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This several-mile swath of paradisal sand was colonized, in the present-day anyway, by people on the run—both from the law, in drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s case, and from societal expectations, in the case of hippies. Both have pretty much cleared out—yoga classes are now held in Escobar’s former living room—though the ideals of solitude and simplicity live on.
We stay first at Posada Dos Ceibas, a collection of eight bungalows tucked in a tropical garden just off the beach. For $98 a night, our blue-and-pink-painted place has a kitchen, a beautiful conical roof of palm thatch (called a palapa), and a mosquito net over the bed. It’s not just for looks: Thick mangroves begin on the other side of the beach road and, judging from the number of insect-eating geckos scampering about the bungalow’s outside walls, there’s plenty of food to be had.
We emerge on the beach bearing sunblock, hats, towels, and magazines, like the refugees from Playa that we are, stunned to find ourselves alone for a good 500 feet in each direction. There are only about eight chairs in front of our hotel, shaded by palapa umbrellas. As we discover, if more than four are occupied at a time, it’s a busy day. The beach is broad and long, and it is ours.
Everything at Dos Ceibas happens on or near the beach: massage, yoga, food and bar service. By the second day, I never even bother putting on shoes. Ambition fades with each sunny hour: We consider snorkeling tours, canoe trips, but can’t even muster the energy for a massage. “I kinda want one,” my girlfriend says, prone on a beach chair, “but I can’t say I need it anymore.” It’s transformative just being here. Warmed by an extra 85 degrees—nearly another body’s worth of heat—you feel twice the person you were back home. So we do as the iguanas do: Move little and soak up the sun.
In search of snacks, we stroll the beach until we reach La Zebra, a laidback palapa bar that serves mezcal, the local firewater, which tastes like whiskey steeped in Keith Richards’s liver. It’s offered with either one or two gusanos, whatever they are, and my girlfriend is invited to peer into some jars by the bar to find out. At the bottom are dark coils—“gusanos,” the bartender says. Worms.
At sundown, both the mosquitoes and salsa instructors emerge. And it’s hard to tell if the eager pupils, moving on a makeshift wooden platform on the beach, are dancing or simply dodging bites. But imperfection is the charm of Tulum. We love that this dance floor was built around a palm tree; in Playa, a tree in the way of “progress” is removed without question. We saw several such casualties laid out on the beach like cadavers.
For dinner, we return to Dos Ceibas, finding it by flashlight and candles leading up from the beach. Tulum’s bungalows are off the electrical grid, fueled instead by solar power or generators. Candlelight is the preferred illumination, and a couple dozen flames fill niches in a wall beside the house restaurant, flickering in the sand. Here, we discover Tikin Xic (pronounced “TEE-keen SHEEK”), a Mayan fish dish wrapped in banana leaves and marinated in achiote paste, a spice that Aztecs used to stain their lips red for rituals, as though they’d been imbibing blood. Its root plant also supposedly heals sunstroke, tonsillitis, leprosy, and rectal discomfort. We order it three times in five days, and, sure enough, we contract none of those things.
When we finally motivate ourselves to see the ruins, we’re like country folk in the big city, surprised by the hordes of tourists from the resorts, many wearing swimsuits as they stroll around the temples and palaces. It seems sacrilegious somehow, like visiting the Vatican in a bikini. We learn much about the Maya, their gods of sun and rain and suicide, but also that we’ve got it very, very good at Dos Ceibas.
Our final night in Mexico is spent at a different hotel up the beach, the rustically elegant Posada Lamar, in a bungalow so close to the ocean we can practically dive in from our deck. We eat our last supper next door at Posada Margherita, an upscale Italian place, though I’m still not wearing socks. The maitre’d presents the menu from memory, sitting at our carved wooden table, as laidback as when we’d spotted him kiteboarding earlier that day.
We linger over our wine, certain this casually civilized beach culture will not survive forever, or even five years. The Mexican government has already leapfrogged Tulum to begin building their latest resort town farther south. There’s talk of opening an international airport in Tulum to complement Cancun. This restaurant could soon be a Señor Frogs, the stars—now nearly as visible as they were to the Mayans—lost in the glare of mass tourism.
The next day, at the Cancun airport, we’re reunited with the all-inclusive crowd. They’re carting outsize sombreros and buying lunch with dollars they never bothered to change into pesos. It’s as if we’d been to two different countries.
