This is what happens when you book a last-minute flight to London and meet up with strangers from the internet
Tulum is a DREAM! Of all the places I’ve traveled to, I can see myself returning over & over again. Despite being such a small town, it has so much to offer for every type of traveler - serene beaches, ancient Mayan Ruins, mysterious underwater Cenotes, strong Mexican culture, delicious food, and so much more.
I decided to begin my trip through Central America in Tulum. I visited for a week last December and had a blast. Despite some bittersweet memories, I thought it would be the perfect starting point for my solo trip throughout Central America. It doesn’t hurt that a one-way ticket from Houston was a steal, priced at $100. Not so bad for a flight to paradise, right?
There is no airport in Tulum, so you must fly into the Cancun International Airport. Once you are at the airport, you have 4 transportation options to get to Tulum:
Rental Car: The most expensive option, but it allows you more flexibility with exploring the area. We rented a car during my first visit and found it to be really convenient for stopping in a variety of places since taxi and uber costs can add up. You can rent online before arriving or stop at one of the rental companies before exiting the airport. The 2-hour drive is a straight shot down the highway!
Private Shuttle: There are companies that will take you to Tulum in a private shared van for around $120usd. This option is feasible for large groups.
ADO Public Bus: On this trip, I hopped on the ADO(ah-day-oh) bus right outside of the airport taxi/shuttle area. This is probably one of the nicest coach buses that I’ve ever been on. You will receive two tickets because you must first take the ADO bus to Playa Del Carmen and then take a second bus to Tulum. The ticket can be purchased at the stall/station or online(https://www.ado.com.mx/). The total trip will be around $15(USD), which makes it the most affordable option.
Taxi: As soon as you exit the airport, you will be met with a number of taxi drivers shouting out “Taxi!!” repeatedly. You won’t have any issues finding one and the one-way trip will run you around $100(USD).
Collectivo: The cheapest option typically used by locals. I was a bit apprehensive about hopping in these shared vans, but two nice Swiss girls from my hostel encouraged me to join them and I had no issues. This option is completely safe and dirt cheap, but it will take you considerably longer because of the stops that are made to drop off locals along the way.
Tulum Pueblo vs. Tulum Hotel Zone
Tulum has two different areas to spend time at - the beach and the town center. I haven’t seen this information shared much online so I want to give some general tips about both sides of town.
Tulum Hotel Zone
During my first visit, I stayed along the beach in the hotel zone. Some may argue that this isn’t the “real” Tulum, but I can’t lie - I’m a fan! I love beautiful spaces and it’s quite obvious that many hotels in this area have put thought into every aspect of their design to capture the essence of Tulum. The hotels aren’t traditional big & fancy resorts, as there are hardly any in the area. They are typically cabanas, bungalows & eco-lodges meant to mimic traditional Mayan huts. You'll find that most of the hotels line the left side of the road which faces the beach. While there are plenty of lodging options/hotels available along the strip, they are well hidden so you must venture inside to have a look around. Here are some general tips about the area:
- If you stay in the hotel zone, be sure to do plenty of research beforehand to determine where exactly on the strip you want to be located.
- The further south(away from town, towards the Sian Ka’an biosphere) you get - the more secluded you will be. This means quieter beaches but it also means that you may be further away from restaurants, nightlife, etc.
- Each building has a very bohemian vibe. If you’re looking for Instagram perfect...this is it!
- I’d recommend renting a bicycle for $9-$12USD(some hotels provide them for free) to ride along the palm-lined hotel zone, stopping in bohemian shops, yoga studios, and restaurants along the way.
- Be aware that prices for lodging and food are much higher in this area in comparison to Tulum Pueblo, the town center.
- Car-rental is also convenient for getting around town since there is a considerable distance from one end of the hotel zone to the other & also heading into Tulum Pueblo. It’s also helpful for getting to various cenotes & taking day trips since taxi costs can add up!
- The hotel zone is off the grid - completely run by generators. Many of the hotels don’t have a/c or basic electricity. You most likely won’t have cell service and you’re lucky if your hotel offers wi-fi in certain areas. Be sure to see what your hotel offers!
- You’ll see an overwhelming amount of restaurants and beach clubs along the strip. There are SO many to choose from! Most hotel beach clubs have a restaurant open to the public - you must typically purchase something inside or pay for a chair to hang out at the beach club.
- There is a large yoga & health scene, so be sure to do some research on retreats in the area if that interests you.
- I’ve stayed at Azulik, which was absolutely incredible. Pricey, but worth every dime if it is in your budget. If not, there are SO many hotel options to choose from along the beach.
