Tulum sits at the end of 120km of pristine coastline that makes up the Riviera Maya. The beach road is lined on one side by restaurants dotted amongst verdant jungle, and on the other side resorts face the turquoise Caribbean sea and miles of fine white sand. It feels untouched by the traps of tourism and encourages one to switch off from technology and get back to nature. A true bohemian town where you can do as much or as little as you please.
With limited time and one of the most exquisite beaches I have ever seen, most of our days were spent getting a good dose of Vitamin D and swimming in the warm turquoise Caribbean sea. One afternoon we grabbed one of the Be Tulum bikes reserved for guests and rode the length of the beach road before stopping for a much-needed rest and refuel at one of the local restaurants.
Tulum is not all lazy beach days though. If you are looking for adventure and a dose of culture, you can visit the ruins of Chichen Itza, Coba and Tulum. Chichen Itza is perhaps the most famous of the Mayan ruins, with the Kukulkan Pyramid at Chichen Itza named one of the new seven wonders of the world. The site is one of the most visited in all of Mexico, covers roughly 5 kilometres and is one of the best preserved examples of Mayan architecture. Visiting the site gives you a sense of the sheer scale of Mayan history. The ruins of Coba lie 44km northwest of Tulum and are unique as many of the estimated 6,500 structures are yet to be uncovered. The sheer scale of the site covers over 80km and is set around two lagoons. It is best traversed by bikes, which are available to hire. You can also climb 130 steps to the top of the pyramid and for your efforts you are rewarded with stunning views across the jungle canopy.
With limited time in Tulum, we elected to visit the ruins of Tulum, which means fence or wall in the Mayan language, with a local guide. One of the smallest of the Mayan ruins, but perhaps one of the most beautiful; these ruins are built on the cliff tops of one of the most stunning beaches in all of the Riviera Maya. I would recommend visiting the ruins on a private tour for a more personalised experience and ideally early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the hordes of tour buses that flock to the site on a daily basis. These ruins were one of the last built (around 800 years ago) during a time when the power of the Mayans was waning and served as an important trading port as well as a sacred site. El Castillo, which was originally thought to be just a temple, but now seems to have also served as a lookout for guiding canoes into the cove below. The Temple of the Frescoes which contains some of the best preserved examples of Mayan art and also served as an observatory for tracking the movements of the sun and the Temple of the Descending God are the three most famous buildings. It was an impressive site and a good way to get a sense of Mayan culture in the limited time we had.
Tulum is also home to a number of cenotes, which are underground sinkholes that have formed by the limestone terrain above collapsing into the underground network of caves and rivers. The water is incredibly clear and popular with both diving and snorkelling enthusiasts. One of the most visited in Tulum in Dos Ojos, which is 13km from Tulum and features two circular cenotes that create over 415m of underground caves. Both of the cenotes are easily accessed by wooden decks with stairs, with the right being better for snorkelling and swimming. The stalactites and stalagmites combined with the stunning blue shimmering waters make this an amazing and different swimming experience. Entrance to the site is around 100 pesos ($8-$10).
There are a number of great restaurants along the beach road in Tulum, which are either accessed by foot or by bicycle. I was already dying to try Hartwood, after reading that it was the best restaurant the editor of Conde Nast Traveller had ever been to. Huge call and I could not wait to check it out. Unfortunately I did not manage to snag a coveted table at Hartwood during my stay, so I will share a few tips to ensure the same fate does not befall you. Hartwood is closed on a Monday and Tuesday, so try to plan your stay accordingly. Next they are not joking when hotels tell you to head to Hartwood at 5:30pm…sure I thought, it seems relatively quiet, it’s not peak tourist season and who honestly eats that early? So we took a chance and went later, much too late looking back. One of my girlfriends raced off on the bike after we realised we might have missed our chance. I eventually caught up and felt my stomach fall as she looked at me and shook her head. Rightly or wrongly, my whole trip to Tulum had been built around dining at Hartwood. Where to now? Swallowing my disappointment, we rode on a short distance and stopped at Gitano. This may have just been a most fortuitous decision…
Walking down the stone path and under the leafy arch with neon pink ‘Gitano’ sign, we were seated in the balmy summer air at one of the wooden tables. The long bar sits under a rustic canopy in the centre of the restaurant and to the left as you enter is a lounge area for casual cocktails, which sits under a tangle of jungle and palm trees and is illuminated by a mirrored disco ball. Seemingly incongruous and yet it works.
