Sarah and I recently revisited Tulum, Mexico and, as with any good vacation, I learned a few things. In no particular order, here they are.
It’s probably too dang hot by April. Coming off a particularly nasty New York winter, walking straight out of the plane into 95°F weather was a bit of system shock. There’s a reason our Airbnb hosts kept referring to April as the start of the off-season. It’s because the Yucatan turns into an arid, sweltering hell pit. And that was just in April. I cannot even imagine the place in June. To be fair, if I had been acclimated to the heat before going to Mexico, it probably wouldn’t have been that bad. I mean, what’s a 98°F (Real Feel™ 107) day when you’ve already been sweating through your clothes for six months? Most likely not that bad.
Taqueria El Carbonsito. A perception exists that you can walk into any taco joint in Mexico and order the most delicious tacos of your life. That is patently false. You can no more walk into any Mexican taqueria and have your brains blown out than you can walk into any American burger joint and have the sort of burger that makes your reality quiver. Luckily for you (and us), we are adventurous eaters with a nerdy tendency to keep notes on where we’ve eaten. We spent three nights canvasing the various hole-in-the-wall taco places in Tulum centro and can unequivocally state that Taqueria El Carbonsito is the best. Get the al pastor tacos. You’ll probably need 5 of them, but at 7 MXN a pop, or about 45¢ at the time of this writing, you can probably afford them. Plus, the place is jam packed full of locals and you can’t get a better recommendation than that.
A thousand-piece puzzle is really too much for two people over the course of a week when there is no bad weather. Trust me on this one. We were defeated by the dragon. If you stay at Casa Tuluminus, it’s in the Marlin Room. Go nuts.
Most ceviche pescado is really just fish salsa. I am fine with that since, for the most part, it was delicious fish salsa. I mean, imagine a lime-y pico de gallo with chunks of citrus-cured white fish in it. It’s good. We ate a lot of it with a lot of chips. However, there was one ceviche pescado we had that transcended fish salsa status, but more on that later.
All the beers taste the same. Hot places are not good at beer. If you want interesting, powerful, nuanced beer, you need to go to a place that is cold, or, at least, one that has a cold season. Hot places don’t make the sort of sobriety-punching beer that cold places do because who the hell wants to drink a 9.5% ABV double IPA when it’s 98°F (Real Feel™ 107) out? No one! NO ONE. Mexico is no different. All the beer you can get in all the bars and restaurants and hotels tastes exactly the same, especially once you squeeze a lime into it. And you squeeze a lime into every single one. It could be Tecate, Tecate Light, Sol, XX Lager, Modelo Especial, León, Negra Modelo, Corona, or basically anything else. They’re all interchangeable. If I were forced to pick the one that stood out above all others, it would be Montejo. It is just slightly better than everything else, but in no way so superior that it is worth seeking out when the other options present themselves.
I don’t really like being in boats on the ocean. It scares me. I keep imagining the boat capsizing and all of us being swallowed by the waves and eaten by some colossal squid angry that I ate his cousin Marty for lunch the day prior. It is a thoroughly irrational fear, but one I’ve never had to face since a vast majority of my life’s boat-time has been spent on lakes and rivers. I like lakes and rivers. They are relatively known quantities. But who knows what lurks in the ocean dreaming beneath the waves?
The octopus at Hartwood. I was real hesitant about the Hartwood hype. Who needs to stand in line to get a reservation for a place that doesn’t even have a roof? Seems kind of dumb right? Like, maybe this place is just so hyped because it’s the only half-decent place to eat in the whole area. Or maybe it’s because the chef is another highfalutin Brooklyn chef who’s worked at some prestigious NY restaurants or some bullshit. Or maybe it’s because Eater/Gothamist/The Internet/our peers just love to suck Hartwood’s metaphorical dick.
I was wrong. I was very very wrong. Hartwood was amazing and well worth the hassle of dealing with their unorthodox procedure for securing a table. We ate the best, spiciest, most delicate ceviche of the trip there. We had an incredible, tender piece of pork. And we had another appetizer that I can’t even remember right now, but which I am sure was wonderful. But the real star of the dinner was the octopus, grilled and served on a bed of pickled red onions and potatoes. Get the fuck out it was so good. I wanted to flip the table over. Octopus is a difficult type of meat. Undercooked it’s kind of weird, and overcooked it’s like eating rubber, but when you prepare it to that exact perfect sweet spot it is wonderful. Hartwood’s octopus was almost worth the trip to Mexico alone. Seriously, just pack your bags right now and camp out in front of the restaurant until you get some. It’s totally worth it.
Tulum is not a place to go if you want to party. Sarah and I had no interest in late night parties on either of our trips to Mexico together. We were more than happy to get up early with the sun, spend the day outside, retire when the heat of the day became overbearing, take a nap and chill for a bit, head out for dinner just after sunset, and end up back where we were staying to read or watch a thing or whatever early. Rinse. Repeat. If we’d been looking for the late night Ibiza-like party scene, we’d have been disappointed because it just isn’t there that we saw. Sure, there are bound to be isolated pockets of people going balls out with the fiesta, but they’re neither obvious nor plentiful. If you want that, go somewhere else.
That’s about it for now. I think that is probably plenty. Tulum is nice. You should go there.