A 7 day Guide to Tulum, Mexico
I almost never go to the beach - not necessarily because I don't think it's great, but more because when I have access to travel, I usually don't opt for relaxation. You can almost always find me in the mountains, in the cold, unshowered.
Tulum is so much more than just a resort town with epic beaches and perfect instagrammable spots. It has a lot of depth, it has a lot of culture, and the people exceed your typical everyday hospitality.
So here it is - a guide to the interesting, captivating, never ending discovery that is Tulum. 7 days of a world I never expected.
Getting there and getting around
Busing from the airport to Tulum
We flew into the Cancun Airport and bused to Tulum through ADO buses. The bus stops in Playa Del Carmen for about 15 minutes then keeps driving to Tulum, making the entire tip a little under 2 hours. The bus is super clean, people keep to themselves, and it has chargers. It depends on the day and what time but our trip cost around $15 USD (around 300 pesos). If you book ahead of time on their website, just a warning that even translated in English, the price is still in pesos (yes, even though there's a dollar sign). This is super cheap, really easy, and safe so I highly recommend!
If you can swing it and are into it, bike bike bike. This was such a cool way for us to see the town. Especially since the first few nights we stayed in Downtown Tulum and weren't in walking distance to the beach. Most of the ride from Downtown to the beach strip is a trail and then you end up going along the beach. We rented our bikes from our hostel host (this was super cheap so if your hostel host rents, DO THIS). But there are a ton of bike rental shops in Tulum.
First off, every taxi driver was friendly and offered perspectives on the town we wouldn't have otherwise known. Most of the time, we had our hostel host call us taxis (mostly because we had 8 girls to hail everywhere, yikes). But when we were out, they are on pretty much every street corner or just driving around. Typically, our ride from Downtown to the beach was 120 pesos (around $5 USD). Super affordable, and again - I always felt safe and comfortable.
Okay okay, I know this is obvious but if you feel up to it - why not?! If you're like us and staying in Downtown Tulum most of the time, you won't be in walking distance to the beach strip. But you can walk through Downtown and explore all the culture, nightlife, and food Tulum has to offer. I felt safe and comfortable walking around at night and the streets are pretty much always filled with people. Later in our trip we stayed right on the beach and we could walk to the strip and the Ruins.
Where to stay
Alright. Let's get into it. I, without a doubt/100 percent, suggest staying in a hostel during your trip. Especially if you're craving a real perspective on Tulum and want to interact with people from all over the world. I would not stay in a hostel if you're looking for a solitary trip. Yes, the hosts party and they want to interact with you and you both enter into each other's lives for the time you're there. I will say, choose your hostel wisely. Because there were some we passed that definitely had loud music all night and looked like they existed mostly to party reeeeally hard. Don't expect luxury or the nicest bed you'll ever sleep in but do expect open air, authentic food, genuine people, and memories that you weren't expecting.
Here's the one we stayed in - I loooved this place, my friends loved it, and I still keep in touch with the people I met there.
For the second half of our trip, we stayed in these little huts right next to the beach. We only booked a few nights here to save money but it was totally and completely worth it. We had our own private beach area where they served food and drinks and the huts we're so freaking cool. There's a ton of other cool beach options so you could honestly just search Tulum beach strip, close your eyes and point!
Plenty of airbnbs & hotels
I'll keep this one short and sweet but there's no end to interesting, unique places to stay in this city. Take your pick!
Half and half it
If you can swing it, do half of your trip in a cheap hostel and half somewhere on the beach strip. That's what we did and I think it was a huge reason the trip was so well-rounded. That way you get the entire experience.
The things no one tells you
A COMPREHENSIVE LIST OF WHAT TO PREPARE FOR:
1. Bathroom toilet paper – it goes in the trash, NOT in the toilet. Sooo be prepared for the smell.
2. It would be really helpful to know some Spanish – I barely know any and it was a struggle at some points. My friend is basically fluent and I was always jealous when she could have full conversations with our taxi drivers.
3. Some of the ATM's don't work or are only for the U.S. dollar – Just walk on down a few more streets and there will likely be one that works. On the beach strip, most businesses price in U.S. dollar because of tourism, so a few ATM's will only convert that. Which leads us to the #4...
4. A lot of shops on the beach strip have already converted their price to US dollar - it's not a steal.
5. The ATM's show the $ sign even though its actually Peso – so don't freak if it's saying $10,000. It's actually 10,000 pesos and $500 USD.
6. Pesos – I used the this app to convert and it was extremely helpful. (Also google translate can now translate through a photo!)
7. It. Is. Hot. – And humid. Just be prepared and if you're thinking about packing a sweater - don't.
8. Your phone will die and get sand in every crevice and smell like sun screen for days – Feel free to bring a power bank and a protective case if that's something you're worried about!
