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Direct flight to Tulum offers a self-care journey like no other


When I found myself googling “symptoms of burnout” more often than “funny cat videos,” I decided it was time for a wellness retreat. And now it’s easier than ever to visit one of the most spectacular wellness-focused destinations in the world: Tulum, Mexico, known for its seaside boutique hotels, lush flora, turquoise waters and boho beach town vibe.

In a little under four hours, I was in the heart of the Mayan Riviera. I traveled solo on United Airlines’ new, daily nonstop flight from O’Hare International Airport to Tulum’s recently inaugurated Felipe Carrillo Puerto International Airport.

Nestled within the verdant jungle about 90 miles south of Cancun, the aptly named “aeropuerto en la selva,” or airport in the jungle, streamlines access to the Riviera Maya region. The celebrated tourism hot spot extends along the eastern coastline of the Yucatán Peninsula, bridging Playa del Carmen and Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico’s southeastern state.

Tulum’s new airport, constructed with eco-friendly materials and a design that mirrors the peninsula’s biodiversity, boasts energy-efficient lighting and water conservation systems, underscoring the region’s commitment to sustainability.

While navigating through O’Hare can feel like a real-life game of “Frogger,” where you’re dodging a frenzy of luggage carts and harried travelers, Tulum’s state-of-the-art airport, with its single terminal, is much more serene and a mere 40-minute ride to the sandy shores of the beach town.

As we glided down the airport access road, slicing through the dense Yucatan jungle to join Quintana Roo’s coastal Highway 307, my eyes were drawn to the numerous “Beware of Jaguar” signs along the way.

I asked my taxi driver, “Have any jaguars ever crossed your path here?”

“Three!” he answered. “They’re so majestic, so awe-inspiring.”

The population of jaguars in Mexico has been increasing, which is a promising sign that national conservation strategies are working. From 2010 to 2018, the jaguar population in Mexico grew by about 800, marking a 20% increase to an estimated 4,800 jaguars, due to various efforts, such as preserving wildlife corridors and sanctuaries and resolving conflicts with local livestock owners.

Wellness is a way of life

Tulum is a serene alternative to party hub Cancun, which is about a two-hour drive up the coast.

In addition to its spa, The Beach Tulum offers complimentary morning and evening yoga classes. (The Beach Tulum)
In addition to its spa, The Beach Tulum offers complimentary morning and evening yoga classes. (The Beach Tulum)

It wasn’t until the 21st century that Tulum began to be recognized as a tourist destination. In 1960, the town’s population stood at a little over 90 people. By 2000, that number skyrocketed to 12,000 as Tulum’s picturesque, pristine beaches began attracting visitors from around the world.

In Tulum, wellness is not just an activity; it’s a way of life. At my resort, The Beach Tulum, an idyllic 28-room, adults-only boutique hotel, it was easy to focus on self-care.

Every morning, I flung open my veranda doors to sea views and took a dip in my private plunge pool before enjoying a leisurely breakfast in my bikini, toes in the sand, at Fresco’s, a casual cafe just beyond the beach. My morning go-to was a smoothie bowl, a thicker, vitamin-packed version of a traditional smoothie featuring a variety of tropical fruits and topped with nuts, seeds, and granola, found on menus across town.

When I wasn’t napping in the hammock on my veranda or reading a book poolside, I was diving into the sea or walking barefoot along the powdery, white sand beach.

Tulum's laid-back vibe features a powdery, white sand beach. (The Beach Tulum)
Tulum’s laid-back vibe features a powdery, white sand beach. (The Beach Tulum)

Tulum’s laid-back, beachy vibe creates the perfect backdrop for yoga practice. Most of the boutique hotels here offer complimentary daily yoga classes. Perhaps best of all, the many yoga studios are designed to integrate with the natural surroundings.

At The Beach Tulum, complimentary morning and evening yoga classes are held in a dreamy, treetop palapa, or shelter. It was blissful to ease into Savasana meditation after an intense yoga practice, accompanied by the swaying of palm trees and the chorus of tropical birds.

Embracing Mayan traditions

Tulum was a significant Mayan center of trade and religious activity from the 11th to the 16th centuries. At the Tulum Archaeological Site, also known as the Tulum ruins, the remnants of the pre-Columbian walled city built by the Mayans around 564 A.D. are perched on a 12-meter tall cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

El Castillo, the tallest building, may have served as a navigational aid for Mayan seafarers. Bring your swimsuit, as the site also features a beautiful beach, Playa Ruinas, where visitors can swim in the shadow of the ancient city.

