It was 15 years ago that I fell in love with a hidden beach paradise in Mexico….Tulum. While almost all tourists went to popular seaside resorts such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen, a handful of fortune seekers went off the beaten track to a place called Tulum, which was the place to be for adventurers, hedonists and hippies. Tulum itself wasn’t much to speak of, there was the tiny village, located a bit more inland, a large strip with some bars, restaurants, shops and a small supermarket. The big attraction was the gorgeous beach…. rarely had I seen such a stunning coastline, which seemed to be never ending (it’s been my #1 beach for all those years) and along the dirt road that ran parallel to the beach were some relaxed little hotels and ditto beach bars. At the time, I was staying at Zamas, one of the first accommodations in Tulum, with trendy vibes.
When I was planning my trip to Mexico, I hesitated about going back to this place that had meant so much to me, for over the years Tulum has grown into one of the most instagrammable destinations, where one after the other millennial has settled down. I was afraid of being disappointed, but also curious to witness first-hand what the hype was all about.
And as it turned out… Zamas still existed, in fact it is still going strong, this was the final push I needed: Zamas revisited! And so it happened!
Usually, I have a superb memory for surroundings and routes, but upon my arrival in Tulum Town I failed desperately: what had once been a semi-paved road was now a dual carriageway, complete with traffic controllers. Needless to say, I lost my way immediately! Things didn’t improve much when I headed for the beach, for here I discovered another paved road, complete with traffic jams during rush hour. Plus I had to be careful not to drive some hipster straight off his bicycle…
But then I recognise what’s ahead of me….. Zamas, tucked away in a tiny bay with several cabañas situated on the beach side, several cabins nestled in the palm grove, some larger accommodations on the other side of the road and the super friendly restaurant. Even the coloured chairs are still there… it feels like coming home. Daniel and Susan are still the proud owners of this lovely beach paradise. Years ago, they traded San Francisco for a piece of land here in Mexico. They started from scratch, with limited means, for there was no electricity, and constantly competing against the elements. Their children grew up here and daughter Chelsea has even returned to the nest (after several journeys) to run the day-to-day business. Of course, the cabañas and the restaurant have been renovated and modernised over the years, so I slept in the most comfortable bed of my whole trip. The new terrace in front of the restaurant, with its romantic view of the ocean, is a real asset, as is the swimming pool across the street.
But above all, it is wonderful to see how Daniel, Susan and Chelsea have succeeded in keeping the authentic Zamas vibe alive…. and what I considered to be something of a bummer 15 years ago, the fact that it is a bit of a walk to the vast beach, is now an added bonus to me. For this is what makes Zamas a tiny oasis compared to the rest of the extremely crowded Tulum beach side. The beach and ocean are just as gorgeous as I remember, but every square meter has been packed with trendy hangouts and ditto hotels. …. such an overkill of recycled driftwood! In my opinion, this diminishes Tulum’s authenticity and turns it into a marketing hype that feeds on social media and is in sharp contrast with the magical beach destination it once was. But it may well be that I have outgrown the target group J, as I am no longer a young hipster and my memories from when I was here before naturally influence my perception. For when I block out the rest, it is lovely to be here and it’s a welcome change from the more quiet beaches that I visit on this trip.
So I definitely had a wonderful time. This place is hip and happening, there’s plenty to do and everything is beautifully styled. Tulum Town in particular has become very nice, for this is where the locals hang out and it has some great little restaurants and bars. And Zamas is a perfect starting point from which to immerse yourself in the Tulum scene. Above all, it is definitely a Local Hideaway.
It is the place to relax, for the going is slow around here. ‘Barefoot on the beach’ is the motto, the restaurant offers a great menu and it is lovely to be sipping a drink while listening to some live ‘tunes’ and watching the spectacular sunset.
I’ll bet that in a decade or so the Tulum hype will have blown over and Zamas will still be standing… as solid as a Mayan temple it will definitely stand the test of time!