Zamas

Tulum, The Yucatan, Mexico Book from US$135

Reviewed by Lucia Appleby
Rustic-chic cabanas and a self-catering house for 6-10 on an unspoilt beach by the Caribbean Sea, near Tulum's Mayan ruins
Zamas - meaning 'new beginnings' - is the creation of 2 escapees from San Francisco, Daniel and Susan, and the product of years of beach-time dreaming. Like hundreds of other people who come to Mexico on holiday every year and fall in love with it, they discovered Tulum on their honeymoon and decided to make it their paradise home.

Several decades later, the result of their move is now one of Tulum’s best-known beach retreats. Its rustic cabanas are nestled in a cove on the Maya Riviera, where sardines are pursued by pelicans and fishermen drop by to sell their daily catch. Most have immediate access to the spotless white-sand beach and the peaceful bathtub-warm water that make Tulum so enchanting. There's also an airy self-catering house that's ideal for families and groups, with 4 bedrooms, a private pool and sweeping sea views.

The fact that it’s unpretentious and miles away from the package tourists of Cancún and the property giants of Playa del Carmen explains why so many people come here to get away from it all. And Tulum, although busier by the year, still retains its lovely, laid-back backpack-ery vibe - as well as arguably the best beach on the Yucatán Peninsula.

Highs

  • It's peaceful and tranquil, with a friendly atmosphere
  • The beautiful beachside location means it's a footfall from the Caribbean Sea, yet well placed for exploring Tulum's ruins by foot or bicycle
  • The eco-conscious cabanas have a Caribbean feel, there's a cooling pool and you can fall asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach
  • The 4-bedroom house, Casa Vallejo, is great value - particularly if there are 8-10 of you
  • The food is consistently delicious - Zamas houses a top local restaurant, with popular live flamenco and funky jazz performances

Lows

  • A noisy road runs next to the property and some accommodation is set on the far side side of this, away from the beach (Casa Vallejo, some Garden Rooms and all Top-Floor Ocean-View Rooms)
  • The beach is small and the shoreline is rocky in parts, so it's not great for swimming, but there is a communal swimming pool
  • Wind-generated electricity gives power for lights but not for any high-voltage 'plug-ins' like hairdryers or TVs, though you can charge phones and camera batteries
  • There's no air conditioning, so rooms can get warm in summer (there are ceiling fans, though)

Best time to go

November to April has the most sunshine (the average high is 83F) and March and April are the driest months, though it can rain at any time of year. The wettest months are June to October (the hurricane season), when temperatures are also at their highest - reaching the 90sF. The weather is unpredictable during this period - you could get a short late-afternoon shower or days of prolonged rain.

Our top tips

Bring a torch as there's no street lighting. You'll also need a booklight if you like to read in bed (the solar lighting can be too soft for some). Apart from that, all you really need is mosquito repellent (though mosquito nets are provided) and warm clothing for cool nights in the winter.

Great for...

Beach
Eco
Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel + Villa
  • 20 rooms + 1 house for 6-10
  • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Daily Maid Service
  • Towels & Bedlinen
  • Bicycles Available
  • Kayaks
Room: Casa Vallejo

Rooms

Zamas styles itself as 'rustic-chic, with no attempt to outshine the natural environment. To most people, this means back-to-basics camping without creature comforts, in the company of insects you'd rather never have met. In reality, Zamas offers laid-back and stylish accommodation swathed in bright primary colours.

The hotel rooms, some self-contained, others part of larger cabanas, have 1 or 2 kingsize or queensize beds and shower bathrooms; a few have additional single beds and sleep up to 6. Some of the newer Beachfront Rooms (built after Hurricane Wilma in 2005) are raised from the sand and set so close to the surf they’re almost tumbling into the sea (which drowns out the noise of the occasional car from the road behind). Families should go for the Garden Rooms, located in a quiet palm grove well away from the buzz of the restaurant. Some of these rooms are across the road from the beach (known as the 'jungle side'), as are the Top-Floor Ocean-View Rooms, where we stayed. The latter have huge verandas and hammocks - perfect for lazing around and gazing out to sea.

Larger groups can spread out in Casa Vallejo, a 4-bedroom house for 6-10. It has 3 double bedrooms and a twin (some with sea views), plus 3 bathrooms, a dining and lounge area and a full kitchen; further beds can be added to the loft. It’s been built since our last visit, but we like the look of its high ceilings and towering windows, its quirky furniture hewn from tree trunks, and its polished adobe walls daubed in vibrant shades of sky blue, jade green and terracotta. Best of all, it has a private garden with a T-shaped swimming pool, and guests get full access to the hotel’s facilities.

