Tulum is known to be a spiritual hub and also for eco-friendly tourists. It’s natural that it’s a very popular destination. By being surrounded by the jungle and beautiful white sand beaches, it’s hard not to fall in love with the city. It’s also not as touristy as Playa Del Carmen or Cancun. Tulum stole my heart, and I have a feeling I’ll be visiting again soon… or who knows, maybe even moving there.
*side note: please be aware that a lot of places, including Tulum, are impacted by the sargassum seaweed on the beaches. One day there will be a lot, and the next morning it’ll be gone. There’s a lot of workers cleaning it non-stop, but it just keeps coming back. Although it wasn’t as pretty as it could have been, I still had the most amazing time in Tulum and thought it was absolutely beautiful. Please don’t allow the sargassum issue to prevent you from traveling there.
*Update: Tulum has popped off during 2020-2021. I went before it became a huge Instagram/influencer spot. A lot of my recommendations are chill recommendations from people who lived in Tulum. Where we stayed and what we did was more activities as a local, mixed with some tourism.
1. Go to a cenote.
Going to a cenote is one of the top things to do while you’re in Tulum. Cenotes are these natural underwater sinkholes that are individually breathtaking. The underground pools are so healing, refreshing, and very unique. Each one is different from another which is one of the reasons why you should try and go to as many as possible.
One of the most popular cenotes in Tulum is the Gran Cenote. There’s limestone everywhere and underwater caves. It’s truly beautiful. There’s adorable turtles swimming around so be careful when you want to stand. They’re harmless and so cute. Depending where you are, it’s biking distance. I biked from the pueblo and also biked from Playa Paraiso. It’s pretty busy so I suggest going right when it opens or towards the end of the day. Last entrance is at 4:15 pm.
You can rent a locker, snorkel gear, and a life vest there for a small fee. In order to rent something, you need a form of identification (either a drivers license or passport… student ID’s do not count). If you plan on going to many cenotes while you’re in Mexico, I suggest buying a snorkel and mask so you don’t have to keep renting them.
Cenote Corazón Del Paraiso
Another cenote that just opened in 2018 is called cenote corazón del paraiso. It’s located on a side road off the main street, but there’s a sign on the road so you can’t miss it. If you’re taking a taxi, I recommend asking if your taxi driver can pick you up at a certain time. It’s pretty far off the main road so taxis will not be coming there regularly. As it gets more popular, this may change. You can also ride your bike there. It’s biking distance from the pueblo. I highly recommend bringing snorkels or renting them. There’s a beautiful underwater garden and it’s so vibrant. I don’t think I would have liked it as much if I was just swimming there. The cenote was worth going to because of what was in the water. There’s also a “diving board” you can jump off of.
Make sure to bring pesos for the entrance fee. You can also rent snorkel gear and life vests there.
WOW. This one is a must. It’s over an hour to get there from Tulum so you’ll need to rent a car or take a tour to get there, but it’s absolutely beautiful. You walk down a bunch of long stairs and when you enter, you feel this powerful feeling. It’s indescribable and truly magnificent.
If you want to swim, you have to wear a life vest.
This cenote is also over an hour to get to from Tulum so you’ll need to rent a car to get there. The cenote is located in the middle of the city, Valladolid. It’s surrounded by beautiful trees and plants. I was so hungover when I went, and after dipping in, I felt completely rejuvenated and normal after that. I just laid in the water and stared at the beautiful scenery that was surrounding me. The entrance fee is reasonable too! It was the cheapest cenote I went to.
Other cenotes that are popular to go to are: Cenote Dos Ojos, Casa Cenote, Calavera Cenote, Escondido Cenote, Cenote Ik Kil, and Paraiso De Corozon Cenote. I didn’t get the chance to go any of these, but my friend who lives there says it’s all worth checking out.
