As I drive along the highway from Cancun airport, my dreams of a genuine Mexican experience are slowly crushed by wall-to-wall all-inclusive resorts. But then, two hours later, the road gets bumpier and the gaudy entrances begin to turn into pastel-painted wooden signs covered in tropical vegetation. Boho beach town Tulum is a world away from Cancun.
Across the sprawling stretch of pristine white beach are a number of tiki hut-style eco lodges, each varying in design and hipness ever so slightly. The most decadent is Ana y José (00 52 998 880 5629; www.anayjose.com), where luxuries such as in-room air conditioning make it Tulum's equivalent to Claridge's. But my companion and I have chosen to park ourselves somewhere more in line with the town's down-to-earth ethos; we couldn't resist the rustic charm of the hammock-lined wooden bungalows at Luv Tulum (00 52 1 984 114 6604; luvtulum.com). They are situated so close to the Caribbean Sea that you can go from sleeping to snorkelling in just a few body rolls.
We unpack and it's time for a stroll to take in the stunning coastal scenery. The high dreadlock count and signs for temescal – a Mayan healing ritual that involves overheating to the point of hallucination – make me start to worry that my trip will be like a New Age version of The Beach. Maybe it's just dehydration, so we stop for mojitos under the shady palm trees at La Zebra (00 52 1 984 115 4728; lazebratulum.com). Soon I'm starting to warm to this town's prettily packaged counterculture ideals; they do serve cocktails here, after all.
Night comes and the stars are out in full, which is lucky as there are no streetlights. The town is carved from the jungle, and the darkness only adds to the mystery of what might pop out from behind the vintage VW camper vans. Local organic restaurant Hartwood (hartwoodtulum.com) is the place to be, so we go there. However, when we arrive at 7pm, the receptionist laughs us off. Apparently, the waiting list started three hours ago.
Instead, we head to the friendlier Posada Margherita (00 52 1 984 801 8493; posadamargherita.com). Italian cuisine wasn't top of the list for us on this Mexican adventure, but the overflowing basket of freshly baked focaccia, and owner Alessandro's charm – he comes and sits at our table to talk us through the menu – is irresistible and oh so cool.
Tulum abides by a strict bedtime. Even the trendiest locals are tucked up by midnight. Luckily for us it's Friday, the night of the weekly party at Mezzanine (00 52 1 984 115 4728; mezzanintulum.com), by far the liveliest around. There's a queue around the block, but our new Italian companion Alessandro ensures that a few handshakes are all we need to get straight in. After revelling in the house music beside linen-clad loved-up couples and well-bred American and European twentysomethings, we finally call it a night.
I wake up with PTS (post-tequila syndrome) – pounding head, nausea – so plunge straight into a double portion of huevos rancheros (fried eggs served on corn tortillas topped with tomato chilli sauce). Then it's yoga time. In an effort to get into Tulum's Mother Nature vibe, I've signed up for a class at Yoga Shala (00 52 1 984 137 3016; yogashalatulum.com) and there's no going back now. An hour later, I'm still alive, and feeling revitalised enough to grab a juice from Restaurare (00 52 1 984 168 1282) with other members of the group.
The rest of the day is spent taking in the sites and doing the usual tourist thing. Tulum is best known for its picturesque Mayan ruins, which are to be found edging off a cliff into the Caribbean Sea. Equally astonishing is the drive through Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve (cesiak.org), where you can spot alligators lurking in the dark lagoons. Then we lunch at El Camello, one of the few places in town where locals and tourists mix, tucking into mountains of ceviche.
Tulum's definition of hedonism may include more holistic and healthy choices than most but, balanced with a distinctly laid-back Latin pace, it's somewhere I could get used to.
A Hedonist's Guide to ... (Hg2) is a luxury city guide series for the more decadent traveller. For more information see hg2.com
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