The Ultimate Tulum Travel Planning Guide for First Time Visitors

Mar 25, 2021 | 15 comments

Making your tulum travel plans?!

If you’ve never visited Tulum (or even Mexico), the thought of Tulum travel planning might be overwhelming — but by the end of this article, you will be a Tulum pro! How do I know?!

👋 Hi, I’m Shelley, and I’ve been living and traveling solo in Mexico since April 2018. I currently live in Merida, the capital of Yucatan state, not far from Tulum. Before Merida, I spent about three months between Tulum and Playa del Carmen (Playa has better internet; Tulum has better nature), so I know the Tulum pueblo magico (magic town) well — and I’m going to tell you all my Tulum travel tips!

As one of the places high atop many a Mexico bucket list, Tulum is fast becoming one of the best Mexico travel destinations. Located on the Caribbean Sea, Tulum is one of the best beach towns in Mexico, with amazing Mayan ruins, swimmable cenotes, beautiful beaches, Instagram worthy backdrops, and more.

In short, it’s easy to see why everyone wants to travel to Tulum — this bohemian beach paradise has something for everyone. However, with so many amazing things to do in Tulum, how do you choose?! You’re in the exact right place to find out because; by the end of this article, you’re going to have the complete lowdown on Tulum travel.

Ready to dive in? Let’s get started with the state of Tulum travel during Covid, and then get into everything you need to know about Tulum, including where to stay, play, tour, eat and drink.

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Tulum Travel During Covid-19

Is Tulum Open for travel right now?

Yes — Tulum is open right now. In fact, Tulum, and Mexico in general, never really closed. However, there have been measures in place since March 2020, like mandatory masks indoors and outdoors, temperature checks, mandatory use of hand sanitizer, capacity restrictions, etc., which are still enforced.

However, there are no real Tulum travel restrictions, and no quarantine period to travel to Mexico. For those in the U.S. dying to scratch their wanderlust itch, and just a handful of countries allowing this type of entry, Mexico is one of the best countries for travel right now.

🏝 For a complete guide to Tulum travel during Covid, head to this article Is Tulum Open for Travel Right Now? It is updated regularly!

🌴🏠 need suggestions on where to stay in Tulum…?

Where can I get Rapid Covid Test in Tulum?

As of January 26, 2021, you are required to have a negative Covid test to return to the U.S. The results must be dated within three days/72 hours of your flight. As of now, only an Antigen Test (NAAT Test) is required, according to the CDC.

To get a Tulum rapid Covid test, head to one of the places listed below.

Is it safe to travel to Tulum, Mexico right now?

This answer depends on who you ask!

The World Travel & Tourism Council’s global travel safety program, Safe Travels, has certified all of Mexico’s big travel destinations, including Playa del Carmen, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, as safe for travel. To qualify for this program, countries must follow rigorous cleaning and hygiene protocols.

However, the U.S. State Department and the CDC say to reconsider travel to Mexico, for now. While many aren’t following that advice, if you are going to visit Tulum during Covid, please travel responsibly and follow all Tulum Covid-19 safety measures.

Tulum Travel Disclaimer

Legally, yes; Tulum is open to travelers. Ethically… well that’s a question for each individual person. For anyone who chooses to travel to Tulum right now, please do so respectfully, safely, responsibly, and in accordance with all Mexican laws.

With that out of the way, let’s get into everything you need to know about traveling to Tulum like a boss.

RELATED BLOG ✈️ Safe Travel in Mexico: 20 Tips for Solo Female Travelers

tulum travel Guide

Is Tulum Safe?

Short answer: Yes! Aside from hurricanes, drinking too much, sunburns and petty crime, both Tulum solo travel and group travel is safe.

Longer answer: Safety is a tricky subject — not just in Tulum, but everywhere — and that’s because safety is a feeling, not a fact. However, as a general rule, Tulum and the Yucatan Peninsula are considered quite safe for visitors.

As someone who’s been living and traveling alone in Mexico for years, I know my opinion may be skewed, so I reached out to other female bloggers who have done some Mexico solo travel, to get their takes. Head to Solo Travel in Mexico: 20 Destinations You Need To Visit to read about Tulum solo travel.

Though Tulum is considered safe, you’ll still want to follow the 10 General Travel Safety Tips below to err on the side of caution. These safety measures are the same ones you’d follow when traveling anywhere on Earth, and they should suffice in Tulum, Mexico.

10 General Travel Safety Tips
  1. Don’t walk home alone at night if you can help it; take a taxi or ride your bike in Tulum.
  2. Always listen to your intuition because your intuition is always right.
  3. If you get a sketchy or uneasy feeling about a person or place, get away from that person or place immediately. If you feel you’re in danger, don’t worry about making a kind, nice, or politically correct exit from a creepy person or bad situation — Just get away ASAP.
  4. Don’t keep your phone, keys, wallet, passport, or anything valuable in your back pocket.
  5. Learn some basic Spanish. If you can’t learn it, save this infographic as an image on your phone so you have something to use even if you’re off-WiFi.
  6. Take all of your belongings into the bathroom with you, rather than asking a cafe/bar neighbor to watch your things.
  7. Speaking of bar neighbors, don’t take drinks from strangers and/or leave your drink unattended near one.
  8. Don’t wear flashy clothes, expensive jewelry, designer sunglasses, etc.
  9. Keep some cash in your pocket so you don’t have to pull your whole wallet out every time you need to pay.
  10. This should be a no brainer since you’re traveling during a pandemic, but get Travel Insurance!
Register for the STEP Program

Make sure you enroll in the FREE STEP Program before your trip. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP, allows U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico to document your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In Tulum, that’s the Consular Agency in Playa del Carmen.

