The Caribbean Coast That’s Not Just For Millionaires

The curious faces of a family of raccoon-like coatis emerge from the vegetation at the edge of the road. Ringed tails held high, they watch passing traffic closely before disappearing into the thick forest. I’m in Mexico’s Yucatán, only a short flight from many U.S. cities (two hours or less from Miami and Houston, four hours from New York). But I’m a world away from Cancún’s spring break crowds and wall-to-wall high rise hotels.

Here in Tulúm, less than two hours from the international airport at Cancún, is a destination with eco-chic style and a laid-back attitude. Throw in Mexico’s top beaches, a smattering of ancient history, a rainbow-colored coral reef, and you’ll start to see why this place is becoming popular.

The beaches are stunning. A carpet of soft, silky sand curves around craggy outcrops and preserved jungle. Along the shoreline the sea is crystal clear. Scattered throughout the forest along this coast, you’ll find ruins from the ancient past, and no visit here is complete without a trip to Mexico’s only oceanfront Mayan temple, El Castillo.

The world’s second-largest barrier reef is just offshore, making Tulúm a hot-spot for divers and snorkelers. Small marinas offer mooring spots for boating enthusiasts, and the gorgeous coastline and inland lagoons make for good sailing. Golfers can take their pick from some of the finest courses in Mexico, designed by Robert Trent Jones II, Jack Nicklaus, or P.B. Dye. You can swim and dive in a huge underground system of caves, rivers, and sinkholes…

At first the pueblo of Tulúm still looks dusty and jumbled—same as when I saw it five years back—but a closer inspection reveals that much has changed. The town now has three banks, two supermarkets, five gas stations, hardware stores, more B&Bs, and a nice bike path to the beach.

On Tulúm beach, the rustic off-grid hotels, spas, and restaurants have moved up a notch or two since my first visit. Today, you can eat organic, veggie, gourmet Italian or Thai food…treat yourself to a soothing spa massage or yoga session…or kick your body into shape at the bikini boot camp. The beautiful bodies you see on the beach go some way to explaining the popularity of that activity.

Drive just 30 minutes north along the modern highway from Tulúm and you find yourself in Playa del Carmen…a fun beach town that packs in gourmet food, film festivals, eclectic shopping, and a buzzing nightlife. Playa was a tiny fishing village with sandy streets until the 1990s when tourism and “development” arrived.

Over the last 15 years, property prices there have soared. Today an oceanfront condo in the town can easily cost $500,000. That pattern is repeating itself in Tulúm these days. Only we’re right at the start of the cycle. Looking at a map of the region, you’ll see that developable land is scarce around Tulúm. The Caribbean Sea forms one boundary and the Sian Ka’an biosphere another.

Tight regulations restrict height and density. There simply isn’t much that’s suitable for development. That means limited inventory…and buyers and renters chasing a limited supply of properties.

Properties currently on the market include a “movie-star” house, right on the beach, for $2.7 million. This property (unusual because it’s titled) has 328 feet of beachfront and backs onto a lagoon with a private dock. Solar and wind-powered, the home has high-end marble and granite accents, three bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms.

Move just minutes away from Tulúm beach, however, and prices drop dramatically. With talk of a new international airport in the area, now is the time to investigate opportunities in Tulúm. We’ve seen a similar development story unfold in Cancún and then Playa del Carmen. Now it’s Tulúm’s turn.

Editor’s note: In the full version of the article, from the current issue of International Living magazine, Margaret highlights properties in the area starting from just $167,000. Another has financing from $800 per month—to own your own overseas getaway. Subscribe to IL now to get all the details…and to take up our special, limited-time, we’ll-pay-you offer.

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