This comprehensive Tulum Travel Guide will cover everything you need to know about traveling to Tulum Mexico, practical things, what to do in Tulum, and where to stay and eat, including some important sustainability questions.
Be aware that now as I am writing this in November 2020 Tulum Covid lockdown loosens, and hotels and restaurants are starting to reopen. However, it seems that in the number of cases is overall increasing in Mexico. So please always refer to official sources such as WHO and your local government about any COVID-related up-to-date-information.
Having said that, tourists are coming back more and more and enjoying the beach and restaurants. Almost everything is open and using the mask is the only restriction.
Before digging in some interesting information on all the amazing things to do in Tulum, where to stay and eat and other useful info, you will want to read about some important practical tips that you need to know before traveling.
How much money do I need in Tulum?
This is a good question and yet difficult to answer because it really depends on the kind of lifestyle you have. Hotel costs range from 15 USD for a hostel bed to 600 in a Luxury beach hotel in Tulum. To eat you can find cheap tacos on the street at 2 USD each to fine dining on the beach for 100 USD (wine included). If you like to party it adds up. So I guess I can say Tulum is for everyone but if you like to have a luxury or semi-luxury vacation I am afraid it is expensive.
How many days do you need in Tulum?
For a beach vacation, you can stay as long as you get bored to bask in the sun on a white-sand beach. If you love to explore, there is so much to see in the surroundings that you really
What is the best time of the year to go to Tulum?
My favorite time of the year to visit Tulum is the low season which is after Easter until the end of June and September through November. However, mind that from September through November is hurricane season so there is more risk of rain.
In these months prices are low and the beach is less crowded, that’s why I love it the most. But if you love to party you might want to check out Christmas time until Easter, the most crowded times and most expensive. Mind that if you wish to travel to Tulum for Christmas it is advisable to book in advance.
Is Tulum safe for travelers?
It is relatively safe but you still need to look after your belonging and use the safe in your hotel room. For more details check out this guide on safety in Mexico
Tulum vs Cancun
I personally prefer Tulum, but it’s a completely different vibe and not comparable. In Cancun, you will see huge all-inclusive hotels on a 20km stretch of beach. The downtown is not particularly charming to visit except for a couple of spots separated from the touristic area. In Tulum, locals and tourists share the same space and downtown is as charming as the beach area where locals and tourists alike hang out.
Tulum vs Playa del Carmen
Is Tulum Mexico expensive?
Yes, if you compare to other Mexican destinations, but if you don’t mind living in hostels and eating on the road it’s affordable. It’s not the way I love to travel through.
Is Tulum worth visiting?
Yes, it is, if you love the beach, but also explore the surrounding natural attraction such as the cenotes, biosphere, but also Mayan sites, or if you love good food and the fine Tulum boutique hotels.
Can you swim in the ocean in Tulum?
Yes, you can, if there is no Sargasso, which has become a recurring problem. Before booking check out the news.
Is Tulum overrated?
It is becoming overrated and over expensive but I still love it, for the reasons I explain in this guide.
Why is Tulum so popular
Because of the boho-chic culture that has been developing over the years and created amazing hotels and shops that are simply works of art. Unfortunately, nature is paying for all that now.
Do people speak English in Tulum?
Yes, they do, although the main language is Spanish, there are many American expatriates living here, and being the American tourist the strongest, many locals have learned English.
Are there good Airbnb in Tulum?
Tulum Airbnb options are endless and all spectacular. I have even written a guide to Tulum Airbnb to help you find your perfect place. Or you check it out directly on the Airbnb site through the search box below.
WHERE IS TULUM AND HOW TO GET THERE
Tulum is located at about 131 km south of Cancun, and 65 km from Playa del Carmen.
How to get to Tulum from Cancun
By car: There is one road which connects Cancun with Tulum, the coastal road (Carretera Federal – Road 307), you cannot go wrong.
By bus: If you are not driving there are comfortable buses from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and the airport. You can check on the ADO website, the local bus company. The busses are very clean and comfortable but insanely cold, so be equipped.
By minivan ( combi) Right in front of the ADO in Mexico and on the Calle 1 con Avenida 2 in Playa del Carmen, there are combi, minivans and leave more frequently.
For more detailed information read this post on 4 best ways to get from Cancun to Tulum
When I arrive in Tulum, where do I go?