Both the house and the cabanas are remarkably airy - beds are cooled by fans placed inside the mosquito nets, and cold drinking water is freely supplied (you can refill bottles outside the restaurant). Tulum beach is ‘off the grid’, so water is solar-heated and electricity is wind-generated. This means you can't use high-voltage plug-ins like hairdryers, though you can charge phones, laptops and camera batteries.

Features include:

  • Cots Available
  • Fan
  • Mosquito net
  • Safe box
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi

Eating

Zamas’ Que Fresco! (‘How Fresh!’) restaurant, romantically set on the edge of the shore and surrounded by miniature palms, is renowned locally for serving divine food and biting margaritas. Folks come far for its traditional Mayan dishes (such as a whole freshly caught fish stuffed with local herbs, wrapped in palm leaves and baked in a clay oven) and mouth-watering seafood platters - shrimp with achiote or red snapper spiced with olive salsa. There are also wood-fired pizzas and vegetarian specials such as grilled enchiladas with tomatillo, avocado and pumpkin-seed sauce.

Breakfast can be healthy granola, yoghurt, tropical juice and fresh fruit salad, or a hot option such as omelette with cheese and chaya (Mayan spinach).

A couple of nights a week, the restaurant becomes a popular live music venue - we heard a great guitar trio, complete with a flamenco dancer. Staff are aware that there are families staying at Zamas, so the music doesn’t usually last beyond 10pm.

Guests staying in Casa Vallejo can eat in the restaurant or self-cater. The house has a vast dining table seating 10, plus a full kitchen with a large oven, a hob, a fridge-freezer, a blender, a coffee machine and all the bits and bobs you might need. You won't, however, find a dishwasher, toaster or microwave, as the wind-generated electricity supply isn't strong enough to power them. Basic supplies such as washing-up liquid, oil, salt and pepper are provided, and anything else can be picked up at one of the convenience stores nearby.

If you fancy eating out, there are other hotel restaurants further along the beach road - Posada Margarita does an amazing lobster fettucine for 2 to share.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

Apart from lazing on the beach...

  • Go diving (open water and cave diving) or snorkelling (there's a small shipwreck 20m from the shore and the reef is about 200m out). There's an on-site dive shop where you can arrange snorkelling and diving expeditions, as well as trips to the local cenotes (limestone springs which are abundant around Tulum)

  • During the summer months there's outstanding whale shark watching - and brave souls can jump in and swim with them

  • Fly fishermen can take part in world-class bonefishing at Boca Paila (25-45 minutes from Zamas), and fly fishing in the Sian Ka’an biosphere (45 minutes south)

  • Go horse-riding along the beach, book a massage, or take a yoga class at the nearby studio

  • Visit the nearby Mayan ruins - a 10-minute drive, but make sure you go early to beat the bus crowds. There are more ruins at Coba (45-60 minutes' drive), which is set in dense jungle and is less commercial, though it's becoming increasingly popular. Ek Balam and Chichen Itza are further afield (1.5 and 2.5 hours away respectively), but the hotel can arrange a day trip for you

  • Take a boat ride into the vast ecological biosphere of Sian Ka'an - the entrance to the park is just a few kilometres south of Zamas and you can bird-watch, fish and kayak here

  • The hotel can organise various activities, including a romantic beach picnic, boat rides to the ruins and guided walks to see turtles laying their eggs and hatching (May to October). Enquire when booking

  • Bird watchers will be in their element - there are plenty of feathered friends in the grounds, and birds nest in Sian Ka’an during the winter months

  • Borrow the hotel's kayaks, try kite-Boarding or, if you're here at the right time of year, swim with dolphins

  • There are 3 excellent golf courses in the area, one just 10 minutes north of the hotel

  • Play chess or backgammon if it rains

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Fishing
  • Golf
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Kayaking
  • Kite-boarding
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Scuba diving
  • Snorkelling
  • Stand-up paddle boarding
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Well being
  • Wildlife

Kids

Children are welcome and those under 6 stay for free. All rooms have additional single beds (except the Small Beachfront Rooms), and some have 2 double beds. Casa Vallejo has 4 bedrooms (3 doubles and a twin), plus a loft room which can take 2 single beds. Zamas can provide baby cots on request, and the restaurant has highchairs. Note that all bathrooms have showers only.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Toddlers (1-4 years), Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

Cots Available, Family Rooms

Babysitting:

Babysitting can sometimes be arranged

Baby equipment:

Baby cots and highchairs are available

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Whale shark tours in season (July - September)
  • Swimming excursion to Turtle Bay and catered picnic on the beach

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

8/
Rooms
8/
Food
9/
Service
8/
Value
8/
Overall

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