The road from Tulum Pueblo hits the coast near the upper end of the Zona Hotelera, which stretches from the archaeological zone down to the entrance of Sian Ka’an reserve, almost exactly 10 kilometers (6 miles).
The area north of the Tulum/Zona Hotelera junction has two easy-to-reach beach areas that are ideal for people staying in town, at least for now: Most of this beautiful stretch of sand—right up to the ruins, in fact—was bought by developers intending to build a huge condo complex.
Those plans had to be scrapped, thankfully, due to restrictions on high-density development here, but it may be inevitable that this area is given over to boutique resorts and high-end bungalows. They’ll be delightful for guests who can afford them but will make Tulum that much harder for ordinary travelers to enjoy.
Playa El Paraíso
Playa El Paraíso (cell. tel. 984/113-7089, Carr. Tulum–Punta Allen, 2 kilometers/1.2 miles north of junction, www.elparaisotulum.com, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, beach bar 8 p.m.–midnight Thurs.–Sat.) is a popular beach club on a scenic beach of the same name. Once little more than a bar and some hammocks, the beach club has grown popular with tour groups and has morphed into a bustling expanse of lounge chairs, beach beds, and umbrellas (US$2–20/day), with waiters weaving between them. There’s a full restaurant and beach bar, and the nearby water-sports center offers snorkeling, diving, kiteboarding, and more. It’s busy but still wonderfully relaxing.
Playa Mar Caribe
Directly north of Playa El Paraíso is Playa Mar Caribe, named after the rustic bungalows that have long fronted this portion of beach. Broad and unspoiled, this is a great place to come to lay out your towel on the soft white sand, which you share with a picturesque array of moored fishing boats. There are no services here, so be sure to bring snacks and plenty of water. (In a pinch, there’s a restaurant at the neighboring beach club.)
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition