For many, Tulum, Mexico is a dream destination.
Because this little pocket of the world has it all — incredibly beautiful beaches, responsible wildlife adventures, ancient ruins, beautiful hotels, and some of the world’s best bars.
And what’s more? There’s something in Tulum for every taste.
Now, before we get too deep into it, I want to preface this article by saying that Tulum is easily one of the most visited destinations in Mexico and, when you visit, you’re by no means going off the grid. In fact, while Tulum can absolutely be visited on a budget (more on that below), it’s probably the most expensive place in Mexico that you can go to (maybe on par with Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, mind you), and (during non-pandemic times) is overtouristed in peak seasons.
Further to that, I’d highly recommend getting out of Tulum and exploring more of the area while you’re there. While not a slight to Tulum in the least, there is SO MUCH MORE to Mexico, and the Riviera Maya, than Tulum.
I mean, did I go to Tulum multiple times during my 5 weeks in Mexico? Yes. Do I love Tulum? Also yes. But still, there’s more out there.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that spiel out of the way, here’s everything you need to know about visiting Tulum, Mexico:
Tulum, Mexico Travel Guide
How to Get to Tulum
Situated on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, Tulum is easily reached in a few different ways. To easily access the area, I recommend flying into Cancun, which is the nearest major airport. From there, you have a few options:
Transporation #1: Rent A Car
Renting a car in Mexico will undoubtedly give you the most freedom on your trip to Tulum. While I personally didn’t opt for car rental during my time in Mexico, if you’re looking to get off the beaten trail, then this is the way to go.
That said, I will caution that the driving situation in Mexico — especially in the cities — can be hectic. Stop signs are often disregarded, and many people drive on the offense. I recommend to remain a defensive driver, follow the road laws, and watch out for speed bumps in towns (there are plenty).
Transporation #2: Take the Bus
In my opinion, the easiest and most comfortable way to get from Cancun to Tulum is to take a bus via the Mexican bus company, ADO. In every single one of my ADO bus experiences, the buses were clean, air-conditioned, and inexpensive. By taking the bus, you can easily get from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and any other hotspot in Mexico.
Just make sure you look on your bus ticket for your seat number — they tend to stick to them in Mexico!
Transportation #3: Shared Shuttle
If you plan ahead, you can get a shuttle straight from the Cancun airport to your hotel in Tulum. Just make sure you contact your hotel ahead of time, and let them know your exact plans.
How to Get Around Tulum
Right off the bat, it’s important to note that there is a big difference between Tulum Town and the Tulum Beach area. Tulum town is, well, a town (duh), while the Tulum Beach area is miles of hotels, bars, and cute little shops. They both have their pros and cons, which I’ll dig into a little bit more later, but as far as getting around goes, it’s important to differentiate the two.
While you can take the ADO bus to both Tulum Town and Tulum Beach, the easiest way to get between the two without booking a charter bus is to take a cab, and this trip isn’t cheap.
That said, if you know you’ll be hanging out in either the beach area or the town for the day, I recommend renting a bike. This will allow you to have some freedom of mobility without spending all your vacation money on transportation.
Where to Stay in Tulum
Where to Stay in Tulum completely depends on your budget and preferences. As I mentioned above, the beach area is great if you’re prepared for a more pricey stay, while Tulum town is great for budget travelers that love a great boutique hotel.
My hotel recommendations for Tulum Beach are: Casa Malca, Papaya Playa Project, and Habitas Tulum
My hostel recommendations for Tulum are: Hostel Che Tulum, Mama’s Home Hostel, and Lum.
My hotel recommendations for Tulum Town are: Hotel Kaab Tulum, Granda Balam Plaza, and Boutique Villas Una Vida.
How to Visit Tulum on a Budget
As I mentioned above, compared to most of Mexico, Tulum isn’t exactly a cheap destination. So, whether you’re a backpacker on a shoestring budget or a mid-range traveler looking to save a few bucks, here are some tips to get the best bang for your buck in Tulum:
Tulum Budget Tip #1 – Stay in Tulum Town
If you look into the prices of the hotels I mentioned above, you’ll notice one key thing — it’ll be way cheaper to get a hotel in Tulum Town than getting a hotel at the beach. Just do a little research on this and you’ll be able to choose a hotel or hostel at whatever price point you desire.
