Destinations — 10.11.21

The rustic charms of Tulum’s Papaya Playa Project

With its spectacular coastline filled with sugar-like sand, cobalt waters, balmy breeze and jungle background, the trendy Mexican town of Tulum has many tricks and treats up its sleeve. Flagged by ancient Mayan ruins, beautiful cenotes and caves perfect for diving, this hidden treasure on the ever-so-popular Mexican Riviera has become even more accessible thanks to Emirates Airlines soon-to-launch direct flight to Mexico City (via Spain).

Offering a variety of hotels and restaurants to fit every budget, the places to stay in Tulum are mostly boutique, eco-friendly and laid-back, in contrast to the mega-resorts of neighbouring Cancun and the Riviera Maya. To match its easy-going atmosphere, bikes with baskets have replaced cars, margaritas come in all shapes, sizes and tastes, and shops offer dreamy attire, perfect for the relaxed life that the town offers.


The cenotes of Tulum are definitely one of the town’s greatest assets. Struggling with a visual? Well, cenotes are deep, and most narrow, natural pits or sinkholes, which have resulted from the collapse of limestone to expose the brightest blue water I’ve ever seen underneath. Hidden away from the beach amongst the jungle, most people opt to plummet from a height into the dark depths below for a refreshing swim close to nature. That being said, beware of the sleeping bats who hang from the heights of the cave.

Beach clubs are in abundance – whilst music lovers should head to Papaya Playa Project, renowned for hosting some of the world’s best DJs, the casual cats can head to Nomade or The Real Coconut and spend afternoons sipping on margaritas with a good read. As well as the many beautiful beaches, there is also the option to swim with turtles at nearby Akumal and visit the many boutique shops placed along the main strip.


If you’re checking into any hotel in Tulum, the reception will most probably consist of a hammock and the bar stools replaced with swings. Papaya Playa Project – a pop-up hotel that decided to stay popped-up – 100% ticks this box!

Inside the traditionally themed, loft-style Casitas you’ll find high ceilings, calming ocean views and a secluded bedroom cooled by the fresh Caribbean breeze.

Spread out over a 900-meter stretch of the Caribbean coast, Papaya Playa Project possesses a rustic charm, and despite the fact that the outdoors sometimes feels like the indoors; the natural, barefoot luxury approach will have you feeling at home in no time. Renovated by the talented team at Design Hotels, the 85 cabanas and casitas have all been ecologically built with local materials including palapa roofing, wood and plaster walls, and bamboo window shutters. The most impressive pad at Papaya comes in the form of the Treehouse – an exceptional exercise in eco-design and sustainability cocooned by lush jungle.


The interiors of the treehouse use locally sourced materials and recycled wood combined with simple, no-frills furnishings, while white macramé detailing gives the structure a special charm and unique appearance. Whilst the windows offer 360-degree views of greens and blues, the wooden stilts ensure you are transported – physically and mentally – to the heart of the jungle.

“Papaya Playa Project – a pop-up hotel that decided to stay popped-up.”

Meanwhile, the Casas Palapa on the far north of the property comes with a grand suite on top and a two-bedroom suite and double room below. A lounge with a Jacuzzi, a vast sun terrace, a fully equipped kitchen, and a generous 20-person dining table with plenty of surrounding lounge space ensures that you’ll never want or have to leave. The 250-square-meter Casa Madera is the king of the entire estate, emerging from dense natural greenery to stand on high rocks overlooking the Caribbean Sea.


The land the hotel sits on is 93% jungle, 7% property – in fact, Papaya Playa Project could easily carry a 1,500 room all-inclusive hotel if they followed the crowd like most developers along the Riviera Maya coast. Replicating their business models on places such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen would permanently create ambient light pollution and so much competition for the stars that they would, somehow, disappear in the night sky. Luckily, the resort has retained 93% of the original jungle.

Another innovative attraction is the activities and art on offer – all communal areas encourage creative collaboration – there’s even an amphitheater on the beach where all who stay can come together to perform, present or communicate anything they want. There is also yoga, tai chi, massages, and mediation on offer to complete the holistic circle.


Offering uninterrupted views over the Atlantic Ocean, the restaurant and beach club is one of the highlights of any stay at Papaya Playa Project. Whilst the restaurant serves a Mayan and Mexican menu with a touch of experimentation, the beach club has become renowned for hosting some of the world’s best DJs.

There are many other fantastic restaurants and cafes to be discovered in Tulum. From gluten-free beachside feasts at The Real Coconut to alfresco romantic dinners at Bal Nak, this food-focused and fun town has it all. Other restaurants that come highly recommended include LOCO (the tacos are the best in town), Nomade Beach Club, Burrito Amor, and Matcha Mama (for the best smoothies in town)!


Top Tricks for Tulum

• Taxis are fairly easy to come by, and accept both US dollars and Mexican pesos—but you’re likely to get the best deal paying in pesos. Prepare to be overcharged for what feels like a short journey – booking in advance is advised for longer journeys – for shorter journeys, bikes are always better!

• July and August are the hottest months, with an average high of 82°F (28°C). January is the coldest month, with an average high of 75°F (24°C).


• Most restaurants and bars, even the pricy ones, accept cash only. US dollars and Mexican pesos are expected, but the best deals are normally had in pesos – the exchange rate offered by the hotels is normally not accurate (or in your favour!)

 Tulum’s rainiest months are June, September, and October.

The national language is Spanish but most people speak English.

For more information, visit designhotels.com