written by Rachel Young
If you are a person who loves holistic wellness and subscribes to a very folksy-type of spirituality, then welcome to Tulum. It’s a veritable wonderland for the health-conscious and yoga-minded. A little hodge-podge of different spectacles nestled right into the jungles of the Mexican Yucatan, where new experiences wait to be discovered inside of each colorfully- painted nook and cranny.
Located less than a two-hour drive from Cancun, Tulum is a tiny town split into two distinct parts with two different appeals: the downtown area, where you can find all the colorful and vivid local haunts, and then the hotel district which spans the stretch of Tulum’s crystal beaches. The latter is often endearingly called the “bougie jungle,” which is a hilariously accurate homage to the Instagram-famous influencers who strut from beach bar to beach bar and award-winning restaurant to award-winning restaurant, as well as the collection of boutique treehouses and huts that will gladly adorn you in Tulum-tastic, rustic-chic clothing and trinkets. This isn’t the Tulum your hippie mother visited in the ‘80s, where a person could roll in, day-of, to rent a tent on the beach and fish their lunch straight from the ocean… but it does still have a certain charm. The jungle has awoken to the possibility of wellness as a tourist attraction, and as a way of making the strong Mayan culture and spirituality available to those who seek wholeness. While Tulum continues to evolve, she continues to maintain her authenticity and magic.
A few other wellness things to do in Mexico:
A Mother/Daughter Wellness Escape to Puerto Vallarta
Sábila Spa & Villa del Palmar on Mexico’s Gulf Coast
Shopping with Chef Stefania, Vinos + Tapas, San Miguel
Taking the Waters at La Gruta Hot Springs, San Miguel
From beachside yoga to vibrational sound healing, and from raw/vegan delights to moonlit shamanic ceremonies, you could easily stay in Tulum for several months and never run out of new wellness experiences to delight you – physically, emotionally and spiritually. If your time here is limited, it’s easy to have the full Tulum experience in just a matter of days.
Here are just a few of the highlights:
Take Part in an Ancient Temazcal Ceremony – Maya Tulum
When you visit Tulum, there are several words that have a tendency to dominate conversation. Words like yoga, tacos, cenote, bicyclesand mezcalall have their rightful place, but the word Temazcal tends to raise the most eyebrows. It’s a traditional Mayan ceremony and sweat-lodge that serves to renew and purify thespirit — it’s hot, it’s sweaty, and you need to put the work in to get the most out of it. Just as anything else new and different, it’s been commodified for mass consumption, so the prudent traveler is best to be discerning when choosing a ceremony, a location and a guide to work with. One place which keeps Temezcal tradition plus makes it accessible is Maya Tulum.
Maya Tulum is a yoga retreat destination that also has a brick hut designated for Temazacal ceremonies and, though the grounds are not open to the public, non-guests are welcome to participate in the lodge’s ceremonies. Conducted in English by a guide named Yahomiqui, participants are guidedon a hot and sweaty journey through the ceremony’s different parts. Through the use of drums and flutes, smokes and herbs, chanting and singing and sometimes yelling, people are able to shed any “extra baggage” they are carrying around and head down their wellness paths renewed and reenergized. It is an intense experience and something to be immensely respected. “Everything here is about becoming a better person,” said spa manager Valerio, when asked about it. “The staff, the rooms, the food, it’s all designed for magic. This is a place where people come to heal.”
Multi-Vibrational Sound Healing — Sanara Hotel
For those who commit to wellness on a cellular, vibrational level, there’s the oft-unexplored corner of psychophysics called ‘sound healing.’ If you’ve never heard of sound healing before, don’t worry — you’ve probably already partaken without even knowing it! The ‘om’ that leads you into your yoga class or singing to music in the car are both ways of using sound to regulate your body’s vibrations, in the same way that crystal bowls, gongs and rain sticks are used during a sound healing session to promote relaxation. It’s more, however,than pure relaxation. Skilled sound healing practitioners and therapists are able to fine-tune different chakra vibrations by using different instruments, or using them at different pitches.
