd amuse bouches, we weren’t expecting much but overall the dishes were nicely presented and tasty so my rating is a 7.5/10.
After dinner we headed back to our hotel to play some pool which is located in the lobby. Of course Tommy won every time since my pool skills are pretty much nonexistent.
The next day we wanted to stay around Tulum since we were both tired from traveling the previous day. We started off by having brunch at Fresco’s, one of the two restaurants associated with our hotel. They serve delightful healthy feel good food with various smoothies and fruit bowls, sandwiches and toasts, and detox waters and agua frescas.
Following brunch we headed into the city center to walk around and check out some shops.
Afterwards we were off to the Mayan ruins which overlooked the dazzling turquoise waters. We came across several iguanas as well as coati, a funny yet kinda adorable looking animal that wasn’t afraid of the tourists and seemed like they wanted a belly rub.
After the ruins we were both dripping in sweat (well, mostly me) so we went to Playa Paraiso, a spectacular public beach nearby.
After taking a dip in the water to cool off, we headed back to our hotel and relaxed at our private stretch of the beach.
Our second night we dined at one of the most popular restaurants in town, Hartwood. We actually walked to the restaurant from our hotel as it was close by.
Reservations in advance are a must at Hartwood otherwise you’ll either end up waiting hours for a table or never be able to get in. Even with a reservation, we ended up waiting 30 minutes for our table which was annoying but I guess they do things differently here in Mexico. The menu changes daily depending on what ingredients are available.
The waiter comes around to each table and describes each dish off the menu. While I appreciate the daily menu changes, it was even hard for me to remember all the dishes he described so I can only imagine how difficult it could be for others.
A colorful vibrant salad of luscious pieces of lobster meat with crunchy strands of green papaya and juicy sweet watermelon chunks. I loved all the aromatic herbs mixed in the salad as well as the candied peanuts. My only criticism would be that the lobster could have been cooked slightly less.
I’m a huge fan of smoked fish and this was basically like a whitefish rillette. Super delicious and flavorful. The flatbread was the perfect accompaniment for the dip and the various grilled vegetables (eggplant, onion, tomatoes) were scrumptious as well.
Hogfish isn’t a common ingredient found where I live, so I wanted to try this compared to the other fish offered that night (grouper and sea bass). The white fleshed fish had a mild flavor and was nicely grilled. Simple prepared but extremely satisfying.
Everyone said Hartwood’s signature dish were the pork ribs and oh boy these were fuckin’ delicious. Unctuous fat intertwined with caramelized meat that literally melted in my mouth. The agave glaze added a beautiful crust to the meat that was oh so heavenly. The pickled red cabbage underneath added a bright acidic component with the grilled succulent pineapple and a little heat from the banana peppers. Definitely get this!
The dishes were much larger than we anticipated as we’re used to San Francisco’s minuscule portions, so we actually couldn’t finish our main courses. We would have loved to try dessert (I’m sure they’re amazing) but we were so full. I loved the fusion flavors combined with fresh delectable produce, seafood, and meat, so my rating for Hartwood is an 8.5/10.
The following day I was up bright and early at 6 am for our day excursion to Chichen Itza, one of the new 7 wonders of the world! Our tour guide picked us up from our hotel at 7 am and we were off to visit the famous ruins. Since it takes roughly around two hours by car, I’m glad we got an early start to avoid crowds and the scorching heat. Even when we arrived at 9 am, there were a substantial amount of people and it was already quite hot.
With roughly 1.4 million tourists a year, Chichen Itza is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico. The area used to be a pre-Columbian city built by the Maya people dating as far back to 600 AD. The iconic step Pyramid of Kukulcán, typically referred to as El Castillo, is actually an enormous Maya calender and at the base of one of the staircases are carved serpent heads. During the spring and autumn equinoxes, light and shadow create a formation of triangles on that north staircase that imitate the slither of a serpent. Within Chichen Itza you’ll also find the great ball court, temple of the warriors, the wall of skulls, observatory temple, and other fascinating ruins.
Visiting Chichen Itza was extremely interesting, educational, and mind-blowing that people built such an advanced city thousands of years ago. It’s truly astonishing how well organized this society was and how everything had a purpose and was throughly calculated. Without a doubt, Chichen Itza was one of the coolest ruins I’ve ever laid my eyes on.
Afterwards we went to lunch to try a regional speciality called poc chuc, a traditional dish from the Yucatán. Typically it’s pork that’s been marinated and grilled and served with beans and onions. The ladies were even making tortillas by hand and a different type of tortilla stuffed with egg. I especially loved the homemade buttered tortillas on the side that were freakin’ amazing. Also all the stray dogs wanted some of our food and of course Tommy aka the dog whisperer gave them a little treat.
