Ultimate Guide to Tulum Mexico

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Tulum is a small town in the state of Quintana Roo in the Yucatan Peninsula. Approximately 2 hours south of Cancun Airport. It can be a destination for luxury travelers, travelers, but also budget backpackers. It has so much to offer for offbeat adventures and healthy enthusiasts as well.

Tulum is mostly known for its beaches and yoga retreats. It’s where idyllic white sand beaches meet chic hotels and high-end resorts in addition to cute restaurants. There are also plenty things to do in the area, such as visiting my favorite cenotes.

As I’ve been living nearby in Playa del Carmen for the last year, I got to know the area and Tulum quite well. This is my ultimate Tulum Mexico Guide for 2017. Here’s everything you need to know, but if you have any more questions post the comment and I’ll try to answer as soon as possible.tulum


The Complete Tulum Travel Guide (2017)


How to Get to Tulum?

There are no direct flights to Tulum, as there’s no airport there. You can choose to fly to either Cancun (2 hours by car) or Cozumel (40 minutes by ferry & 1 hours by car). Check on Skyscanner which one is cheaper to fly to.

If you’re flying into Cozumel, you can simply take a taxi to the ferry terminal and take a ferry to Playa del Carmen. It will leave you directly next to the ADO bus station, from where you can take a bus to Tulum. There’s also a taxi stand if you prefer. There’s no need of pre-booking anything in advance.

If you’re flying into Cancun, then you have a lot of options. I don’t recommend renting a car at the airport, as it’s way more expensive than if you rent one once you arrive in Tulum. The best way to get to Tulum is by the ADO bus. These buses are safe, clean and nice – don’t think it’s like a Greyhound!

Once you leave the customs area at the airport, there will be an ADO bus company booth to purchase tickets. Buses run every 40 minutes to Playa del Carmen where you’ll need to change buses.

You can pay in either Pesos or Dollars (177 pesos or 9 USD to Playa & 67 pesos or $4 to Tulum). Once you arrive, there will be many taxis available that can take you to your hotel.

There is NO free Wifi at Cancun Airport, so don’t expect to find your hotel address online upon arrival.

Tulum beach


Safety in Tulum

Tulum is extremely safe, but it isn’t as safe to leave your belongings unattended. You can drive a rental car without any issues, you can walk around at night. Despite what you probably heard about Mexico being dangerous, you’re probably safer in Tulum or anywhere in Riviera Maya, than you would be in New York City.

While scams happen occasionally, they can happen pretty much anywhere else in the world too. I would recommend following general safety precautions that you would take anywhere and have some common sense.

tulum iguana

Friendly iguana!


When to Go

There’s one rule if you’re coming to Riviera Maya: don’t trust the forecast! They’ll only give you a day estimate, but the truth is: it might rain during the day and get sunny later on. And vice versa. Always check the amount and percentage of rain and the hours of sunshine. 

No matter when you go bring a sweater unless you’re traveling during summer months (June-August). You’ll be sunbathing during the day, but it gets chilly during the night. I’m usually cold 😉

For budget travelers, I recommend traveling to Tulum in the shoulder season. It’s cheaper and you’ll experience fewer crowds.


Tulum Budget

I don’t want to lie to you: Tulum isn’t cheap. Because of many rich visitors, the place has become way overpriced. Prices are similar to the US prices.

While U.S. Dollars are accepted at many restaurants and shops, I don’t recommend using it. You’ll overpay way more than if you pay in Mexican Pesos. Banks are plentiful in Tulum and the majority of them offer 24-hour ATMs as well.

For dinner, I’d usually prepare at least $15 if you’re eating in a hotel zone, or even $25 if you want a cocktail or wine with your meal. If you decide to downtown and try some street food or small local restaurants, you can get a meal for $5-7.sea tulum


Where to Stay in Tulum?

