Updated January 2019
This was just going to another fun and light eco-friendly destination guide, this time to Tulum, Mexico. And I was excited to write it!
On its surface, Tulum is tailor-made for the conscious traveler. There are an abundance of vegan and farm-to-table restaurants serving traditional Mexican food. You can’t throw your sandal without hitting a sign for an eco resort. The most popular activities include visiting ruins and learning about the Mayan culture, drinking mezcal cocktails on the beach, getting a massage at a green spa, exploring the nature reserve for an afternoon, and swimming in the cenotes, the area’s natural and gorgeous answer to swimming pools. It seemed like the authentic and sustainable answer to nearby party-party Playa del Carmen and Cancun.
When I visited for the first time in January 2016, I was so gratified to finally have sustainability be the cool thing to do, instead of something just for un-fun, hippie weirdos.
(If you’re headed to Tulum, then I also have a fashion guide and packing list full of eco-friendly options.)
Sewage in Paradise
But from the beginning of our trip, I began picking up on some clues that something was off. My dude commented on the near constant sound of chainsaws up and down the beach road at construction sites, and the sickening amount of discarded water bottles and other refuse. Sometimes the smell of sewage would waft by at odd moments.
Near the end of our stay, when we closed out the dance floor at a popular jungle restaurant and bar at 1 AM. As the music ceased, suddenly the roar of a generator hidden back in the jungle became apparent. “Is that generator powering the whole restaurant?” I asked an employee. “Yup,” he said. “There’s no electricity past the main town. Almost everything is powered by generators.” I thought back to the hundreds of businesses lining the beach road, imagining their diesel generators gulping gas and belching emissions and particulates into the formerly pristine air.
And then, I sat down to write this post and started doing some research, and I found this Newsweek article on the rampant government corruption and mass pollution of Tulum. Some excerpts:
An estimated 80% of Tulum’s hotels lack proper water treatment. “The hotels advertise themselves as being ‘eco-chic,’” says Juarez, a recent evictee. “But they don’t care at all about the ecosystem. They throw their sewage water straight into the ocean.”
A 2013 study of Tulum’s underground river system published in the Journal of Environmental Protection found that many hotels “dump sewage directly into mangrove swamps or inject the improperly treated wastewater into saline water just below the freshwater.” As a consequence, “fecal contamination is widespread.”
…wastewater, even when treated for solid contaminants, increases the levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the ocean, which produces algae. The algae competes with the corals for nutrients and causes disease and bleaching in the reef. “When combined with climate change,” he says, “the result is disastrous.”
“There is no garbage system,” says Xavier Peralta, an environmental activist. “It’s all just dumped in the jungle.” Some 6 miles west of town, the city’s dump is a sprawling, towering mass of waste. “Imagine what happens when it rains, and that rotten broth is filtered underground.” He adds, “Tulum is a ticking time bomb.”
And a commenter added:
This article doesn’t mention the fact that many properties that aren’t connected to municipal water and don’t pay for agua potable truck deliveries rely on groundwater well pumping. This means a property can have a septic tank leeching [sic] human excrement directly into the ground water and 5 feet away a well for water needs of the property such as bathing, dish washing, toilets, garden etc.
That’s right, if you stay at the wrong resort, you could be taking a shower in water contaminated with human fecal matter. Don’t open your mouth.
Should You Boycott Tulum?
I felt duped and conned. I’m a sustainable journalist, and I had trusted in Tulum’s promise of providing me with an eco-friendly yet incredibly hip experience. Instead, it seemed, I was part of the problem, driving up property prices and putting $$$ into the eyes of unscrupulous developers, adding to the contamination with my waste, and partying with the aid of diesel fuel.
Despite knowing all this, I went back in January of 2018 with my husband, because all our friends were going and he had booked a couple of DJ gigs.