The menu is delicious! There were a number of amazing dishes that I couldn’t wait to try, with all designed for sharing. Ordering cocktails and perusing the menu we settled on:
- TOTOPOS – CORN CHIPS, GUACAMOLE, PICO DE GALLO, SIKIL P’AK; who doesn’t love fresh avocado with crunchy tostadas and a fresh pico de gallo of tomatoes, onion and chilli. A good way to get the tastebuds singing.
- TOSTADAS – ROASTED CHICKEN, CHIPOTLE, TOMATO, ONION; these were delicious. The perfect mix of crunchy tostadas with juicy plump chicken that has a welcome hit of warmth on the tongue from the chipotle, finished with zingy avocado and more fresh pico de gallo.
- SHRIMP TACOS – SHRIMP, CHARRED TOMATO; with shrimp marinated in charred tomatoes this taco had a smoky flavour. The addition of fresh coriander was an unexpected but welcome surprise.
- FISH TACOS – WHITE FISH, SALSA VERDE; out of all the entrees we tried this was the unanimous favourite. Delicious, perfectly cooked and melt in the mouth fish with tangy salsa verde. A match made in heaven!
- PORK SHANK – GRILLED PINEAPPLE; this was the standout main. A hefty pork shank that had been slow cooked on the bone for hours, resulting in the most melt in your mouth, moist pork that literally fell off the bone. The grilled pineapple added a nice hint of sweetness. Faultless!
- GRILLED STEAK – CHIMICHURRI; this was also another outstanding dish. Perfectly cooked, juicy steak covered in a generous helping of chimichurri sauce of finely chopped parsley, garlic, olive oil, oregano and vinegar. Yum!
Each plate is presented rustically on wooden boards and as the sun goes down and night falls across Tulum we enjoy our meal by candlelight. With bellies almost bursting we consider dessert, but unfortunately the standout choice is sold out for the evening. Such a shame as the chocolate and chile brownie with mezcal cream would have been amazing I am sure. Although I originally thought nothing could ease my disappointment of not being able to eat at Hartwood, this turned out to be a dark horse and may have just been my most memorable dining experience.
Other restaurants to check out in Tulum include:
- Casa Banana- further up the beach road this is a lovely restaurant complete with wood fired ovens and a well stocked bar. A worthwhile choice for both lunch and dinner with a delicious ceviche of mixed seafood.
- The restaurant at Be Tulum- possibly the best fish tacos we experienced all trip. Well worth trying, especially for late afternoon munchies looking out at the pristine turquoise ocean.
- El Capitan in Tulum town- well worth heading into town on one of the evenings and our taxi driver recommended this restaurant. Standout dishes were the ceviche, the grilled octopus which was some of the best I have ever had and the mexican seafood soup with its hit of chilli and rich tomato broth.
- Posada Margherita- one of the restaurant staff nominated this little gem for some of the best Italian in Tulum, not quite as good as his mother’s but very very close.
All in all Tulum offers something for everyone, far from being over commercialised it offers something for beach babes, culture vultures and adrenalin junkies. Do yourself a favour and add Tulum to your bucket list. You will not be disappointed.
After the bright lights and craziness of Vegas and an unfortunate three hour delay in Mexico City, my arrival in Tulum was a much needed and welcome relief. Although I arrived under the cloak of darkness, an immediate sense of peace washed over me. The smell of salty sea air hit my nostrils and in the half light I could see we had arrived somewhere truly special. I couldn’t wait to wake up and explore the next day.
Our home for the first three nights of our Mexican vacay was the delightful Be Tulum. Robinson Crusoe would have been pleased as punch to find himself marooned at Be Tulum. An adults only paradise that is situated almost at the end of the beach road, bordering the Sian Ka’an reserve. With just twenty exclusive suites spread throughout five two storey modules, this property is eco-luxury and beach-chic at its very best. The architecture takes its inspiration from the natural surroundings. The rooms feature Brazilian wood floors, natural linens and cowhide rugs with luxe leather directors chairs providing an inviting place to rest awhile. Marble bathrooms with an indoor and outdoor shower are well appointed and all bath products are derived from natural ingredients. Rooms on the ground floor feature a turquoise mosaic tiled plunge pool nestled in the palm fronds and hammocks hanging from the trees invite one to while away the hours. Room 16 and 20 feature rooftop swimming pools and afford 360 degree views of the ocean and neighbouring Sian Ka’an reserve. There is no TV in sight, no phone signal and limited Wi-Fi. Rooms are both air-conditioned and fan cooled. This is truly a place to switch off, relax and commune with nature.