Tulum Budget Tip #2 – Eat at Smaller Restaurants
If you do plan on staying in Tulum Town, then you’ll have no trouble finding some great restaurants at a reasonable price point. A couple of restaurants/bars that I tried while in Tulum were Encanto Cantina (right across from the Tulum ADO station), Batey Mojito and Guarapo Bar.
On this note, if you really want to pinch pennies then consider getting a hostel or hotel with a kitchen and make some of your own meals — but in general, the tacos are very inexpensive.
Tulum Budget Tip #3 – Rent a Bike
As I mentioned above, while you can take a taxi between Tulum Town and Tulum Beach, this is in no way your cheapest option. If you figure that you’re going to be bouncing back and forth between the two, then I highly recommend either renting a bike. Sure, it’ll take a little longer for you to get from Point A to Point B, but when you look at your wallet at the end of it all, it will have been worth it.
The Best Tulum Activities
Activity #1: Visit a Cenote
While it’s easy to see the ocean and commit yourself to being a beach bum your whole trip, I would heavily recommend prying yourself from the sand and visiting a nearby cenote. Cenotes (pronounced se-NOH-tays), are essentially freshwater sinkholes scattered all around the Yucatan peninsula, and they’re amazing for swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, photography, cliff jumping, and so much more.
These sinkholes are absolutely b-e-a-utiful, and you’re definitely going to want to bring a good waterproof camera.
A few tips for visiting the cenotes in Mexico: Most cenotes don’t allow sunscreen, due to harsh chemicals in them that damage the flora and fauna. Most cenotes are very much shaded though, so this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Another tip is to bring water shoes. Cenotes are usually pretty luscious, and you’re not going to want to step on slimy rocks without foot protection.
And finally, research your chosen cenote before going. Every cenote has something different to offer, has a different amount of amenities, and has a set cost. Best to be prepared!
Some of the best cenotes near Tulum are: Gran Cenote, Cenote Zacil-Ha, Cenote Dos Ojos, Casa Cenote, and Cenote Azul. The Cenote pictured below, Cenote Jardin del Edin, is also a highly recommended option, but it’s closer to Playa del Carmen than Tulum.
Activity #2: Check out the Tulum Ruins
Ah, the Tulum Ruins. The Tulum ruins are perhaps the most popular activity around Tulum, and for good reason. While there are plenty of Mayan Ruins scattered around the Yucatan, what makes the ruins near Tulum special is that they are located right near the ocean.
So, not only do you get to roam around some amazing historical artifacts, but you get to do so while taking in the salty sea breeze. Life’s pretty good, no?
Some tips for visiting the Tulum Ruins: Firstly, there is a swimming spot at the Tulum ruins, so don’t forget your bathing suit. Especially on a hot day, you’re going to want to cool off in the ocean.
Also, the Tulum Ruins are located in a park, and there is an entrance fee. This fee changes semi-regularly, so be sure to research what it is before showing up.
On that note, be sure to bring pesos and snacks with you, instead of buying them at the ruins. There is a pavilion where you can take out cash and buy food, but it is EXPENSIVE. You won’t regret just being prepared before you arrive.
Activity #3: Go Snorkeling with Turtles & Stingrays
After we toured the Tulum Ruins, my friend and I decided to purchase a tour to see the Tulum Ruins from the water that included snorkeling with Sea Turtles and Stingrays. While the ruins were cool to see from the water, the obvious highlight of this tour was the sea creatures.
About ten of us (my friend and I, a family of 4 from I’m not sure where, and some others), all climbed into a little boat that was to be our tour vehicle. We zoomed along the shore a bit, took some kinda blah shots of the ruins from our new vantage point, and then our guides took us out to the reefs, which were full of aforementioned sea creatures.
