With lush jungle and picture-perfect beaches to explore and enjoy, Tulum offers the best of both worlds. Located two hours south of Cancun, it’s rapidly becoming a must-visit destination in Mexico.
Since our trip just over a month ago, a handful of friends have already gotten in touch looking for recommendations – hence its growing popularity! So from one Tulum beginner to another, here’s a mini guide to help you make the most of your time there.
Getting to Tulum
Cancun is the closest airport to Tulum. After landing, head to an ADO booth and buy two bus tickets: one from Cancun to Playa del Carmen and one from Playa del Carmen to Tulum. The bus will leave from a row of lanes right outside the terminal, and if you need someone to point you in the right direction just ask. At Playa del Carmen, you’ll disembark and wait for the bus to Tulum, which leaves from the same station.
While it ended up being a somewhat lengthy process as our bus from Playa del Carmen to Tulum was delayed, it was very simple overall, and inexpensive to boot (~$10 each). Plus, the bus will drop you at the bus station right on Tulum’s main drag in town. From there it was an easy 10-minute walk to our Airbnb, but you could easily hop in a taxi if your lodging is further away.
Getting Around Tulum
Tulum’s two main parts are the town and the beach. In town you’ll find plenty of shops, restaurants, bars, hotels, hostels and more. Nearby is the “beach road,” a long stretch running from the Dos Ojos Cenote and Mayan ruins at its northern end to the Si’An Ka’An Biosphere Reserve at its southern end. Here you’ll find many more places to shop, drink, eat, and sunbathe. There are also plenty of beautiful hotels and resorts, although they were pretty safely out of our price range!
It’s very easy to walk around Tulum town itself. To get from the town to the beach, we rented bikes. The average cost to rent a bike for the day is $5 and there are places in town and on the beach to do so.
There’s a great bike path running in two directions from town toward the beach: one that runs along Route 307 that will take you to the main entrance of the ruins and one that takes you down Route 15/Avenue Coba. (On the latter, you’ll eventually come to a T in the road; turning left will take you to Playa Paraiso and the back entrance to the ruins, and turning right will lead you toward the “hotel zone.”)
I loved biking in Tulum, but it wasn’t without its challenges. The paths between the town and the beach were great, but within the town it got very tricky, with lots of potholes and no bike paths leading to a very bumpy ride, and on much of the beach road itself there are no paths either. With the roads being pretty narrow, it can definitely get a bit stressful with traffic. I would advise taking it slow and taking plenty of breaks!
Other options for getting around are taxis and collectivos, or shared shuttle vans, which run regularly between the town, beach, cenotes and more. In hindsight I wish we had treated ourselves to cabs more often; I think it’s ingrained in me that they’re an expensive mode of transport, but in Tulum they’re super cheap. You can get to most places of interest for less than $5.
Budget Eats in Tulum
We read a lot pre-trip about how the beach was the only worthwhile part of Tulum, and sure, it’s absolutely beautiful; however, I wouldn’t discount the town and I feel like a visit to the area without seeing it would be incomplete.
At the very least, the town is a must for the tacos alone! We loved Antojitos la Chaipaneca, Taqueria Honorio and Taqueria el Nero. Each of these unassuming, no frills spots were filled with locals and will give you a great introduction to authentic Mexican tacos, especially of the Al Pastor variety (made with shawarma spit-grilled meat).
Something that surprised me about tacos in Mexico was the simplicity of the toppings. In the States, tacos have become so involved, often served with a dozen or more ingredients. In Mexico, it seemed to be more common for them to be served with meat only and a handful of options to garnish with, either on your table or at a communal counter (such as onion, cabbage, salsa, hot sauce, jalapeno, and lime wedges). When we ordered tacos with cheese, the cheese came as a fried layer between the shell and the meat (as you can see in the above photo).
My advice? Take advantage of the uber affordable cost and order a few different things at each place to see what you like best. At Antojitos, I ended up preferring the salbutes con queso, which had a crunchier shell and came with a few more toppings than their standard tacos.
At Taqueria Honorio, we went for breakfast and ordered one of each taco on their menu: two variations of pork, one steak, one turkey and one vegetarian (served with avocado and egg). Sadly, by the time we visited they were out of the turkey, or relleno negro de pavo – which they are known for – so get there early if you’d like to try that one! Each taco was unique and delicious. Naturally, we ordered seconds.
Honorio is only open from 6 am – 2 pm, so don’t save it for dinner!
In search of tacos on the beach, we ended up at Taqueria la Eufemia on the beach road. I don’t want to wholeheartedly recommend this spot for food, as the service was shaky at best and the tacos were only so-so. It was, however, an absolutely beautiful spot to enjoy incredible views, and I loved the bike ride to and from. Maybe save this spot for a drink – I heard great things about their Iced CoCoffee, made with coconut, but was too full to try it!
Last but not least, take a break from tacos with empanadas at El Sudaca. This lovely, tiny Argentinian spot was a highlight of our time in Tulum. The cibolla, served with onion and bleu cheese, was my favorite…and I don’t even like bleu cheese. At just $2 each, don’t skimp on your order!