It had only gotten worse. A “stomach bug” was going around when we were there, which turned out to be norovirus, something that usually only happens in crowded conditions on cruise ships, nursing homes, and daycare centers. The whole beach area often smells like sewage. At the upscale restaurant Hartwood, they walk around the restaurant swinging a metal incense burner spewing clouds of copal smoke so thick they make you cough, just to cover the fetid smell up. After a month of traveling through Mexico, the expense of doing anything in Tulum was shocking. The taxi drivers and restaurants practically turned us upside down and shook out our wallets. Everything seemed to be a racket, including the ATMs that would spit out American dollars (if they worked at all), and the resorts that would offer to exchange them into pesos for exorbitant fees.
There’s more construction, more car traffic choking the roads, more waste, more influencers preening, and more noise than ever. New York Magazine published an article in 2019 asking “Who Killed Tulum?” (Short answer: greedy New Yorkers.) A documentary called The Dark Side of Tulum arrived at the height of Busy Season, suggesting that the answer to Tulum’s problems was to all get together in a crystal-infused circle and ask the resorts and local government to do better. (I imagine it’s too physically dangerous to mention the real reason: corruption and organized crime that develop over the cenotes and provides drugs to the partiers.) Two months later, the documentary producers emailed out a correction lamenting that a local energy business they had promoted as providing a sustainable solution had hoodwinked them.
But if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already booked your tickets and can’t back out now. Or your friends are all going and you don’t think you can get them to change all of their plans. If you can change your plans, I absolutely recommend you do so. If you want something beautiful, pristine, quiet and romantic, go to Playa Viva near Zihuatanejo. If you want a fun but affordable place to rent a beach house with your friends, try Nicaragua.
But if you can’t back out now, follow this guide to make the best of the situation. Although it’s difficult to truly understand what is going on, there are resorts and restaurants and people who are truly striving for sustainability in creative ways. If you educate yourself, you can enjoy and direct (most of) your dollars to the truly eco-friendly and conscious aspects of Tulum, while avoiding the aspects that are devastating to the environment.
Understand the basics.
First, there is Tulum pueblo, or the town proper. It’s a typical Latin America town, filled with tourist shops and restaurants. It’s on the grid, though according to the Newsweek article, its handling of waste is highly suspect. Both times we stayed in Tulum Pueblo because we are not rich and we can’t afford to stay on the beach.
Ah, the beach, the bougie area of Tulum, with beach clubs and high-end resorts. It’s comprised of one long road sandwiched in between the beach and jungle. Addresses of businesses are given to you via kilometers. For example, if they say KM 8.2 Carretera Tulum Boca Paila jungle side, that means go down the beach road 8.2 kilometers and look to your right.
During high season, many tours, restaurants, and spas require advance reservations. I know, I hate planning out my entire beach vacation in advance as well (especially knowing how we would run into friends and want to be flexible). But we got turned away from restaurants, spas, and even the Sian Ka’an Reserve for not having a reservation. So schedule your must-dos before you arrive. Maybe do a morning massage at a spa, the Sian Ka’an tour, then dinner at a popular restaurant.
Wifi is spotty AF. We went 12 hours at a time without service, which normally could be a great thing, before checking in at a café and playing Facebook messenger tag with our friends who were trying to meet up. I highly recommend you write down exact addresses of all the places you want to visit beforehand. The locals do this thing where they perpetually tell you your destination is only a 15-minute walk away, until you find yourself collapsing at the door 45 minutes later!
Another important thing to share is that you need cash (in pesos) for everything. (You need electricity to run a credit card machine!) The Cancun airport has a terrible exchange rate, so get just enough to pay for your car transfer to Tulum. The only place you should get cash from in Tulum are the banks and Santandar ATMs in Tulum Pueblo, and the large grocery store in between town and the beach area, called Chedruai. The ATMs on the beach road, of which there are many, don’t work, or spit out USD, and are rumored to lead to fraud.
Pick a (really truly) eco-friendly resort.
Please, whatever you do, don’t stay in a condo or megaresort. Condos are big buildings built overtop a fragile ecosystem by corrupt developers. They are the antithesis to the eco-friendly side to Tulum. Why stay in an antiseptic box when you are in such a gorgeous paradise? Also, do not trust at face value “eco resorts.” Many are greenwashing, especially the one called Amansala, which according to a local Spanish-language news channel, dumps sewage right in the mangroves.
