Of many recent travels, one of my favorite destinations has been exploring Quintana Roo’s chicest beach getaway, Tulum, Mexico. But while my lengthy research of the area paid off in the end, I was initially quite stumped as to where to stay in Tulum. Why? Because this booming destination has a bit of a unique layout that’s tricky to comprehend if you’ve never been there before.
Let me explain.
The way the main roads work in Tulum is kind of set up like a horseshoe (see map below). Where you see about 99% of the photos taken in Tulum is along the beach road which consists of one way in and one way out.
Then there is the main road (Av. Coba) which connects the beach to the main intersection which leads to Tulum town a bit inland. If you take a left at this intersection (driving away from the beach) from Av. Coba onto 307, that will take you through the most populated strip in downtown Tulum. Still with me?
The reason why all of this is important is that it’s not exactly a quick walk from town to the beach area — in fact from Point B to Point C (see yellow markers) is about a 10 minute drive and from Point C to Point D is another 15 minutes by car. It’s not walkable unless you’ve come to Tulum solely for that purpose, because you’ll literally spend all day doing it 😉
So the next question is, based on the information above: what part of town will you stay in? You have four options in my opinion and I’m breaking them all down below.
How to Decide Where to Stay in Tulum
Option 1: The Private Beach
This is the strip that runs from Point C to D on the map and again is the most popular area of all of Tulum featuring all of the stunning boutique hotels, chic seaside restaurants, high-end shops and smoothie shacks. This is also the most beautiful stretch of white sand beach, but it’s all private, so you can’t exactly just rock up on any part of the beach and plop down your beach towel. You have to go through one of the many beach clubs/hotels.
You’ll likely be staying right on the sand and if soaking up the sun all day is your MO, you won’t have to go very far.
This is the most expensive area to stay in Tulum and these places get booked out very far in advance, so if you’re a last minute traveler like me your options may be slim. Prices for the nicer places along the beach stretch can run anywhere from $500-$1000 per night, but you can find places in the $200s if you’re willing to sacrifice on style and comfort and book far out in advance.
Some of the most popular and beautiful spots (in my opinion) are Be Tulum, Nomade, Amansala, Papaya Playa Project, La Valise, Habitas, Nest and Azulik. Ahau (pictured above) is also a good affordable option right on the sand.
Airbnbs are very limited in this area, but this one seems to be the most affordable option with decent reviews and is in the thick of the shops and restaurants by the beach. If you have money to blow or are traveling with a large group, this epic contemporary villa sleeps up to 11 people and is absolutely stunning.
For co-working style accommodations a bit south of the main section of private beach, check out Outsite Tulum.
Definitely want to stay on the beach? Don’t miss my entire post on the best Tulum beach hotels you absolutely need to check out.
Option 2: The Public Beach
This is the stretch of beach resorts to the north of Av. Coba where it intersects with the beach road and splits to the left or right. Whereas you’ll find more upscale boutique hotels on the private beach side, this area is more resort-like and is also along a rockier stretch of public beach — aka less white sand.
Quieter side of the beach and more deals to be found. This area is also the closest to the Mayan Ruins in Tulum.
There isn’t as much going on on this side of town and there are fewer shops and restaurants within walking distance. You’ll still have to take taxis to get to the private side where you’ll undoubtedly want to hang out, eat and shop.
Option 3: Tulum Town
Tulum town is completely different from the beach area and definitely has a more local flavor, filled with authentic taco stands, souvenir shops owned by locals and a less pretentious, more budget-friendly vibe. It’s a great place to stay if you’re on the hunt for something more affordable mixed with a local essence, as long as you don’t mind spending a bit more time getting down to the beach.
You get to experience more of the local culture of Tulum and there are many more budget friendly options for accommodation and food.
You’ll have to take taxis or bike quite a ways every time you want to get down to the beach or eat at any of the chic restaurants you’ve undoubtedly been adding to your list.
Central Park (pictured), Una Vida (featured image) for smaller, design centric boutique accommodation. I’ve also heard the Ginger Hotel is great if you want something super affordable and directly in the thick of it in town. Casa Pueblo is also a newer add to the Tulum town hotel scene and has been getting some great buzz!
If you prefer an Airbnb rental, this clean and stylish apartment is perfectly situated in town and is only $55/night for four people.
Option 4: Aldea Zama
Aldea Zama is a new development that is in progress in Tulum and we met several locals and expats who live there during our stay. If you’re searching for accommodation on Airbnb, many of the condos you’ll find are located in this area.
It’s closer to the beach than town, so you can save money on taxis or save time biking back and forth.
There’s really nothing else going on around here, so you’ll have to exit the neighborhood to do anything beyond stay at your accommodation. Also since this is an up and coming area, there is a high probability of construction during the day.
Not an Airbnb member yet? Get $55 off your first rental with my link here.
Important to Note:
During our stay in Tulum there was talk of construction of a new road slightly south of the main road (Av. Coba) that will create a shortcut through town and drop you directly in front of the Amansala Hotel.
However, when I visited, they were still waiting on permits and that road has not been opened yet. When it does open (anyone’s guess is as good as mine as to when that will be) it will be a game changer for a lot of hotels in town and will make this area much more enticing for visitors to Tulum.
Where I Stayed
After much hemming and hawing over where to stay (beach or town? beach or town?), we went with staying in town and I’m really happy with our decision. Sure, I would LOVE to go back and stay at Be Tulum and never leave the beach for a full week, but for my first visit to the area I loved seeing the more local side of this Mexican community as well.
Once you visit Tulum, you will see that the hip part of the beach is beautiful and magical, but it is entirely catered to the chic jetsetter and is not a proper representation of normal, local life. Not that I’m poo poo’ing Tulum, because don’t get me wrong — I loved. every. second. My point is just that it’s not like any other place you’ve visited in Mexico. Shops carry brands that you’d find back home in LA and many of the hotels and restaurants are owned by Europeans or Americans. You can find locally owned spots though, but they are more plentiful in town.
This was not a sponsored trip, so I had to be budget conscious and it was also booked very last minute (about 1-2 weeks in advance) so options were slim by the beach. I loved staying at Central Park in town because it was set enough away from the main drag that is was quiet, but they also offered awesome amenities like a free shuttle to their beach club, free access to their beach club and free bike rentals.
Also it’s worth noting that we got a killer deal of $87 per night by booking through the Hotel Tonight app, so prices for this hotel may usually be higher.
The second hotel I stayed at was Una Vida, which was also in town but served a different purpose as this was the hotel booked for my friend’s bachelorette party. In hindsight, I wouldn’t book this hotel again for groups of more than two people, but if it’s just you and a friend or partner it’s a gorgeous and stylish spot to stay.
At the end of the day, first consider your budget and then think about what you’ll spend most of your time doing. Are you the kind of traveler that wants to walk everywhere or will you be ok hopping taxis every day to your destination? Will you spend 100% of your time sitting on the sand or do you want to visit cenotes, the Mayan ruins and local spots in town?
Hopefully this post will help you better understand how everything is situated in this area of Mexico and help you make the best decision possible when figuring out where to stay in Tulum!
Have any more questions? Make sure to leave them in the comments below!
Planning a trip right now? These are all the websites and services I love for booking everything from flights, tours, accommodation and more:
- Booking.com for the best hotel deals
- World Nomads for travel insurance
- Airbnb for awesome home rentals
- Intrepid Travel for group travel
- Skyscanner for finding the best flight deals
- Hostelworld for budget accommodation
- Rentalcars.com for easy car rentals