There are plenty of amazing hotel options, but I highly suggest choosing one along the hotel zone with beach front cabanas. And by that, I don’t mean booking a resort, but a direct access to the beach in Tulum is important. While there’s a public beach, it’s pretty small and gets easily crowded. You’ll be better off with a beachfront hotel.

nomade tulum
nomade tulum beach

My hotel recommendations

I had a chance to stay at a few different places in Tulum. Here are my recommendations depending on your budget, expectations, and locations preference. I stayed at all of these properties, so can tell you everything about them.

Best Hostel

I ended up at Chill Inn without any expectations and was welcomed by the most helpful and friendly stuff. This Polish-Mexican hostel was basic, but if you’re backpacking it was more than enough. They have bikes for rent, Tulum-style bathrooms, and hammocks everywhere. It’s a great value for the price, especially comparing to other hostels in Tulum!

Chill Inn  –  Check Prices On: Booking.comAgoda

Best Beach Hotel

Nomade is a great beach hotel that doesn’t feel crowded like some of their neighboring properties. It has a great beach with cabanas, hammocks, and tents. You can decide if you want to stay in a suite, glamp, or get a room in the jungle.

Nomade   –   Check Prices On: Booking.comAgoda

Best Tree House in Tulum

Azulik is one of a kind. It’s a beachfront tree house, with swings and private pool on every balcony. If you want to feel like staying at Family Robinson’s house that’s the best place to go. Read My Full Review.

Azulik   –   Check Prices On: Booking.comAgoda azulik tulum


How to Get Around Tulum?

Downtown Tulum is small and compact, but if you’re staying at the beachfront resort I’d not recommend you to walk back and forth.

Taxis

Taxis are everywhere in Tulum, and they’re all white cars. They will charge you around 80 pesos from downtown to the beach, ruins and nearby cenotes, for a one-way journey (per car, not per person).

Renting a car

Don’t be afraid of renting a car in Mexico. The roads are wide and easy to navigate, especially with modern technology like Google Maps. Just watch out for wild drivers.

By renting a car you can avoid being on a giant tourist bus, and go to places in the area that aren’t easily accessible. You also don’t need an international driver’s license.

While online prices will show you cars for as little as $1 a day, this doesn’t mean that it’s actually that much. When booking online, you don’t pay anything until you pick up the car. But when you arrive at the rental office they’ll charge you extra for insurance, taxes and other hidden fees.

A car is great if you’re planning a road trip around the Yucatan, so I suggest you should at least consider this option. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Be careful at gas stations as there’s no self-service. If you pay in cash, say the amount you are handing over! Some attendants will try to convince you it was a smaller denomination than it really was. It’s a common scam.

Read more about renting a car in Mexico

DSC03661

Colectivos

If you’re planning on getting around Playa del Carmen you can join the locals and hop on colectivo – public taxi vans. They can get a bit cramped sometimes, but they’re super cheap, like $1-2 a ride (depending on how far you’re traveling). They can drop you off anywhere along their set routes. For instance, at Akumal or any cenote between Playa and Tulum.

Not quite as convenient as your own car though, and often not a lot of room for luggage/gear. But it you want to experience something local, a trip on a colectivo is definitely recommended. They leave from in front of the post office (Correos de Mexico) on Calle 2.

Bicycles

There are numerous local shops in town on Avenida Tulum (main street in town) where you can rent bicycles. In Tulum, everyone rides bikes all the time, as it’s a very eco place.bicycles tulum


Best Yoga Classes in Tulum

Many travelers come to Tulum purely for yoga. Tulum is an oasis with many eco-travelers, so yoga is a must-do activity. Luckily, yoga classes are available without any extra charge at every hotel. If you’re staying somewhere that doesn’t offer any yoga, you can visit any beachfront hotel and pay $20 to attend the class.


Best Restaurants in Playa del Carmen

Las Quekas

Although it’s technically a chain with branches in Mexico, it doesn’t feel like it. It’s more like a homemade hole in the wall place. It serves sopes and quesadillas filled with typical Mexican ingredients like huitlacoche, rajas, chorizo or flor de calabaza.