If you arrive to Tulum by car
The area is so small that you cannot get lost.
Tulum is divided into two areas, the downtown (pueblo) and the beach area (Boca paila direction).
If you get to Tulum by car, at the first set of traffic lights if you go straight on, you enter the ‘’Pueblo’’, or downtown; turn left and you reach the beach area.
You will meet then a roundabout at a T-junction, where both exits will take you to the beach area which is right in front of you, you just don’t see it because you are separated by either hotels or jungle.
Don’t worry; there are no 10-story hotels, or 9 or 8. I believe the maximum height is 2 floors (including the ground floor).
This is one of the things that makes this place so special. All the properties are built with an ecological mindset, using local material, white stones, wood, and palm-leaf rooftops. Although unfortunately there has been a misuse of the word “green” or “Eco” and unfortunately not all that is called green is indeed sustainable.
So be mindful of that and do not hesitate to ask. You are a paying customer and you have all the right to know about the place you are intended to stay. The long stretch of beach is interrupted only a couple of times, so you can walk non-stop for miles; my favorite part, however, is all the way down southwards by the last hotels.
Taking the left-hand exit at the roundabout, the road comes to an end at the gate to the Tulum archeological site, where I would suggest leaving the car and walking to the entrance, just 400 m. Taking the right-hand exit at the roundabout, you come to my favorite part of Tulum, as you will see a display of great shops and restaurants; the clothes stores, in particular, are works of art and labs for creativity.
If you arrive to Tulum by bus or combi
The combi can leave you anywhere you want on the main road.
The big ADO buses will take you to the bus station in the town center. From there you would need either a taxi or a bike to get to the beach zone which is about 12 km away.
HOW TO GET AROUND IN TULUM
In the hotel zone, the parking space is very limited and the road s narrow. There are parking lots where you can leave the car, though.
If you wish to try the Tulum experience, check with your hotel if they have bikes to lend or rent, otherwise, you can find one in town. It is very convenient and during the day you might want to leave the car behind and move around like a local, watching the passers-by and exploring every corner, lingering in particular clothing shop, or getting an organic vegan ice-cream at the bar around the corner.
The road in the hotel zone is very narrow and there is no street-lighting at night unless you are close to a restaurant. Nor is there much space for those on foot or bike, so just bring a torch with you and be careful.
However, I wouldn’t use a bike at night.
The pueblo, or downtown, has also become very popular in the past few years, with lots of bars and fancy restaurants to hang out in at night, and very creative artistically- decorated coffee shops where you can hang out alone, reading your book or writing your own things (like me), hanging out with friends or holding a meeting, day or night! As a coffee shop freak, those are my favorite spots.
TAXI – There are taxis available at a taxi stand at the main traffic light, where the turn to the hotel zone is, or you can ask your hotel to call one.
The public transportation to the hotel zone is not reliable and not very frequent.
FIRST TIME IN TULUM? HERE IS MY TOP TRAVEL TIPS FOR A QUICK OVERVIEW
✅ TOP THINGS TO DO IN TULUM
- Take a stroll on the Tulum beach
- Visit the archeological site
- Spend a relaxing morning in a Cenote
- Splurge in one of the top luxury beach hotels
- Enjoy top dining options
✅ TULUM TRAVEL TIPS
- November to April is the best time of the year to visit Tulum because it’s less humid and lower chance of rain, while September and October are the rainiest months. However, I wouldn’t really bother. You never know with the weather.
- Most of the hotels and restaurants do not accept credit cards.
- If you travel from December through April it’s better to book way in advance if you want to find availability.
- Tulum it’s a great destination for family and couples or solo travelers. There’s everything for every taste and budget.
- Surfers and kitesurfers in Tulum find their paradise.
- A great vegan and healthy living community set the trend for amazing vegan restaurants and yoga studios.
- WIFI is available almost everywhere at no extra cost, whereas the cell phone signal is hard to catch in some parts of the hotel zone.
IS TULUM SAFE ?
The area is very intensively patrolled by local police and is quite safe, but of course, a general common sense is advisable (don’t leave your bag unattended on the beach or anywhere, for example).
Here you can read my full and detailed post on safety in Mexico
MONEY EXCHANGE IN TULUM AND OTHER MONEY RELATED TIPS
In Tulum they love cash!
