In the tropical heat, we’d been walking down a quiet dirt road for what felt like centuries before a car finally drove past. We waved them down just to make sure we were headed in the right direction.
“Chamico’s?” we asked, hoping they knew about this hole-in-the-wall restaurant (that neither has a phone or website) rumored to serve the best seafood in the Riviera Maya.
The passenger pointed straight ahead and told us to keep walking.
Eventually, a path to the beach appeared between a mangrove forest and oceanfront houses, a path that led straight to hammocks suspended between bright yellow plastic tables where a few people nibbled on ceviche with cervezas in hand. My travel companion and I had found what we were looking for: not just a hidden restaurant, but a respite from Tulum’s bustling tourist scene. We had discovered one of the wonders of Soliman Bay.
Tulum’s Secret Bay
In Tulum, the glimmering Caribbean coastline and ancient Mayan ruins attract scores of visitors each year. I imagined achieving serenity in such a popular tourist destination would be challenging, that’s until we found out about Soliman Bay, or Bahía Soliman. A 20 minute drive north of Central Tulum, the turn off to Bahía Soliman is disguised so well by a wild mangrove forest that anyone might miss it. Discover the road, though, and you’ll find yourself amid crystalline waters where you can snorkel, kayak, and imbibe sunset rooftop cocktails in peace. Hidden away beyond the hubbub, Soliman Bay’s off-the-radar location is one of very few places you can go in the Riviera Maya and feel as if you were on a deserted beach, yet still have access to the area's main attractions plus off-the-radar restaurants like Chamico’s. Locals say this area is what Tulum used to be like years ago.
I can’t take full credit for discovering Soliman Bay; I had heard rumor about a new eco-conscious, accommodation option opening near Tulum, which is exactly what led me there.
Retreat to Paradise
Along Soliman Bay, Villa la Semilla is the type of place you plan a vacation around. Modeled after a modern-day hacienda with two-tiered rooftop terraces, the family-owned, 5-bedroom villa melds the comforts of home (like a private butler and chef) with the free spirit of the neighboring Mayan jungle and mangroves. A rooftop plunge pool plus a beachfront pool (and the ocean just steps away) means the location is not short on swimming options.
Its neutral color palate is accented with reclaimed curios and antiques curated from around the Yucatán Peninsula with eco-conscious design elements. Inside, trees were left undisturbed to sprout through the villa’s ceiling, meanwhile much of the remaining vegetation on-site was carefully transplanted, instead of cut down. To construct wooden accents and furniture, fallen trees from around the jungle were collected and used instead of cutting down new ones.
Beyond its original design and exotic location, the villa’s family feel sets it apart from other accommodation options in the area. Alexis Scharer and Angie Rodriguez, the husband-wife team behind Villa la Semilla, added personal touches to the villa — like portraits of their horses and children --- and also make themselves available during guest stays to accommodate requests. It feels less like vacation and more like home.
More to Explore
While you probably wont want to leave the villa, there’s still much to explore in the area from ruins to ancient, underground swimming holes.
Climb the Coba Ruins. This ancient landmark is far more grand than Tulum’s ruins, yet it’s closer to town than Chichén Itzá. Plus, visitors are permitted to walk up the ruins whereas other archaeological sites around the Yucatán you’re not.
Shop unique finds in Tulum Pueblo. This centralized part of town, away from the water, has scores of shops, cafes, and restaurants, so you can go home with your coveted Mexican blanket after eating probably too many tacos.
Indulge in indigenous healing techniques. The Mayan Clay treatment at Papaya Playa Resort, for example, combines a replenishing massage with a nourishing full-body Mayan clay skin mask.
Enjoy rooftop cocktails at Jashita Hotel. The view any time of day is awe-inspiring, but sunset is by far the best way to close the day, piña colada in hand.
Swim in Tulum’s natural swimming holes called Cenotes. Many of them are above ground, but the Choo-Ha Cenote near the Coba ruins has an extra wow factor: you descend into the depths of a dark underground cave to find it.