After you’ve registered, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate can contact you in the event of an emergency, including natural disasters, civil unrest, etc. STEP can also put you in touch with your family and friends back home, in the event of an emergency while abroad.


Mexico Travel Insurance

Want an added level of security and peace of mind during these strange travel times? Smart choice!

Just as you insure your car, home and body, you can also insure your luggage, belongings and health while traveling. If Mexico and Tulum travel safety are on your mind, get your free quote below from World Nomads, one of the biggest names in travel insurance.


Tulum Travel FAQ

1. Is Tulum expensive?

This answer depends on where you’re comparing Tulum to; however, by Mexican standards, yes, Tulum is expensive because you can visit other beach towns in Mexico for much less. The good news that traveling to Tulum on a budget is 100% doable — so really, Tulum is as expensive as you make it.

Tulum has everything from budget hostels, like Mayan Monkey and Selina Tulum, to $2,000+ per night beachfront eco-villas at Azulik Tulum and Papaya Playa Project, so there really is room for all travel budgets. Similarly, you can find great Tulum cheap eats and street tacos for 50¢, and also upscale dining.

Since the peso is much weaker than the U.S. dollar and the euro, you can expect to get about $18 pesos per $1USD. In Tulum, many places are cash only, so see if your bank partners with any Mexican banks to waive ATM fees, and make sure to bring a “no foreign transaction fee” credit card.

🤑 Looking to visit Tulum and not break the bank? Head to this article for all my pro tips on traveling to Tulum for less, Tulum On A Budget: 10 Ways to Make Your Trip Affordable. If you prefer podcasts, this article is also available in audio form!


2. Do I need to know Spanish to visit Tulum?

Tulum is 50/50 — at the more upscale places on Tulum Beach, everyone will speak English. However, in Tulum Town (Downtown), where more locals live, you’ll find there is less English spoken.

Either way, you should brush up on your basic Spanish before visiting Tulum, Mexico (or really, any other country).

This is generally seen as a sign of respect and courtesy that you’ve familiarized yourself with everyday niceties like please and thank you

For your convenience, the infographic here has all the basic Spanish words and phrases you’ll need. Go ahead and save it to your phone as an image, so that you’ll have access to it even off-WiFi.

List of useful spanish words and phrases

3. Do I need a visa for Mexico?

No — U.S. passport holders don’t need a visa to travel to Mexico. This is another reason why, in general, Mexico is one of the best travel destinations from the U.S.

When you arrive in Mexico and go through the Immigration line, you’ll receive a 180-day (6 month) FMM tourist card. This is a small piece of paper that you need to hold on to so you can give it back to Immigration at the airport when you leave the country. 

There is no charge for the FMM, but if you lose it, there’s a $600 peso ($30) fine to replace it. Besides the find, you’ll need to get to the airport an extra hour early to do the lost visa paperwork and pay… Bottom line: Don’t lose your FMM!

4. What’s the best time to visit Tulum?

Weather-wise, fall/winter is the best time to visit Tulum. It is technically the busy season in Tulum, though because of Covid, you’ll be able to get some great deals on flights and accommodations, and stretch your dollar further (for now!).

Located in the tropics, the weather is hot year-round, however, there’s much less humidity during the fall/winter months of November-March. You’ll also have less (if any) rain, the mosquitoes will be at bay, and Hurricane Season will be officially over; it runs June 1-November 1.

Tulum Weather – Yearly Averages

5. What do I pack for Tulum?

Tulum Mexico, and the Yucatan Peninsula, have a tropical climate. As you can see by the average yearly Tulum weather chart above, this part of Mexico is hot (and humid 😥) for most of the year, so definitely pack a LifeStraw Filterable Water Bottle.

Mosquitoes are also an issue, so don’t forget your eco-friendly bug spray, and bring reef-safe sunscreen so you practice responsible tourism in Mexico. If you’re planning to drink a lot, these Anti-Hangover Pills are a lifesaver (thank me later!).

🧳 Need more Tulum packing tips? Head to this article, Packing List for Mexico: Outfit Ideas & FREE Printable Download.

FREE Printable Packing List for Mexico

Wondering exactly what to pack for Tulum and all of Mexico? Download your FREE printable packing list for Mexico below — it covers both Mexico beach packing and Mexico city packing. This multi-page Mexico packing checklist covers everything you’ll want to bring, and more importantly, what not to bring to Mexico.

6. What do I wear in Tulum?

As far as how to dress in Tulum — anything goes — you can dress as casual or as extra as you’d like. Check out the outfits below to give you an idea of Tulum fashion, and if you need more tips on what to wear in Tulum, head here for Tulum outfits inspo.

For Tulum outfit ideas, think flowy, tropical, breathable, cotton, and light-colored clothing; bonus points for anything that doesn’t show sweat! Besides all your summer-wear, you may use a light cardigan at night and comfy sweats to sleep in, but Tulum is the place for sundresses, sun hats and bathing suits.


How Do I Get to Tulum?