Following the wooden planks that meander throughout the property, you arrive at the two storey restaurant and rooftop bar. An infinity swimming pool sits to the right; strategically placed to peek through the palm trees as the turquoise waters lap at the fine white sand in the distance. Breakfast each morning is taken at wooden tables with directors chairs perched in the sand. Each morning breakfast begins with fresh fruit and a pastry basket with homemade jams, with a range of egg dishes on offer including omelettes, chilaquiles (fried tortilla chips with salsa, avocado, cheese and eggs) and scrambled eggs with refried beans. The beach club offers a range of double lounge beds either in full sun for sun-worshippers or under the cover of a natural canopy. There are weather proof beanbags and blue and yellow Acapulco lounge chairs for socialising.
The restaurant serves up fresh and tasty Mexican classics throughout the day and many of the herbs and vegetables are grown sustainably in the property’s vegetable gardens. The eggs are collected fresh each morning from the resident chickens. Everywhere you look there are subtle details; coconuts piled up by the bar just waiting to have their delicious nectar drunk, a lone wooden boat nestled into a palm tree, wooden discs daring guests to ‘smile’ hang from the trees and chalkboards in the rooftop bar remind guests to ‘collect moments not things’. Furniture is haphazard and successfully mixes antique flea market pieces with contemporary white Eames chairs. The staff are friendly, helpful and know enough English to get by, though some basic Spanish phrases certainly wouldn’t go astray.
Be Tulum offers a different activity each day, from acoustic music each Tuesday in the rooftop bar as the sun sets to movie nights on the beach on Wednesdays and flamenco nights on Fridays. Saturdays and Sundays give way to DJ beats and more live music. The property has partnered with Yaan Wellness Spa across the road which offers morning treetop yoga each day and a menu of tempting spa treatments and natural healing remedies. Yaan was a gorgeous, healing space and the treetop yoga was one of my favourite experiences from my time in Tulum.
It is hard to put such a special experience into words, so I will let the accompanying images and photo diary further tell the story. Be Tulum is truly paradise found and I cannot wait to go back and spend a week recharging my batteries.
Be Tulum is one of the most luxurious options in Tulum. If your budget doesn’t quite allow for a stay here (though it is worth every penny) I also recommend checking out Rosa del Viento, Coco Tulum and Papaya Playa Project.
Barren desert gives way to a larger than life, fantasy land for adults. Vegas. The Strip. The City of Sin. Home to some of the largest hotels in the world, with more than 62,000 rooms and counting, the Las Vegas Strip stretches over 6.8 kilometres. By day Vegas resembles a ghost city; it is perhaps the only street in the world where you can be in New York one minute, Paris the next and finish in Egypt. As night falls, the excitement is palpable; thousands of flashing neon lights burn bright like sunshine. Welcome to the party! Everything in Vegas is super-sized…the hotels, the food, the drinks, the casinos and the clubs. Heading home as the first rays of sunshine break across the sky is not only encouraged, but expected.
This was my fourth visit to Vegas and stepping off the plane excitement coursed through my veins. I was reuniting with my high school friend to begin our much planned and anticipated ‘girls vacay’ and where better to start than Vegas for Memorial Day Weekend. The next three days passed by in a blur…lazing by the pool, sipping super-sized cocktails, spending hours getting ready together for the night ahead, trying out different outfits and doing our hair and make-up as music pumped through the room. Just like we had many years ago, as school finished and uni began. Vegas truly is the city that never sleeps, we often didn’t head out to dinner until 9-10pm, eager to fuel our bodies for a long night of dancing.
Our home in Las Vegas was The Aria Resort, which has long been one of my favourite properties due to the super plush and well appointed rooms, myriad restaurants, stunning pools and convenient location in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip. We were very fortunate to have interconnecting rooms, which allowed us to create a large apartment and the floor to ceiling windows provided jaw dropping views of the bright lights of Vegas. The bed was much like I imagine it would be to sleep in pillowy soft clouds- that is, when we eventually got to sleep! And the marble bathroom with double sinks and plenty of storage was perfect for four girls hitting the city each night.
Other hotels I recommend checking out in Las Vegas are The Cosmopolitan, Mandarin Oriental (perfect if you are looking for luxury without the gaming), The Wynn and Encore Las Vegas and the grand dame of Las Vegas, The Bellagio. The Cromwell was the newest hotel to open during my stay and the SLS Las Vegas is due to debut this coming September.