Aguachiles

It’s the best place for some traditional tostadas with raw seafood, or some cooked dishes including fish tacos or grilled seafood. I particularly recommend the octopus!

Ceviche... yum!

Ceviche… yum!

El Camello Junior

If you’re into seafood, this place has you covered. It’s not a pretty looking restaurant, rather a hole in the wall place, but worth a visit. Fresh seafood with local atmosphere.

Mateos

It’s a great place for lunch and dinner. The place its close to major hotels and near the beach. It has a terrace from which you can see the entire area. Fish tacos and guacamole are highlights there. There’s a happy hour from 5-7 pm with cocktails for 90-120 pesos.

Mina

If you’re a meat person, that’s the best place to go in Tulum. Last time I went there I ordered some ribs and I received a portion for at least two people. Best ribs ever!

Posada Margherita

This is a great little Italian place in Tulum on the beach strip. This beachfront gem is worth the visit, especially if you’re a celiac. They can offer gluten free pasta or focaccia. All the pasta is fresh to order, so you won’t be disappointed. The owners also the great pride in the look of the place and it really shows.fish tacos

Alux Cave

Not in Tulum, but worth a mention and a trip to nearby Playa del Carmen. It’s an unusual restaurant in a cave that serves picturesque dishes. They even have the very traditional Mexican escamoles (worm eggs) and chapulines (fried grasshopper). After you eat you can explore the entire space which is huge and full of secret tables.Alux Restaurant


Things to do in Tulum

Relax on the beach

You probably came to Tulum for the beach. Enjoy it! The white sand beaches are gorgeous and perfect for relaxation. You can also experience some traditional Mayan spa called Temazcal, which are often located close to the beach.

Visit Sian Ka’an Reserve

Sian Ka’an is a Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site that is located south of the town of Tulum. It’s a very unique and natural area along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. You can spot some crocodiles, birds, monkeys, coatis and other species. The reserve also contains approximately 23 known archeological sites and Mayan Ruins, including those of Muyil.

Stroll around town to find some murals

The town’s streets are filled with lots of colorful and interesting murals. Street art located in random places, so I can’t give you specific directions where to go. This, combined with colorful houses, make for perfect photos! You can also buy some crafts from local vendors.

See Tulum Ruins

This guide couldn’t exist without Tulum’s most famous attraction – its ruins. Considered one of the most spectacular in the Mayan world due to their location – on tall cliffs overlooking the sea.

Go early in the morning (the gates open at 8 am) to avoid the midday heat and watch your step for giant iguanas everywhere. The beach opens at 9 am, so if you want to spend some time there you can save a spot earlier.

The regular entrance fee is around 60 pesos (USD are not accepted).tulum ruins

Swim in cenotes

There are many cenotes in the area for you to enjoy. Some are underground, others have some ziplines, some offer incredible diving and snorkeling adventures. You can visit my guide to cenotes here.

carwash cenote

Cenote Carwash


For more activities and organized tours check Viator here.


What to Bring to Tulum

Mexican weather can be quite unpredicted. You should expect both very sunny and very rainy days, or experience both occurrences on the same day. So definitely bring an umbrella or rain poncho, just in case!

Lots of bikinis – You can choose some from my Shop Instagram page 🙂

Insect repellent – It’s a must! Tulum is very jungle like and mosquitos are everywhere.

Biodegradable sunscreen – If you’re planning on visiting some cenotes or swimming with turtles in Akumal, do nature a favor and use biodegradable sunscreen. The regular one is harming fish, turtles, and plants.


Day Trips from Tulum

There are many great things to do in Riviera Maya. Many places can be seen on a day trip from Tulum. There are plenty of Mayan ruins to see, various cenotes to swim, or reef to dive.

Check out my post about Playa del Carmen, as the trips are the same.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza


DON’T FORGET ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE

Don’t forget to arrange a health insurance before heading to Mexico. The easiest and the most reliable travel insurance is World Nomads Travel Insurance. Get it before your trip to skip unnecessary troubles that might ruin your holidays!