Sanara Hotel offers sound healings twice a week, and each session runs about 90 minutes and takes place in their beachside yoga studio. I took part in a classthat coincided with summer solstice, and the entire healing experience was tinted pink with messages of universal and unconditional love. At the front of the studio, organizers had set outa dazzling array of vibrational instruments, includingtuning forks and brass singing bowls, and across the room blankets and pillows were neatly stacked. As the practitioner and his daughter wove amongst us, producing mind-melting sounds of all sorts, it was easy to feel truly one with the environment. Bird songs are another example of sound therapy.
Colorful and Rich Smoothie Bowls — RawLove, Matcha Mama
Smoothie Bowls are a craze that Instagram has been quick to adopt, and it’s easy to see why. They are beautiful picturesque creations of blended acai and other berries, eaten with a spoon (rather than a straw) and artfully adorned with fruit, granola and other sweets. They are chilly and refreshing, while feeling light and invigorating and a tasty way to beat the early afternoon heat. Of course, in a place like Tulum, Smoothie Bowls are common, but the very best can be found at both Raw Love Cafe and Matcha Mama. During Tulum’s high season (November – April) these small cafes are bustling, but certainly worth the trip. Located beachside, Raw Love Cafe also offers other vegan fare includingsoups and salads. Matcha Mama has two locations, one in the jungle and the other in the heart of downtown, and their menu is a bit more smoothie-centric. Be sure to bring your camera, because you’ll want to document your time on the jungle hut’s uber-cute (and social media famous) swings.
Healthful, Beachside Cuisine — The Real Coconut
If the saying is true that “real health starts in the kitchen,” then consider posh restaurant The Real Coconut your new General Practitioner. The Real Coconut puts a new twist on old classics to make them gluten, grain and dairy free (and there are many animal free options, too). Coconuts abound in Tulum’s tropical climate and this restaurant puts them to good use, using the coconut milk/water in super-charged smoothies, the coconut flour to craft healthy tortillas, and the coconut sugar to whip up snackable cookies and other sweet treats. Everything The Real Coconut serves is imbued with a tropical sweetness that is notably absent in traditional Mexican fare, but truly complements the complex flavors of the food they serve. The Real Coconut’s appreciation for nourishing, healthful food feels like it comes from the heart and sets The Real Coconut apart from other restaurants that try to achieve a similar vibe, but often come across as pandering. But, what is almost better than the food is that the entire restaurant and plant-covered terrace is open-aired and beachside, so you can order your coconut iced coffees with your feet in the sand and without fear of bloating in your bikini. I nurture a small obsession with their plantain-falafel tacos, but their salads are vibrant, generous and equally as filling. As for their juice bar, I find myself constantly reaching for their medicinal mushroom latte or their lemonade with activated charcoal. Be cautious, though, during my recent visit, two smoothies and a bowl of guacamole cost me nearly $45 USD. Like most restaurants on Tulum Beach, it does add up quickly.
Yoga with a View — Ahau Hotel
If you’re visiting Tulum, it is likely that you’ll partake in at least one yoga class, asin this little corner of Mexico, the types of yoga classes available for walk-ins are numerous and varied. There’s the traditional Vinyasa Yoga class – which focuses on moving the body in flows that are timed with the breath – around every corner, but there are also other styles such as Yin, Aerial, Ashtanga and Hatha. On the beach, there are standalone yoga studios, most associated with hotels, which often means the spaces are grand and the views striking. For instance, Ahau Hotelboasts an elevated studio with a calming view of the lapping ocean tides. The studio is cozy, so classes are kept intimate in the neatly designed half-indoor / half-outdoor space set right above the hotel’s main lobby. Check out Eli’s classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings for a slow-paced class that will ground you and get you back in touch with nature.
