Tulum was just a tiny village with mud roads until a few years ago and now the overspill of Cancun and Playa del Carmen is having its effect down here too. Previously, it was famous only for the Mayan ruins that overlook the Caribbean sea here and coaches still arrive each day loaded with tourists and cameras.
Truth be told, the ruins are a bit dull compared to places like Palenque but the beach here is amazing. The water is very clear and turquoise and a protective reef a kilometre out keeps the waves down. Only cabanas can be built near the sands so Tulum’s beach, at least, is free from the stains of development.
Go back a little towards the ruins though and you’ll see plenty of hotels, many of them simply a front for the cocaine traffic that passes through the Yucatan. Occasionally, people are found brutally murdered here when there’s a squabble between traffickers.
Tulum village is one long road which now hosts some guesthouses, cabanas, a couple of bars, restaurants and shops. Travelers pass through here and eat some shrimp imported from Thailand, sipping beer and checking out silver rings made by a local artisan. Go one block back though and the standard of living drops a few notches and many of the locals are still living in tin roof palapas, coughing on the dust.
Tulum is a backpacker ghetto and a place where people drink too much, get stoned and go to the beach. Rent is pretty high ($200 a month) but on the plus side if you hang around here you’ll get to know everyone pretty fast. There’s a scene of cool Mexicans and Westerners who come here each winter and there are some good souls around.
There are a couple of bars in town that have live music and djs and from Thursday-Sunday parties are organised at places along the beach – some of these can be fun if, that is, you like to hear salsa, techno, 80’s and reggae one after the other.
The drag is that the beach is 6km away and that there isn’t much to do except get drunk. That makes for an easy way of life but the small town politics can be a drag after a while and there are funkier places to hang out.