Dining in Las Vegas has evolved too. Loving food as much as I do, I remember being told once that I wouldn’t find any great food in Vegas. Boy were they wrong! Almost every celebrity chef worth his weight has taken up residence on The Strip, often with multiple dining venues offering something for everyone’s taste and budget. And let’s not forgot those famous buffets bursting with every food imaginable. In an effort to help you navigate the culinary minefield these are my recommendations:
- Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria and Cucina at The Crystals Shopping Centre (next door to The Aria): as the name suggests this offers delicious pizza and fresh pasta dishes with a terrific cocktail menu
- Looking to impress someone special? Look no further than Twist by Pierre Gagnaire at the Mandarin Oriental. This is Pierre’s only restaurant in the US.
- Craving French bistro classics? Head to Bouchon Bistro at The Venetian. Do yourself a favour and order the roast chicken which comes with the most divine chicken jus.
- Las Vegas loves Japanese and there are a number of places to try. There is Blue Ribbon Sushi at The Cosmopolitan, Nobu at Caesar’s or for fresh, tasty sushi without the outrageous price tag try Sushi Samba at The Venetian.
- For Asian fusion I recommend heading to Tao Asian Bistro at The Venetian or Hakkasan at MGM. What’s not to love about Hakkasan: an amazing fitout, delicious left of centre cocktails and tasty food. Hakkasan was my dining highlight this time around, with the standout dishes being the Jasmine tea smoked beef short rib and the crispy duck salad.
- Perhaps you have had a big night and are craving a juicy burger? Try BurGR by Gordon Ramsay at Planet Hollywood.
- Craving Mexican? Try El Segundo Sol at Fashion Show Mall or Cabo Wabo Cantina at Planet Hollywood.
- Looking to go all out and give the sin of gluttony a run? Then head to one of the famous Las Vegas buffets and eat until you burst. Two of the best are Bacchanal at Caesars Palace and Wicked Spoon at The Cosmopolitan.
Las Vegas has some of the best nightclubs I have been to anywhere in the world. Attracting some of the biggest DJs around the world Las Vegas is a fun place to party. A word to the wise, Vegas loves girls. It may seem a little sexist, but a group of girls will always be given front of line VIP treatment. Sorry boys! If you do come to Vegas as a group of guys I would suggest either making contact with guest list promoters at each club or booking yourself a table at one of the clubs. Prices for tables do vary depending on the popularity of the club and the DJ playing but it would not be uncommon to spend upwards of $7K for a hosted table with various spirits. Tables usually hold at least ten people and given that a single vodka can cost $20 plus tips suddenly a table becomes a wise investment for a large group. Do your research beforehand and find out what DJ’s will be playing while you are in Vegas. Same goes for live shows and performances. Vegas is the home of fantastic entertainment! We were extremely fortunate to see both David Guetta and Calvin Harris during our time in Vegas, huge DJ’s that would generally cost a few hundred to see here in Australia. With some many bars and nightclubs where does one start? These are a few of my faves:
- HYDE at The Bellagio: a stunning bar come nightclub with an expansive terrace looking on to the famous fountains of Bellagio. This is THE place to see the fountains in all their glory.
- Mandarin Bar at The Mandarin Oriental: affording sweeping views of the Las Vegas Strip this is a classy cocktail and tapas venue located on level 23 of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Enjoy live jazz every Sunday from 6pm.
- XS at The Wynn: one of my favourite Las Vegas clubs this is a stunning indoor/outdoor venue built around the turquoise waters of the Encore Pool. Attracting some of the biggest names on the DJ circuit this is one of the best places to party in Sin City.
- Hakkasan: A stunning Asian influenced design with over three floors of dance space. Much like XS this attracts some big names with DJ’s perched high over the adoring crowds below. Expect to see crazy ticker tape fall from the heavens, smoke machines and advanced lighting installations and giant bouncy balls soar over the thriving crowd. This is the place to see and be seen.
- Drai’s Las Vegas: The newest club on The Strip and the first rooftop beach club and night club rolled into one, The Cromwell has billed this as the next biggest thing. I didn’t get a chance to check this out, but the infinity pool jutting out over The Strip looks stunning.