As you search for the perfect resort, here’s what to look for:
- Sewage: Concern number one! Composting toilets are best, and an on-premises filtration system that puts out the almost pure water to a garden. Otherwise, they should be able to talk about how they handle it and whether they are cognisant of the risks of having a leaky septic tank. With 80% of resorts lacking proper sewage treatment, if they can’t talk about it, they are dumping.
- Electricity: How do they generate it? Solar and wind are best. Find out if they have rules for electricity usage – limiting your usage of air conditioning to certain hours is a good thing! Traditionally, resorts and beach residents used candles at night, and some still do. The beach breeze is great — take advantage.
- Water: Do they have a special purification system and what kind is it, or do they buy potable water from trucks that haul it in? The former is preferred.
- Physical footprint: Are the buildings on stilts above the sand? Or do they plunk heavy buildings down on top of sea turtle nesting grounds?
- Food and sourcing: Where do they source materials, furniture, decor, toiletries, and food from? It should be locally, from organic farms and artisans.
- Noise: During high season, December 16 to January 15, electronic music parties are the norm. So if you don’t plan on dancing all night, make sure to avoid resorts that throw parties, and get a room at a resort or hotel that is far away from any beach or town clubs.
In this regard, there are a few excellent resorts by the beach:
Prana Boutique Hotel, located between the beach and the town, is the real deal. We stayed here in 2017 and it was our absolute favorite place. The owner, Karim, is friendly, helpful, and best of all, brutally honest about what is going on in Tulum. Inside our room, we found cards telling us about how important it is to be cognizant of our impact, use less water, etc, since the infrastructure in Tulum is so weak. They give away used glass bottles so that locals can use them as decoration for wall constructions to let light through (and are currently using used glass bottles to build a vegetable garden for their veggie-focused restaurant). They don’t use any plastic bottles, and use metal reusable straws. They provide glass bottles in the rooms with water, which are cleaned and refilled every day. Their shampoos and body washes are from Ixchel, a local organic producer, and they re-use the plastic shampoo containers with new labels until they are not presentable anymore. Their wastewater filtration system uses three filters and then passes that water along to irrigate the plants in the hotel’s garden. They provide booklets in every room with recommendations on what to do and what not to do in Tulum and the Riviera Maya. (One such recommendation is to avoid parks that let you swim with the dolphins!) They have a new organic Mayan bee honey hive, and if you fall in love with a local stray dog, they’ll take care of the vaccinations so you can adopt it and take it home! We highly recommend this place as your first choice.
Papaya Playa Project is one self-billed eco resort that is the go-to electronic music party destination during high season. During the New Year’s Eve week, it was impossible to get in, because of how popular a beach club it has. In July of 2015, PPP launched a mission to achieve zero emissions and zero contamination community by June 2018. As of December 2019, they say they’ve reduced emissions by 99%. They have a solar system that is sustainably fabricated in Mexico. Wastewater is treated and irrigates PPP’s plants and the jungle. The food is locally grown and organic wherever possible. Papaya Playa Project even has a cashew nut orchard with banana and coconut trees that they are in the process of revitalizing with organic fertilizers. The construction of the resort retained 93% of the original jungle, with the rooms raised off the ground, and the resort’s crafts, decorations, furniture, fabrics, weaving, hammocks, and materials are all sourced from Mexican and Mayan artisans. Just be aware that those Funktion One speakers take a lot of power, so generators are reportedly needed for parties, and you won’t be able to sleep at night if you stay there during high season.
Ahau is another resort with a beach club beach club that gets bumping at night with top international DJs on the decks. They have a rainwater catchment system, composting toilets, and an artificial marsh filtration system purifies their wastewater and returns it to the gardens. Their to-go cups, straws, containers, and trash bags are biodegradable. Glass soda and beer bottles are returned to the producer and refilled. The resort was built without disturbing any mature trees on the land, using wood sustainably harvested by the local Mayan people. The buildings are situated to take advantage of natural shade and catch the breeze, to reduce the need for air conditioning. They landscape with local species, and clean the beach each day. They provide natural toiletries made nearby in Merida, and only work with eco-conscious tour companies that promote awareness of the living Mayan culture. (No word on energy generation – tell me if you know!)
