Tulum Travel – The 2018 Travel Guide to Tulum

Updated: November 4, 2017

Essentials

Planning a Trip to Tulum – Travel Tips

  • Tulum is divided into two areas: the town (pueblo) and the beach (playa). They are about 5 km apart. The town is inland. The beach is, uhm, along the beach.
  • Most hotels – and all of the best ones – are along the beach.
  • The town has cheaper and often better food (especially if you’re looking for authentic Mexican food and tacos). Even with cab fare to town and back dinner will be cheaper in town then at the beach. The town also has more shops and 2 large grocery stores (The Chedraui is the most convenient for the beach.)
  • The best luxury hotels in Tulum: MezzanineCoral TulumAhau TulumAlaya
  • It costs about $100 usd by taxi from the Cancun airport to Tulum and takes about 90 minutes. To get a taxi at the Cancun airport walk out the doors on the arrivals level and book with the transfer desk just to the left (can’t miss it, very easy to find). It’ll be a 5 to 30 minute wait for a car or van (it won’t be a taxi as they’re not allowed to pick up from the airport). You can prebook with Paradise Transfers (there are other companies but that’s who I use) before you arrive. Pre-booked transfers cost about $120 usd but then you have a car waiting for you as you get through customs. Transfers include: A private A/C van – no one will share the van with you. Price per van not per passenger. Complimentary children seat upon request.
  • Tulum or Playa del Carmen: Tulum has a nicer beach, better food, more chilled out and relaxing, and cooler more unique hotels. Playa del Carmen feels like a spring break town. Nice but somewhat tacky. Tulum wins hands down vs Playa del Carmen.
  • Tulum or Cancun: The big difference between Cancun and Tulum is that Cancun sucks: lousy food, boring all inclusive resorts, few fun things to do nearby.
  • The Tulum ruins are found along the beach (north of the hotel strip). They are easy to reach from both town and the beach hotels by taxi or bike but too far to walk from either. These are definitely worth a visit (plan for 1 to 3 hours). There’s a great place to swim just below the main structure on the coast.
  • Bikes are everywhere in Tulum. They’re easy to rent and cost about 150 pesos a day (less if you rent for multiple days). There’s a bike path from town all the way out to the beach (near Zamas). From Zamas there is no path along the beach road but traffic moves slowly and it always feels safe to be on your bike as long as it’s not dark. The road along the beach is flat. There’s a slight incline as you start into town (from the beach, as the bike path starts) but most of that route is flat as well. Along the beach road car traffic can stop for 5 to 15 minutes for seemingly no reason at all. If you’re on a bike you sail right by all the traffic and are happy for not being in a car. The bike ride from the beach to town takes 20 to 35 minutes depending on where you’re staying along the beach road.
  • Taxi from the beach to town should be about 100 pesos from around Zamas Hotel (one of the closer ones) up to 150 pesos from Mestizo Hotel (one of the farther ones).
  • Dreams Tulum is not in Tulum but is located 6 miles north of Tulum and the Tulum ruins (towards Akumal). It’s a huge all-inclusive resort with very little character. If you want to stay at a hotel closer to Akumal then choose the charming Jashita Hotel.
  • The Tulum Beach is beautiful – my favorite in Mexico.
  • And the sand in Tulum is wonderful.
  • Eating cheap is easy in Tulum town (and typically more expensive out at the beach). Antojitos la Chiapaneca is one of my favorite taco shops in town and below you can see the menu. Those prices are in pesos so a delicious pastor taco is just $0.45. Cheap and just drop-dead delicious.
  • Pastor is slow cooked pork that is shaved off directly into a taco. The best pastor places are open only at night – and the later you go the tastier the meat gets.
  • The pastor tacos from Antojitos la Chiapaneca. These are my son’s – OK, the kid likes the tomatillo sauce.
  • This is a plate of pastor meat (with cheese) which you can order instead of individual tacos.
    Pastor Meat in Tulum
  • El Mariachi in Tulum Town is a good Mexican restaurant with a mix of authentic dishes and more American style Mexican food. A good place to go if someone in your group wants traditional food and someone else wants a chicken quesadilla.
    Best Mexican Restaurants in Tulum: El Mariachi
  • Tacolum is the best taco restaurant on the beach – but still not as good as you’ll find in town.
    Best Tacos on Tulum Beach: Tacolum
