After spending one blissful week in the ultra chic beach town of Tulum, I completely understand now why tourism is booming here (and is only on the rise). Sure Tulum is beautiful, but so are many beach areas of Mexico.
So what makes Tulum so special? Well, this Tulum, Mexico travel guide will aim to answer that question for you, but also give you the essential information you need to assist in planning your own trip here. Read on!
What makes Tulum stand out, in my opinion, is a mix of a few factors.
For one, the area’s jungle-meets-beach vibe which stems from the local industry’s commitment to eco-tourism and sustainability provides a magical atmosphere that’s hard to replicate these days in modern society.
Yes, development is on the rise, but business owners have done an incredible job of blending their businesses into the local surroundings so that the jungle hasn’t been completely bulldozed to make way for new structures.
You may think of the beach when you envision Tulum, but the jungle is what makes it so magical.
Next is the level of quality and design-centric experiences that have been carefully executed in such a condensed area. The restaurants are top notch, the hotels are stunning architecturally, and around every little corner there’s something beautiful to touch and feel and admire.
The final piece of the puzzle that I believe has solidified Tulum as such a unique destination is a community which embraces open-mindedness in many forms.
Whether you’re into Mayan rituals or yoga or veganism or even tantric sex, there are communities in Tulum who will be a support system in the further exploration of those interests.
All in all, Tulum is a playground for the tropical lover with a discerning eye. For the yogi with a desire to deepen her practice. For the traveler who doesn’t want to feel like they need a vacation from their vacation upon returning home.
It is a place of many things with one distinct heartbeat.
Convinced to visit Tulum yet? Awesome.
How To Get To Tulum
- Fly into Cancun International Airport (CUN) and take a 1 hour, 45 minute private transfer or taxi south to Tulum
- Most airlines fly to Cancun from major US cities. JetBlue has direct flights from Boston, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and New York City. Southwest Airlines flies non-stop from Cancun to Denver, Chicago, Austin, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Charlotte and more
- On Kayak’s search tool you can see there are tons of flights under $500 round trip to Cancun, including many under $300 from places in the U.S. and South and Central America
Quick Tips For Your Trip
- English is spoken but not as widely as you’d expect for such a tourist town. It’s helpful to brush up on your Spanish!
- Pesos are the main currency used here although some places will accept USD
- Cash is preferred at most places
- The most reliable bank in town for getting money is Scotiabank — ATMs by the beach are not known to be reliable and are ripe with fraud
- As a US citizen you don’t need a Visa to travel to Tulum
- Tap water is not acceptable to drink here under any circumstances (highly recommend bringing some sort of stomach medicine in case you get sick)
- There is no Uber in Tulum but taxis are plentiful and pretty easy to flag down
Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance to protect your trip in case anything happens. You can read my personal story of how World Nomads travel insurance saved me $1,500 on a single trip if you’re not convinced why you need it. Or get your quote now below!
What To Pack
- Bug spray (I love this one by the Honest Company)
- Straw hat
- Denim shorts
- Maxi dresses
- Bathing suits
- Beach coverups
- 1 pair of flip flops
- 1 pair of nicer sandals
- Beach bag (or small backpack for day belongings if you’re staying in town and making day trips to the beach)
- Camera gear
- A couple of nicer nighttime outfits if you plan on going to dinners/exploring the nightlife
- An insulated water bottle that will keep filtered water cool at the beach
- Pro tip: Don’t pack a mariachi hat, I bought this one from a souvenir shop in town 😉
Where To Stay
- There are several different areas of Tulum to choose from when deciding where to stay.
- If you want the ultimate high end experience and money is no object, book Be Tulum or Azulik by the beach. For more affordable options on the beach, consider NEST or Amansala.
- In town, the Ginger Hotel, Una Vida or Central Park are good options. Try to at least find something that offers a free bike rental to cut down on transportation costs.
- Taxis and biking are the two main modes of transport in Tulum
- No Uber available
- It’s about a 25-minute drive from Tulum town to the center of the beach area
- Biking takes a bit longer but is a fun way to get around during the day (I wouldn’t recommend biking at night as the beach area is not well lit and it will be hard to see potholes, speed bumps etc). Especially don’t attempt this if you plan on having a couple of cocktails
- Note that it is standard for taxi prices to increase in the evening and it’s very difficult to negotiate as they all seem to have agreed upon prices
What To Do
I know this is a given, but it’s helpful to know a few things before you head out on your beach day. As I mentioned previously, Tulum is divided into multiple areas, and the beach is no different.
There is one stretch that is a public beach on the north side of Av. Coba closer to the Tulum ruins, and then there is the private side where the majority of the boutique hotels and resorts and restaurants reside.
The way that the beach works on the private side is that you have to access the sand through one of the hotels or beach clubs.
Technically there are areas from which you could walk onto the beach not through a hotel and then arrive from the beach side, but you can’t just throw your towel down anywhere expecting no one to notice.
Many places charge a per person fee to gain access to their daybeds and facilities, or on the flip side require a minimum consumption. A couple times we were flat-out denied if the hotel was fully booked.
