In just over a decade, Tulum went from being a beach for backpackers to becoming the next stop after Ibiza on the world circuit of DJ parties. It now has 40,000 residents, of which 200,000 are expected by 2030, and the city hasn't been able to keep up with the arrival of wealthy jet-setters and the people who follow them on social media. There is no electricity on the beach, so diesel generators groaned day and night to run the air conditioners that customers demand. The beach doesn't have a proper sewage system, and debris has been seeping into the water supply below Tulum and into the ocean, killing the coral reef.
The old Tulum landfill, a few kilometers from the city, is full, and last summer it burned with heat for three straight months. The new landfill was supposed to last five years, but it was already overflowing after 18 months. The beach and jungle that stretches far from the coast are dotted with construction sites, and small hotels started by hippies chasing a dream are being thrown out by big developers who seem to anticipate the growing number of tourists waiting to see what Tulum is all about. Mexico's headlines have been discordant.
Two women died in the crossfire when rival gangs began shooting at a popular restaurant on the sidewalk of Tulum. Gunmen fought on a beach near Puerto Morelos as tourists rushed into a Hyatt hotel in search of shelter. A hit man bought a day pass to an all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen to carry out a hit at a poolside snack bar. Guarded by Mayan ruins and bordered by the ocean, this is a place of bumpy streets, expensive taxis, terrible traffic jams and out-of-touch yuppies, celebrities, influencers, aspiring gurus, COVID deniers and well-to-do people looking to “find themselves in overrated retreats, hotels and bars.
But the wave of violent incidents along the country's Riviera Maya, the chain of Caribbean beaches that stretches 80 miles south of Cancun to the Mayan ruins of Tulum, in recent months has not seemed to scare tourists who came by the millions last year to spend a pandemic beach vacation, diving in the coral reefs or dancing in boho bars. Early one morning, I went to the Mayan ruins on the north end of Tulum beach, where hundreds of tourists were already arriving from a parking lot. Come take a quick trip to the impressive ruins, swim in some cenotes, eat the wonderful street food, dine at restaurants with holes in the wall, enjoy the incredible beach and stroll through the city center. In Tulum, a place where visitors could climb 11th-century Mayan ruins and the lower jungle gave way to pristine beaches, he realized he had found it.
Tulum's white sand beaches and crystal clear waters, framed by the ruins of a Mayan fort, have made it a fast-growing hipster destination, attracting tourists looking for a New Age coating for their beach vacation.