If you would like a little more rustic experience, try Harmony Glamping. The hotel’s main building is built using sustainable materials, such as dead wood harvested by Mayan communities, and rock sourced from its own land. Though some of the walls are made out of construction block, they used a Mayan material Sascab and sand to coat them. All the beds and most of the furniture is made from recycled pallets. The house is oriented to catch the most sea breeze and north winds to reduce the need for air conditioning. The waste water (grey and black water) is treated through a bio digester that allows them to reuse the water for underground irrigation of ornamental plants. Rainwater is also captured for the garden. No mature trees were cut or disturbed in the building process. All plants and the native garden plants are fertilized naturally by the use of worm castings and compost made at the hotel’s permaculture Green Beat farm, which supplies local restaurants with organic produce. (No word on energy generation – tell me if you know!)
There’s also Cenote Encantado, a supremely affordable campground near the reserve in the beach area. The tents come with a mattress, lights, and a fan, and the campground has compost toilets, recycled greywater, a communal kitchen, hammocks, a fire pit, a yoga/event room, and a temazcal sweat lodge. They have a generator that runs at night to power the lights and fans.
Sanara. This beautiful resort is built with sustainably sourced materials, with structures raised above the sand to allow nesting turtles. It has rainwater collection systems, grey water recycling, and a microbe-based septic system. (They say they are currently investigating other systems for waste management.) They have solar power supplemented by generator power when needed, and source local organic produce and free-range eggs and meat whenever possible to supply to the cafe and restaurant (which I also recommend, below). They avoid the use of toxic cleaning products (unless required by law), and providing non-toxic beauty products dispensed from recyclable glass bottles and jars in the spa.
Casa Xixim is another eco resort that is located outside of town, but still within a short drive to the town and the main Tulum beach area. The home is solar-powered, but tied into the grid – it’s the first grid-tied, net-metered home on the bay. They have rainwater harvesting, composting wetlands, a green roof, hire local labor, purchase from local farmers, furnish with local crafts and use locally-made, earth-friendly cleaning supplies.
Rent a bike.
Most resorts and even our AirBnB have bikes for rent for 100 pesos ($5) a day, and a lovely bike path borders the road from town leading to the beach area. We took our bikes everywhere, all the way down to the reserve and back. If you are going out at night, I might recommend a taxi, however. One night we rode our bikes from the beach area back into town at 1 am. When we got to the bar in town, our friend who lives in Tulum was aghast that we had done so. “Because of the panthers,” he said. Seeing our faces, he backpedaled. “I mean, it’s as likely as getting attacked by a shark. But yeah, you aren’t really supposed to do that.”
Limit your electricity usage.
You might have noticed in the resort descriptions that the eco-conscious ones try to completely power themselves with solar energy. But they might switch to a generator if they run out of power, or if it’s been particularly cloudy. So be being mindful with your energy consumption. Don’t run the air conditioning unless you are unable to sleep without it – try opening the windows for a cross breeze instead. Charge up your phone and other electronics with a portable solar tab. And look up to appreciate what the night sky looks like without a ton of light pollution. Remember that magical feeling before you switch on a light at night. Also, big parties with big speakers require generators – if you’re not into electronic music, you might check the schedule before booking to verify there are no parties going on.
Be careful about the cenotes.
Cenotes are one of Tulum’s biggest draws. These beguiling sinkholes and cave systems are deep, mysterious turquoise pools surrounded by rainforest. We visited a cenote called Santa Cruz way outside of Akumal, a privately-owned cenote that’s more of a long cave than a sinkhole in 2017.
But after reading about the ghastly blackwater management, I would think twice about visiting a cenote close to the town or beach area. Many are contaminated with human excrement. Resorts and towns inject their blackwater deep into the ground (or sometimes just dump it straight into the ocean or a cenote). The ground in the Yucatan is like swiss cheese, and that water flows on through the underground river network into neighboring cenotes. You can absolutely get a stomach bug from swimming and snorkeling in them. (As a forum commenter pointed out, most people blame the food for their stomach woes. It’s not that.)
