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A First Timer’s Guide to Tulum

A First Timer’s Guide to Tulum

Tulum has to be one of my favorite places I’ve visited so far in Mexico. It has everything I love – a beautiful beach, ancient ruins, great restaurants, and cheap beer. What more could you ask for from a vacation spot?

We originally intended to only spend 3 days in Tulum, but stayed for five instead. It’s not that there are tons of things to do, it’s more the lack of doing that we enjoyed most. We spent lazy days cycling around the small town, laying on the beach, swimming in sinkholes full of crystal clear fresh water, and eating way too many tacos. You could easily fill two days in Tulum if you’re short on time, but I recommend trying to stay for longer if you can!

Here’s my guide to Tulum. I hope it helps you orientate yourself and organize your trip so that you experience the best there is in Tulum.

tulum, mexico

Getting to Tulum

The cheapest way to get to Tulum is to take Colectivos from Cancun. We flew in and out of Cancun airport. From Cancun airport, take an ADO bus (just ask where they go from when you exit the terminal) into the center of Cancun. These currently cost 66 Pesos (about $3 USD). Across the street from the ADO terminal in downtown Cancun is the colectivo stand where vans leave every 15 minutes or so for Playa Del Carmen. This leg of the trip currently costs 34 Pesos (about $1.50). When you get off the colectivo in Playa, you can immediately get back on another straight to Tulum town center. This leg of the trip costs 40 Pesos ($2.25).

The other option is to take the ADO bus into Cancun then hop on another ADO bus straight to Tulum. The buses are slower and more expensive – it currently costs 160 pesos to go from Cancun to Tulum ($8.50). These don’t leave as often, but you can see the timetable for those here.

what to do in tulum

How cute is this little lizard? They were all over the ruins catching sun.

Hotels in Tulum

The Best Things to Do in Tulum Mexico


There are two main options when it comes to where to stay in Tulum. You can either stay by the beaches of Tulum or in the town. Both have their merits, but we decided to stay in town (most of the in-town options are much cheaper). Leah of the Sweetest Way has a great post on places to stay in either location.

We used trusty old AirBnB to book a place in Tulum and I absolutely loved it. It’s the sort of house I could live in – the perfect balance of beach cottage and home comforts. It was packed with books to read, there were bikes to use for free, the kitchen was fully stocked with everything we needed to cook, and the couple running the place couldn’t have been nicer. You can see that listing here.

Never Used AirBnB Before? Sign up with this link to receive $30 off your first booking.

The other great thing about this place was it’s location. It was just on the edge of town, but closer to the beach than those in the center. It was a 10 minute cycle to the ruins and the beach, a 20 minute cycle to some amazing cenotes (more on those below), and less than 5 minutes to all the bars and restaurants on the main street.

ruins in tulum

What to See

Now for the important things. The main draw for me to Tulum was the ruins, I had no idea how much more there was to do in the area. Thankfully our AirBnB hosts gave us some great tips and we managed to fill each day with something new.

Mayan Ruins

The ruins are way bigger than I thought they would be. They’re really easy to get to from town and everything is well sign posted. At the time of our visit, it was 65 pesos to get in (about $3.50). They’re incredibly well preserved and the backdrop is utterly insane. The Mayans knew a thing or two about where to set up shop, because the setting will literally take your breath away.

Cenotes

Pronounced like se-no-tays, cenotes are geographical formations that are scattered all over the Yucatan Peninsula. There are tons around Tulum. The one we absolutely loved was an 8km cycle from the center of Tulum called Xacil-Ha. Most people head to the closer Gran Cenote, which you’ll spot as you head towards Xachil-ha (they’re on the same road).

Another nearby spot that is worth a visit is Dos Ojos Cenotes. You can take a Colectivo back towards Play Del Carmen and simply tell the driver you want to get off there. The two cenotes are right next to each other and there are some serious caves to explore. You can rent snorkel gear or you can go diving in them. We opted out as it’s quite expensive, but if you’ve got the budget I think it would be an incredible way to explore the caves.

Most cenotes we went to had snorkel gear and life jackets that you could just rent for a few dollars. There are a few places in Tulum town center that sell them if you’d rather have your own.

Guide to Tulum

Lay on the Beach

The beach in Tulum was the nicest of the three we visited (better than both Cancun and Playa Del Carmen in my opinion). The water was cleaner, there were fewer boats around, and there was less seaweed too (at least when we were there). There are a few different resorts and bars along the beach. If you want to sit in any of their chairs simply buy a drink or some food and you won’t be bothered for the rest of the day.

If that’s not your thing, there’s plenty of public beach to lay your towel on and hop in and out of the water. I was a little bit nervous about leaving all our stuff on the beach when we went swimming, but we didn’t have a problem.

Swim with Turtles

This is the best thing I did during my time in Tulum. I mean, I may be more obsessed with sea turtles than your average person, but it was incredible.

Read about my experience snorkeling with sea turtles here. (IT WAS AMAZING).

It’s a really easy day trip from Tulum. Again, grab a Colectivo towards Playa Del Carmen and ask to get dropped off in Akumal. It’s a short walk from the bus stop to the beach where everyone is selling you a snorkel and lifejacket. We paid 500 pesos each (about $25) for a guide, snorkels, mask and life jacket. He took us around for an hour and a half and I’m still dealing with the sunburn. There are so many turtles I was shrieking with delight into my snorkel every few minutes.

June 2018 Update: You are no longer allowed to swim with turtles in Akumal. The amount of people that were attempting to touch the turtles became too much for the turtles and it was stressing them out. It’s still a beautiful beach worth visiting.

tacos in tulum

Where to Eat

We cooked a lot of our meals at our rental, but we made sure to get out and enjoy some of the local fare as well.

Street Food

Street food is always my first choice, wherever we travel. The best places we ate were along Satelite Sur just off of Avenida Tulum. The tacos were cheap and packed with flavor. The other stand that I could have eaten at every night was on the edge of the Oxxo parking lot on the corner of Avenida Tulum and Calle Geminis Sur. Get the Gringas. You’re welcome.

La Coqueta

This little seafood restaurant on the edge of town cooked the best octopus I’ve ever had. Their bowl of ceviche is enough for a family of four and their whole grilled fish is served with a seriously delectable honey sauce. We only found this restaurant on our last night and we were so upset that we hadn’t eaten here at least six times. It’s also one of the most affordable seafood restaurants in all of Tulum.

Where to Drink

The best nightlife was definitely along Calle Centauro Sur. It’s where all the 2-for-1 drink deals were and where the tourists flocked each night creating a buzzing atmosphere.

Maya Yoga Hostel

This hostel has a juice bar beneath it and it makes some seriously good fresh juice. Most are only 50 pesos (about $2.50).

Tulum is such an amazing place. I fell in love quickly with it’s hippie vibe and laid back attitude. Whether you’re looking for an upscale beach holiday, a budget escape, or a place to explore all the exciting sites in the Yucatan, I highly recommend basing yourself in Tulum to do it.

Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance!

I’ve been using World Nomads for the last six years – it’s got some of the best coverage and prices. I feel strongly that people should insure themselves AND their belongings. While it’s very rare, the occasional theft does occur in this area of Mexico, mostly due to the enormous amount of tourism that exists here.

 

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A first timer's guide to Tulum. Where to stay in Tulum, how to get around Tulum, the best restaurants and bars in Tulum and what to see in Tulum!

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Steph

Monday 19th of December 2016

This is perfect! I'm heading there for new years, thanks for sharing :)

Laura Bronner

Tuesday 20th of December 2016

Awesome! You'll love it! Let me know if you have any other questions about it before you go :)