Robert and I just returned from a week in the Yucatan Peninsula. The first stop on our itinerary was Tulum. Located approximately two hours south of Cancun, Tulum is known primarily for its striking pre-Columbian Mayan ruins. Tulum’s ruins are smaller than other Maya sites in the vicinity, but it is the setting – high upon a cliff overlooking the turquoise blue sea – that sets these ruins apart. Tulum also has beautiful white sand beaches making it an ideal destination for tourists. Long-time visitors will tell you how much Tulum has grown over the years. That may be true, but we still managed to find plenty of small town charm in the form of friendly locals, quaint sidewalk cafes and an unhurried pace.

We stayed at Cabanas Copal which is probably best described as one step above camping. Copal’s rustic huts don’t have electricity and are very open to the elements. If the idea of finding a crab hiding out in your bathroom or bats sleeping in the thatches above you isn’t your idea of fun, you should probably look elsewhere. What Copal lacks in creature comforts (human creatures, that is) they more than make up for with their beautiful surroundings. Our cabana was located on a small cliff above a lovely, secluded beach. Imagine falling asleep to the sound of the surf and waking up to a beautiful Caribbean sunrise each day. Copal’s bar, set right above the beach, proved to be the perfect spot for sipping margaritas and Leon’s (Robert’s new favorite Mexican beer). I would skip the food, though; they offer pretty typical, uninspired beach cuisine. Fortunately, for us, there were plenty of delicious restaurants nearby.

We ate breakfast twice at Trece Lunas, a little coffeeshop/art gallery located not far down the beach road from our cabana. It is a friendly, laid back place that is quite popular with tourists in the area. Although they serve lunch and dinner, breakfast seems to be the name of the game here. Breakfasts at Trece Lunas are tasty, wholesome and reasonably priced. I enjoyed the tropical fruit with yogurt and granola one day and eggs poached in “Trece Lunas sauce” (a spicy tomato sauce) another day. Robert had the chorizo scramble his first day and followed that up with French toast the next day. Their sandwich board boasts “the best coffee on the beach.” I didn’t try all of the coffee in Tulum, but I can report that the coffee at Trece Lunas was pretty darn good. If you are looking for a nice, relaxing place to start your day, Trece Lunas is a great choice. I’d recommend getting there early as we watched it fill to capacity on both our visits.

Antojitos Dona Tere is a small sidewalk stand in Tulum Pueblo that specializes in masa-related snacks (antojitos means snacks in Spanish). Sopes, tacos, tostadas; they have it all. This place is popular with the locals so you may have to wait for a table (there are only three). Our waiter didn’t speak any English, and our Spanish is embarrassingly minimal, so we ordered by pointing at what the people next to us were eating. I later learned that what we had are called huaraches. Huaraches are flat, oval masa cakes that are grilled and then topped with various ingredients. They are named after the popular Mexican sandals that they resemble. At Antojitos Dona Tere, the huaraches come topped with refried black beans, cheese and your choice of one or two toppings. Robert ordered puerco (pork) and I had the nopal (cactus). I also ordered an agua de Jamaica (hibiscus tea). What a delicious meal! The grilled masa had an amazing toasted corn flavor, and the toppings were hearty and delicious. The accompanying salsa was very spicy; luckily they serve plenty of sour cream on the side which helps to cool the burn. The only downside was that the huaraches were a little tough to eat. I had a hard time getting my knife through the crispy bottom layer of masa. Something smaller that could be picked up, such as a sope, would have made things easier. Still, it was hard to find fault with this scrumptious meal.

We stopped by El Mariachi for a beer one night and decided to return for lunch after hearing such wonderful things about their chicken tacos. Like Antojitos Dona Tere, El Mariachi is located in Tulum Pueblo. Eating in town, far away from the touristy beach zone, you get a better mix of locals and tourists. El Mariachi is a fairly large restaurant with an open kitchen where you can watch your food being prepared. The menu is extensive and features many typical Mexican dishes as well as a few surprises. Robert, naturally, ordered the chicken tacos. I opted for the tostadas de camaron: crisp corn tortillas topped with guacamole and fresh shrimp ceviche. The ceviche was very light and refreshing. With a chilled Mexican lager, the tostadas de camaron made for a near-perfect lunch.

On our last night in Tulum, we headed out to El Tabano for a more “upscale” meal (upscale in Tulum terms meaning wear your nicer flip flops). El Tabano is located across from the Hemingway resort, a couple of kilometers down the beach road. The foodies on Chowhound rave about this place so of course I had to check it out. Despite being right next to the road, it has a very romantic, intimate atmosphere. The majority of tables are set in an outdoor garden. Twinkly lights and candles provide ambiance. The chalkboard menu is written in Spanish and features unique dishes inspired by Mexican ingredients. The staff are more than happy to discuss the menu and to help you choose your dish (which is a good thing since the menu is in a rather awkward location behind a couple of tables – to read it, you basically have to hover over some poor souls trying to enjoy their meals). We started off by sharing potato croquettes and a mixed vegetable salad. Robert had the pork in achiote: slow-cooked pork served in a rich, deep red sauce seasoned with just a hint of cinnamon. He described it as a cross between New Mexican carne adovada and a Moroccan pork stew. I ordered the camaron havanero: seared prawns on a bed of caramelized onions and tomatoes topped with a large dollop of some sort of spice paste. I have no idea what was in the spice paste, but its complex, sweet, spicy flavor complemented the juicy prawns perfectly. It was a delicious meal overall and a fantastic way to close out the Tulum portion of our trip!

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