I’m back from Tulum and feeling better than ever! My boyfriend David and I took an 8-day getaway to Tulum, Mexico recently and needless to say it is a must-visit destination. The vibe there is unreal. Everyone is so laid back, the weather was perfect and the food was even better. Although we’ve only just gotten back two days ago, I feel a sense of urgency to share the wealth in terms of where to stay, what to do, where to eat etc. So here it is, my guide for traveling to Tulum. Enjoy!
Where to Stay
I’m generally an advocate for Airbnb when traveling because it’s of course much more affordable and often times you can get more bang for your buck. However, with a trip this long and hearing about the U.S. State Department’s “Travel Warning” on Tulum, we figured a hotel may be a better option. (We later came to find out once we were there, that there reeeaaally isn’t anything to worry about. Of course always be careful, but we never felt nervous..anywhere) We booked our trip a little late so all of the hotel rooms where you could literally walk out the door and onto the beach were taken. Also, when doing some research we noticed that a number of the beach front hotels either didn’t have A.C. or had limited access to A.C. (only on during a specific time of day), no turn-down service etc.. I can absolutely see doing without those things for a short trip, but for 8-days we decided it was best to stay somewhere off the beach and booked the super chic boutique hotel, Arthouse. Given that Arthouse has private pools in each of it’s rooms and a beautiful view of the jungle, we figured that could make up for not being directly on the beach. Arthouse is located in the up-and-coming housing community known as Aldea Zama, which is less than 10-minutes from the Tulum Beach area and has an influx of new luxury hotels, condos and rental properties.
I feel where you stay in Tulum is really dependent upon your preference — usually I can say a location is much better when you stay in an Airbnb or vice versa, but in this instance both have their perks. Just try not to stay on any of the big resorts like Dreams, Secrets, Grand Bahia Principe etc.. as those are actually extremely far and isolated from all of the action.
How to Get There
Sadly, the closest airport to Tulum is in Cancun, which is about 1.5 – 2 hours away. I say 1.5 – 2 hours because when researching beforehand all websites said 2-hours, but for us it only took 1.5 for some reason. Not sure if our driver was speeding or what, but I won’t complain, ha!
You can either get to / from Tulum by booking a private / shared shuttle service or taking the Mexican ADO bus. The ADO bus is the most cost effective of the two options and is only about $12USD per ticket when going straight to Tulum. I’ve read that these buses are very nice coach bus options with A.C. and a television so it’s a comfortable ride. The only downside is that they run on a particular schedule, so you could be waiting at the airport for a few hours after your flight before leaving for Tulum. Also, once you arrive in Tulum, you’ll need to take a taxi to your hotel, which won’t cost a lot but may feel like a lot of travel especially if you’d like to maximize your days.
We opted for a private shuttle to bring us to / from the airport and booked one through eTransfers. The total cost round trip was $156 USD, which wasn’t bad given we’d have door to door service and from other prices we saw it was pretty good. They were there as soon as we left customs and came a few minutes early to pick us up on our last day, so I’d highly recommend them.
Money, Money, Money
In Mexico the most common form of currency is the Peso, which is about 19.90 to 1 USD. We decided to convert our USD in the states before getting to the airport to get as good of a rate as possible. Try to get as much as you think you’ll spend beforehand because a lot of the ATMs do NOT work and most places are cash only.
What I noticed is that you can either ball out like crazy in Tulum or keep it very low maintenance — we read before leaving that prices for dining in the Tulum Beach area were comparable to that of NYC, and they were right in most instances. I generally prefer a more authentic experience when traveling to a new country, so we didn’t confine ourselves to staying solely in that area and ventured off into Pueblo (Tulum Town) most nights, which was a lot more fun.
In total we spent about $1,500 USD between the two of us while there for 8-days. Not counting of course hotel, shuttle to / from the airport or the excursion we booked ahead of time. We made sure to split our time between high-end restaurants, beach clubs and bars to some more cost-effective restaurants and bars in Pueblo. We definitely foresee ourselves spending even less the next time around.
As expected, the food in Mexico is bomb. Prior to coming I already regarded Mexican food as one of my favorites, so the best moments for me were of course the dining experiences. We hit up a range of locations, from super high-end and popular like the acclaimed Hartwood to very traditional and low key like Gloria de Don Pepe. Here’s my feedback on a few of the places we dined at.
- Hartwood – Tulum’s most famous restaurant, reservations are a must and can only be made one month in advance. If you do not have a reservation get there at 5:00pm right before it opens so you can be seated.
- La Gloria de Don Pepe – Super authentic restaurant in Pueblo with amazing tapas and paella. We got the seafood paella which was insanely good. Went here our last night, but if we had another we’d go again.
- Cenzontle – One of the more authentic upscale locations to eat in the Tulum Beach area. Not as popular as Hartwood, but the service and food were top notch. They also have some amazing cocktails.
- Don Cafeto – Another authentic restaurant in Pueblo — we ate here twice because it was so good. If you like spicy food they have this yummy pickled pepper appetizer that they serve each table before your food arrives, that knocked us on our asses. It’s also in the center of the Pueblo area, so a good place to go before a night out on the town.
