The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

The Perfect Packing List for Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and the Riviera Maya, Mexico

This post is generously sponsored by MATTER Printsa socially motivated lifestyle brand connecting communities to opportunity, creating travel ware with stories to tell. They sell clothing, jewelry, and accessories using alternative production models for textile artisans to expand their economic freedom.

You’re here because you’re wondering what to wear in Tulum and would like a list. And that I shall give to you. But first, let me share with you some overall guidelines for fashion for Tulum, and other Latin American beach destinations (Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, etc. etc.)

Tulum especially is a destination for travelers who value authenticity and have respect for the local Mayan culture. As opposed to Cancun, dressing in neon colors, sequins, mini skirts and heels will make you stand out – and not in a good way. Instead, the prevailing fashion ethos is one of understated artisan design. There’s a lot of cotton textiles in natural colors, woven rattan, and vegetable-tanned leather accessories. Any bright colors you might see are usually embroidered flowers on traditional blouses called huipiles.

My dear, do not trust those other packing lists you found when you Googled “packing list Tulum,”  the list of mini skirts and cardigans all from Forever 21 and other fast fashion companies, and a completely unhelpful list of three designer pieces and some overpriced beauty products (cough PRODUCT PLACEMENT) from a magazine editor. They embody everything I’m against –pollution, exploitation, cultural appropriation, sheer tackiness – all wrapped up in a pile of polyester beach coverups and sandals.

I mean, yes, if you’re taking a trip to Florida, grab your neon bikini and head on down. America! But when you’re visiting another country, especially a developing one, etiquette dictates that you try to avoid wearing clothing that looks vaguely like it comes from that country, but was in fact designed by an American and then manufactured in another developing country in a dangerous factory by an underpaid worker.

It’s just insulting to wear an “Aztec print” anything by Forever 21 or Urban Outfitters to a Mexican beach, especially since the Europeans systematically exterminated and stole from all the indigenous Latin American cultures. And now we think it’s cute enough to steal their designs (and not financially compensate them for it)? No no no.

There’s actually a middle ground, where conscious brands take traditional prints and techniques and modernize them, but still have artisans use their skills to create these fresh interpretations. MATTER is one good example. They “work with a curative philosophy inspired by tradition, sourcing heritage prints and styles and reinterpreting them for the modern nomad.” The result is fashion that is contextual appropriate for traveling around the world, fashion-forward enough to show off in your Instagrams, and financially supportive of artisans and the cultures that inspired it.

And luckily, the internet has brought us the ability to buy the real thing – fashion and accessories that are made by artisans using traditional skills – and have it shipped right to us.

(When you arrive to Tulum, also check out stores that are selling beautiful local artisan-made fashion.)

Now let me clamber down off my soapbox and give you the goods. This is a complete packing list for Tulum. Follow this and you can’t go wrong!

For the plane:

In your suitcase:

  • 2 sun tops – I really like tops from Lemlem (made ethically in Africa) and Victoria Road (made ethically in Pakistan).
  • Reversible washable tie top –  Tie it in the back and it’s a lovely top that goes with any bottom, from jeans to a skirt. Tie it in the front and it’s super sexy. It seems to be sold out at Elizabeth Suzanne, but Whimsy & Row has a linen version.
  • Pair jean shorts – I would get some suitably worn-in ones secondhand from Vestiaire
  • Pair of long, loose pants in lightweight fabric (a.k.a. pajama-style pants) – MATTER makes the best ones for traveling, and Par en Par‘s are great, too.
  • Coverup – Mara Hoffman makes some gorgeous ones, and Accompany has so many perfect caftans.
  • Cotton dress – This one from Apiece Apart is perfect. Or literally anything from Mara Hoffman.
  • Easy romper or  jumpsuit – MATTER makes long and short ones
  • Kayu cutch – to go with your MATTER romper out to dinner. I’ve had mine since 2011!
  • Kimono – the chic version of a beach coverup that you can layer over jean shorts and a bikini top. Love Par en Par‘s.
  • Yoga shorts – you’ll definitely want to do some yoga while you’re there
  • Yoga top/sports bra – Try one of these pretty ones made of recycled plastic bottles
  • 1 pair light pajamas
  • Poncho – You’ll want something chic and beach-appropriate to wear if it gets chilly at night. (Mine doubled as a blanket when I wanted to take a 5 am nap near the dance floor. That is, after I took it back from a couple who had yanked it to take their own nap on the roof of the resort! See? Very useful.) Voz has artisan-made ones from South America.
  • Mini cross-body purse – I love everything from Accompany or O My Bag.
  • Bag for the beach –  I like this one because it folds up to fit in your suitcase.
  • 2 bathing suitsMara Hoffman makes the cutest sustainable swimsuits, or for something more classic, Vitamin A.
  • Scarf for tying up your hair or around your head.
  • Boho jewelry.
  • Teva’s – unlike our trip to Costa Rica, I didn’t need Teva’s in Tulum. When we walked through a cenote, we were given shoes to wear. But if you’re an active person, you might like having your own.
  • Head wrap – to tie up your hair. I like Par en Par‘s pareo that doubles as a sexy top.
  • Sandals
  • Huarache shoes – the traditional Latin American leather woven shoe.
  • 3 bras and 8 pairs of underwear. Here’s my 5 rules for packing undies for travel.
  • A handheld fan – For languidly fanning yourself in the shade.
  • Mini flashlight – It get’s really dark at night by the beach, where there is no electricity except generator power.
  • Extra pair – here’s my shopping guide to the best eco sunglasses
  • Packable wide-brimmed hat


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