The majority of restaurants, hotels, and shops don’t accept credit cards, so come with enough cash (Euros, USD, CAN$, Pounds) and you can change it at the ‘’Casa de Cambio’’.
Although they accept USD, it is always convenient to have cash in pesos, because the exchange rate that you will receive by paying in dollars is ridiculous.
There are ATM all over the hotel zone, and at the huge supermarket Chedraui at the beginning of the road to the beach zone.
Banks are in downtown and you can cash either in Pesos or USD, however, you should know that the US ATM machine will charge you a commission of 50 USD for every cash withdrawal, not really convenient.
You would be much better off by cashing pesos.
WHEN IT THE BEST TIME TO TRAVEL TO TULUM?
Tulum weather is the typical Caribbean tropical weather, that’s to say very hot and humid in the summer especially from June through September, with temperatures that get up to 95 ºF (35 ºC) and very hot and humid in winter…
Just kidding! Winters are normally dryer and with lower temperatures which are still around 80ºF (28 ºC) – the nights are always cooler in winters. So probably if you come to Tulum around January through February you might want to bring a shawl or a light jacket for the evenings, although you might not need it.
The summer is also the rainy season in Tulum which means that you might get up with a shining sun and get soaked with rain in the afternoon. Or the other way around. It’s really unpredictable.
The suggestion I always give and use for myself is that if you plan a trip somewhere don’t give up on it if you see a cloudy sky. Chances are that it clears up in the next few hours, or not. You never know.
This doesn’t mean that in the dry season will never rain at all. It’s crazy weather in Tulum and all the Riviera Maya, therefore expect the worse and hope for the best, but be merry always and enjoy the Tulum happy vibes!
Winters are also the busiest months and more expensive.
For Christmas and New Year you should book way in advance as you risk not to find space.
Shoulder seasons like April – June, and October-December are to me the best time of the year when to travel to Tulum or the Riviera Maya.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN TULUM
Besides basking in the sun on the spectacular beach and enjoying the views from your trendy beach hotel, trying the exceptional food or shopping in the Boho Tulum, there are so many daily activities that you can do from Tulum and discover the spectacular places that made Tulum one of the most popular travel destinations in the world.
Here below I am listing all the amazing visits that you can do while vacationing in Tulum.
Tulum Archeological site
The only archeological site right on the beach offers amazing views and interesting history. You can reach the site either by bike or taxi.
More information here.
Visit Akumal beach and swim with the turtle (free in the ocean)
Akumal is a beautiful beach at about 30 minutes from Tulum from where you can swim in the sea and casually meet turtles that are naturally hanging out close to the shore. It got a little overcrowded in the past couple of years, but still a good spot to visit.
Read also: the best beaches of the Riviera Maya
Visit a cenote
They have estimated around 6000 cenotes scattered around the Yucatan Peninsula. Cenotes are natural sinkholes created by corrosion of limestone rock by the water and other natural elements.
There are many beautiful cenotes at just 30 minutes’ time from Tulum as I explain in detail in my post.
Take a tour to the biosphere of Sian Ka’an
The spectacular biosphere of Sian K’an is home to a wealth of wildlife including bird colonies and dolphins. There are several ways to visit the Biosphere of Sian Ka’an. My favorite is the boat tour by Itour Mexico
Visit Coba’ archeological site
Even more interesting are the Coba archeological site and the 3 nearby cenotes. At only one hour driving you can reach the tiny village of Coba either by car or by local busses. In the two posts I have linked to above you will find all the necessary information you need.
Enjoy a day trip to the lesser-known Muyil
Very few people know about this pretty archeological site with access to the Sian Ka’an biosphere.
Read my full guide to Muyil to know more.
Visit Punta Laguna
While going towards Coba’ you can plan a stop in Punta Laguna, where a group of local families manage this beautiful area and will take you around to find out the spider monkeys and other animals.
To learn about all the things to do from Tulum you can check out my full guide to the best day trips from Tulum
WHERE TO STAY IN TULUM, FROM BOUTIQUE HOTELS TO TULUM RESORTS
I wrote a complete guide on where to stay in Tulum on the beach and downtown.
Here I am giving you just a brief consideration of the accommodation options in Tulum:
- Tulum all-inclusive offer is very scarce, just because there are so many restaurant options in Tulum both downtown and the beach that you wouldn’t want to dine all the time in your hotel, but try all the unrivaled culinary experience in the different top-notch restaurant throughout the town.