So where to go? If you don’t want to deal with the questioning and minimum consumptions, head to Ahau which is super chill and friendly and has both tables and daybeds in the sand.
Los Amigos is very far down the beach strip but only requests a minimum consumption and is pretty laid back.
There are thousands of cenotes in the area surrounding Tulum, so visiting these cave-like sinkholes are really a choose-your-own-adventure experience.
If you’ve rented a car you can go on your own or hire a guide to take you for the day. The options are literally endless, but visiting at least one is a must during your stay!
Luckily for visitors staying right in Tulum, the Tulum Ruins are the only ruins built directly adjacent to the sea and they’re just 10 minutes from the center of town by car.
For a completely different experience, you can visit the Coba ruins which are situated right in the jungle. If you want to go on a little road trip, you can also visit the most famous ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula, Chichen Itza which are about a three hours drive one way from Tulum.
Visiting Tulum is all about relaxation, and there’s no better way to relax than a visit to the spa. The Yaan Wellness spa is a stunning facility located across the road from Be Tulum that has been recognized by both National Geographic Traveller and Conde Nast Traveller.
While certain treatments and spa packages can be quite pricey, there are affordable day passes that will allow you to enjoy the steam room, sauna, warm and cool pools and lounging areas. I would call to inquire as these are a bit tricky to find on their website.
River Float the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
This nature preserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean.
There are many different types of tours you can book to visit this area, but one of the best that was recommended to us by locals (but that we didn’t have time for sadly) was the river float.
For at least one day during your trip to Tulum, hire bikes to take them to Tulum town or down to the beach depending on where you’re staying.
Things can be much more efficiently accessed by bike down by the beach, so make a day of it and lead your own self-guided hop-on-hop-off bike tour.
Yoga by the Beach
Get into the true spirit of Tulum by joining a beachside yoga class.
The studio at Sanara is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever done yoga and we were refreshed post-sweat with their melon cooler shots which were divide. Each class is $20 USD and overlooks the ocean.
Bring an Open Mind
Walking down the beach strip in Tulum or posted in restaurants, you’ll undoubtedly see signs and notices for all kinds of experiences that aren’t exactly commonplace back home.
Literally, the options are endless but some of the more popular ones are Temezcal ceremonies, sound bath healings, yoga trainings, meditation classes, energetic lovemaking classes (yes, you read that right) and so much more.
An open mind and heart is essential to the spirit of Tulum, and trying at least one new experience while you’re down there might just open you up to something you never expected.
Where To Eat
For Lunch: Macondo at Nomade
Where To Go Out
One thing I love about Tulum is that there is a general consensus across town about the best places to go out throughout the weekends and you’re likely to run into the same people over and over again.
We spoke with both locals and tourists alike, and these are the go-to spots to hang out on particular days of the week.
- Thursday night: Casa Jaguar
- Friday night: Gitano’s (in my opinion the BEST party in Tulum. So good. Don’t miss it).
- Saturday afternoon/evening: Habitas (RSVP via their Facebook page)
- Saturday later evening: Papaya Playa Project (approx $10 USD cover charge at the door)
- Sunday day: BOA (check their Facebook page for details)
Sample 1 Day Budget (Not Including Flights + Accomodation)
- Breakfast at Del Cielo in town = 300 Pesos (approx $16 USD)
- Taxi from Tulum town to Beach = 80 Pesos total (approx $4 USD)
- Yoga class at Sanara Hotel = $20 USD
- Lunch at Nomade = 495 Pesos (approx $26 USD)
- Minimum Consumption at beach resort = $20 USD
- Dinner and drinks at Kitchen Table in town = 600 Pesos (approx $32 USD)
- Two drinks at Gitano = 600 Pesos (approx $32 USD)
- Taxi back to hotel in town (more expensive at night) = 200 Pesos (approx $11 USD)
Total 1 day spend: $161 USD
Disclaimer: I didn’t spend this much money every day. Some days were more and some were less depending on what we did, but obviously you can spend a lot less than this if you cut costs.
My top suggestions for visiting Tulum with a lower budget are:
- Eat at local taco stands (under $5 USD per meal)
- Skip pricey extras like yoga classes
- Limit your alcohol consumption
- Split taxis with friends or rent bikes
- Pack snacks from home that can supplement your hunger so you don’t need three sit down meals a day
- Go to the public beach or stick to beach clubs without cover charges
- Have dinner locally to your accommodation at night so you can avoid the taxi surcharges
Read More on Tulum Accommodation:
Still have more questions about visiting Tulum? Leave a note in the comments below!
BONUS: Check out my detailed guide on the best ways to get from Cancun to Tulum
Planning a trip right now? Don’t miss my go-to websites for booking everything from flights and tours, to accommodation and more:
- Booking.com for the best hotel deals
- World Nomads for flexible travel insurance
- VRBO for awesome home rentals
- Skyscanner for finding the best flight deals
- Hostelworld for budget accommodation
- Rentalcars.com for easy car rentals