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What’s New in Tulum: An Interview with Derek Klein, Hotelier and Gitano Founder

In a town of “creative nomads,” Derek Klein, the founder of Tulum’s chicest new boutique hotel, Casa Pueblo, is an influencer worth following. Klein first made a name for himself with Gitano, a see-and-be-seen lounge on the beach road that has been referred to as “Studio 54 in the jungle.” When the buzz surrounding the spot carried Gitano away from his original vision, Klein sold his stake in the lounge to embark on the Casa Pueblo project. No matter the address, Klein has an undeniable instinct for creating the atmosphere that people crave: natural and homey, with just the right amount of style and sex appeal. With the addition of a second, beachfront property to his Casa Pueblo portfolio, it is clear that he is only getting started. Here, Klein shares an inside look at what to expect from Casa Pueblo Boca Paila, which is slated to open this October, as well as his secrets for where to go and who to know in Tulum.

Contact Indagare to book a bespoke trip to Tulum. Our expert trip designers can secure reservations at top hotels like Casa Pueblo (read our “First Look” here). 

You’re originally from Utah, and you first came to Tulum in 2007 before later relocating there full-time. What inspired you to move?
I came to know Tulum via India—it’s a long story probably better for a book—but a very dear friend brought me here for the first time. My heart fell in love with the pristine beaches and perfect Caribbean-blue sea. Four years later, Tulum became my permanent residence, and eight years later, with Gitano Tulum, Casa Pueblo Tulum and Casa Pueblo Boca Paila, I can say that this was a journey destined to be.

What do you wish more people knew about Tulum?
That it’s not just about the beaches, especially now. It’s about the people here, who are creating a young, vibrant community. People who have traveled here feel connected. A lot of people consider Tulum a second home—it’s probably the equivalent to Acapulco in the 1950s and 1960s.

What led you to sell your stake in Gitano and begin the Casa Pueblo project?
Gitano didn’t fit into the bigger vision I had for my life and future. It will always have a place in my heart (I love seeing my Gitano sign hanging at the new outposts in New York—that’s my handwriting!), but I sold it to do what I am doing now. Casa Pueblo represents this moment in my life. I’m grateful to be building this hospitality brand from the ground up, with the knowledge and experience I took away from Gitano.

What inspired Casa Pueblo’s unique design and aesthetic?
Mike Moser (co-designer of Casa Pueblo) and I find Mexico inspiring, and we love Morocco, as well as the east. We pulled inspiration for the floor plans, materials and textiles from Moorish and Colonial architecture. We take traditional techniques but apply them with a modern twist. We have a very distinctive look, which is helping to shape what Tulum is today. We aren’t selling spirituality or a nomadic, tribal experience, which has become a trend here. Instead, we are a design- and experience-focused hospitality brand, inviting you into our home and offering you a piece of our lifestyle, the way we love to experience it.

What role does Casa Pueblo play in the Tulum community?
At Casa Pueblo, we have always played a positive role in the community by engaging socially and supporting causes we believe in. Living by example. Being kind, being good to one another.

How will your new beach property, Casa Pueblo Boca Paila, be different from the original location?
With Casa Pueblo, I wanted to create an oasis in the middle of town—an inspiring space where people could come together to work, chill, cool off—a place that felt familiar, like a beautiful home. With Boca Paila, Mike Moser, Fer Palma and I sat down and designed our dream beach house. It’s a Caribbean colonial home: floor-to-ceiling windows, pearl walls and beach oak doors, centered around a red-and-white-tile pool. We wanted to keep the communal spaces closest to the water, so everyone can enjoy. Beaches are made for everyone to relax. We have a look-out deck as well, where we will serve Sangria every day at sunset. It’s going to be gorgeous.

What is your goal for the Casa Pueblo brand?
To expand Casa Pueblo outside of Tulum into a boutique hospitality brand. We will soon have over 120 keys across our properties.

Where are your own favorite places to eat, shop, relax and explore in Tulum?
My number one restaurant recommendation is Loyal Order, a Turkish/Mediterranean restaurant on the beach, on the way to the ruins, which was created by two people I greatly admire. It’s perfect. I also recently opened a new restaurant with my business partner Omar Rodriguez on the beach road, called La Bomba. It’s colorful, fun and the food is prepared by Greek chefs.

What are your favorite Tulum-based brands?
I’ve always respected and admired Katie James (Instagram @katiejames) for seeing an opportunity in a beach market that lacked a very important essential: a great sandal. By James (Instagram @by.james) has a very special place in my heart for their sandals, handmade in the Yucatán. Katie also has some other things up her sleeve—so be on the lookout for that. I also love Counterfit Studio, which was founded by my friend and now business partner Dominik Zurich. It is a brand we are building around the modern traveler, creating every essential for on-the-go travel with a classy and sophisticated twist.

Are you involved in any projects focused on protecting Tulum’s vulnerable ecosystems?
I am not involved in any projects that have to do with sustainability, but both personally and professionally I consider the environment, and I make sure things are done correctly. We clean the hotel with white vinegar and biodegradable products, and there are absolutely no single-use plastics on premise, from the common areas, bar and restaurant, to the rooms, which are stocked with filtered water in glass bottles and bathroom amenities in refillable containers.

What’s on your travel wishlist?
The Pellicano Hotels—in particular, the Mezzatorre Hotel. I am in love with this hotel brand; their style is off the charts. I want to go there and have a different outfit for every part of the day. It’s dreamy. Another place on my list is Nageen Lake in Kashmir, India—I have friends there who have a beautiful houseboat. It’s a slice of heaven. There is also an architect from London and his partner who is Canadian-Filippino who have Tao Philippines—approximately 30 islands where they have farming and schools for children. They do these very rustic sailing excursions, no WiFi — just the sailboat over open waters, sleeping under the stars, and catching fish to cook over fire. It’s an adventure that’s been on my list for a few years. and I hope to finally experience it this year.

At Indagare, we believe that how you travel matters. What role has travel played in your life?
Traveling has definitely shaped my life in ways that I probably haven’t fully realized yet. There are so many stories to be told—from my first time driving down that dirt Tulum beach road (it wasn’t paved yet), with the canopy of palms dangling over the road as I drove by the Zama Bay, and being completely awestruck and overtaken by the beauty of simplicity. Walking the streets of Paris after midnight, alone on my 23rd birthday—watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle and having the whole world in front of me. The endless sensation of butterflies and beautiful dreams. The lifelong friendships that have shaped, inspired, changed me for the better—friends from every walk of life. Learning to accept and love them for who they are and feeling that in return. I dropped out of a B.A. Architecture program and traveled. It was the best decision I made for myself. I wish everyone in the world had the opportunity to travel.

Did you always want to work in hospitality?
I grew up working in the entertainment industry. I’m a storyteller; I love creating a storyline through design. Hospitality is an extension of that. It’s all theater.

Contact Indagare to book a bespoke trip to Tulum. Our expert trip designers can secure reservations at top hotels like Casa Pueblo (read our “First Look” here). 

– Elizabeth Harvey on August 30, 2019

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