1. Where is Tulum?

Tulum is in Quintana Roo state, located in the Yucatan Peninsula, in southeastern Mexico. It is about 75 miles south of Cancun, and 40 miles south of Playa del Carmen and Riviera Maya.

Tulum is not far from other great Yucatan destinations, like Bacalar Lagoon, the “Maldives of Mexico,” about 130 miles south; the pueblo magico (magic town) of Valladolid, 65 miles east, and the beautiful Colonial city of Merida, located 160 miles east of Tulum.

Tulum Map


2. What’s the closest airport to Tulum?

As there’s no Tulum Airport, you’ll fly into Cancun International Airport (code: CUN). It is the closest airport near Tulum, at about 75-miles away.

From Cancun Airport, you can rent a car, hire a private or shared shuttle or take the ADO bus to Tulum. Keep scrolling for info on all three options.

This drive is about 1.5-hours, by taking Carretera Cancun-Chetumal (Highway 307) south, straight to Tulum.

💸 Pro Tip: Take out some cash at a Cancun Airport ATM! Cash is king in Mexico and Tulum, where many places are cash only.


3. Transportation from Cancun to Tulum

You basically have three options for how to get from Cancun Airport to Tulum: rent a car in Cancun, take the ADO bus from Cancun to Tulum, or book a private or shared airport transfer shuttle from Cancun to Tulum.

If you’re just planning to stay in Tulum, skip the rental car. However, if you want to explore the surrounding areas, like Bacalar Lagoon, Valladolid pueblo magico (magic town), Akumal Bay to snorkel with the turtles, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel Island and Coba Ruins, to name a few, then definitely rent a car!

If not, opt for the Cancun Airport shuttle to Tulum. If you’re traveling with a group, this option can end up being just as economical as the bus. The last option is to take the ADO bus. This company has large, comfy busses, with big recliner seats and AC, and one-way tickets are usually around $15USD.

Is there Uber in Tulum & Cancun?

Wondering if you can take Uber from Cancun to Tulum? Unfortunately, no, at this time Uber is not legal anywhere in Quintana Roo state. This also means there’s no Uber in Tulum itself, though there are plenty of taxis.

🚕💨 Pro Tip: When taking a taxi in Mexico, you negotiate and agree on the fare before entering the taxi.

4. Cancun to Tulum Shuttle


5. Cancun Car Rental

If you’re not taking the shuttle from Cancun to Tulum — the most convenient way to travel from Cancun to Tulum would be in a rental car. Discover Cars is a great option, with several Cancun Airport rental car options.

The Cancun Airport is the best place to rent a car because all the big name companies have locations there — and you only want to use a reputable company.

It is safe to drive in Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula, and the drive from Cancun to Tulum is also safe. As you’ll be driving in another country, take a moment to read through the tips below.

🚗💨 12 Useful Mexico Driving Tips

1. Rent with a reputable company! As they say, “you get what you pay for.” For a reliable Cancun car rental company, go with Discover Cars.

2. Avoid driving at night. When you live in Mexico long enough, you start to realize many people simply avoid driving at night, if they can. If you do drive at night, stick to only main roads and highways.

3. Always use the couta, or toll, roads. Yes, they cost money, but they are much better maintained and generally considered safer. Pro tip: Bring cash for the tolls.

4. Download an offline map. Your signal will go in and out as you travel through rural areas of the Yucatan Peninsula, so download an offline map from Google or Maps.Me. You’ll also want to download some podcasts and music while you’re getting that map.

5. Speed limit signs are in kilometers per hour, not miles per hour. You don’t have to worry about conversion math here; just make sure the speed limit sign number matches your speedometer number.

6. Do not use your cell phone while you’re driving. Not only is this unsafe, it is also illegal. In fact, even having your phone in your hand is a ticket-able offense, so try not to even hold your phone while driving.

7. The rumors are true about the cops expecting bribes. If the cops pull you over, and they only will if you give them a reason to, they will expect a cash “payment” in exchange for not ticketing you.

8. Mexican roads are notorious for their abundant amount of topes (speed bumps). Make sure you keep your eyes on the road, as topes don’t always have signs alerting you to them.

9. Mexico’s gas stations are not self-serve. When you stop for gas, an attendant will pump it for you and take your payment. These people don’t actually work for the gas station, and live off tips. When they finish, it’s customary to tip them at least $10-20 pesos ($0.50-$1).

10. Mexico’s traffic lights go from green to yellow, to flashing yellow for a few seconds, to finally, a red light.

11. Make sure you purchase Mexican car insurance. You are generally not covered in any way through your U.S. company when you drive in any other country.

12. Most travel insurance policies cover driving. In case you’re wondering Should I get travel insurance for Mexico?… The answer is hell yes! There’s a whole page of this website dedicated to travel insurance, because it’s just that important — maybe even more so when traveling during the pandemic.


6. Bus from Cancun to Tulum

The largest bus company in Mexico is ADO, and you can take one straight from Cancun Airport to the main bus station in Downtown Tulum. Prices will vary, should generally be less than $300 pesos ($15) for a one-way ticket, which you can buy online here, or at the airport.

If you’re considering the bus, know this is a luxury class bus with big reclining seats, AC, outlets to charge your phone and a bathroom — this is not a “chicken bus.” Mexico’s buses are great, comfy and inexpensive, and in fact, if you’re traveling to Tulum on a budget, the bus is the cheapest way to get from Cancun to Tulum.

