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Tulum & Sian Ka'an Real Estate: From Backpacking to Luxe

By John Lamkin

As the whole Caribbean coast of Mexico goes steadily more upscale in its real estate offerings, the ex-backpacker enclave of Tulum and regions to the south are heating up in anticipation of a new international airport.


A few years ago the image one had of Tulum, Mexico was a unique Maya archaeological site, backpackers, pseudo-Maya huts and bare-breasted Italian women on sparkling white powder sand Caribbean beaches.

Now that image has changed considerably to include luxury homes and luxury resorts. Plus ecology has crept into the picture with the approximately 1.3 million acre Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve on the south border and posh eco-resorts to the north such as Hacienda Tres Rios and the more conscious Mayakoba developments like Banyan Tree and Rosewood. Mexico has put into effect strict environmental rules which should assure that future development is more nature-friendly than was Cancun and Playa del Carmen to the north.

Hotel Mezzanine
Hotel Mezzanine

Tulum is wedged between the top-heavy part of the Mayan Riviera—Cancun and Playa del Carmen— and Mexico's eco-pride and World Heritage Site, Sian Ka'an. It is a virtual paradise with its turquoise Caribbean waters, sparkling pristine beaches, cooling, prevailing breezes passing over a thousand miles of wide open sea. and lush jungle Its cenotes and underground water systems (one of the largest in the world) provide a delight for cenote and cave diving.

Sian Ka'an in Mayan loosely translates to “where the sky is born." The Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, spans 120 kilometers, making up about one-third of Mexico's Caribbean coast.

The Tulum archaeological site is one of the most frequently visited of all Maya ruins and is the only major Maya ruin to be found along the Riviera Maya. The Maya Decending God, Ah Muu' Zen Ka'ab, is the main god depicted in the ruins. The Decending God represents the honey bee. Honey was important to the Maya as a trade item (they traded as far as Honduras from their seaport below Tulum), for sustenance, and was (and still is) used in their sacred rituals. Honey equaled prosperity for the Maya.

El Pez Hotel
El Pez Boutique Hotel

The new prosperity is tourism and developments for expatriates. The large cities to the north have maxed out their tourism possibilities and the Cancun Airport is at about at its maximum capability.

Many tourists and people wanting to move to a quieter, more tranquil environment are choosing the Tulum/Sian Ka'an area. The potential is also here for investors looking for a place with growth possibilities.

El Pez Hotel
El Pez Hotel

Tulum, with its newly formed energetic municipal government, is building a completely new downtown with cobblestone, pedestrian-only streets. There is also much work on new infrastructure to the north and south of the city.

The big plus for development in the area is the soon-to-come international airport, with its 11,000 plus feet runway, located west of Tulum, south of the town of Tankah. The airport will handle three million passengers and is expected to be completed in 2013.

Regarding R.O.I., realtor Gary Wendt says, “ Think about 10 years ago before the 4-lane concrete highway opened and Playa del Carmen became the fastest growing resort city in the world. Sounds like a sound bite, but this is now true for Tulum.”

Tulum Beach

For those interested in an ecologically sound lifestyle, Sian Ka'an and much of the Tulum beach area use wind and solar power, plus rain water catchment and filtration.

All new developments, such a the giant Aldea Zamá project, are showing concern for the environment.Tulum Mezzanine According to environmental consultant, Luis Guillermo of LG Soluciones, large luxury houses and resorts will not be an ecological problem with the new municipal Urban Plan and the government's Ecological Program now in effect.

Some of the best deals in luxury real estate right now are in large beach houses and boutique hotels. Roberto Rivas' RE/MAX Tulum is offering Mezzanine, a small but posh hotel just down the road from the Maya ruins for six million dollars. This appears to be a prime location with no development possible to the north because of the ruins and being a couple of blocks, by paved road, from the main road into town.

Rivas also has another high-end boutique hotel, El Pez, along the paved beach road that is going for 3.5 million.

El Pez Hotel in Tulum

In the Sian Ka'an Reserve RE/MAX Tulum has listed a luxury beach house, Villa Destiny. It is priced at $2.48 million with 330 feet of gorgeous Caribbean beach front on one side and a large fresh water lagoon on the other which, according to the owner Patrick, has the best fly fishing anywhere around. From the roof-top living area one can watch the sunrise over the Caribbean and the sunset over the lagoon. The house is completely solar and wind powered and has a large rain water catchment cistern with filtration.

Casa de los Pelicanos
Photo courtesy of LocoGringo

Realtor and rental agent also has a luxe beachfront home offered in Sian Ka'an: Casa de los Pelicanos. It has two stories, three bedrooms and goes for 1.8 million dollars. LocoGringo also offers Tulum Hotel & Dive Shop a small hotel in downtown Tulum for 1.6 million dollars.

TulumRealtor Gary Wendt of Playa Citizen Real Estate has a prime piece of property on offer that’s a 15 minute drive from the new international airport in Tulum. This property is 4 hectares, nearly 10 acres, with 357 lineal meters (1171 feet) touching the Caribbean Sea, a sandy cove that is movie-set gorgeous, and a cenote/pond. A Maya "mirador" lighthouse (these were used as a hurricane early warning system) sits near one end of the property. It was built during the first civilization of the area. Since this landmark must be preserved, development near it will be restricted. According to Wendt, a villa will be a good and respectful neighbor. You will have to discuss the price personally with Wendt.

Whether you want to make an investment in a place set to boom, make the move to paradise, or just see the crystal turquoise waters of the Mexican Caribbean, Tulum and Sian Ka'an are worth checking out.

Story by John Lamkin, March 2011. Photos by the author unless otherwise noted

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