Tulum (130km/80 miles from Cancún) is best known for its archaeological site, a walled Maya city of the post-Classic age perched dramatically on a rocky cliff overlooking the Caribbean. The coastline south of the site is packed with palapa hotels and upscale retreats for a well-heeled crowd seeking a "rustic" hideaway.

This stretch of incredible white beaches has become the unofficial center of the Tulum Hotel Zone -- a collection of about 30 small hotels stretching from the Tulum ruins south to the entrance to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. Hotels here rely on freshwater deliveries and rain tanks, and most generate their own electricity. Wi-Fi is available in public areas in many hotels and in some hotel rooms, and cell service is usually good.

The official town of Tulum is bisected by Hwy. 307, where it intersects the road to Cobá. The commercial center sprawls along both sides of Hwy. 307 for about 20 blocks jam-packed with gas stations, auto repair shops, farmacias, banks, markets, tour offices, and eateries. Two glorietas (traffic circles) slow the traffic through town; frontage roads allow access to parking spaces and driveways. Restaurants and hotels pop up along side streets around the plaza. Anyone who thinks of Tulum as a charming pueblo hasn't been here for a few years. The growth is astounding and shows no sign of slowing.