Once you arrive in Downtown Tulum, walk outside and grab a taxi to your accommodation, or if it’s close by, you can walk. If you’re taking a taxi, note that you must agree on the fare before entering the taxi. Keep in mind there’s no Uber in Tulum, but there are always taxis waiting outside of the bus station.

Now that you know how to get to Tulum from Cancun Airport, let’s get to know the town’s main areas so you can decide where to stay in Tulum.

RELATED BLOG 🇲🇽 The 25 Must See Yucatan Peninsula Travel Destinations


Where to Stay in Tulum

Tulum Neighborhoods: Downtown, Aldea Zama & Tulum Beach

Tulum is a small town; about five miles from one end to the other.

It is basically divided into Tulum Town (AKA Downtown), Aldea Zama and Tulum Beach. There’s only one road that goes through downtown, and one road, called the Tulum Beach Road, that goes up and down the beach and through the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

Downtown is on the north side of town, Tulum Beach is all the way south, and Aldea Zama is located between the two.

There are three distinct areas within downtown: La Veleta on the southwestern side, and Colonia Huracanes and Villas Tulum to the northeast.

Use this map of Tulum so you can visualize the town layout. Then, keep scrolling to understand each Tulum neighborhood, and the pros and cons of staying in each one.

Neighborhoods in Tulum


1. Tulum Town

  • Pro: The least expensive neighborhood
  • Con: The least pretty neighborhood

Tulum Town — AKA Tulum Pueblo or Downtown Tulum — is the place to stay if you’re traveling to Tulum on a budget. This is a lively area with great cheap eats, cute shops and a unique charm.

There are quite a few budget hotel and hostel options in Tulum Town, and some Airbnbs, though Aldea Zama has the best Airbnbs in Tulum.

It is, however, not the prettiest place to stay out of Tulum’s three neighborhoods. That’s not to say Tulum Town is ugly, just that it’s not the Tulum you’ve seen all over Insta.

Staying in and eating in Tulum Town is a great way to save money if you’re traveling to Tulum on a budget.


2. Aldea Zama

  • Pros: Luxurious yet affordable; Modern amenities; Stronger WiFi
  • Con: Has a bit of a residential feel to it

On a personal note, when friends, family and followers ask me where to stay in Tulum, I always suggest Aldea Zama.

There are a few reasons why I think it’s the best neighborhood in Tulum, including its location between the beach and downtown. Also, Aldea Zama is the newest area of Tulum, and newer construction means newer, modern amenities — like high speed WiFi.

As mentioned, Tulum as a whole doesn’t have great WiFi… and yes, this even applies to the fanciest of 5 Star resort hotels on the beach. Since Aldea Zama is more residential, you’ll often get better WiFi and a very nice place for about 25% the cost of a Tulum beach resort.

📸 Pro tip: You can still go in the resorts and take your Instagram worthy Tulum photos — even if you’re not a guest of the resort.

Biking is the most popular way to get around Tulum, with bike rentals available in Tulum Town. The ride from Aldea Zama to Tulum Beach is about 10 minutes.

3. Best Airbnbs in Tulum

Tulum has gorgeous, affordable Airbnbs in Aldea Zama and Downtown Tulum. There are some beautiful Tulum beach house options you might want to consider if traveling with a group, but for Tulum solo travel and those wanting a unique experience, consider one of these Tulum glamping Airbnbs, many of which are located on the beach.

Some Airbnbs offer complimentary bike rentals, so be on the lookout for those — This post has several options of $99 and under Tulum Airbnbs, some of which include a free bike 🚴‍♀️. However, even if you can’t find a Tulum Airbnb that includes a bike, you can rent one in Downtown Tulum for about $200 pesos ($10) per day, and save some money by not having to take taxis.


4. Tulum Beach

  • Pros: Gorgeous resorts; Staying right on the beach; Walkable location
  • Cons: Expensive; Electricity restrictions; WiFi isn’t great

Tulum Beach is the Tulum you’ve seen in photos, and where you’ll find all the beautiful beach resorts, large-scale art installations, high end restaurants, cool bars, and all the Instagram worthy places in Tulum.

As you can imagine, these beach resorts don’t come cheap, but if you want to splurge, or you’re traveling with a large group, Tulum Beach is the place. Check out this article on the best Tulum beach house Airbnbs.

The beach resorts and hotels are gorgeous, but there are a few cons to staying in them you should be aware of:

  • The WiFi on Tulum Beach is well… not great, even at the most luxurious of resorts.
  • Tulum beach hotels try to lower their carbon footprint by only offering AC and electricity in the rooms from sundown to sun-up. You’ll want to check individual resort policies, but the vast majority do this, regardless of how much your room costs.
  • The beach is the main party area, so light sleepers will want to double check that you’re not staying anywhere loud where you won’t get a good night’s sleep and also bring noise-canceling earplugs.

If you’re looking for a nice balance of comfort, luxury and savings, these Aldea Zama Tulum Airbnbs are better options… but if it’s your dream to stay in a Tulum beach resort — then just go for it!


5. Best Tulum Beach Hotels

Still considering a Tulum Beach hotel? It’s understandable… because as they say, “Location, location, location!” When it comes to Tulum, there simply is no better location than staying right on Tulum Beach. Below is a list of the best hotels in Tulum, located on the beach.