  • When you buy a chicken they’ll also throw a stack of tortillas and salsa into the bag. It’s quick, cheap, and delicious food. (Once again, you’ll only find freshly roasted chickens in town, not at the beach.)
  • Mexican soups are awesome and often overlooked. If you see soup on the menu, order it.
  • Chilaquiles are common breakfast food in Mexico and delicious. Usually cheaper than ordering western food too.
  • These are two traditional Mexican drinks you’ll find in the Yucatan: Jamaica and Horchata. Both really tasty and most restaurants will have them even if they’re not on the menu.
    Horchata and Jamaica Mexican Drinks
  • Eating lunch or dinner on the beach is a highlight of staying in Tulum.
  • Panna e Cioccolato gelato shop has the best ice cream in town (better than most restaurants). There are 2 shops in Tulum town and 1 on the beach (near Zamas).
  • But helado (Mexican style treats) are also popular and very tasty.
  • Bike Rental shop in town (and neighboring laundromat). There are many rental shops but Kelly’s has the most bikes. A few doors down from the Scotia Bank. If you need a better quality bike, trailers, baby carriers, or scooters then try iBikeTulum. If you book in advance they’ll even deliver the bikes to you at your hotel.
  • Bikes can be rented at the beach as well, but it’s usually just a hotel with a handful to rent so you won’t have much choice.
  • The bike path between Tulum town and the beach. This runs from town all the way to the small collection of hotels, shops, and restaurants at the start of the main strip of beach hotels (I call this Beach Town, but no one else does). For hotels south of here (which is most of them) you have to ride on the beach road for 1 to 5KMs. The road can be busy but traffic doesn’t go very fast so it’s fine for all but the very beginners. The road (not the bike path) is pretty dark at night so biking to town for dinner is not a great plan.
  • Bikes are everywhere in and around town.
  • Hotels and restaurants in Tulum have bike parking. Cool.
  • Cenote’s are collapsed sinkholes that expose fresh water below and there are thousands of them around the Yucatan.
  • If you do only one thing during your time in Tulum visit a cenote. The Gran Cenote is only about 5 minutes outside of Tulum. Take your own mask and snorkel. There are lockers and restrooms. The Gran Cenote is the most famous but other cenotes close to Tulum are Manatee (towards Playa del Carmen, great if you’re only interested in swimming), Carwash and Zacil Ha (towards Coba), and Crystal and Escondido (south of Tulum Town). Tell the name of any of these to a taxi driver and they’ll take you there for less than 200 pesos. I recommend getting the taxi to wait for you which will double the price but beats waiting on the highway (like I’ve done) trying to hail a taxi. (They’ll wait for an hour or two.) Most cenotes have a charge of less than 100 pesos. Just take a towel, taxi money, and snorkel-mask (optional) and you’ll have an amazing time at any of these cenotes. Manatee has a good restaurant right across the road. The rest I mentioned above don’t have much around besides a basic kiosk that sells refreshments. It’s just swim for an hour or two then head home.
  • You can easily visit cenotes on your own but if you’re really keen (or don’t want to worry about arranging transportation there and back) I highly recommend this cenote snorkeling tour (with hotel pickup and drop off).
  • This is Zacil Ha Cenote on the same road as the Gran Cenote but about another 10 minute drive (just beyond Carwash Cenote). It’s one of the best if you like open top cenotes that don’t have a cave-like feel. It also has a small zip line that you can use to float out over the top and jump down into the cenote.
    Best Cenote for Swimming near Tulum: Zacil Ha
  • Tulum is surrounded by cenotes that are great for fresh water swimming.
  • The second best thing to do in Tulum is take a cooking course at Rivera Kitchen. It’s a fun and informative 3 hour session that teaches some basics about Mexican cooking and finishes with a delicious meal. Another great thing about it is that it’s a great source of information about the Tulum area so if you take the course on your first or second day you’ll leave with a list of great restaurants to try and places to visit.
    Best Cooking Course in Tulum
  • The best day trips from Tulum are the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, Coba, Chichen Itza, Aktun Chen (underwater cave and cenote with swimming and ziplines) and the enchanting town of Vallodolid.
  • The best tours for Sian Ka’an are Community Tours, and Yucatan Outdoors. All do small guided tours of the reserve.