- Mateo’s Mexican Grill – Great for happy hour and lunch, authentic cuisine and reasonable prices with live music on Thursday and Sunday nights. They have an AH-mazing sunset terrace that oversees the forest, a must!
- Encanto Cantina – Restaurant with a back garden and bar in Pueblo with delicious traditional tacos at super reasonable prices. We ordered several different types to share and spent practically nothing.
- Gitano – An upscale restaurant and lounge on Tulum Beach, if you don’t have a reservation it’s best to arrive early for a seat. We didn’t have one and decided to go back for just drinks, but the vibe didn’t seem as fun as we’d hoped so we ended up going somewhere else nearby.
- Taqueria la Eufemia – One of the more down-to-earth spots located on Tulum Beach, with happy hour everyday from 6-8. They had a very relaxed vibe, affordable drinks and great crowd — good spot to go before dinner or when you’re lounging by the beach during the day
- Cetli – Family-owned restaurant located in Pueblo that was sadly closed the whole time we were there but apparently has amazing food. The only disclaimer is that the location feels like you are in the middle of nowhere and is off a high-way so of course take a taxi to and from.
- Casa Jaguar – Heard great things about this one, but sadly we found it to be super pretentious. When we walked in we were not acknowledged and were looked over by another group. Our waitress barely checked in on us, but made sure to check in on a group of white men who were literally seated at the same table as us but on the other end. Also, their lamb wasn’t seasoned lol.
Perhaps I’m a lush, but for some reason a majority of the drinks tasted pretty watered down to me, whether we were on the beach or in Pueblo. Maybe because it was so hot the ice was melting more rapidly, I’m not sure. So that was a bit disappointing. I eventually started drinking mainly beer or having rose and white wine while on the beach (don’t judge me), which gave me the slight buzz I needed for lounging out in the sun, haha! For consistency, the best cocktails were of course Margaritas, and if you order a Mojito make sure you ask them to make it the classic way with brown sugar!
Things to Do
- Visit Tulum Ruins
- Visit Coba Ruins
- Have an excursion in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere
- Take a day trip to Chichen Itza
- Explore Vallodolid
- Snorkel in a Cenote (pronounced see-no-tay); Grand Cenote or Cenote Escondido and Cenote Cristal (which are much cheaper to enter, about $6USD)
- Take a Yoga Class at Yoga Shala
- Visit Turtle Beach at Akumal
- Visit the Tulum Art Club
- Take one of the of Edventure Tours (Snorkeling, Ziplining, Hiking, ATV excursions etc)
Nightlife to Try
I’m not the biggest partier when on vacation, but Pueblo (Tulum Town) is by far much more fun at night than Tulum Beach. You should get dinner around 8/9ish then head to a bar in Pueblo for dancing and drinks. The bars on Centauro Sur are the most fun. Around midnight people start dancing in the streets! Tulum isn’t the biggest party town in general, but you can definitely find ways to stay out all night if you want.
- Ki’bok – This was our favorite spot to people watch and kick off drinks for the evening. It’s a cafe by day with a rooftop cocktail bar at night, located in Pueblo.
- Batey – This is apparently considered the hot spot, but I felt the bars around it were much more fun. It is a Cuban themed bar in Pueblo with live music.
- Pasito Tun Tun – Another bar in Pueblo, located right across the street from Ki’bok that is super cute and has a great crowd. Also, some of the seats are swings!
- Cortazar – Best drinks in the Tulum Beach area. They are a bit pricey but have amazing craft cocktails and a bomb DJ on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s small so a majority of people sit outside. We absolutely loved the vibe and were lured in my the funk music the DJ was bumpin’.
- Papaya Playa Project – Has clubby beach parties in which they play mainly house music, with a $20 cover charge. ** we didn’t go but if you’re into house music we heard great things about it — if you still want to experience Papaya Playa Project because it’s pretty popular, someone else suggested going there for a beach front lunch during the day.
- Zamna Jungle Party – Very similar to Papaya Playa but not on the beach ** we didn’t go but if you’re into house music should be fun
Other Things to Know
- As mentioned previously, there was a travel warning issued against Tulum, but to be quite honest we felt very safe throughout our entire stay. Even when we were in Pueblo. Just always be mindful and stay with your partner or group and you’ll be completely fine
- Knowing some Spanish will certainly help you get by. A majority of people speak a little bit of english, but knowing a few key phrases like, Hello (Hola), Thank You (Gracias), Donde Esta (Where is), Cuanto Cuesta (How much) etc.. will certainly help you get by and make people more willing to help.
- There are so many mosquitos! We were bit to oblivion within our first day there, so bring lots of bug repellant. Some restaurants that are by the jungle / trees even have it handy because it gets pretty bad at night. We had a process every day; lotion, sunscreen, bug spray!
- The seaweed there is very prominent and gross. For some reason on our first day on the beach we saw no seaweed at all, it was completely clear. The rest of the trip, however, had sooo much and you literally cannot escape it. Piles gather on the shore, which can be an eye sore — but once you climb over them and go a few feet into the water you should be okay. Fortunately, this isn’t the slimy seaweed, which I was most scared of.
Overall, Tulum was a fantastic experience and I cannot wait to go back, I was legitimately sad to leave! Have you been to Tulum? If so, leave your own recommendations in the comments section.