9. Okay yeah, don't drink the water. But also don't be annoying about it – Obviously don't chug the tap water but also it's okay if you slip up a bit and accidentally put a little on your toothbrush. To me, there's nothing worse than ruining your trip with loads of paranoia and worry.
10. The cheaper food is downtown – The beach strip is mostly designed for tourists, so they definitely bump up the prices. If you're looking to save in every way you can, downtown has so much good food for waaay cheaper.
11. Pack small – You have the luxury of fitting a ton of summer clothes into a small space so I'd for sure recommend just bringing a carry on. It's easier to get around and you'd be surprised how little you care about your cute clothes when you're in humid heat.
12. Don't bring your nice, heavy camera – Obviously, this rule is subjective. I love my camera and I love taking it when I travel but it was really freeing not having it on this particular trip. Especially since I was mostly near sand and water. My phone camera worked wonders.
13. Phone plan – I'd suggest checking with your phone provider to see if you already have service in Mexico. I have Verizon and my plan allowed me to use my phone normally (I actually think most providers and plans allow this). If not, I'd just download the google map of Tulum and live without it!
Estimations indicate there should be over 6000 cenotes in the Yucatán Peninsula alone. Sadly, with 8 girls it was a tiny bit difficult to 1. get a taxi to take you that far outside of Tulum and 2. make a decision on which cenote would be the most worth our while. So we ended up only visiting one.
But when I say that, I have no regrets because that was hands down, my absolute favorite day of the trip. We visited the Gran Cenote, which is the closest one to Tulum.
Our plan was to check a few out in one day and mostly just look and maybe swim. But at the Gran Cenote, there's a scuba diving and snorkeling place that offers guiding trips for fairly cheap. We ended up spending our day there snorkeling, which. was. amazing. I swam under mangroves, saw a baby crocodile, swam with thousands of fish, and watched a crab fight. I couldn't recommend this more. Plus, our guide was the sweetest guy named Carlos that told us about his lady troubles.
Here's a good list of the top ones to visit (also if you google it, there's a ton of websites suggesting which ones you should see).
The Ruins and how to avoid the crowds
I'm actually the worst person to be telling you this because I went in the peak tourist time on my very last day BUT from what I heard from locals, the best time to go is super early in the morning. If you go during sunrise, you get an epic view of the ocean from above and you avoid the crowds – it's a win/win!
What I think you should experience
Do you want to have drinks while sitting in a cushion heaven over the jungle? Well then you should definitely go to Azulik. This is a really beautiful treehouse resort that also has a bar and restaurant. There's dozens of these cushion booths (pictured right) that are stacked high over one another. There's also hammocks that allow you to lay on top of the rainforest. If you get there during their
They have "champagne sunset" which basically just means happy hour (without the price cuts). If you go there at 5:30, you can sit in these booths and have drinks before people who have reserved the booths for dinner swarm in.
We then had dinner which is expensive for Mexico but ran around only $30-$40 USD each.
Gah.. So. Many. Amazing. Beach. Spots. Here were my 3 favorites:
1. Ziggy's Beach Club – Amazing drinks and A SWINGSET BAR.
2. Maxa Camp - So freaking relaxing, picturesque cabanas, and there's cool art everywhere.
3. Taqueria La Eufemia – fucking good, cheap tacos, cheap drinks, definitely crowded
I know this goes without saying but we planned to watch the sunrise everyday and ended up only doing it once because we were so damn tired. But that one time was a moment I will never, ever forget. We ended up skinny dipping in the water and I was so blissed out. Worth it.
One of our hostel hosts took us to a local studio and taught us yoga himself. It was the most relaxed I'd been in weeks because in Tulum, the yoga is so raw and pure. There's a ton of yoga on the beach you can take and dozens of other studios in the area. Or if your hostel host happens to teach it, then I highly recommend that route.
Tacos & Mezcal
Posada Margherita – Amazing Italian food right on the beach with epic views
Taqueria La Eufemia – Mentioned this one above but it's worth mentioning again. Cheap tacos, cheap drinks, right on the beach.
Hartwood – Really good/famous food, good people watching, but a long wait even with reservation
Mivida – for lunch on the beach, again delicious fish tacos
El Tabano - I had the stuffed Jalepeno and OH MY GOD, so, so good.
Casa Banana – a rustic Argentine restaurant in a cozy setting
Casa Jaguar – Local ingredients, jungle decor, and yummy seafood.
Gitano – Famous for its mezcal and for all your spicy margarita needs
Batey – Known for their mojitos and their live music in the heart of dowtown
Playa Canek Beach Bar – Chill vibes with great drinks right on the beach
Ziggy's – Mentioned above for the insanely good drinks and their swingset bar
Pasito Tun Tun – Major outdoor patio vibes with live music
So there it is! I hope your trip to Tulum brings you exactly what it brought me: an escape to somewhere I never thought I'd see and a place that allows you to love yourself and love the mystery.