Escape from Cancun

Nearby Tulum's laid-back vibe.

(Photo: Amansala)

(Photo: Amansala)

Ten years ago, the village of Tulum, a two-hour drive south from Cancun, was little more than a scruffy outpost nestled into an otherwise deserted strip of sand and jungle. Lured by untouched beaches, cheap camping and ancient ruins, travellers soon spread word about this secret paradise, and Tulum grew into a New Age mecca where hippies came to practise yoga, experiment with hallucinogens and purify themselves in Mayan sweat rituals.

While the town has maintained much of its rustic charm (electricity in the city’s “hotel zone” remains limited), it has also begun to attract a new wave of nomad—models, photographers and Wall Street brokers who gather for bikini boot camps, expensive dinners and far niente—to the delight of foreign investors, who have brandished the area’s boho vibe as a persuasive marketing spiel. “There’s a magnetic energy here. We’re very close to the stars,” murmurs Francesca Bonato, a stunning Italian woman in a crisp linen sundress. Along with her Argentine model husband, they own Coqui Coqui, a charming hotel frequented by the likes of Eva Mendes and Kate Bosworth. Tulum’s mixture of isolation and eco-chic has made it a hit with A-listers and executives looking to unwind.

A day in Tulum might start with yoga at sunrise, followed by a detox juice at the Amansala hotel, home of the aforementioned Bikini Boot Camp. Some go on to participate in a Mayan Clay ritual, where topless women rub mud over their bodies and wash off in the limpid ocean. Lunch is an elegant affair: ceviche, guacamole and icy beer at Coqui Coqui, followed by shopping at the hotel’s boutique, which sells $200 linen tops and handcrafted perfumes made with local coconut oil. After a much-needed siesta, friends meet at Posada Margherita, an open-air Italian restaurant serving handmade pasta and tequila cocktails. There, a young man goes table-to-table selling $100 bottles of mescal he says are handmade in local co-ops.

But Hartwood is where everyone lines up come dinner time, especially since chef Eric Werner was featured on the cover of last year’s lifestyle bible Edible Selby. The garden restaurant is run entirely without electricity, lit only by oil lamps and the massive wood oven in which Werner chars steaks, agave pork ribs and pumpkins gathered from nearby farms. Werner, a New Yorker who cooked at institutions like Vinegar Hill House and Peasant, moved to Tulum in 2009. “My wife and I believe that if you put your whole self into your dream and pray,” says the chef, his soft slow voice emerging from a thick red beard, “this is the place to build on those principles.”

Other dreamers may want to act fast. Donald Trump is said to be planning a property nearby.

Shirine Saad is a New York–based writer and author of the Boho Beirut travel guide

  • Frequent flyer

  • Two-minute guide to tulum

  • Get ThereAir Canada flies daily to Cancun. Tulum is a two-hour drive south
  • StayA beachfront room at Coqui Coqui starts at $330/night
  • SeeThe pre-Colombian ruins. You should probably check those out
  • Follow@TulumBeach (Posada Margherita) for snapshots of life in Tulum

Celebrities spotted recently in Tulum: Kate Bosworth, Evan Rachel Wood, Neil Patrick Harris, Sienna Miller, Alexander Skarsgård, Drew Barrymore, Amanda Seyfried