This is a great video outlining all the problems of development that you should absolutely watch before you go.
I very clearly remember getting water in my mouth at the private cenote Santa Cruz and I don’t have a stomach virus, so that one must be OK. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a guide to the cleanest cenotes, so the best advice I can give is to visit a cenote that is far away from any resorts or towns. In my first draft of this post, I said to go upstream, but apparently the water flows the other way, too. More slowly, but it flows. Contamination in one place can contaminate everywhere.
Which is why it is so incredibly important to be careful about where you, excuse my French, take a shit when you visit Tulum. Do throw your toilet paper in the trash instead of the toilet, because the septic systems are so fragile.
Be a low-waste traveler.
Tulum’s waste management system is virtually non-existent. As a commenter says below, there is no recycling in Tulum – businesses have to take plastic and glass bottles to a center, which then sends them to another state every few months by truck for recycling. Most hotels and restaurants don’t bother with that, and just trash them at the dump outside of Tulum. Coca-Cola bottles and other glass soda bottles can be given back to the distributor and to be refilled. High-end glass water brands like Agua de Piedra and Hethe, plus beer bottles, cannot.
So just bring your reusable water bottle and drink tap water, right? Well, no. (See sewage problem, above.) Only refill your reusable bottle at resorts and restaurants who have a good purification – not just filtration – system. REI has an excellent guide to purifying water, but in short: any filter bottle will take out particulate matter, protozoa, cysts, and bacteria, but not viruses. For the latter you need a purifier. (Believe me, I picked up a virus in Costa Rica and it wasn’t fun.) We traveled throughout India alternately using a Lifestraw and a Grayl. I recommend the latter if you’re worried about picking up a virus in Tulum, which is possible.
Also, engage in other law-waste strategies. Most cafes and restaurants are sit down, so you don’t need to worry so much about disposables. (Why care about convenience when you’re on vacation?) But refuse to accept or buy anything with disposable packaging, and carry a camping utensil and handkerchief with you. Here are some suggestions for no-waste items to buy.
Learn about Mayan culture.
What sets Tulum apart from other tropical retreats is the fact that it is steeped in respect for the Mayan culture. Quick history lesson: At the height of Maya civilization between 250 and 900 AD, the Maya dominated Latin America, practicing a nature-based religion, pottery, math, astronomy, hieroglyph writing, stone architecture, agriculture, trade, and sport. It collapsed around 900 AD, likely due to drought, overpopulation, and warfare, retreating from the vibrant cities to agricultural villages. Tulum’s Mayan civilization rose up while these other large cities declined, in the 13th century. The Mayans are still alive today, their culture guarded from Spanish influence by the relatively isolated and resource-poor Yucatan Peninsula. And you can learn about it not only from ruins, but from the Mayan people themselves. So the most important thing to keep in mind is to sign up for Mayan-led tours!
Also, watch this video, which puts the Mayan culture and history in the context of the environment.
Reserve a tour at the Sian Ka’an Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, before you arrive, if you can. (This website will help you book a tour that is put on by the best local operators.) In this six-hour tour, you are taken by boat down the ancient mangrove channel, built by the native Mayans more than 1,000 years ago as a trade route, past a Mayan temple. Thanks to the sharp eye of our Mayan boat driver, we saw manatees, a crocodile, and several different kinds of birds. It was one of our favorite parts of the trip.
The Tulum Ruins is a must-visit, but gets hot and crowded during the day. So we took the advice of a friend and showed up right after it opened at 8 am after a full night of dancing by the beach. At that hour it is fairly peaceful. However, I wish we had done a guided tour, because the placards are repetitive and not very informative, and we would have loved a history lesson. We brought our bathing suits for the beach, but the danger flag was up that day. And do heed the warning flags – an acquaintance told me she was nearly swept out to sea by the rip tide and doesn’t know how she survived!
We didn’t have time, but for our next visit, we’ll take a day trip to Valladolid, a small town an hour’s drive away, with Le Casa de los Venados art museum, it’s own cenote, the Mayan ruins of Ek Balam, the Coqui Coqui perfumery, the Chocolate Maya museum/factory/store, and plenty of opportunities for buying a traditional huipil, a beautiful embroidered blouse.