Azulik: As far as Tulum beach hotels go, Azulik Tulum is the one that started all the hype. This resort is the gold standard for Tulum’s boho chic vibes. | Book your stay at Azulik Tulum

Casa Malca: Once owned by Pablo Escobar, this beachfront mansion-turned-resort is the brainchild of NYC art dealer, Lio Malca. As you’d imagine the whole place is basically a work of art. | Book your stay at Casa Malca

Nomade Tulum: Nômade provides a holistic jungle sanctuary on Tulum Beach. There are treehouses, suites, rooms and luxury Tulum glamping tents to choose from, at this resort that aims for a reconnection to nature. | Book your stay at Nomade Tulum

Coco Tulum: While staying at a Tulum beach resort doesn’t come cheap, Coco Tulum is known as one of the nicest of the less-pricey beachside resorts. They also have their famous white swings, at one of the most instagrammable and best beach bars in Tulum. | Book your stay at Coco Tulum

Be Tulum: If you’re looking for the perfect combo of luxury and privacy, Be Tulum is the place. Here, you’ll find exclusive suites nestled between the jungle and the sea, which each have their own private pool. | Book your stay at Be Tulum

Papaya Playa Project: This resort combines all things Tulum in one place for its guests. At Papaya Playa Project you can take yoga class in the morning, lay in a hammock on the beach all day, take a disco nap in your oceanfront bungalow, and hear a famous DJ spin live music at night. | Book your stay at Papaya Playa Project

La Zebra: This beautiful hotel is part of the Colibri Boutique Hotels group, and they allow guests to enjoy the facilities at all of their properties. If you opt for a room at La Zebra, you can also enjoy El Pez Tulum, Mezzanine Tulum Hotel and Hotel Mi Amor, the best adults only Tulum hotel. | Book your stay at La Zebra Tulum

RELATED BLOG 🧳 The Ultimate Packing List for Mexico + FREE Printable Checklist


Best Things to Do in Tulum

1. Tulum Beach Clubs

No visit to Tulum is complete without checking out some of the amazing beach clubs, located on the best beaches in Tulum: Playa Paraiso, Playa Pescadores, Playa Ruinas and Las Palmas.

They are all unique and stand out in their own ways, but among the best beach clubs in Tulum are Casa Malca, Coco Tulum, Nomade Tulum, La Zebra Tulum and El Pez Tulum.

Tulum beach clubs usually cost about $1,000 pesos ($50) to enter because they have a food/beverage “minimum spend.”

This basically means you’re pre-paying your $50 tab — and you’re allowed to use the resort facilities — so think of the entrance cost as a down payment on food and drinks.

Tulum has some epic beach clubs, like this one at Casa Malca. | Book your stay at Casa Malca

🏝 Tulum Happy Hours: Hit up these Tulum Beach Clubs during Happy Hour to save a few bucks.

Things to do in Tulum, Mexico

2. Mayan Ruins Near Tulum

Tulum is an amazing mix of posh hotels, instagrammable art along the beach, boho chic beach clubs with oceanfront swings, gorgeous cenotes, amazing restaurants and cafes, fun bars and more. One of the best things to do in Tulum is visit the Tulum Ruins, located on the northern end of the beach.

In total, there are about 100 public Mayan archeological sites throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. While most people don’t make it to all of them, there are some noteworthy Tulum pyramids you can get to in two hours or less. Keep scrolling to see the four most visited Mayan sites near Tulum.

Are Tulum Ruins open?

Yes, the Tulum Ruins are open. In fact, the other most-visited Mayan ruins near Tulum — Chichen Itza and Coba — are also open. Tulum Ruins are open daily, 9am-4:30pm (tickets are sold until 3pm). At the entrance, you’ll have a temperature check, and a mask is required at all times.

Tulum Ruins
chichen itza, a mayan pyramid and wonder of the world - day trips from Merida
Chichen Itza
Coba Pyramid

Tulum Ruins: If you head to the Tulum Beach Road, and turn left, you’ll end up at the Archeological Zone of Tulum-Mayan Port City Ruins, AKA the Tulum Ruins. This smaller site is very conveniently located, and most Tulum travelers will visit these beautiful ruins overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

Chichen Itza: As one of the Seven Wonders of the World, seeing Chichen Itza is on many travel bucket lists. Located about two hours from Tulum, you can drive there with your rental car, take the ADO bus from Downtown Tulum, or opt for this Chichen Itza, Cenote, and Valladolid Tour group tour. 🗿Pro tip: You can not climb the pyramids at Chichen Itza.

Coba: Coba is unique in that it’s more of a whole Mayan city, versus a Mayan pyramid site. It is located deep in the jungle, about an hour from Tulum. If you’re having to choose Chichen Itza vs Coba, many opt for Coba to avoid the crowds at Chichen Itza and because you can climb Coba’s pyramids. 🦟 Pro tip: When visiting Coba, don’t forget your eco-friendly bug spray.

Ek Balam: Those headed to the pueblo magico (magic town) of Valladolid, known as one of the most beautiful Colonial cities in all of Mexico, can easily add Ek Balam to the itinerary. This site has a unique look, unlike all the others on this list, and as it’s slightly off the beaten path, you might have the whole place to yourself.