  • The Coba ruins cover a large area and bikes are a fun way to get to the different sights.
  • If you go to Chichen Itza or Coba hire a guide. You don’t have to prearrange. Guides will greet you as you enter and offer their services. Their knowledge makes the sights much more interesting and rewarding.
  • Valladolid is a wonderful little inland town that makes a great day trip from Tulum. The town is surrounded by good cenotes and there’s even one a short walk from the central square.
  • Zaci Cenote in downtown Vallodolid. Great for cliff jumping.
  • There are several other cenotes within biking distance of downtown. Samula is my favorite. X’Keken cenote is directly across the road.
  • The taco stand located on this corner in Vallodolid is the best in the Yucatan.
  • Hotel Casa Quetzal is a great boutique hotel and the best place to stay in Vallodolid.
  • El Fogon is the best restaurant in Playa del Carmen. Expect lineups and great food.
  • Bank machines are found everywhere in Tulum, both at the beach and in town. There are bank machines at the bus station.
  • The Scotia Bank in Tulum Town has the best exchange rates in the area. There are 2 bank machines here too.
    Best Place to Change Money in Tulum
  • It’s easy to bike along the beach road and find a spot on the beach (usually at a restaurant).
  • There are a few convenience stores along the beach road. The longest running one is located at Playa Mambo hotel.
  • The beach road near Zamas.
  • The Tulum Ruins are (sort-of) in between Tulum town and the hotel zone on the beach road. Definitely worth a visit. They’re easy to bike to from both town and the beach hotels.
  • La Zebra is a kid-friendly restaurant and hotel with a beautiful beach and play area along the beach.
  • Las Tres Palmas is a great budget hotel in Tulum Town (Pueblo). Good location, large rooms (good for families), and friendly owners.
  • Seaweed on the Tulum Beach: This has been a problem lately but seems to be improving. The pictures make it look worse than it is. For me, it’s never been a huge issue. The seaweed doesn’t smell and it’s almost like small pieces of tree bark. Below are pictures from December of 2015. There tends to be less seaweed as you move south. This is the beach in front of Alaya Hotel, Playa Canek, and Playa Mambo. This is my favorite stretch of Beach on Tulum. (A little farther south is Be Tulum – they also do a great job of keeping they beach seaweed free.)
    Seaweed on Tulum Beach in front of Alaya Hotel.
  • This is the beach in front of Zebra Hotel and Restaurant.
    Seaweed on Tulum Beach
  • Seaweed on beach in front of Nueva Vida Hotel.
    Seaweed on Beach near Tulum Hotels
  • Seaweed on beach in front of Ana y Jose Hotel. The hotel is good at clearing the seaweed (you can just make out the workers starting to clear it up the beach) but I wanted to post a picture showing it at it’s worst.
    Seaweed on Tulum Beach
  • Seaweed in front of Amansala Hotel.
    Seaweed on Tulum Beach near Amansala Hotel
  • The beach in front of Zamas. The worst spot on Tulum Beach. The shape of the small bay here really collects the seaweed. The coves just north of here (by Tulum Bay, Piedro Escondido, and Hotel Posada) were perfect at the same time I took this photo.
    Seaweed on Beach near Zamas Hotel
  • Mateo’s is one of the few places with draft beer in Tulum, Dos Equis Amber and Lager.
    Draft Beer in Tulum
  • The hotels and beach go all the way down to the entrance to the Sian Biosphere. From there onwards the road is unpaved and bumpy.
    Road to Sian Biosphere in Tulum
  • Taxis go up and down the beach strip. They often form a short line outside of Be Tulum (one of the farthest hotels south).
    Taxis on Tulum Beach
  • This is a collectivo – basically a shared mini-van/bus – and the cheapest way to get out to the beach (besides riding a bike).
    Collectivo in Tulum
  • Motmot is the best place in Tulum to get a tasty cookie, treat, or pastry. The banana bread is particularly good.
    Best Bakery, Treats, Desserts in Tulum
  • Pool is the grocery store with the best selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. The Chedraui (a huge modern grocery store) is on the road outside of town on the way to the beach and is the best place to buy beer, wine, alcohol, beach balls and towels, Best Place to buy fresh produce in Tulum
  • This is Nacho. His kiosk is located on the main street in Tulum and he has tons of information on tours around the area.
    Best Place to Book Tours in Tulum

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