Eat at restaurants that source local and organic ingredients.
The Yucatan peninsula is a tropical bread basket, so push yourself out of your comfort zone and enjoy locally sourced fruits and fish prepared in the traditional Mexican/Mayan style for all your meals. (Also, if you visit some of these, please ask them about how they handle waste and how they are powered, and report back!)
Sanara has The Real Coconut (KM 8.2 on the beach road), a beautiful little restaurant whose glass front is throw open to the sunny deck and sea breeze. I didn’t have one of the organic herbal cocktails that day – I was sweating mezcal out of my pores at the point – but we split several plates: coconut flour quesadillas with coconut cheese and organic chicken, hemp plantain lettuce sliders, grilled local sardines, and a kale salad with tahini dressing. After we ordered, a friend and DJ walked in with his parents and we enjoyed a boisterous lunch with them. It’s a destination.
Ahau has Raw Love (KM 7. 5), a relaxing, hippie-style cafe nestled inside a jungle-y setting, serving their famous vegan bites and smoothie bowls, which you can eat while seated on a swing seat or in a hammock.
Hartwood (KM 7.6) is the most famous one. It’s like the Per Se of Tulum, with a crazy wait for reservations and a fancy hardback cookbook that I got as a gift last year. It’s also incredibly sustainable. It’s fully powered by solar panels. They compost and cook everything over an open fire with a handmade wood-burning oven and grill. All fish are spear-caught within the Caribbean , and the produce is sourced from organic communal Mayan farms called Milpas. (No word on their blackwater management strategy. Please report back if you know!) We made a reservation a month in advance, which is pretty much required. You can wait outside starting when it opens at 5 pm, but you might wait for more than 2 hours for a no-show that allows you to sit. We found it to be pretty delicious, but not wait-two-hours-in-line delicious!
Kitchen Table (KM 1.5 jungle side) is one I wanted to visit but could not. (Grace from The Stripe recommended it to me as her favorite alternative to Hartwood.) Built using only reused and natural materials native from the region and designed to have minimal ecological impact, Kitchen Table is nestled in the jungle, and uses only solar energy. “A wooden grill, a bar and ice boxes full of local fresh produce are the only ingredients we need to create delicious food and cocktails,” they say. (No word on their blackwater management strategy. Please report back if you know!)
When we were turned away from Cetli, we walked over to Encanto Cantina (in town on the main road across from the bus station) on the recommendation of the founder of Habitas. We immediately sat down at a table, and enjoyed affordable, locally-sourced and organic plates and cocktails in a romantic backyard setting. We invited all our friends to join us there – I would absolutely recommend this place!
Arca (KM 7.6) is the one restaurant I truly regret not trying. Everyone is saying (with a groan of pleasure, “Sooooo goood”) it’s the best restaurant in Tulum, better even than the overhyped Hartwood. It’s a candlelit outdoor restaurant tucked into the jungle serving local, sustainable produce and artfully plated, wood-fired cooking. (No word on energy generation or blackwater management. Report back if you know!)
Co Con Amor (across from the large grocery store in between town and the beach) serves vegetarian and vegan smoothies, juices, fair trade coffee, kombucha, falafel and gluten-free cakes. Plus it has a small store selling local food and cleaning products in refillable glass jars. When I accidentally left my conditioner at a hotel, I picked up some locally-made, organic hair conditioner at the beauty store out front.
DelCielo (Avenida Satelite) is a charming health food cafe in town that serves coffee, smoothies, kombucha, and a delicious breakfast. It’s where all the DJs go to eat. The wait can be long for a table, but it’s worth it!
Restaurare (KM 6) is an upscale, vegan, jungle restaurant that sources locally. It is reportedly on the expensive side, so I would only recommend it you are vegan. (No word on energy generation or blackwater management. Report back if you know!)
Cenzontle was on my list to visit, though we didn’t have time. It uses the seasonal produce, and whole animals and fish butchered and prepared on site daily for dishes designed for sharing. (No word on energy generation or blackwater management. Report back if you know!)