Mayan Ruins Tours

The easiest way to see all of the Tulum Mayan pyramids and archeological sites? On a group tour, of course. In fact, group tours provide an easy way for solo travelers to meet other travelers. Check out your options below for the best Tulum tours to see the pyramids and Mayan ruins near Tulum.

best Things to do in Tulum, Mexico

3. Tulum Instagram Spots

• Raw Love Tulum: Perhaps the most famous of Tulum’s large art pieces, the giant Ven a la Luz (Come Into the Light) wooden man sculpture sculpture by South African artist Daniel Popper is the entrance to the Ahau Tulum Resort and Raw Love Cafe. | Book your stay at Ahau Tulum

Follow That Dream Sign: Located on Tulum’s Beach Road in front of the Lolita Lolita shop and across the street from Kaya Tulum, this instafamous Follow That Dream Tulum street sign is one of the most popular photo spots in Tulum.

Azulik Hotel: There are so many instaworthy spots in Azulik — starting with the Sfer Ik Museum, and continuing all the way through to the nest tables at Kin Toh Restaurant. | Book your stay at Azulik Tulum Hotel

Casa Malca Couch Swing: Once owned by Pablo Escobar, this hotel is tropical sexy all the way. Don’t miss the hanging couch, black and white Keith Haring bar and Moroccan-style chandelier room. | Book your stay at Casa Malca

Matcha Mama: Home to the famous I Love Tulum So Matcha sign on a surfboard, hit up this popular spot on Tulum Beach for both photos and a refreshing matcha smoothie.

Coco Tulum Beach Swings: There’s so many beach clubs with swings to check out in Tulum, but none more famous than the boho chic white swings at Coco Tulum. | Book your stay at Coco Tulum Beach Hotel

Raw Love Tulum
Follow That Dream
Matcha Mama Tulum

best Things to do in Tulum, Mexico

4. Best Cenotes in Tulum

What is a cenote?

To make a long story short, cenotes (pronounced sen-no-tays) are basically underwater sinkholes containing crystal-clear, freshwater.

They are only found in a few places on Earth, with the largest concentration in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where there are about 6,000 cenotes.

We can see and swim in them because the limestone once covering the water has collapsed and/or eroded throughout Earth’s existence, exposing the water beneath.

Cenote FAQs
  • Cost: Cenotes have entry fees, though they are minimal. The more popular ones that provide amenities like restrooms, on-site restaurants, etc., should still cost no more than $300 pesos ($15USD) to enter. Most are closer in price to about $50-150 pesos ($2.50-7USD).
  • Cash Only: Bring cash to cover both your entry and food. Most cenotes are in rural areas, and won’t have WiFi or the ability to take credit cards.
  • Accessibility: Different cenotes have different levels of accessibility. Many will have well-maintained stairs with handrails, especially the more popular ones. Some have make-shift stairs, and some have ladders.
  • Water shoes: Water shoes really help you enjoy your cenote time! As cenotes are natural pools, most have slippery rocks, muddy ground, etc. Water shoes also help you not slip in general, especially when walking down any staircase entryways. (I see this a lot!)
  • Life Jackets: I have never been to a cenote that didn’t provide or rent life jackets; but if you can’t swim, you might want to do additional research on the cenote(s) you’re visiting.
  • Sunscreens and lotions: Don’t apply sunscreen, lotion, insect repellent — anything — before getting in a cenote. Many require you to rinse off before entering, so even putting anything on will be a waste, but if you must use something, this one by Badger Anti-Bug Sunscreen Cream combines eco-friendly sunscreen and also insect protection, which does come in handy at cenotes.
  • Photos: Want those people-less Instagrammable cenote photos? Go on a weekday, and arrive early! You also might want to bring one of these waterproof phone holders that go around your neck.

Tulum Cenotes Tours

Best Tulum Cenotes

Tulum has so many cenotes to see within just minutes of downtown. The six on this list are located just off Highway 109, all within 25 minutes or less of Downtown Tulum and Aldea Zama. You could ride your bike, hire a taxi or drive your rental car, but don’t attempt to walk to these Tulum cenotes.

🐠Pro Tip: If this will be your first visit to a cenote, check out the Cenote FAQ above to ensure you’re a responsible visitor.

Gran Cenote: Gran Cenote and Cenote Calavera are the two most instagrammable cenotes in Tulum. Gran Cenote, meaning “big cenote,” is a larger site with several cenotes that meander along the jungle floor, connected to one another by wooden walkways.

Cenote Calavera: Cenote Calavera has three holes you can jump in to access the water below. This cool natural phenomenon is super popular, so try and arrive early to beat the crowds.

Cenote Tankah/Cenote Car Wash: These two are right next to one another, and make a great combo trip. Cenote Tankah is well known as the only Tulum cenote that has a zipline, perfect for adventure-seekers! Cenote Car Wash has a much more chill, lagoon vibe.

Cenote Zacil-Ha: This is an open, swimming pool-style cenote. Cenote Zacil-Ha has plenty of nice onsite amenities like covered/shaded areas, bathrooms and snacks for sale.

Cenote Santa Cruz Tulum: This one is just stunning, and also very conducive to hosting visitors with onsite bathrooms, shaded palapas, grassy areas to relax in, and more.

Cenote Calavera
Gran Cenote
Cenote Car Wash

best Things to do in Tulum, Mexico

5. Best Restaurants in Tulum

Tulum has a nice mix of casual-fine dining, and authentic Mexican food street eats.

The recommendations below will help you make sure you experience both while traveling to Tulum — because while fancy food is great and all… Did you even really travel to Mexico if you didn’t eat street tacos!? (Hint: No!)