If dancing all night leaves you hungry for more and you happen to be in Vegas between Friday and Sunday, brace yourself for the spectacle that is the Vegas Pool Party Scene. Guests cool off to the sounds of driving DJ beats while enjoying super-sized alcoholic sippy cups and it wouldn’t be a pool party without a few inflatable pool toys! Even heading to the pool on a normal day is sure to be an eye opening experience. Preparing for the Las Vegas Pool Scene is serious business….guys compete in some sort of unspoken Mr Universe competition to see who has the best six pack, bulging biceps and tanned physique. And the girls…it seems swimming in Vegas requires serious preparation. Some of these girls must spend hours getting ready for a day at the pool. Freshly applied shimmering tan, tiny cozzies in the brightest of summer hues, chunky heels and gaudy gold jewels and diamonds with bling encrusted sunglasses. Coming from Australia, where a day at the beach means wearing the latest surf brand bikini and Havianas, Vegas takes some getting used to.
If you are eager to check out the pool party scene I would suggest the following:
- Wet Republic at MGM: Over 53,000 square feet of space makes Wet Republic one of the biggest and best pool parties around. The DJ booth is the centrepiece and home to resident DJ’s Tiesto, Steve Aoki and Calvin Harris.
- Liquid Lounge at The Aria: Set off to the side of the huge Aria pool complex is Liquid Lounge. With eight private cabanas and two pools provide a more intimate pool party experience.
- Encore Beach Club at The Wynn: Still arguably one of the best pool scenes in Vegas, this is a stunning beach club complete with a three-tiered pool, ‘lily pad’ water loungers, cabanas and eight ultra-luxe two storey bungalows.
- Drai’s Beach Club: perched high over The Strip below affording 360 degree views and framed by ten towering palm trees this is a beach club for beautiful people. Plenty of private cabanas decked out with splashes of hot pink and multiple swimming pools make this a fun place to spend the day.
And of course there is always time for shopping. If you are looking for retail therapy Vegas has something for everyone. For high end designers head to The Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace and The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian. Fashion Show Mall and Sephora at The Miracle Mile Shops are well worth a stop and for the best outlet shopping grab a taxi out to the North Las Vegas Premium Outlets for the best brands at heavily discounted prices.
Whichever of the seven deadly sins you decide to test in Las Vegas I am sure you will come away with fond memories. And remember ‘What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.’
Babu Ji has just become one of my dining highlights so far for 2014. In case you have missed it, this is the newest Indian restaurant from Jennifer and Jessi Singh, who first showed Kyneton how to do Indian well with Dhaba at the Mill, before moving to Fitzroy North and opening Horn Please. Babu Ji has moved into a section of The George in St Kilda and is showing south-siders just how delicious Indian food can be.
The decor features whitewashed walls with cursive black Hindu scripture snaking up the walls and classic Brentwood cafe chairs. Striking portraits of Indian characters add to the atmosphere, as does the projector screen in the corner playing scenes from classic Bollywood films.
While they do not take bookings, Babu Ji was not busy on the evening we visited, probably due to many people heading away for Easter so we were quickly shown to our table. The menu is composed of smaller ‘street food’ bites and larger curries with everything on the menu perfect for sharing. And of course, it wouldn’t be an Indian restaurant without basmati rice and naan.
We begin our journey with a local Indian Kingfisher beer, which for a rare beer drinker is refreshing and a perfect match to the flavoursome cuisine before us. We start with the Gol Gappa, which can only be described as a ‘party in your mouth’. According to the menu these are a ‘most favourite Indian street snack’ and we quickly discover why. Biting down on the delicate pappadum shell my mouth fills with scrumptious flavours of yoghurt, tamarind and coriander among others. All of my senses are well and truly consumed.
Next up is the Samosa plate, which is presented with two large golden triangular Samosas drizzled with pomegranate and green mango powder and tangy chutney. The samosas are extremely moreish, chock full with spicy potato and peas. Delicious!
Moving on to the larger curries we elect to try the butter chicken and the smoky ‘Goat Dhungar’ curry. The butter chicken is possibly one of the best I have had…rich, creamy and filled with the sweetness of tomatoes and fenugreek. The goat curry is more complex, richer still with a real kick of spice from the fresh chillies. The basmati rice and fresh-baked naan provide the perfect vehicle to mop up the delicious sauces.
With bellies bursting we rug up and head out to face the elements. I have not had the fortune to visit India, but I am sure if I did this is the sort of food I would experience. As I board my tram home my taste buds are still zinging…
If you dine anywhere this year make your first stop Babu Ji, I promise you will not be disappointed. I cannot wait to head back again and sample more from this talented duo.
The George Building
4-6 Grey Street
St Kilda VIC 3182
(03) 9534 2447
Open Sunday-Tuesday 5-9pm and Thursday-Saturday 5-10pm
Lunch Friday-Sunday 12-3pm