After dinner, get yourself to the dance floor at La Zebra (KM 8.2), a beach club with live legendary salsa music and handcrafted cocktails made from local ingredients like Yucatan sugarcane and tropical fruits. They are generator run. (No word on blackwater management. Report back if you know!)
Visit a non-toxic spa for an organic treatment.
There are many spas at which to get a massage, facial, or manicure. But choose wisely! You’ll want one that slathers only non-toxic, preferably locally-produced products on your skin.
Sanara offers the basics such as facials, mani-pedi, and waxing, plus alternative healing treatments that involve Mayan healing, crystals, aromatherapy, BioMagnetic therapy and BioDecoding, Craniosacral Therapy, lymphatic drainage, Ayurvedic massage, and reflexology.
We went a little more basic and booked an hour-long couples massage at the Mayan Clay Spa (KM 8.5), a peaceful outdoor spa in the jungle. The majority of our massage was typical – we were slathered in oils and had our kinks worked out by two capable Mayan masseuses. Then at the end, they covered our upper halves in the local, mineral-rich mud before rinsing off in the outdoor shower. At $80, it’s a more affordable choice than some others spas in Tulum, and absolutely worth it. (No word on energy generation or blackwater management. Report back if you know!)
If you are willing to spend a little more and get a little woo woo, you will definitely hear about Yaan Wellness. It has a thick book of treatments, with everything from energy healing, yoga, meditation, and sweat lodge ceremonies, to dozens of massage and exfoliation treatments, reiki, sound healing, herbal soaking baths, facials, waxing, eyebrow tinting, colon hydrotherapy and juice cleanses. Basically, if Gwyneth Paltrow has done it, it’s there. I inquired about the $45 manicure – yes, that is in dollars not pesos. They use the EcoCult approved Zoya nail polish, and it includes some crystal healing, the woman at the front desk told me. Personally, I think I would prefer to just get a $19 non-toxic manicure at my favorite salon here in Brooklyn before I arrive to Tulum, but if you really love crystals… (Know they power the premises with generators, and I don’t know how they handle blackwater.)
Shop for artisan-made clothing and accessories.
Sure, you can find cheesy t-shirts and brightly-colored polyester dresses. But…why? Instead, support local artisans by picking up a hand-woven piece at one of these boutiques.
Dúo de Mar (KM 10) is a brand new boutique selling Mexican designed and made ponchos, dresses, and accessories, all with organic cotton, plus one-piece bathing suites, woven beach bags, purses and vegetable-tanned leather strappy sandals. It’s a more affordable and practical (yet still quite chic) alternative to the more well-known Caravana. When I visited they had just opened the store a week before and did not have a credit card machine. When I asked to pop on their wifi, they went to turn on the generator to get it going. Hopefully soon they’ll have a couple solar panels for that purpose!
Though, you might feel bereft if you leave Tulum without something from Caravana (KM 8). Perhaps an exquisitely crafted organic cotton poncho or wrap dress, a feather fan, a woven leather fringe vest, or other accessories that are all made in Mexico by fairly paid artisans. It’s pricey, but luckily, they take credit cards.
The more humble Mr. Blackbird (8.4) is a small hut featuring home decor, jewelry, and accessories all made in Mexico City, San Cristobal, and Michoacan (save for some NYC-made caftans). It’s all priced relatively well, especially for artisan fashion. And the store is run by two solar panels!
Hoki Poki Kana (KM 7.5 inside Placita) features Mexican-made, Parisian-inspired fashion made with cotton voile, poplin, and linen, plus handmade basket bags from Zihuatenejo, Mexico, organic beauty products from local organic brand Ixchel, the Volladolid brand Sandovalis‘ candles and perfumes, locally crafted clutches and bags, and locally-made dreamcatchers, which benefit charitable projects in Tulum. (The store is run by generator a few hours a day, and by rechargeable batteries the rest of the time.)
The tiny Carla Fernández (KM 5.5) store features fashion made by artisans from all over Mexico using various traditional techniques to make hand-dyed and woven ponchos, dresses, tops and skirts. The store itself is constructed with local fallen wood. (No word on energy generation.)