Originally known as Zamá, meaning “place of the rising sun” in the Yucatec Maya language spoken by the people of the Yucatán Peninsula, Tulum is home to a range of spas. Each offers unique experiences that blend traditional Mayan practices and local ingredients with modern wellness techniques, emphasizing beauty, but also the nourishment of the spirit.

The spa at The Beach Tulum. (The Beach Tulum)
The spa at The Beach Tulum. (The Beach Tulum)

At the Mayan Clay Spa, indulgent detoxifying massage treatments and deep tissue healing techniques use locally sourced clay known for its purifying properties.

Leaf Luxury Spa‘s Hydrothermal Circuit Experience uses water sourced from the naturally occurring cenotes, freshwater pools sacred to the Mayan culture, “to harmonize your body, soul and spirit.” It features a variety of water-based therapies, including an aromatherapy shower, a eucalyptus-scented steam room and a refreshing cold plunge.

At the Naj Naay Spa and Healing Center, I indulged in the Mayan Reawakening experience, which began with a cleaning of my “auric field,” the energy that surrounds my physical body, with sacred copal incense, followed by a massage with an infusion of rose petals, medicinal herbs and mezcal. Considered the “blood of trees,” copal is a tree resin once used by the Aztecs and Mayans in ritual ceremonies. I left the spa with a heightened sense of harmony and balance between body and mind; and although I typically struggle with sleep, I slept like a baby for the entirety of my vacation.

Where to stay

Speaking of sleeping, the tranquil and romantic The Beach Tulum is an adults-only, beachfront luxury resort. The spacious rooms feature a private pool or rooftop hot tub plus a hammock on the veranda, perfect for an afternoon nap.

Beachfront Nômade Tulum, named in Sanskrit after the calm, turquoise sea, is considered one of Tulum’s most iconic, eco-chic boutique hotels.

Eco-chic Amansala offers a six-day Refresh and Renew retreat with guided yoga and meditation lessons and classes.

Mystic depths

More than 400 cenotes are scattered across the Yucatan Peninsula. These natural sinkholes formed when limestone bedrock collapsed, exposing crystal-clear groundwater beneath. The ancient Mayans held cenotes in high esteem, not only as vital water sources but also as sacred sites for making sacrificial offerings. Some cenotes boast underwater visibility extending beyond 300 feet, making them a haven for divers and snorkelers.

Tak Be Luum is one of more than 400 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula. (Daniel Alcaraz)
Tak Be Luum is one of more than 400 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula. (Daniel Alcaraz)

Two cenotes stand out for their popularity. El Gran Cenote is a short distance from Tulum, where you can swim, dive or snorkel and marvel at the massive stalactites up close. Dos Ojos, which translates to “two eyes cenote,” aptly describes the two neighboring sinkholes connected by a 400-meter-long corridor boardwalk. With crystal-clear waters offering visibility up to 300 feet, snorkeling Dos Ojos, which is part of one of the world’s largest underwater cave systems, is an unforgettable adventure.

When exploring cenotes, it’s best to opt for a guided tour, especially if you wish to explore the deeper parts of the cavern.

I hired a private guide through Living Dreams Mexico, which offers private excursions and adventures in the Riviera Maya. My guide, Daniel, picked me up from my hotel and drove me to one of the quieter cenotes near Dos Ojos.

Cenotes are natural sinkholes formed when limestone bedrock collapsed, exposing crystal-clear groundwater beneath. Some boast underwater visibility extending beyond 300 feet, making them a haven for divers and snorkelers. (Daniel Alcaraz)
Cenotes are natural sinkholes formed when limestone bedrock collapsed, exposing crystal-clear groundwater beneath. Some boast underwater visibility extending beyond 300 feet, making them a haven for divers and snorkelers. (Daniel Alcaraz)

A sense of tranquility enveloped me as I glided through the cool waters of the cenote. Surprisingly, the presence of thousands of bats flitting above did nothing to disturb my peace; instead, I chose to embrace the mystique.

Over the course of 1½ hours, I gently swam through three caverns, each with its own unique aura. The stillness of the underwater world, the ancient rock formations and the gentle play of light through the water connected me to nature’s timeless beauty, leaving me with a profound sense of serenity. It was the ultimate gift from magical Tulum.

Amy Bizzarri is a freelancer.



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