While tacos and Mexico go together like milk and cookies, tacos aren’t actually a Yucatan food. While in Tulum, make sure you sample some traditional Yucatcan cuisine.

This includes cochinita pibil (slow cooked pork), ceviche (citrus marinated seafood), lechon (pork with crispy skin), and agua fresca (fruit water).

Fine & Finer Dining: $$$-$$$$

Hartwood: The “wood” in Hartwood is no lie (check out the photo above ⤴). This place is all about wood-grilled everything. Opened in 2009 by wife/husband duo, Mya Henry and Eric Werner, Hartwood’s menu changes daily, as they focus on freshness and seasonality in their solar-powered eco-kitchen.

Gitano: Meaning “gypsy” in Spanish, Gitano is part restaurant, part lounge — and the place to go for your Tulum Friday night. The menu is innovative and fresh, so head there for small tapas plates and creative mezcal cocktails, but stick around after the meal to party in Gitano’s beautiful beachy-garden.

Arca Tulum: Looking for a chef-driven restaurant? Look no further than Arca, led by Mexican/American Chef Jose Luis Hinostroza. He once worked at what is considered the best restaurant in the world, Noma. In 2015, Hinostroza brought his skill to Tulum, and opened this Tulum foodie favorite.

Casa Jaguar: This quintessential boho chic Tulum spot is rustic elegance all the way. Enjoy fresh ceviche and grilled items, and then wash them down with Casa Jaguar’s innovative cocktails.

🍷 Pro tip: Make a reservation for all of these places.

Matcha Mama is one of the most photographed cafes in Tulum, Mexico
Matcha Mama Tulum is one of the most photographed and best cafes in Tulum, and has some great Tulum cheap eats.
Best Things to do in Tulum, Mexico

6. Best Cheap Eats in Tulum

Cheap Eats on Tulum Beach: $-$$

Match Mama: Among the most instgrammable Tulum places, Matcha Mama also serves up smoothies, acai bowls, “nice cream” (vegan ice cream) and other healthy fare. Head here to take a photo on their famous and photogenic swings, next to the I Love Tulum So Matcha surfboard sign.

The Real Coconut: Commonly known as one of the best vegan restaurants in Tulum, it’s also located right on the beach and has some amazing views of the Caribbean Sea.

Clan-Destino: Known for having the best burgers in Tulum, Clan-Destino restaurant also has a cenote you can jump in after eating.

Taqueria La Eufemia: The best restaurant for Tulum Beach tacos! Head to this old school beachfront taco shack for $1 tacos, and a fun, festive atmosphere.

I Scream Bar: I Scream is as much a feast for the eyes, as a feast for the stomach. Enjoy tacos and vegan ice cream by day, and one of the best Tulum bars by night.

Cheap Eats in Tulum Town: $-$$

Taqueria Honorio: Where the locals go to eat the best tacos in Tulum. This is a no-frills restaurant, and it’s all about the food.

Try the cochinita pibil and lechon, and wash it all down with an agua fresca (fruit water), just like the locals do. It is only open until 3pm, so head to Taqueria Honorio for the best lunch in Tulum.

Antojitos La Chiapaneca: While not authentic to the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico and tacos al pastor are synonymous.

Try this Mexican food staple at Antojitos La Chiapaneca, a late night favorite in Tulum Town.

Tacos al pastor at Antojitos La Chiapaneca in Downtown Tulum.

Ki’Bok Tulum: An adorable coffee shop, and arguably the best cafe in Tulum. Enjoy local Mexican coffee and traditional breakfast and brunch items, like chilaquiles and huevos rancheros, as well as pastries, sandwiches and more.

Burrito Amor: The place for the best burritos in Tulum, with meat, seafood, vegan options, and breakfast burritos in the morning.

El Camelo Jr.: Known for their fresh seafood plates and ceviches, El Camelo Jr. is a popular Tulum institution. There may be a wait, but it’s worth it.

🤑 For a complete guide to budget Tulum travel, head to this article, Tulum On A Budget: 10 Ways to Make Your Trip Affordable.

Batey bar in downtown Tulum
The VW Bug parked outside of Batey bar in Downtown Tulum, known for having the best mojitos in Tulum. | Photo by Rob Cartledge
Best Things to do in Tulum, Mexico

7. Best Bars in Tulum

Batey: The best bar in Downtown Tulum. Really, there aren’t all that many great bars in Downtown Tulum, but Batey’s would still be the coolest even if there were. Head to Batey at night to hear live music and sip on one of their famous mojitos.

Papaya Playa Project: If you’re looking to party, dance, see and be seen, Saturday nights at Papaya Playa is what you need in your life. They throw big parties with great DJs each week, and also host the best Tulum Full Moon Party on the Saturday night closest to the full moon. | Book your stay at Papaya Playa Project

Gitano: As far as the best cocktail bars in Tulum goes, there’s really only one place to indulge, and that’s Gitano. Now, said cocktails don’t come cheap, but it’s worth it to even have just one so you can see this gorgeous restaurant/bar — especially on Friday nights, the best night to go to Gitano Tulum.

Ziggy Beach Club: One of the best low key beach bars, Ziggy’s is a locals favorite with a great Happy Hour. Chill out on one of their beachfront hammocks and sip on a tropical adult beverage. 