Want to read more about Mexico? Check out my Mexico: Travel & Live section! If you have any specific questions join my Mexico Travel Tips community group on Facebook.

Suggested more extensive guides for Mexico:

Lonely Planet Yucatan Guide
The Rough Guide to Mexico
Mexican Spanish Phrasebook


Did I miss something? Do you want to ask me anything about Tulum?

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6 Comments

  1. Mar 21, 2017 / 6:56 am

    I can’t believe I haven’t been to Tulum yet or really so many amazing places in Mexico – hopefully 2017 will be a different scenario and I can travel more to this fabulous country

  2. Mar 24, 2017 / 8:29 pm

    Great Stuff! It’s really awesome guide. In the early of July, I have decided to go for a long tour. your article helps me a lot. Thanks for sharing with us. I’m going to share your article with my social media friends and family. Looking forward to getting more guides about travel.

    Cheers,
    Steven Rocks.

  3. May 18, 2017 / 11:30 pm

    What an inspiring guide! I love the Mayan culture so, I have always wanted to visit the Mayan Pyramid and the ruins. That tree house hotel looks dreamy and food also appealing. Thanks for sharing it!

  4. May 26, 2017 / 5:11 am

    Spent 6 weeks there last summer. I remember that we were going to go on a complimentary tour to Coba. When we arrived at the tour office they told us that we were going swimming first in the morning then lunch, then Coba. We were like that’s backwards & it will be too crowded. So we just left. I guess we burnt that bridge 🙁 Great guide!

  5. K
    Aug 23, 2017 / 6:51 pm

    What a great site with a lot of useful information (love all your photos too!). We have a three-night girls trip to Tulum in October (celebrating a birthday) and have a few questions.

    1) Airport transfer: I read where you suggested taking the ADO from the airport. Based on what I have read, you have to take this bus from the airport to PCD; transfer to another bus from PCD to Tulum; then take a taxis in Tulum to your hotel. The airport is about two hours from Tulum. However, if you take the ADO, roughly how would it take since you have to transfer so often? Would you suggest a private, direct shuttle? If so, do you have any shuttle companies you would recommend?

    2) We are staying at La Zebra. Do you have any information on this hotel (from a local’s perspective)?

    3) We would also love to visit the Tulum Ruins and Chichen Itza. Since Chichen Itza is two hours away, what do you think is the best way to get there? We have heard every suggestion from booking a tour through the hotel or private tour company to renting a car or hiring a driver.

    4) Swimming in a cenote is also high on our list. If you had to visit only one (or two) cenotes in or near Tulum, which do you think would be best. We were thinking Grand Cenote, Cenote Jardin Del Eden or Dos Ojos? I have also heard of two cenotes close to Chichen Itza — Ik Kil (maybe too touristy?) and Cenote Zaci).

    5) Based on all these sites we’d like to explore and getting to and from Tulum from the airport, I think we are on the fence about whether we should use a taxi or rent a car or go with a tour group or hire a driver. So many options just want to make sure we pick the option for us.

    I wish we had more time so we can explore more in Tulum (would have loved to see the pink lake), but with only three nights, we really want to maximize our time and explore the best of Tulum and still have a day relaxing by the water at our hotel (with drinks in our hands, of course!). Any tips and suggestions you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Apologies for bombarding you with all these questions!

    • Aug 24, 2017 / 7:38 pm

      1) It used to be easy to haggle for the price of shuttles, but over the last year it became impossible. Any shuttle works really and you can book it once you arrive at the airport.
      2) I haven’t stayed at La Zebra, but the food is great there!
      3) Renting a car is the best because you can get there early. Chichen Itza gets crowded when bus tours arrive, so it really depends if you mind crowded places or you want to get it for yourself and a few other early risers.
      4) I’d say definitely not Ik Kil unless you go there right when they open. My favorite ones near Tulum would be the underground ones near Coba. But if you want to dive then Dos Ojo.
      5) I’ll always advise going on your own vs the tour, as you can explore everything at your own pace.

      Hope this helps and enjoy Tulum! 🙂

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