For something sweet, head to Campanella Cremerie for an ice cream or a late-night coffee.
Drinks to Start and End the Day
We started each day at Ki’Bok, a family-run café that’s turned into an institution in Tulum. I was fully in my happy place sipping on my iced mocha and observing the stream of regulars greeting each other warmly and ordering their usual. On our last morning we also had breakfast (two orders of huevos divorciados) and it was delicious.
Right next door to Ki’Bok you’ll find Batey, a festive bar specializing in mojitos with regular live music. We also enjoyed delicious happy hour margaritas at La Malquerida, right across the street, and at Teetotum on Avenue Coba.
On the beach, Zamas became our go-to. I loved the quiet, laid-back vibe of this waterfront hotel and restaurant. There’s a small beach where you can swim and an outcropping of rocks you can climb for even better views. If you order drinks and food, you can settle in on one of their beach loungers. For drinks only, the colorful seating on the patio is great.
Across the street from Zamas is Mateo’s, a well-rated bar and restaurant to keep in mind as well.
Things to See and Do
The Mayan ruins are a must and I’d be surprised if anyone came to Tulum without planning on seeing them! I heard a lot about their beauty while researching our trip and can easily say I was not disappointed at all. The 13th century clifftop remains paired with the bright blue hues of the Caribbean are going to leave you wanting to caption all of your Instas with the heart eye emoji…believe me.
If you can, I would suggest entering the ruins from the back entrance (coming directly north from the beach road’s hotel zone). This will save you from having to navigate the craziness of the complex in the front as well as a one-mile walk to get to the actual ticket booth, which you’ll come upon almost immediately if you enter from the beach road.
We had a great time exploring without a guide, but if you’d like a little extra info, you can download the Tulum – Be Your Own Guide app for $1 and listen to it as you walk around. Definitely bring your bathing suit, because there’s a small beach that is so worth it; how often is your swimming backdrop this breathtaking?!
For more beach time, head to Playa Paraiso. You’ll find it on the beach road south of the Ruins. You can pay for food and drinks to rent a bed or lounger or just hang on the beach for free. I couldn’t get over how beautiful and refreshing this spot was! Other public beaches nearby are Las Palmas and Playa Pescadores.
Before our trip I had pictured the beach road more like a boardwalk, where you can easily see what is where. However, in the area near Playa Paraiso, the beaches and bars are separated from the road by trees. Needless to say, my plan to be spontaneous and stop for lunch “at the first cute place we saw” didn’t really pan out. (I share this to help you avoid experiencing the stress of extreme hanger while in a new place; a perilous condition to say the least.)
Once you go further south than the intersection of Avenue Coba and the beach road (where Kore Tulum is located, for reference), you’ll find fewer public beaches, but more plentiful restaurant options (such as Zamas and Mateo’s, mentioned above).
I would definitely recommend heading well into the hotel zone to experience the convergence of the jungle and the beach. I especially loved the stretch between Posada Margherita and Taqueria la Eufemia. The unique and picturesque businesses lining the road (such as the Bolas de Postre I Scream Bar) will have you stopping for photos at regular intervals!
Dia de los Muertos
The Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday that honors and celebrates loved ones who have passed away. One of the ways it’s celebrated is by building altars, or ofrendas, decorated with skulls, flowers, paper banners, and the departed’s favorite food and drink.
Regarded as a time to pray for loved ones and guide them along their spiritual journey, the Day of the Dead lasts from October 31st to November 2nd, and our visit to Tulum landed squarely on those dates. The holiday begins on October 31st as it’s the time of the year when the boundary between our world and the afterlife is thought to be the thinnest.
While there are more overt celebrations in other parts of Mexico, such as Oaxaca and Merida, we saw many beautiful ofrendas as well as some of the town’s residents dressed up with the holiday’s traditional Catrina-style face paint.
I was fascinated to learn more about this holiday and felt lucky to be able to experience a small part of it during our time in Mexico. Read more about the Day of the Dead here.
Swimming in Tulum’s Cenotes
Cenotes are formed when limestone caves in and leaves a hole in the earth that fills with clear, turquoise water. Ranging from easily accessible swimming holes to intricate networks of largely underground caves, these pools are a trademark of the Yucatan Peninsula and you’ll find them in any guide to the area.
Funnily enough, we actually didn’t visit any cenotes while in Tulum; and after reading so many posts praising them, this basically feels akin to travel writer blasphemy! We had planned on it, but the rest of our trip didn’t involve much beach time, so we decided to enjoy the coast while we could. Just one more reason to be thankful for cheap and easy flights between New York and Cancun!
In the meantime, here’s a run-down of some cenotes to consider, since they are a great option for a visit to Tulum.
Tulum was my first visit to Mexico and definitely inspired me to visit again soon to explore more parts of the country! Have you been to Tulum or elsewhere in Mexico? What was your favorite part? Let me know in the Comments!
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