Tulum is a special place

Featuring interview with Mina Duque, Founder/Principal Designer at Interiors Tulum

December 26, 2020
— Designed by Mina Duque, Principal Designer at Interiors Tulum

You know, Tulum is really a spiritual place. A lot of people feel a strong energy here, whether it's something that they love, or something that they don't love, it has a kind of energy to it.

Tulum is a special place. In a lot of ways, it makes the newcomers feel at ease. Its nature welcomes us, making us feel not only connected with our ambience, but also with ourselves.

I had a chance to interview the designer behind the beautiful retreat we stayed at. Through the conversation, I gained an ever more intimate understanding of Tulum. I was fortunate to have heard the story of the region from the eyes of a long term resident, someone who had been adopted by the mother of Tulum and had since made Riviera Maya her home.

I think the community here is amazing. A lot of people do amazing work on a small business level, or on an individual community level. There's a lot of retirees, people that come from the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world. They're not only here to relax; they spend their time giving back. They chose this place and want to see this place to thrive.

On architecture

I spent about a month living in and getting to know Tulum. I loved how the housing developments, at least for now, are buried amongst the jungle. There is only a single road that connects the town to the beach. The most fascinating to me, is the innovative architecture protruding out of the greenery and the retreats nestled amongst an array of palms.

Tulum is an architectural haven. There is a bamboo yoga pavilion hidden in the village, a fashion boutique that invites us to walk barefoot over water mirrors, through tunnels, and up the hanging nets, and an art filled mansion juxtaposing luxury velvet furnishing with contemporary art installations.

It’s not often that we can be indulged with this much structural creativity. Experiencing these multitudes of spaces, we reconnect with our primitive desire to play.

I compare Tulum in a sense to Barcelona. It's a place for architects and designers to have fun. Even though there is a particular style here, people are always trying to be creative, in creating something new and different. There is a creative, artsy vibe. Some spaces have organic, curved edges and others with almost alien or insect looking installations, unlike anything I've ever seen, or anybody that probably has ever seen. Being here, there's always something new, there's always a new building, a new restaurant. You never get bored.
The organic forms of IK Lab art gallery and Azulik Uh May in Tulum reminds us of Antoni Gaudí’s nature inspired masterpieces.

On interior design

The Tulum style is defined by a mixture of bohemian and minimalism. It is worldly, free spirited, yet neutral and personal. It is inspired by those who lead an unconventional lifestyle, including artists and entrepreneurs who are constantly traveling and looking for their next home or investment.[1]

All my clients are investors. So this might be a part time vacation home, but it's also an investment. It's not purely a personal home, which makes Tulum a really unique market.

Of course, I need to learn about their lifestyle, their preferences, then I sort of become an actress. I think what's cool about interior designers is that you become curious about people and their lives; you become an actress and try to live the role of your clients; implement it to make them live their best life. It comes with so much trust.
I like to sit and just seep it in. I have a notepad and I start to imagine all the possibilities. I'll ask myself, how does it feel being here while paying attention to the architecture. Each architectural style elicits a specific feel, sometimes in a subtle way. It’s about hearing what the architecture is trying to tell you, and incorporate it with what the client wants.
Tropical modern boho with Moroccan pops of color (Sundara Tulum)

On environment, social responsibility

I came back to Tulum for the second time after a short visit to Mexico City. It’s odd how sometimes, when we’ve “come back”, we feel ever more connected to this place that’s starting to feel like home.

That’s when I started to learn more about Tulum, its rapid growth, the new roads to be built to accommodate the increasing population, and the “eco resorts” that sometimes mean diesel generators.[2]

Sadly, a lot of the developments that say are environmentally conscious and eco-friendly are just using it as marketing, especially the larger ones. The building in front of us, that shouldn't exist. It’s against the law to build above the tree level. Yet there is corruption and bribery here. We’re putting a lot of weight on the thin layer of land between us and the cenotes.
I think that being socially responsible or being environmentally responsible a lot of times means spending more money, and because a lot of people do not put principle before profit, it's a conflict of interest.
The nice thing about having your own business — you have the power of the purse to spend in responsible ways. I'm starting to work more with developers and that's much more large scale. I can choose to work with women or local artisans, and to put money back into the community as opposed to taking it out of the country. Those things really matter and have a positive impact, and that's something we can choose to do.
Bird eye view of Habitas Tulum and Luum Temple

On energy, our connection with place

Tulum is built on top of delicate waterways of the Yucatán peninsula. The limestone had collapsed thousands of years ago to reveal the turquoise water of the region, resulting in countless cenotes dotted amongst the jungle.

Tulum at the moment is made of small pockets of human developments, and the rest is untainted jungle. Growing up in the modern age, we’re often used to gardens and urban parks surrounded by buildings and concrete. Rarely, do we get to experience being surrounded by raw nature.

In Tulum, we feel the jungle is greater than us. Perhaps it’s because of finally being enveloped by nature, we feel energized, revitalized with a renewed sense of energy we didn’t know was there.

Our innate relationship with nature dates back to the Mayan traditions of seeking truth in constantly studying the environment and the signals that nature manifests.[3]

The Mayans used to say, “Life comes from water. There's a very small separation between us and the water at any point in time.” The land is very thin; underneath lies the complex river system. It is the water that gives us energy.
To some extent, I think this connection to nature means simplicity and minimalism, and overall a calm, relaxed feeling. It relates back to how the style is implemented here. You're not charged with artificial, manufactured, man-made ideals, but keeping the natural form of woods and texture of the concrete. It is more about being able to live in a space that is a product of the environment.
Being able to live in a space that is a product of the environment”
I think that a lot of people come here and are instantly in love with it. And they come back. People say that “Tulum is like a mother. She either adopts you or aborts you.”
It's true. My husband and I always thought we’re the weirdest people. Wherever we lived, in the US, or even in Morocco, I've always felt like an outsider and a weirdo. I just accepted it at a certain point. But in Tulum, everybody is a weirdo.

When Mina introduced me to her husband, she said, “Tulum has adopted her.” It made me happy. It is as if I was accepted by the spirit that governs this place.

Tulum is a powerful place.

Sitting under the palapa roofs, looking out into the Caribbean sea, we feel a sense of calmness, an invitation to reflect and to stay true to our inner world.

In the new year, let’s observe the way the wind blows, the shape of the clouds on a rainy morning, and listen to the songs of birds.

Happy holidays,



[1] The Spruce's Decorators' Guide to Bohemian Style
[2] Who Killed Tulum?
[3] Ancient spirituality guides a Maya town’s conservation efforts

Originally published on Substack →
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