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Tulum 2023, Now (Apparently) Powered by Instagram And Xanax

“Anything else? Steroids, maybe?”

The cheery pharmacy employee grabbed a binder and started flipping through laminated pages. “Amoxicillin, buy 1 get 1 free!” “Tramadol on special!” “Diet pills!” “Omeprazole!”

“We have Viagra and Cialis too,” she added quickly in Spanish, avoiding Feng’s gaze.

“Just sunscreen, really. Do gringos buy a lot of medications?”

The employee seemed to be under the impression I was just gringo-ish, and so maybe trustworthy enough to be privy to industry secrets.

“Oh yes. The women buy mostly Xanax. And men… so much Cialis!”

This could actually explain a lot about this town.

“Here, take a business card.”

Huh. My first time getting a business card from a pharmacy, but whatever, nothing is normal here—this is Tulum.

Tulum Pueblo in itself is a notably unremarkable town at the crossroad of two federal highways, the 307 Cancún-Tulum and the 109 Cobá-Tulum.

Without the stunning archeological site and the amazing beach a few kilometres away, it could have been any town in Mexico or in Central America. But Tulum has always been popular, starting with the Mayas who built a walled city facing the Caribbean Sea around 1200. Then Tulum became one of these backpackers’ secret spots because it was a very cheap alternative to Cancún and Playa del Carmen—you could get access to one of the best beaches in the world and sleep on it in a very basic cabaña. This is what we did in 2004 and in 2010.

Back then, Tulum Pueblo was a dirt road, and we had to take another long dirt road from the beach to the town to get some food—and by food, I mean the typical (and delicious) holy trinity, i.e. rice, chicken and beans. Then we would walk back to the beach and the cabaña in the dark, through the jungle again.

And then, Tulum became world-famous. Tourism and real estate boomed over the past two years.

Blame the digital nomads, the Instagrammers, and a few celebrities.

The dirt road is no longer a dirt road, it’s Avenida Tulum, with wide sidewalks, a bike path and dozens of businesses catering exclusively to gringos—I hate that, you can’t find anything useful, like food markets, normal clothes, gear, etc.  

The streets are named after constellations and planets. Is it because the new Tulum crowd really cares about yoga, chakras and poke bowls?

“Did you remember the street name theme?” I asked Feng.

He laughed. “I don’t think streets had names back then.”

The beach is packed, there are boutique hotels everywhere, and the forest is being cut down before our eyes because the priority is now to build fancy “environmentally friendly” condos oozing with the “Tulum aesthetic“, i.e. minimalist design, furniture made of driftwood, and so many fucking candles and fairy lights.

Walk down the avenue and you’ll see a neon “I’m in Tulum bitch” sign, a “Poshtel” featuring a giant yellow duck, hanging chairs (definitely not a Maya tradition), swings…

“I wish I could go on the swing too…”

“Okay, let’s shame influencers. Just stand there Mark, and stare at them. One of them is bound to feel silly enough to leave. I mean, you don’t need to drink tequila on a swing.”

(It worked, by the way)

Do I sound like one of these people missing the “good old days”? Like these backpackers who are always complaining that there are too many tourists around?

Overheard in Tulum:

“Look, a taco stand! I’ve seen that on Instagram. It’s food, right?”

I get it. Places change, that’s life. Honestly, I don’t mind tourists and other travellers—there’s a reason why some places draw crowds, and I probably want to see it or experience it too.

But Tulum is so packed it’s just ridiculous. The town wasn’t built for that many people. It’s an environmental and social disaster. I do hope local communities benefit from the economic boom but somehow, I doubt it. Airbnb hosts are often white hipsters who invested in real estate, and there are more gringos selling crafts on the beach than Mexicans selling mangos.

Anecdotally, it’s impossible to get laundry done, all the lavanderías have a two- or three-day turnaround time, which is unheard of. There are two giant supermarkets, including a Chedraui where you can find what has to be the biggest selection of non-dairy milk, gluten-free products, vegan food and other trendy gringo diets—both are always crowded and it can take a good 30 minutes to pay for your food.

