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This comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know before traveling to Tulum Mexico, from the best Tulum Hotels to how to get from the airport of Cancun to Tulum, where to eat, where to shop and hang you and what to do and see.
Tulum is one of the most popular destinations in Mexico and after reading this guide you will understand why.
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.
I believe there is something else that goes beyond the tangible aspects; its ‘’Buena vibra” (good vibes), laid-back, sophisticated atmosphere, and all the above-mentioned aspects altogether in making it a magical place.
Sometimes I dream about having my Eco-spa retreat in the jungle, but for now I am happy with spending some of my weekends on the beach or in a cozy cafe’-shop in town writing and being inspired!
In this post, I wrote a more comprehensive guide to the Boho Chic Tulum.
But let’s move forward step by step…
FIRST TIME IN TULUM? HERE IS MY TOP TRAVEL TIPS FOR A QUICK OVERVIEW
✅ TOP THINGS TO DO IN TULUM
✅ 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 rains, while September and October are the rainiest months. However I wouldn’t really bother. You never know with 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.
WHERE IS TULUM AND HOW TO GET THERE
It’s 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.
When I arrive in Tulum, where do I go?
If you arrive by car
The area is so small that you cannot get lost. 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.
The vintage decoration that you will find in the majority of the properties gives the place a special look, creating an eco-chic atmosphere.
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 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 MOVE 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 the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A note on Airbnb – I have to be honest, although I am a frequent user of Airbnb, I would discourage the use of this site in Tulum. And here is why.
- It’s not a sustainable and “responsible travel” friendly – Why? with the Airbnb hysteria, together with the huge demand of the destination, homeowners saw the easy-money opportunity and went crazy, literally. That wouldn’t be an issue if it didn’t affect the locals who are now in a seriously difficult situation when it comes to finding a decent apartment at a reasonable price. Wages in Tulum, don’t even compare to the price you are paying for your fancy vacation. That’s why homeowners prefer to rent on Airbnb where they make in a week what they would make in a month with a long-term rental
- The hotel options are huge and diverse, more than enough for you to find the perfect option for your budget and needs. Although prices in Tulum are way above the average in Mexico, there are still affordable options for a decent room in town, whereas if you can splurge, you will find so many amazing properties to choose from, that will beat any apartment, whether it is in glamour or comfort.
- Hotels in Tulum are one of a kind, almost like art galleries and staying in one of them is a trip in itself. Being such a hotel freak as I am, Tulum is my Magic kingdom. I have never seen such beauty in one place. Every hotel has been built with an artistic eye and an eclectic vision in mind, every detail is thought of, from the furniture to the layout, the art decoration, and service. And if you are staying on the beach you are even blessed with sweeping views of the turquoise water of the Caribbean sea and soft white sand and embraced by a lush tropical jungle.
- Then there are condo hotels that have been built to be managed as hotels and you might find those on Airbnb too. That’s fine. I don’t have objections to those but I would still prefer to stay in a hotel while in Tulum. It’s just part of the experience.
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.
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.
TULUM MAYAN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE (Mayan ruins)
You reach the site just before entering the town, where you cannot miss the entrance on the left-hand side of the road.
However you also have access from the Hotel Zone, if you leave the car by the side of the road and walk to the entrance; either way, you would need to do some walking. If you are going to visit during your stay in the hotel zone, this last option is the most convenient.
Payment is required at the ticket office right before the site, just 65 MXN (about 4 USD). The site is open from 8 am to 4 pm; however, it is possible to have access before or after those times by paying 220 pesos, about 15 USD per person. Bear in mind that for early access (6 to 8 am) it is necessary to book in advance, and there is a minimum requirement of 5 people. I believe it is totally worth it if you are a photographer or if you simply wish to enjoy the place without a whole crowd invading your pictures and your view.
Practical information on how to visit the Mayan ruins
Always take a bottle of water and sunscreen with you; sometimes mosquito repellent is advisable if you are sensitive to the annoying little creatures. I have to say that you will read this phrase very often, in almost all of my articles, since it is a ‘must’ in these high temperatures and humid regions in order to stay well-hydrated with water, natural juices, and fruit. Also, eat light, to keep you going for the day and able to tolerate the heat.
Cover your head and USE your sunscreen and mosquito repellent (when it is not prohibited for ecological reasons), with natural ingredients if possible, like citronella essential oil or similar products.
Apart from that, you will love the Tulum site, even more so if you hire a guide who will explain a little about the history and the relationship between the Mayan settlements.
I find it all very interesting and never get tired of exploring and listening to stories that sometimes seem like fairy tales, so far away from our reality and seemingly unlikely.
I must say that many of these stories are hypotheses and approximate versions as there is little which has actually been proven to constitute the definitive truth.
However, you can get a general idea of the historical context.
As you could see this is a sort of the introductory part of a huge guide.
If you follow the above-mentioned links on each topic you will be taken to a deeper level of information.
If there is anything I haven’t covered that you would like me to talk about, please write in the comments below and I will be happy to respond as fast as possible.