Playa del Carmen
Where to Stay
* Hotel Básico: Industrial-strength luxury, contemporary cool. (52) 984-879-4448, www .hotelbasico.com
* Hotel Lunata: Colonial-style elegance just off the main drag. (52) 984-873-0884, www.lunata.com
* Posada Dos Ceibas: Eco-conscious seclusion with spacious bungalows and spa treatments. (52) 984-877-6024, www.dosceibas.com
* Posada Lamar: Tasteful bungalows right on the beach. (52) 984-116-6386, www.posadalamar.com
Where to EatPlaya del Carmen
* The Glass Bar: Italian fine dining on the pedestrian mall. (52) 984-803-1676, www.theglassbar.com
* Yaxche: Traditional Mayan cuisine on a garden patio. (52) 984-873-2502, www.mayacuisine.com
* Posada Margherita: Classy oceanfront dining featuring homemade Italian dishes. (52) 984-801-8493, www.posadamargherita.com
* Zamas: Seafood, pizza, and pasta in a rustic chic setting. 415-387-9806, www.zamas.com
Can a ski snob be satisfied in Minnesota?
By Andrew Putz
Model: Beth, Wehmann Agency
Stylist: Heather Horton; Hair and Makeup:
Carol Stopera, Wehmann Agency
But something happened over the next two days. Lutsen won me over—or, at least, made me a little less insufferable. It started the morning after I arrived, when I took a lift up Lutsen’s Ullr Mountain. To the east was the endless blue sheen of Lake Superior. Just as impressive was what I noticed when I looked south, where the resort’s vast terrain spread out before me, promising the sort of experience you don’t expect to find in flyover country: 1,000 skiable acres, 90 runs, a gondola, and enough snow to make a Yeti yelp with joy.
Indeed, due to it its proximity to the lake, Lutsen averages 10 feet of snowfall each year, twice as much as any other resort in Minnesota. The variety of the terrain is equally impressive. Expert runs are steep and demanding, while intermediate trails are varied and velvety, difficult enough to challenge experienced skiers, and easy enough to entice inexperienced ones. There is, truly, something for everyone—no matter how big a snob you are.
Any good resort is more than the sum of its skiable acres, though, and the folks who run Lutsen understand visitors are there as much for an experience as they are for activity. This is why the resort recently built a new chalet atop Moose Mountain. Positioned to provide jaw-dropping views of Lake Superior—the vistas from the deck alone may be worth the price of a lift ticket. It’s also why there are plenty of things to do at Lutsen besides ski. Depending on the day, you can take a sleigh ride, snowshoe, go dogsledding, sing karaoke, or listen to some jazz. Try doing all that at Trollhaugen.
This insight—that a successful ski outing often has little to do with, well, skiing—also explains why no Lutsen trip is complete without visiting two places: Papa Charlie’s and the Lockport Market & Deli. The former, a pub at the base of the resort, is the perfect place to have a beer (or three) after a day on the hill, and a great place to catch live music on weekends; it regularly hosts acts that any Minneapolis club promoter would covet. The kitschy Lockport, meanwhile, offers some of the best food in the area: from beef pasties to hearty breakfasts with Bunyan-sized helpings of ham.
Papa Charlie’s and the Lockport are each, in their own ways, quintessentially Minnesotan, in that both are apt reminders that quality can reveal itself in many places, and many ways—whether it’s sourdough pancakes or ski weekends.
Where to StayCaribou Highlands
The area’s newest ski-in/ski-out facility offers everything from hotel-style rooms to multi-bedroom houses. Rates from $89. 800-642-6036, www.caribouhighlands.com
Eagle Ridge at Lutsen Mountains
This slope-side resort offers suites and condos, and features the area’s only indoor/outdoor pool, which is heated year round. Rates from $89. 800-360-7666. www.eagleridgeatlutsen.com
Where to EatLockport Marketplace & Deli
This cozy eatery offers everything from beef pasties to homemade pies. Lutsen. 218-663-7548
Coho Cafe & Bakery
Serves sophisticated casual fare: a great place to pick up a salad, sandwich, or a pizza. Tofte. 218-663-8032
What to doOutdoors
The Lutsen Mountains Nordic Center offers 27 kilometers of groomed, trails for cross-country skiing. The resort also has an extensive trail system for snowshoeing, and offers sleigh rides on Tuesday and Saturday evenings and dog-sled rides every weekend. 218-663-7281. www.lutsen.com
Lutsen’s apres-ski pub, Papa Charlie’s features live music every Saturday night. 218-663-7281.www.lutsen.com