- Tulum beach hotels are the most expensive but definitely the best option if you wish to live the Tulum Boho life to the fullest. And you might find some moderately priced options as well.
- If you are on a strict budget, downtown Tulum offers a variety of beautiful cozy accommodations that suites your needs.
- Jungle hotels are the new trend and you will also find a lot of options in the tranquillity of the overwhelming nature.
- Airbnb – Another way to live the Tulum life is to rent a villa or an apartment on Airbnb. There is such a variety of choices in Tulum, from the trendiest and expensive beach house to a simple apartment in town or in the Jungle. Each one it’s own. Check out your choices on Airbnb site.
The culinary ambiance of Tulum also plays a great part in the general appeal of the swanky town.
The delicious variety of food offers the most incredible and unimaginable combinations of flavors, and the restaurant layouts represent a showcase of the most amazing and creative architecture, where
mayonnaise jars become fancy lamps and old sewing machines become in-demand ornaments; home depot water pipes become elegant hooks for clothes and old doors become the headboard of your comfortable bed… and I could go on.
I have put together a list of my favorite restaurants in Tulum which I hope you will find helpful.
BEACHES IN TULUM
The Beach in Tulum is just one long stretch of beach that might get different names at times, but it’s just one. And it will leave you speechless; endless and wide, the soft white sand is what any beach lover and paradise seeker are looking forward to. Even if it is sometimes sprinkled with seaweed, it just doesn’t matter; it’s still beautiful and dreamy. The contrast with the pristine water and its 50 shades of blue and the green jungle as a background, makes it one of the top destinations in the world.
Another great advantage is that the water is not deep and the current doesn’t tend to be strong, so you can easily walk and swim stress-free, as opposed to Cancun’s beaches, for instance.
Everywhere in Tulum allows free access to the beach, and the majority of the hotels will rent you beach chairs and umbrellas if you are in need. In most cases, they will give you some kind of discount on the cost of a meal if you eat there, which is always very convenient.
Always ask at the reception.
Is Tulum tourism indeed sustainable as they want us to believe?
Tulum is no doubt one of the most popular destinations in Mexico.
Its popularity comes from different elements; it’s the hip town, the cool place to go for the jet-setters and their followers, fashionista and modern/vintage art lovers, eco-chic fans, or last but not least, those simply attracted by the unique and pretty Mayan site, the only one situated on the water, offering you not only a very interesting historical meaning but also a very picturesque subject for your pictures.
Not to talk about the amazing natural wonders that you can visit in the surrounding.
I love both worlds and for all these reasons I have grown particularly fond of this quaint and multifaceted little town.
However, all this fancy movement has also shown its dark side.
Greediness has led to an unsustainable overdevelopment which is slowly destroying the natural environment and the reason why Tulum was so appealing in the first place.
We love Tulum and we want tourists to continue to come and visit but we do believe there is a more sustainable way to grow and it’s important that whoever comes is aware of the present situation.
So please follow eco-friendly practices and help conserve Tulum’s natural beauties as amazing as they are.
For Further Reading
- Top 7 Aldea Zama Tulum rentals and practical tips
- The top 13 Tulum Airbnb and other exquisite homes for your vacation in paradise
- Where to stay in Tulum: an honest review of the best hotels in Tulum Mexico (Updated in October 2020)
- The best cenotes in Tulum that you absolutely cannot miss
- The ummissable boho chic spots in Tulum – A Full Guide
Your Basic Travel Resources
- Book your transfers between destinations on the trusted booking platform Bookaway
- Store your bags in the main cities and walk around freely hands and weight free with Bounce
- Check if you need a visa and get help processing it with iVisa
- Never ever leave without travel insurance. Get complete coverage from World Nomads or long term insurance from Safety Wing
- I find all of my flights on Skyscanner, Kiwi.com, Google flights, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and always remember to compare
- Book your daily tours locally to support local businesses, or if you don’t find any reliable company, or you prefer to book in advance, check out GetYourGuide or Viator. Some of their tours are refundable up to 24h in advance.
- I rent my long and mid-term apartments on VRBO
- Book hotels with Booking.com or Hotels.com
- Compare car rental prices at Auto Europe, Discover Car Rentals
- Check out my travel planning guide if you are planning your trip and feeling overwhelmed