On my most recent trip, I spent the majority of my time in Tulum Pueblo and had a blast. Aside from the shops on the main strip, this part of town is underdeveloped in comparison to the hotel zone. This is where the locals live and work. Wander a few streets back and you’ll need to know Spanish or even Mayan to get by. You’ll see many authentic & cheap local restaurants where they grill up your food right in front of you. While staying in town, I used a bike & the local collectivos to get around/to the beach.
You’ll find everything you need along the main road - restaurants, tour shops, souvenirs, bike rental shops, pharmacies, markets, bars, clinics, etc.
Perfect for anyone who wants to experience Tulum on a budget - lots of cheap & local eateries, budget accommodations(including hostels), etc.
The beach is about a 15-35min bike ride or a 5-10min taxi ride away from town.
You can get by with English on the main strip, but you’ll likely need to know a bit of Spanish if you venture deeper into the neighborhoods.
The food in this part of town is often the cheapest AND the tastiest - a winning combination!
What to do in Tulum
Snorkel in a Cenote
You can't visit Tulum without swimming in a Cenote. Sacred to the Mayans, Cenotes are natural underwater caves found exclusively in the Yucatan. There are over 6000 in the region, and quite a few are accessible in & around Tulum.
- Snorkel or Dive Dos Ojos Cenote - I originally saw footage of Dos Ojos(two eyes) on Planet Earth, so it was amazing to witness this natural wonder in person. It stretches over 50 miles and most of the cave has yet to be discovered. I highly recommend a snorkeling tour because a local will take you deep into the caves, showing you various underwater rock formations. It’s amazing to see the crystal blue waters from above, but it felt like I was witnessing another world beneath the surface. You’ll see stalagmites, stalactites, fish, bats, & more. Absolutely Incredible!
- There are many other Cenotes around the area. They are easiest to reach by car. If you want to get off the beaten path, you can simply ask some locals for directions on getting to lesser known Cenotes.
Explore the Tulum Ruins
These are the only seaside ancient Mayan Ruins to ever exist. The ruins aren’t massive, but the grounds are well maintained. You’ll find the most beautiful beach right below the cliff-side ruins. Be on the lookout for Iguanas!
Due to an increase in popularity, the cenotes and ruins can be VERY crowded. I recommend arriving as early as possible or closer towards closing time to avoid hoards of tourists that will be flocking in from Cancun.
- While many day tours are offered to travelers, you can visit both the cenotes & ruins on your own at a much lower cost.
EAT! EAT! EAT!
From cheap eats to world-class restaurants, Tulum has an endless amount of restaurants for any foodie to choose from.
Stop at Pollo Bronco for delicious Al Carbon tacos.
Sip mojitos with fresh sugar Cane while listening to live music at Batey’ s Mojito Bar.
HAVE THE BEST TAPAS OF YOUR LIFE AT MIVIDA! My goodness!
Enjoy the Ceviche & fresh Octopus at Nomade Tulum - such a gorgeous setting!
Eat more authentic, cheap tacos at Antojitos La Chiapaneca!
I had my first “veggie burger” at the vegan/vegetarian-friendly, FLOW restaurant(Harmony Glamping & Boutique Hotel) and I was rather impressed.
Looking for outstanding Chicken Lime Tortilla Soup? Check out Papaya Playa Project.
- Want more bomb tacos? Go to El Rincón Chiapaneco! You can never have enough.
Despite being on “vacation”, we woke up to catch the sunrise every morning while staying at Azulik. I’m typically a sunset girl, but the beach faces sunrise and the incredible colors are worth every lost minute of sleep.
Visit the Tulum Art Club
An art gallery AND coffee shop in one beautiful building? Yes, please! I was wondering around Tulum Pueblo and decided to walk into Tulum Art Club. I spoke with the events director & she explained that they bring in international and local artists’ for a residency program so many of the pieces sold here are one-of-a-kind.
Drink Fresh Coconut Water on the Beach - Enough said.
Take a Day Trip!
Climb ancient Mayan pyramids in Coba, party all night at Playa Del Carmen, or relax at Isla Holbox - the opportunities for quick trips to the surrounding areas are endless!
Batey’s Mojito Bar - Sip on a variety of mojitos with fresh sugar cane while listening to live music!
Papaya Playa Project hosts weekly parties at their beach club & monthly full-moon parties.
Danced until nearly 4am at Curandero! Such a good time!
Thanks to some big celebrities and Instagram, Tulum is growing quite rapidly. Put this town place on your bucket list before the magic disappears!