Little note about the photo below, this was my first foray into underwater photography. Go easy. 🙂
Activity #4 – Do More Water Sports
Speaking of snorkeling, take advantage of the beautiful Tulum waters by partaking in some other water sports. Here, you’ll be able to find kayaking, paddle boarding, jet skiing, and scuba diving.
Activity # 5 – Head Out Into The Jungle
While there’s tons to do on Tulum’s beaches and in the town, heading out into the jungle provides a different kind of special adventure. You can either head to the Punta Laguna Nature reserve and observe some local flora and fauna, or rent a cottage among the trees and fall asleep to the sound of bugs chirping under the stars.
While in Tulum, my friend and I met some people who had a cottage in the jungle, and they gushed about the benefits of jungle living through a few rounds of mojitos.
Activity #6 – Go Caving
Caving is perhaps the most transformative experience I had during my 5 weeks in the Yucatan Peninsula. While my friend and I took a caving experience closer to Playa del Carmen, which you can read about in this article, there are also plenty of highly-rated caving adventures near Tulum.
Activity #7 – Go to the Beach
I mean, you are in Tulum after all! Tulum is one of the best beach destinations on the planet, and of those beaches, the must-see ones are Playa Ruinas, Playa Paraíso, and Las Palmas Public Beach.
Activity #8 – Take a Day Trip
Tulum is the perfect base from which to take day trips around the Riviera Maya (although so is Playa del Carmen — the city from which I personally took all my day trips). A few amazing locales to visit from Tulum are Chichen Itza & Valladolid, Playa del Carmen, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, Xel-Ha Park, and the Coba Ruins.
Tulum Safety Tips
While in Tulum, be sure to exercise the kind of travel safety precautions that you would anywhere else: keep an eye on your things, stay alert in crowds, don’t wear flashy clothes or jewelry, only use ATM’s at legitimate banks, learn some of the local language, protect yourself from mosquitos, don’t accept drinks from strangers, only get into marked taxi cabs, and stay away from wild animals (unless you’re on a guided snorkeling tour, of course).
All that to say, Tulum is, in general, very safe, but you’re still going to want to be on guard for a few key things that’ll help you have the safest visit possible:
Tulum Safety Tip #1 – Keep You Wits About You
And by this I mean, don’t get too drunk, and don’t buy drugs of any sort. In Mexico (and it was those locals we met in Tulum that told us this), possession of drugs is taken very seriously, and being drunk in public may land you in the drunk tank or paying a bribe.
So, if you do plan on partying (it is Tulum, after all), be sure to do so right at your hotel or resort.
Tulum Safety Tip #2 – Don’t Drink The Tap Water
As a general rule, the water of the Yucatan Peninsula isn’t great to drink. So, to make sure you don’t have any tummy troubles on your trip, I recommend bringing along some water purification tablets, or a LifeStraw water filter.
That said, the water situation may change depending on where you stay. While the water wasn’t safe in my Playa del Carmen Airbnb, it was perfectly safe in the Cancun resort my parents stayed in a couple of years ago. It’s always best to ask, but when in doubt, just filter it.
Tulum Safety Tip #3 – Stay Hydrated
I know, it seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but if you’re not used to Mexican heat, then I can’t stress this point enough. I visited Tulum in August/ September, and it was sweltering and humid the entire time. There were times my friend and I legitimately thought we were gonna pass out from the heat.
So, make sure you drink a TON of water, take regular breaks from sightseeing, and eat a lot of ice cream. Also, it might sound weird, but if I were to go back to Mexico, I would 100% bring an ice pack with me to stick on my back when the days got too hot.
Tulum Packing List
Water Sports Gear: To have the best time possible swimming in the ocean and cenotes, bring along snorkel gear, a few swimsuits, a quick-dry towel, a rash guard, water shoes, a hat, and reef-safe sunscreen.
That’s all for my ultimate guide to Tulum, Mexico!
During my 5 weeks in the Yucatan Peninsula, I visited Tulum multiple times, and I fell deeper and deeper in love with it every time I went. Have you ever been to Tulum? Drop your comments below!
Have fun in Mexico!
*Cover photo taken by Ashley Senja, edited by me