I Scream Bar: In a town full of instagrammable places and visual eye candy, I Scream Bar gives everywhere else a run for their money. This place is super fun, super cool to look at, and also, they serve tacos, so win-win-win.

Mateo’s Mexican Grill: Mateo’s is one of the best places to watch the sunset in Tulum! Head up to the top floor deck and enjoy some Happy Hour 2-4-1 drinks as you watch the sun set into the Tulum jungle. 

🥂 Pro tip: Check out all the best Tulum Happy Hours, which typically take place from 4pm-6pm, and offer some great drink deals.

RELATED BLOG ✈️ Solo Travel in Mexico: 20 Destinations You Need To Visit

Tulum Travel Guide

Final Thoughts: Tulum, Travel

Tulum was once a sleepy beach town that provided a quiet alternative to Cancun and Playa del Carmen to the north. It was a quiet heaven for backpackers and hippie types, who set up tents on the beach, slept under the stars and bathed in the Caribbean Sea.

If you’ve seen photos or videos of Tulum, you know those days are over, and Tulum is a full on party and tourism Mecca in Mexico. That’s not to say it’s now pretty — it is — but like most Instagram famous places, many build it up in their mind, only to be letdown.

Is Tulum worth visiting?

While it is admittedly not my favorite Mexico beach town, Tulum is a unique Mexico destination that everyone should check out at least once, if only to form your own opinion of it.

The reality is, as Tulum gets more famous and Instafamous, it starts to become less and less special because more and more people have already been there, done that. It also gets more expensive and more crowded, and some of the things that made it famous to begin with, have waned.

If you understand what you’re signing up for — high prices tags by Mexico standards, rustic boho vibes, lots of other tourists — and you don’t mind those things, you’ll enjoy your Tulum trip. If you’re looking to lay on a beautiful Caribbean beach, take a lot of photos and swim in the cenotes, then Tulum is for you.

Like all places on Earth, the key to enjoying Tulum is managing your expectations of it… Think Instagram vs. Reality.

Have questions about traveling to Tulum?

I’d love to hear from you — so please ask away in comments down!

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I’m Shelley, a former Miami travel magazine editor who ditched the office for the world!

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  1. Deb

    We cannot wait to get back to Mexico. Tulum is on our list — this is such a great and detailed guide. Pinning it for later!

  2. Megan

    This is such a great guide! We just got back from here, and I would have loved to have known some of these tips (which cenotes to visit, etc.) You really covered just about everything you would need to know to visit!

  3. Farrah

    I’ve never been to Tulum but would definitely love to visit someday! Thanks so much for putting this guide together! Saving it so I can pull it up if we get to go someday! It looks like such a beautiful place to explore (+ I love warm weather/beaches).

  4. Jamie Sharpe

    Every time I’m in the area I head to the Riviera Maya. I’m definitely committing to Tulum next time!

  5. Krista

    I haven’t been to Tulum before so this is a really helpful guide for when I plan my future trip there. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Ildiko

    I’ve been to Tulum once, a LONG time ago. I look forward to going back. There is so much that I didn’t do when last there. I would love to visit some cenotes. Love the travel details you provide and will find them very helpful when I go. Thanks.

  7. Sophie

    I haven’t visited Tulum since 2006 (and 2000 before that) so needless to say it has changed a LOT since I was there. It was a sleepy little town where you’d hardly see another tourist when I visited. I’d absolutely love to go back again and see it now. It looks so pretty, and of course the beaches and cenotes are absolutely spectacular! Thanks so much for all this info – I’ve saved this guide for when I can get back there again 🙂

    • Shelley

      I live in the Yucatan & have seen the evolution happen… seems to change a lot year to year, so I bet it’s a different world since your last visit. When you re-visit, I’d love to hear your perspective on the changes.

  8. Lynda

    This is a comprehensive guide. I have had Tulum on my radar for a little while. My first venture to Mexico was Puerto Vallarta. I look forward to exploring more of Mexico.

  9. Jade

    Thank you for sharing this info about an FMM tourist card! I’ve never been to Mexico but it’s good to know that I don’t need a visa to cross the border.

  10. Marquita

    Wow! This guide is beyond complete. In fact, I’m going to share this with my husband as he’s planning a trip to Tulum.

  11. Hannah

    This makes me want to hop on a plane! Tulum is one of those places that I would’ve loved to have seen before it got insta-famous, but it still looks like a good place for a pitstop, and maybe a beachside resort for a day or two!

  12. Melissa

    Very helpful guide – Tulum is on my list of places to go in Mexico. I like how you said to manage your expectations – so important!

  13. Oana

    Hi. I’m in Cancún now and I’d like to go to Tulum to the follow that dream sign. I’m thinking about taking the bus from cancún to tulum. But, how do I get from the bus station in tulum to the lolita restaurant? Is there a bus or can I walk?

    • Shelley

      Hi Oana: Once you arrive to the bus station in Downtown Tulum, there will be taxis waiting outside and you can take one to the beach, or you can walk — but it will take about 45 minutes if you walk. It’s only about 10 minutes away by taxi, and should cost around $200 pesos. You can ask to be dropped off at the sign or Lolita Lolita… but if the driver doesn’t know where they are, just get dropped off when you get to the beach & pop into any store or cafe on the beach & someone can direct you to the sign. It’s easy to find & quite famous, so you won’t have a problem finding it.


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