Despite the 96 degree December weather, the second I stepped out of our taxi and onto one of the dirt roads of Tulum, I got chills. I suddenly understood what all the hype surrounding this place was about: It is hands-down one of the most gorgeous travel destinations out there and I want to get back there now.
Aside from the Mayan ruins, Tulum is known for its beautiful beaches and laid-back environment, making it the perfect spot for ultimate relaxation. Although only two hours south of Cancun, Tulum couldn’t be more different from the crazy party scene of Cancun. If you are looking for a quiet getaway where you can unwind and totally disconnect, then Tulum is your match. This Tulum travel guide will give you a rundown of what to expect, how to get around and some of our favorite spots.
WHAT TO EXPECT
- Cash is king. You should load up on pesos before you get to your hotel because many of the shops, restaurants, activities and (all) taxis are cash only. Once we left the main drag of downtown Tulum and got to the hotel zone, we struggled to find ATMs that distributed pesos, which would give us a much better exchange rate than taking out USD, so we had to catch a ride into the city to find a peso-friendly ATM. Our resort did not have one on site.
- Electricity is not guaranteed! You’ll want to specifically look for air conditioning in your hotel’s amenities.
- Most water is non-potable. So brush your teeth with bottled water, stay away from raw vegetables and some fruits (anything that could be washed with tap water) and keep your mouth shut in the shower! It might be a good idea to talk to your doctor about antibiotics for bacterial infections just in case you get food poisoning.
GETTING THERE + GETTING AROUND
From the Cancun Airport:
- Car Service: After you book your flight tickets, you’ll want to arrange a car service to take you to your hotel as taxis can be somewhat unreliable. We used USA Transfers and highly recommend them. Roundtrip to Tulum will come to be around $175 USD total.
- Buses: The ADO Bus from Cancun to Tulum and will cost you about $6 USD (120 pesos) per ticket. The ride will be between 2-3 hours (depending on if it’s direct or if it has stops). It’s not glamorous, but the buses are very safe and easy. You can take a cab from the bus station in downtown Tulum to your hotel.
- Rentals: You can rent a car from the airport, but there is very little need for a car once you’re in Tulum.
- Taxis: They’re everywhere in downtown Tulum and can be called by the front desk at your hotel (they might take up to 30 minutes to get to you, so keep that in mind!). It will cost between 100-150 pesos one-way.
- Bikes: Once you get to Tulum, you’ll see that everyone is on a bicycle, pedaling through jungle roads with fresh coconuts in their baskets… and you’ll want to be one of them. Ask your front desk about rentals.
WHERE TO STAY
To do an all-inclusive, or not to do an all-inclusive? That is the question. In a country bursting with all-inclusive resorts, this can be a pretty tough call. We stayed at an all-inclusive on our trip, but looking back on our experience I don’t think we would have made the same choice. Plus, there are a ton of adorable boutique hotels that I am dying to experience.
PavoReal Beach Resort: We stayed at this all-inclusive and had a love-hate relationship with it. All in all, it wasn’t a bad stay, but I’d definitely choose to stay somewhere else when we go back. Here are our pros and cons:
- Pros: Private beach, no disruptions and zero crowds. There were five huge pools to choose from all along the beach and tons of lounge chairs on the sand with scattered thatched-roof huts for your drinks. Very affordable and conveniently close to the Mayan ruins.
- Cons: Far from main stretch of hotels, boring at night (since it’s so remote!) and tons of seaweed. Really bad food (we both got sick), strange staff and only bottom-shelf liquor included in the all-inclusive package.
Coco Tulum: This eco-friendly hotel is on the main hotel stretch in Tulum.
Coco Tulum has a hippie-vibe, featuring shared bathrooms for some of the cabanas and uses only wind- and solar-energy. This hotel is very affordable with cabanas starting at $45/night. Simple, chic, rustic and remote.
Papaya Playa Project: Another eco-friendly hotel, Papaya Playa is quiet and peaceful. It’s located on the main hotel stretch and offers guests various spa and yoga activities; free wifi and breakfast; a fantastic view on the beautiful beach; and great activities.
BeTulum: This resort boasts great views and beach access, an amazing restaurant, no children under the age of 12 and a seriously hip vibe. Think trendy, exclusive, relaxing and cool.
WHERE TO EAT
Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila, km 4.5 – Tulum
A shabby chic Italian spot best known for their freshly caught fish, handmade pastas and pressed juices. Their cocktails and wine lists are also great.
Carretera Tulum Bocapaila, km 7.5 – Tulum
This jungle restaurant is supposed to be superb with a daily-updated menu and phenomenal waitstaff.
Boca Paila Road, km 7 – Tulum (Jungle Side – Opposite Coqui Coqui)
This Mezcal bar offers some pretty killer cocktails and a breath-taking atmosphere, plus dancing at night.
Carretera Tulum Boca Paila, km 7.6 – Tulum (Jungle Side)
Supposedly the best of the town, Hartwood has some of the best cocktails in Tulum and a fantastic menu with a blend of Mexican and American dishes.
Make a reservation in advance! This place is known to be particularly popular and fills up quickly.
Av Tulum Esquina Beta – Tulum
By day a restaurant, by night a bustling bar with live music and great cocktails. Go here if you’re looking for a night out.
WHAT TO DO
Dos Ojos Cenote: This freshwater pool is ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving. It’s in a cave and your guide will lead you to a terrifying section that is filled with bats, so something to keep in mind! If you’re not close to Dos Ojos, check out Gran Cenote.
Akumal: Take a taxi to Akumal and swim with giant sea turtles – they’re literally just off the beach. Bring snorkel gear and a water proof camera to catch a selfie with a sea turtle. It’s so cool.
Tulum Ruins: Necessary activity. The grounds are immense and offer an incredible view of the Tulum coast. Go early to beat the crowds and the afternoon heat!
Mayan Clay Spa: My biggest regret was not going here. It looks incredible and is supposed to be great for your skin.