Carretera Tulum/Boca Paila KM 8.7, Tulum, Quintana Roo 77780
A Caribbean breeze flows from the ocean throughout this tiny, intimate property, where personal service from staff, a secluded piece of white sand, and memorable, modern Mexican cuisine are among the many reasons you'll be able to forget about your "baggage" for a while.
A kilometer north of Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, between the ocean and the jungle of Tulum, Casa Dos Besos (House Of The Two Kisses) was constructed in 2006. Later, the tiny property was taken over, with La Valise (meaning "The Suitcase" in French) opening its doors as a luxury property in December 2017. The open-air concept in the common areas was kept, along with some of the original furniture, which, combined with soft pale interiors and abstract wooden pieces from Mexican artisans, creates a dreamy, instantly relaxing atmosphere.
Wicker monkeys sit on lamps, while tiger-shaped chairs rest in the open lounge that looks out onto the white sand and ocean. Large white hammocks and beds are spread over the property, which is immersed in the shade of palm trees. These elements make every corner of La Valise suitable for having a quiet drink, meal, read, or nap.
After a very bumpy drive down the crowded main strip of Tulum's road to Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, you will arrive at La Valise and be offered a welcome juice to sip as you're shown into your room. The hotel has five seafront suites in the main house and four jungle rooms at the back. The suites located on the seafront form a thatched palapa with three pointed high ceilings made with chukum, a local wood from rubber trees.
The master suite is positioned top and center, and is larger than the rest. There's a small swimming pool located by the entrance, though it's size and position (next to the reception and the main lounge) means it doesn't seem to see much action.
Our room was a Beachfront Lower, a large ground-level suite that has at its center a shower and bathtub made of rounded, elevated walls, so that you could, if you chose, look through the glass doors to the ocean while you shower, though the lack of any curtains or doors won't be for everyone. Directly in front of the shower, there is a large sink made with a rustic block of wood. On the counter, you will find a modern coffee machine and a large jug with purified water. A soft, white, king-sized bed overlooks a private deck and the beach.
The walls have a washed concrete finishing with exposed beams. There are intriguing art pieces made of assembled pieces of wood, which hang on the walls and look like meteorites or shooting stars. Next to the bed, the lamps have wicker parrots perched on them. At the back of the suite, there is a little closet and a toilet which (thank God) does have a door for privacy.
Outside on the deck, there's a large white hammock and a small table with two chairs, the perfect set-up for watching a sky filled with stars at night. Even though the two lower rooms are directly next to the central lounge, there is a floor-to-ceiling dividing curtain that gives a private feel to the area.
As you walk to the wide, long beach, you will pass several palm trees and beds, some with rustic reed-like structures to shelter guests from the sun. A section of Tulum's beautiful beach is reserved for guests and feels secluded and private. You will see a few people passing by on walks, vendors trying to sell you a dream catcher here and there, and a few kite-surfers out on the waves, but that's about it.
With no restaurant at the property itself, La Valise sources its meals for guests from La Encantada next door and NÜ across the road (both belonging to the same company as the hotel). It is a given that food in Tulum these days will be expensive. With prices rocketing in the area as high as $7.50 for a taco, nothing is surprising anymore. Here, one goes for around $4.75, which, in Mexico, still feels incredibly steep.
We started with guacamole and a tomato salad prepared with anis vinaigrette and basil to share. We enjoyed these plates, sat on a bed by the beach, accompanied by a couple of well-made mezcal margaritas. Fish and shrimp tacos that arrived next were warm and generously portioned. A mushroom pastor taco with roasted pineapple was tasty and creative, though not very close to the authentic al pastor flavor.
After a stroll on the beach and a night out along Tulum's main strip, you can enjoy the sunrise from your deck or even tucked up in your bed. For breakfast, an area of the lounge is set up with a juice bar, a coffee machine brewing coffee from Chiapas, and plenty of tea options. There is also fresh fruit, yogurts, nuts, and a good selection of rye bread, corn cakes, and fine French pastries.
As you pick a spot on the large deck, a friendly waiter will hand you the menu with options for main dishes, from banana pancakes or tropical bowls to chilaquiles or Eggs Benedict. I tried an unusual creation, a whites-only omelet with panela cheese and corn grain on a soft Chile Poblano sauce. The vibrant colours looked almost radioactive (in a good way) to me, and the flavor was unique and delicious.
It's always easy to enjoy a day out in the sun on Tulum beach, which as we post this has been sargasso-free for half a year, but it feels particularly easy in La Valise's music-free beach club area.
For dinner, you can find restaurants all along the strip, within easy reach. For a meal with a sense of occasion, you only need to walk across to Nü. The restaurant is set in the jungle and run by seven chefs from Mexico City, including Cesar Castañeda, previously Head Chef at Hotel Condesa DF and now named one of Mexico's 10 best Chefs under 30 by Gourmet magazine.
Usually, when I hear the words "tribe" or "nomad" used to describe something in Tulum, as they do at Nü, I'm instantly put off. But there does feel like a collective working together as a team here, the chefs working in a line at counters that frame the restaurant. The moment we sat down, surrounded by waving palm trees and under the stars, the effect of those words rapidly faded. Deep house music was great, loud enough to make you move your feet, but soft enough to still hold a decent conversation. Attentive staffers were friendly, which isn't something you can always count on in sometimes-snooty Tulum, and the ambiance makes for a memorable night out. I've tried many of Tulum's renowned restaurants, but the meal and cocktails at Nü were something I won't forget.
The evening started with a Charandinha, a tall drink that's a Mexican take on the Brazilian Caipiriña made with mezcal from San Luis Potosi and charanda, a sugarcane spirit from Michoacan, along with lime and chia. To start, I had the sublime Chile Xcatic Tacos ($15), two tacos made with handmade tortillas, each with a piece of the large, yellow, acidic chilli stuffed with soft pork belly and laid on a roasted tomato sauce, topped with fresh coriander.
As the restaurant gets steadily busy, you can see the chefs working at their respective brick ovens, firewood, grills, and pans under fumes of steam and fire. The next drink recommended by the waiter was a Saint And Tonic, a mezcal gin infused with pineapple, lime and a hint of yerba santa. My main course was a beef stew, presented on a yucca purée with oven vegetables and avocado leaf. The meat was so soft that a knife wasn't needed and so full of flavor that you would swear it took hours to slowly stew it to reach this point.
Overall, La Valise hotel is a fantastic and memorable experience. It's almost a postcard of what Tulum represents, but done incredibly well instead of feeling like a cliché. While the design does go hand-in-hand with the so-called bohemian style that invaded Tulum in the early 2000s, it has enough stylish and creative elements to make it stand out. The small size of the elegant property means it's an intimate stay, with personable staff always on hand to help out, while food and beverage menus provide many strong reasons to not want to pack your suitcase.
Web Address: lavalise.com/tulum/
Total Number of Rooms: 8 rooms and 1 suite (9 total)
Published rates: $350 (low season) — $1,499 double plus 19% taxes per night.
Review and photos by Andrea Moreno