Visitors to Tulum do not get the option of staying in a high rise hotel: there aren’t any. But if you want to live in a palapa—well—there’s lots of those. We’re staying at Jade (reminder to gringos—that’s pronounced HAH-day), where we sleep under palm thatch roofs. What could be more romantic?
Our room is tucked under the highest roof visible in this photo, with an open deck affording sweeping views of the ocean.
Jade offers just seven rooms. We feel less like customers, more like personal friends of the owners, Juan and Marta. Between outings, we stop in the kitchen when one or the other is working. There, we’re offered a coffee or a slice of cake, and conversation with two interesting and accomplished people. Marta is a graphic designer educated at Monterrey Tech. Juan is a professional diver. Some of his old gear is on display in one of the common areas.
Built of natural materials, our room has an organic feel. Rough-hewn floorboards, posts made from peeled poles, and a thick layer of palm thatch to keep out rain make a unique space. Soft breezes blow into the seaward-facing windows and out the ones that overlook the jungle.
I’ve always thought palapa builders cut palm thatch from nearby jungle as needed, and perhaps in some places, they still do. But the uniformity of the fronds from which our roof is formed suggest that thatch is a standardized building material, sold perhaps by the square meter.
And so it is. Down the beach, we saw bundles awaiting incorporation into a roof. This thatch is of some other natural material than palm. (Juan’s dog, Chile, accompanies us on our beach walks. Here, he inspects the bundles.)
Palapa construction is rudimentary by McMansion standards. A tinaco—a water tank—is precariously stowed in the peak of our roof. Rooftop tinacos are common fixtures in San Miguel de Allende. But seeing one resting on rafters, held in place with ropes, makes me a little nervous. All of the plumbing in our room is exposed. The nature of thatch prohibits hiding them inside the walls.
Most everything in our place hangs from rafters, like this chair that Laura is relaxing in. Canvas bags stuffed between rafters serve as our wardrobe. Windows consist of plastic sheeting tacked to poles; we drag them open or closed as needed.
People accustomed to wall-to-wall carpeting and mirrored bathrooms might not be comfortable in a room like ours. In some ways, life in a palapa is more like camping out than staying in a hotel. But we like the ocean breezes, the sound of surf, the faint sway and creaking of our room, the sound of geckos chittering somewhere in the fronds that shelter us.