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Zahra: Lodging Review
Tulum, Mexico

by Tammie Thompson

Zahra Beach, photo by T. Thompson A cloud of dust kicked up as we pulled alongside the open-air reception desk. "We're looking for the Zahra hotel," I said. "You have arrived," the desk clerk said. Arrived indeed. Zahra, languishing between the Yucatan jungle and Mexico's Caribbean Sea, is a collection of cabanas nestled between two postcard quality beaches along Tulum's hotel zone.

The kid comments began immediately. "Where's the pool?" "We're staying in a stick house?" "My bag doesn't roll on the sand." "There's a swinging bed - it's mine!" "Look at the bathtub - it's a log." "Look at the bed - there's a mosquito net just like on the Expedia commercial." "Can we go in the ocean - it's green; no, blue; no, turquoise; aqua?" "Where's my bathing suit?" "There's no door to the bathroom - well it's a door but people can look in." "Look at the view from your bathtub - it's in the middle of the room!" "Can we eat now?"

And so it began, the slow decompression to a world unlike our own. No pool. No T.V. No cell service. Not even any electricity after 11 p.m.

We woke at dawn. The birds, nesting in our palapa roof, were glad to greet the day. The pounding surf, serenading the night, became a backdrop during the day. Our "stick house" creaked in the breeze - the palm leaves rustling.

Zahra, part of the EcoTulum Resorts, offers a variety of accommodations. We stayed in the family suite. It was magical - with plenty of room and a bit of privacy for the adults - a downstairs room with a swinging queen bed and a bunk bed, both covered in mosquito netting, and a "gently" partitioned bathroom with log tub. Upstairs there was another queen, table and chairs, plus another log tub - open to the room. The windows opened to the sound of the surf. It was part tree house, part beach camping, and part luxury hotel.

Log bathtub, Zahra; photo by T. Thompson At first the lack of privacy was intimidating. People could look in; the bathroom wasn't quite private, etc. But as the days progressed, the experience was quite liberating. No need to look in the tiny mirror - instead of a fussing with appearances, we were riding waves, or digging in the sand, or reading a book on the outside bed swing. At one with the environment (thus the "eco" experience), we bonded as a family - spending quality time without TV, video games, even electricity.

Meals became an event - a time to relish the sunset, relive the day's adventures. Zahra's open-air restaurant and bar, with its sand floor, has a wide selection of fresh Mexican specialties with a Mayan flavor. Breakfasts were simple yogurt and fruit or traditional huevos rancheros. A juice bar was a quick alternative. Our lunch and dinner favorites centered on fish or chicken tostadas or tacos on homemade tortillas, or the fresh ceviche or shrimp cocktails, smothered in fresh salsa. Lack of Spanish on our part created some interesting combinations - but we laughed and tried everything. Traditional Mexican music often accompanied the evening meal - quite a treat for the kids.

There are many restaurants within walking distance to Zahra. Plus there are plenty of taxis to take guests into the heart of Tulum, just ten minutes away. Factor in the mini-mart and open-air shops (some with unique Mexican crafts & jewelry) and this tiny Tulum outpost bustles with activity.

Zahra Restaurant, photo courtesy of Zahra Part of the EcoTulum Resorts, Cabanas Copal and Azulik are just down the road. Though beautiful, these resorts are clothing optional, and not really suited to families. Perfect for an afternoon escape to the spa or romantic meal with your spouse, you are able to use all of their amenities including beaches.

This little enclave of Tulum is kicked back and beautiful. Each day is an adventure. We explored the many beaches, drove through the jungle, got an educational fix at the ruins, and even did the theme park thing at Xel-Ha. But most days we spent swimming in the sea, building sand castles, and just being a family.

I would recommend Zahra to families looking for something different. It's rustic, yet accommodating. And let's not forget liberating. I still hear the sound of the surf in my head, the rustle of the palm trees. I'd go back in a second.

If you are going:

  • Rent a car in Cancun to give you flexibility.
  • Opt for one of the beachfront cabanas - we recommend the family suite. There is a wide disparity of accommodations, some with communal bathroom. Know what you are reserving. There are photos on their website.
  • Stop at one of the local supermarkets in Playa del Carmen and stock up on snacks and beverages. Zahra does stock the cabana with fresh clean water.
  • Bring insect repellant. Dose at dusk.
  • Bring water & sand toys
  • Leave preconceived expectations at home. "Eco" is in.

    ecotulum@eco-res.com 877-532-6737 1-604-834-5153

    For more on Tulum & the Riviera Maya see Destination Mexico here. For more on Zahra see ecotulum.com.

    Tammie Thompson's idea of the perfect vacation is the sound of the surf, a romp in the sea, and plenty of smiles. Tammie lives in Truckee, California with her husband, two adventureous kids, and Lola, the Bernese Mountain Dog.

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