IT is hard to know who recited the first Om or unfurled the first yogamat upon Tulum?s epic beach. But it is true that Tulum, on the southern edge of Mexico?s Riviera Maya (and a healthy distance from the bunkerlike developments there) is a hot spot for yoga tourists. Don?t be afraid if you don?t know your downward dog from your dolphin: it?s more of a yoga aesthetic that prevails here, a mood and a look that draws misty-eyed boomer professionals (heavy on the fashion and publishing industries) with fond memories of youthful forays to Thailand for Ko Phangan?s full moon festival ? or maybe just those who wish they?d hit that Lonely Planet trail when their knees could still take it. Tulum is a strip of beach and jungle peppered with stylish haute-bohemian huts that are off the grid and just a few hours by plane from New York or Los Angeles. And instead of hallucinogens to bend your mind, there is stunning (and pricey) cuisine that reflects the eclectic tastes of the expats ? from Italy, France, Germany and the two coasts of the United States ? who have settled here.
1) FIRST, DIAL IT DOWN
Be an exhibitionist and have a massage at Ocho Tulum (52-998-282-8399; www.ochotulum.com), one of the newer so-called eco-resorts (a meaningless but oft-deployed marketing phrase here, as all the hotels are off the grid and run on wind power and generators). In any case, Ocho has two alluring palapas massage rooms planted just above high tide. They?re hung, atmospherically, with sheer white curtains, so you won?t be showing much, and the breeze is redress for any lingering travel fug. The patented Ocho Massage ? a pu pu platter of treatments like reflexology, a deep tissue massage and a facial ? is $110 for an hour and a half (dollars are widely accepted in Tulum). Afterwards, you can stagger up to Ocho?s restaurant deck and have a margarita, 65 pesos (about $4.80 at 13.48 pesos to the dollar); the Russian Gypsy card reading by Crystal Mitchell Hinojosa ? and the view ? are free.
2) BOHEMIAN GROVE
Casa Violeta (52-1-984-879-0294;www.casavioletatulum.com), a thatch-roofed, palm-boughed, comely one-room restaurant, is a fine example of Tulum?s architectural vernacular ? think ?Gilligan?s Island,? as decorated by Stevie Nicks. The room is draped in white canvas and hung with the local specialty: pendant lights made from polished coconut shells. What you want is the zucchini carpaccio (shaved zucchini with olive oil, pine nuts and Parmesan) and the aqua pazzo, white fish (which unfortunately tends to be frozen not fresh, but is still delicious) cooked with tomatoes, capers and olives. Dinner for two is about $65.
3) INTO THE BLUE
Cool down at the Gran Cenote, 20 minutes from Tulum (drive through the lights on the way to Cob?; you?ll see the Gran Cenote sign on your right after about 2.5 miles). Cenotes ? the word evolved from the Mayan ?dzonot,? which means ?well? ? are freshwater caves and underground rivers you can snorkel or dive in. This one is rather small and sweet, featuring all the usual suspects: stalagmites, stalactites and lots of tourists just like you. Entrance fee, 100 pesos; masks, snorkels and flippers (but you don?t really need flippers) are 60 pesos a set.
4) STELLAR CEVICHE
The ceviche at Ocho Tulum is piquant-flavored and gorgeous: a two-fisted goblet of shrimp, grouper, avocado and corn with adorable tendrils of octopus crawling over the edges (and tossed with ginger, coriander and lemon). Order it with the just-made guacamole, and a cold one (preferably a Modelo Especial), and watch the kite surfersskidding over the waves in front. Lunch for two is about $30.
5) AN ANCIENT PORT
Perched on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean, the Tulum ruins ? an ancient Mayan port city ? are nonetheless small beer compared with those at Chich?n Itz? (three hours away), but you can experience them in an hour, thus scratching a cultural itch without expending too much effort. A 10-minute drive will bring you there (make a right on 307; the ruins are the first right after the lights). Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (no entry after 4:30 p.m.) About 40 pesos, plus 30 pesos to park.
6) A MODERN STRIP MALL
Perambulate the Tulum strip ? Avenida Tulum (make a left on 307 from the ruins and head through the traffic lights) ? with its identical concrete tchotchke stalls all selling exactly the same thing: knotted friendship bracelets, coconut pendant lights (just like those at Casa Violeta!), dream catchers, painted pottery, hammocks and those naif parchment paintings of Mexican weddings and other quotidian affairs. Don?t sneer: You know you?ll be bringing home at least one of these items.
7) LOUNGE CULTURE
In the midst of souvenirland, at the southernmost end of the strip, is Ginger (Avenida Tulum between Jupiter and Acuario Streets; 52-1-984-116-4033), improbably groovy-looking, like the lounge of a boutique hotel (and with a stunning, pan-global menu to match). Have a cosmopolitan ($5) at a sidewalk table, along with the coconut-crusted salmon appetizer, a crunchy-tender, just-big-enough bite in a mango-ginger coulis ($2.50).
8) STRICTLY ITALIAN
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: