With its sparkling Caribbean coastline, chilli-laced Yucatan cuisine and top-shelf tequila on tap, Mexico’s Riviera Maya has long been on my travel hit list. While the days of partying with the college kids in Cancun may have passed me by, the sleepy town of Tulum, two hours’ drive south, promises the perfect beach break.
Here, thatched-roof cabanas line the sand, bikini-clad therapists dole out dirt-cheap massages and salt-rimmed margaritas are the price of a can of cola back home. You get the impression that most of the staff rocked up for a holiday and decided not to leave…
One duo that fell for Tulum’s charm is Eric Werner and Mya Henry. The New York escapees are behind eco-chic Hartwood, an open-air eatery that runs on solar power. Here we linger over tender, charry curls of octopus and fall-apart pork ribs from the woodfired oven, while sipping habanero-spiked margaritas from mason jars.
We’re staying at The Beach Tulum, a clutch of whitewashed villas strung along the sand. Its beachfront cafe Ziggy’s becomes our go-to place for breakfast, as we kickstart the day with huevos divorciados (fried eggs splashed with green and red salsas). The rest of the day is given over to lolling on the cushioned day beds on the sand, watching locals skilfully scurry across tightrope wires slung between palm trees.
One day we rouse ourselves from the endless rounds of frozen margaritas to take a cenote tour with Mauricio. These naturally occurring limestone pools are dotted across the region, providing an underground maze of gin-clear waters. We’ve signed up for a stand-up paddleboard tour of Casa Cenote, following Mauricio until we reach a dead end formed by impenetrable mangroves. Here we’re told to leave our boards behind. We don snorkels and masks, then follow Mauricio as he ducks and dives under the mangrove roots, expertly popping up for air in pockets between the branches. To be honest, it gets pretty hairy under there, particularly when we start free-diving under rock shelves and through metres-long caves. At one point we poke our heads up to find that we’re in the middle of a mangrove forest, with no sign of the clear lagoon we’ve left behind.
Afterwards, Mauricio rewards us with a visit to his favourite taco joint, Taqueria Honorio. At this low-key street stall, a woman hand-presses corn tortillas to order before grilling them on a barbecue plate and filling them with blackened turkey, suckling pig with shards of crackling, and cochinita pibil, a Yucatan classic of slow-roasted pork marinated in citrus and annatto seed. They are, by a long shot, the best tacos of the trip.
We’re treated to more Yucatan delights during our stay at Esencia, a boutique beach house in the town of Puerto Aventuras. Here, chef Bernando dishes up lobster taquitos and tikin xic, octopus ceviche (pictured) a whole snapper coated in achiote and sour orange, wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked on hot coals. On our final day, we toss around the idea of joining Bernando’s cooking class, but instead we settle into a cabana on the beach for ice-cold cervezas and prawn tacos with a tangy tamarind sauce. They’re so good that we persuaded Bernando to share his recipe with Delicious Magazine here.