Retreats for the Yogini at Heart — Shambala Petit Hotel
One could easily fly into Cancun airport, take the taxi or bus to Tulum, and then quickly piece together a wonderful vacation that features yoga, green juices and educational experiences — but why do all the work yourself when you can go on a yoga retreat and have everything planned out for you? That’s the idea when you sign up for a yoga retreat. Traditionally, yoga retreat attendees are following a beloved teacher, guru, or are interested in learning — or living — a new aspect of yoga in a new and foreign part of the world. The entire itinerary is planned out, from sunrise meditation to sunset yoga, and retreats are perfect for the serious practitioner who wants to deepen their practice or solo traveler who wants the experience of learning with a group. Shambala Petit Hotel is a venue that caters specifically to these types of trips. The small property can only accommodate about 20 people, which keeps the retreats cozy and intimate. The sweet decor and sandy floors, only steps from the beach’s edge, acts as a haven where people from all over the world can converge and experience what a yogic life is all about.
Refresh Your Image — Prep Hair Salon
Wellness is about feeling good on the inside as well at the outside and, of course, we can’t neglect the outside! Tulum is a place where it is easy to feel pretty, whether you are wearing your bikini 24/7 or you are glammed up in your best tunic… but the humidity of southern Mexico can wreck havoc on your hair. I found Prep Hair, a chic little boutique salon, complete with hammocks and wall hangings and woven rope sculptures along friendly stylists, a great spot to “defrizz.” Prep is nestled into a rather nice beach club, so close to the water that the floor is made of sand, and complete with all of your essential beachside shops. You can book Prep’s hair and makeup artists for weddings, if you are one of the many people who flock to Tulum’s pristine beaches to get hitched, or you can stop by to get a trim and a subtle look for a night out. Prep’s head stylist, Karina, works magic with her scissors.
Cleanse Yourself in Holy Water — The Virgin’s Cenote at Clan-Destino
Cenotes are one of the many wonders of the Riviera Maya. Essentially, cenotes are bodies of water that occur when the limestone walls of the area’s many aquifers naturally collapse. The water is clear, pristine, and bubbling straight from below the earth’s surface. At a cenote’s best, they are extremely holy spiritual sites for the Mayan people (often times called the Eyes of the Earth) and at their worst (which is still, honestly, their best) cenotes are delightful swimming holes where people can jump in and cool off on a hot afternoon. There are more than enough cenotes to go around and, while you can cenote-hop from all the popular ones in a single afternoon, it’s something else entirely to find that perfect little hide-out that you have all to yourself. Now, at Clan-Destino, you might not have the cenote to yourself, but it is a place well worth sharing. Part cenote, part bar, part restaurant, part store and part hostel, Clan-Destino is a place where locals and travelers can come to relax, meet other like-minded people and stay up late. It’s raw and gritty in a way that sets itself apart from the other chic places on the beach — Clan-Destino doesn’t try to be something it’s not because what it is, is otherworldly. You can listen to a slew of curated music and dine on their budget-friendly (and simply delicious) menu, of course, but the real draw is their private virgin’s cenote.It is said that the crystalline blue waters are enough to cleanse and revive you and serve to bridge the gap between the many different cultures that converge in this place. While at Clan-Destino, I overheard several people (yes, several) make the bold statement that this was their best place they had ever been in their entire life. When considering the vibe, the candle-lit cenote, I can see why it is just so appealing.
Tulum is a small place with the potential of becoming one of Mexico’s most desirable travel destinations. While the locals and those in the tourism industry work hard to keep the town as authentic as possible, it would be wise for any interested travelers to make a trip now before it falls prey to the same type of mass-marketed Mexican culture that Cancun and Playa Del Carmen boast. If my own experience is any evidence, once you experience Tulum and feel its magic, you’ll be coming back in no time.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Rachel Young is a yoga teacher, a spirited explorer and lover of nature. Her desire to impact social action and change has led her to advocate for many causes close to her heart including literacy/education, animal rights and environmentalism. She loves most to travel, teach yoga across the world, and share her discoveries through writing. Read more of Rachel’s work at therachellaurenyoung.com or Instagram
~ ~ ~ ~