Once lunch was finished, our next activity was visiting a cenote and I was beyond excited. Cenotes are natural pits or sinkholes that expose fresh water and are located throughout the Yucatán and Quintana Roo. We visited cenote samulá which was almost a closed cenote, like a cave, but had an opening at the top.
Swimming in the cenote was sooo refreshing and the water was beautifully clean and clear. After being in the sun all day, it felt rejuvenating to swim in the cool fresh water.
Our final stop of the day was in the city of Valladolid where we just walked around the main plaza.
After an adventured packed busy day, we headed back to Tulum where we chilled at the beach behind our hotel. For an afternoon snack I ordered guacamole with plantain chips and shrimp aguachile with pineapple. Perfect for the beach.
For dinner we were on the hunt for delicious tacos but after the awesome ones I tried at Taqueria Los Parados in Mexico City, it’s hard to top that. Numerous people said Antojitos La Chiapaneca in the city center had some of the best al pastor tacos ever so we had to see for ourselves. The restaurant is only open for dinner and it was packed with mostly locals and a few tourists. We ended up ordering four al pastor tacos, one chicken taco, one carne asada taco, and one al pastor sope. The al pastor tacos were the best out of the bunch but still didn’t compare to the ones I tried in Mexico City. Another popular taco place that locals recommended was Taqueria Honorio.
For our last day in Tulum, we wanted to do some water activities after doing more cultural tours the previous day. We left the hotel early in the morning once again to explore the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and Punta Allen. Getting to Sian Ka’an takes about an hour by car on an unpaved bumpy road. On our way there, we even saw a crocodile chilling in the lagoon.
Once we arrived to the water, a small boat was awaiting us. Sian Ka’an became an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and aims to conserve various wildlife. Within the biosphere reserve we saw majestic dolphins from our boat as well as turtles and birds.
Afterwards we went snorkeling in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (also known as the Great Mayan Reef), the second largest coral barrier reef after Australia. This reef extends all the way from Mexico to Belize to Guatemala to Honduras and ends in Nicaragua. Pretty amazing. Next time i’ll be sure to buy a waterproof camera or a GoPro to take some epic underwater shots!
After snorkeling we were off to Punta Allen.
Once we arrived in Punta Allen, we saw the most pristine calm water I only thought was possible in my dreams. It was truly a magical paradise. We enjoyed a light lunch of shrimp ceviche and guacamole on the boat which was ideal for the hot weather.
On our way back to Tulum, our tour guide recommended a cenote right near our hotel. Since it was so close, we thought why not check it out. It was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel and it was nice to see all the cute rustic shops and restaurants along the way.
Cenote cape-ha was an open which had a completely different feeling than the closed cenote we visited the day before. The water was once again refreshing especially in the humid heat and almost crystal clear.
Our finally night we dined at another popular restaurant called Kitchen Table. You almost felt like you were immersed in the jungle with tropical trees and plants all around you. I loved the atmosphere of being surrounded by nature.
The menu is straightforward with just a few options in each category with an eclectic fusion inspiration. They use local vibrant ingredients in a fun way that was ultimately super satisfying.
The funky cuitlacoche (corn smut) with mild zucchini flowers was a pleasant combination. The warm quesadilla had a beautiful golden crust but still had a soft texture. The cold crema on top with the pickled onions balanced out the richness of the quesadilla.
Kakiage is a Japanese tempura using strands of several vegetables and then deep fried. Within the mixture, pieces of tender shrimp were intertwined with the vegetables. The dipping sauce was asian inspired with the soy sauce and fresh minced ginger. I wish there were more pieces of shrimp because I felt like it was slightly lost in the dish.
Beautiful octopus tentacles were lightly grilled and were served with creamy sweet potatoes and a rich jus. A squeeze of fresh lime juice just brightened up all the flavors.
These pork ribs were simply prepared with just salt and pepper and were awesome. I loved the delicate plantain fufu underneath that had just the right amount of sweetness.
The side dish of various bean was actually one of my favorite bites of the night. It had a little kick from the chilis and the cool crema on top was a great contrast.
Kitchen Table was an enjoyable meal to end our trip in Tulum! Beautiful atmosphere, tasty food, and wonderful service so my rating is a 7.5-8/10.
We both thought Tulum was the highlight of our vacation since neither of us travel to tropical places very often. I wish we had a few more days there to unwind at the beach and check out the Coba Ruins as well as the monkey sanctuary. However, for our short trip we definitely explored a substantial amount. From the charming city to the impeccable beaches and delightful fresh food, I hope to visit again one day.