Roads are jammed because hipsters are totally okay with paying $60 (yes, USD!) for taxis, and don’t get me started on the bike paths right in the middle of the sidewalks. You can usually trust Dutch or German tourists but most North Americans are inexperienced careless bikers. All they do is yell “get out of the path!” (… it’s also a sidewalk!) as if they were single-handedly saving Mother Earth just because they’re on a bike instead of, you know, walking to places like everybody else.

Overheard in Tulum:

“Last year, I went to Equator. I hated it. It was, like… you know, like…

Cold? Different?

No, just… like, poor, know what I mean?”

Yes, the worst part of Tulum now is probably the many hipsters who are here because it’s the place to be. They have no idea why they are in Mexico, they just need to hit all the Instagram hotspots.

Who are these people? They’re young, they apparently have a lot of money, they are glued to their phone, they all dress the same—think long flowy dresses for girls, and yes, it always finds its way into the wheels of their stupid bikes…—, and they take themselves very seriously.

They don’t even look happy.

The whole thing feels so… gimmicky.

Overheard in Tulum:

Two girls staring at a pig roast:

“Do you think it’s like, a real animal or something?”

So why did we spend time in Tulum?

Because we had no idea it was now an Instagram “paradise.”

Because the beach is still absolutely amazing.

Because if you explore the town, you can still find normal people and real life.

I kind of like real life. It’s not perfect, but it’s beautiful.

Tulum Pueblo, Quintana Roo
Tulum Pueblo, Quintana Roo
Tulum Pueblo, Quintana Roo
Tulum Pueblo, Quintana Roo
Tulum Pueblo, Quintana Roo
Tulum Pueblo, Quintana Roo
Tulum Pueblo, Quintana Roo
Tulum Pueblo, Quintana Roo
Tulum Pueblo, Quintana Roo
Tulum Pueblo, Quintana Roo
Calle Orión Sur, Tulum Centro, Tulum, Q.R.
Calle Orión Sur, Tulum Centro, Tulum, Q.R.
Tulum Pueblo, Quintana Roo
Tulum Pueblo, Quintana Roo
Calle Orión Sur, Tulum Centro, Tulum, Q.R.
Calle Orión Sur, Tulum Centro, Tulum, Q.R.
Mercado Tulum, Calle Orión Sur, Tulum Centro, Tulum, Q.R.
Mercado Tulum, Calle Orión Sur, Tulum Centro, Tulum, Q.R.
Calle Orión Sur, Tulum Centro, Tulum, Q.R.
Calle Orión Sur, Tulum Centro, Tulum, Q.R.
Calle Orión Sur, Tulum Centro, Tulum, Q.R.
Calle Orión Sur, Tulum Centro, Tulum, Q.R.
Tulum Pueblo, Quintana Roo
Tulum Pueblo, Quintana Roo
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Cenauro, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Cenauro, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Av Coba Norte, Tulum, Q.R.
Av Coba Norte, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Av Coba Norte, Tulum, Q.R.
Av Coba Norte, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Q.R.
Calle Osiris Sur, Tulum Centro, 77760 Tulum, Q.R.
Calle Osiris Sur, Tulum Centro, 77760 Tulum, Q.R.
Parque Museo de la Cultura Maya, Tulum, Q.R.
Parque Museo de la Cultura Maya, Tulum, Q.R.
Playa Paraíso, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Paraíso, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Santa Fe, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Santa Fe, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Santa Fe, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Santa Fe, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Santa Fe, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Santa Fe, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Paraíso, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Paraíso, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Santa Fe, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Santa Fe, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Paraíso, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Paraíso, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Paraíso, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Paraíso, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Paraíso, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Paraíso, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Paraíso, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Paraíso, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Paraíso, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Playa Paraíso, Tulum, Zona Hotelera Tulum, Quintana Roo
Avenida Cobá, Tulum, Quintana Roo
Avenida Cobá, Tulum, Quintana Roo
Av. Cobá, Tulum, Q.R.
Av. Cobá, Tulum, Q.R.
Av. Cobá, Tulum, Q.R.
Av. Cobá, Tulum, Q.R.
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Zhu

French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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