Try Tulum, Mexico, for white-sand beaches, turquoise water and ancient ruins

Ancient Mayan ruins tower over white-sand Caribbean beaches in Tulum, Mexico.

Ancient Mayan ruins tower over white-sand Caribbean beaches in Tulum, Mexico. Source: ThinkStock

?TEN years ago, Tulum was completely different,? someone standing next to us at the coffee stall says. ?Much more relaxed.? Frankly, if I were more relaxed, I?d require resuscitation. We?re leaning on a bar covered in brightly flowered oilcloth, jungle in front of us and glistening white-sand beach behind, cradling cups of coffee the barista promised would be ?strong, like engine oil?. They are. We?ve already swum in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean this morning, and we?re all set for a frantic, action-packed day of? lazing in hammocks and sipping from coconut shells, the contents of which will become more alcoholic as the sun goes down. I considered a yoga class, but decided that would be too energetic. Lady, how is this not relaxing?

Tulum is Mexico?s most glamorous destination, beloved of stylish global gypsies (including this magazine?s fashion editor) and burnt-out big city dwellers. On the Caribbean side of the Yucat?n Peninsula, it?s an easy 90-minute drive from Canc?n airport ? and far, far more upmarket, allowing you to bust out your best boho beach chic.

Tulum beach bliss. Photography: Lonely Planet Mexico.

Tulum beach bliss. Photography: Lonely Planet Mexico. Source: Supplied

Avoid Tulum town proper, which is a couple of kilometres inland, and stay in the beachside hotel zone. Don?t fret: it?s the opposite of Canc?n?s Zona Hotelera, where endless high-rise blocks blight the once-beautiful coastline. Here, hotels and restaurants line a jungly, winding road, and are mostly inspired by palapas, local thatch-roofed, open-sided buildings perfect for catching ocean breezes. (The road is also liberally besprinkled with brutal, suspension-smashing speed bumps, reminding you that life here is best lived in the slow lane.)

Tulum?s beachy, rustic-luxury aesthetic is in full bloom in the oceanfront casitas at Papaya Playa Project or Casa Violeta hotels. Feeling flush? The ultra-glamorous Be Tulum is your spot. If you?re even slightly more energetic than I, you can practise yoga in the hotels? dedicated pavilions, or try Papaya Playa Project?s temazcal, a Mexican sweat lodge. Whatevs ? I?m only here for the hammocks.

Oh, and the food, of course. My pick is La Zebra, which serves authentic, richly flavoured food you can consume outside on the beach, at folk-art-style handpainted tables, or in a bandstand strewn with tanned bodies lounging on Caribbean-coloured cushions.

Hit up La Fourn?e patisserie for pastries and coffee, and if you?re tired of ocean views (yeah, right), Restaurare, on the road?s jungle side, serves vegan fare even my meat-loving man-friend approved of, complete with floorboards laid haphazardly on bare earth, and fairy lights and lanterns glowing in the trees. Does it all sound idyllic? Sorry ? it totally is. (Except the mozzies ? bring bug spray and lots of it.)

Papaya Playa Project hotel, Tulum, Mexico. Picture: Supplied

Papaya Playa Project hotel, Tulum, Mexico. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied

We rented a scooter to chug 10 minutes up the road to the 13th-century Mayan ruins, which stand on a clifftop overlooking the ocean. Even in a tropical downpour, these were spectacular. If they whet your appetite for local history, which is ubiquitous and breathtaking, make it a two-stop trip. Your second base should be in nearby Valladolid, a pretty inland town with easy access to the Chich?n Itz? pyramids, voted one of the seven new wonders of the world, and Ek Balam, an eerily evocative, half-excavated temple complex nestled in thick jungle. Back in Tulum, our trusty scooter also took us to a couple of the nearby cenotes, vine-wreathed sinkholes filled with crystal-clear fresh water you can swim in. Or take a boat trip into the Sian Ka?an Biosphere Reserve, a pristine environment of lagoons, reefs and rivers ? and then head back to your hammock. And then: yoga, swim, relax. Rinse and repeat.

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