2. Go to the Tulum Ruins.
The Tulum ruins are easy to get to. We biked from the pueblo and it was not that long. You can buy tickets at the ticket booths near the center (near Starbucks) or you can buy it at the gate. It’s cash only. There’s a tram for an additional cost that shuttles you from the center (near Starbucks) to the entrance. If you don’t want to pay that, it’s about a 5-10 minute walk so I recommend skipping the tram. There’s not a lot of shade and it’s super hot so bring a lot of water and sunscreen. If you wear your swimsuit, you can access the beach from the ruins and take a dip into the ocean! The ruins were impressive, but I didn’t pick up a guidebook or a tour so I was pretty lost at what I was looking at. I recommend doing a tour there or buying a guidebook at the entrance.
3. Go to the beach.
Tulum beach was my go-to spot. It’s beautiful and has lots of resorts and hotels next to each other so you can easily go to the next one. I went to Zulum Beach Club each time because it was cheaper than the rest of the places, and I loved the staff. You can walk up and down the beach and enjoy the sun! Check out Nomade Hotel. It’s beautiful and their day beds are comfortable.
4. Go to Playa Paraiso.
Playa Paraiso was a convenient place to go to after we biked to the Tulum ruins. It’s about a 10-15 minute bike ride from the ruins. Playa Paraiso is filled with palm trees everywhere. If you’ve seen pictures of Tulum, you’ve probably seen the infamous slanted palm tree. That lovely palm tree is located at the El Paraiso Hotel, just before the public beach. If you want to just take a picture of the palm tree, you can access it through the public beach and then walk over to the palm tree.We rode our bikes and parked at the El Paraiso hotel. In order to park your bike or car at the hotel, you have to either pay a fee, eat at the restaurant or rent a day bed. We were super hungry so we got lunch at the restaurant. The prices were pretty average, nothing too extreme. After lunch, they give you a “receipt” (basically a red piece of foam paper) and that is your proof that you ate lunch there and don’t have to pay for parking. El Paraiso has buoys in the ocean so the seaweed doesn’t overflow the beach.
5. Rent a car and go to Chichen-Itza or take a tour.
If you have a group of people, renting a car is the best thing to do! If you’re just by yourself, you might want to take a Chichen-Itza tour. Renting a car varies. We walked to each rental company and asked their prices, but every place was either booked, expensive or didn’t have any available automatic cars. We ended up at Budget and rented a car there. You have to get their car insurance or else you’ll have to put a $3,000 USD deposit down. The process was simple though and the car drove smoothly. They gave us the rental car on empty… who does that? So be careful when filling up your gas tank or else you might end up paying more than what you received.
If you rent a car, you can do a day trip and go to Chichen-Itza, cenote zaci, and cenote suyton. We stopped a few times off the road when we saw food stands and got yummy churros and Duros. SO good. If you take a tour, some stop at Chichen-Itza, cenote suyton, and the city center of Valladolid.
6. Devour a delicious burrito at Burrito Amor.
OMG. The burritos at Burrito Amor are by far the best burritos I’ve ever had. This restaurant has a nice ambiance and a mixture of different food – breakfast, burritos, drinks, etc. They also have gluten free coconut tortillas. They have 4 different sauces that they provide, and I loved their chipotle sauce. I literally drowned my burrito in the chipotle sauce. You must go! I went towards the end of my trip, and went two days in a row because it was so good. It’s definitely a place you’ll want to go to more than once.
7. Eat vegetarian food at El Vegetariano.
This is a great place to go to if you’re vegetarian or vegan. It’s really good so even if you eat meat, this place is worth checking out. There’s so many dishes that sounded delicious that it was hard for me to choose just one meal. They have a plethora of dishes to choose from. When I was sitting there for lunch, there were so many food delivery bikes that were picking up orders for people. That’s how you know it’s good… or that people are lazy LOL.
8. Scuba dive or snorkel in Cozumel.
This requires a weekend trip to Cozumel. I highly recommend going there if you have time. Cozumel is one of the best scuba diving destinations in the western hemisphere. Unfortunately I am not certified, but I went snorkeling above the scuba divers, and it was still breathtaking.
9. Take a tour to Sian Ka’an.
Sian Ka’an Bisophere Reserve is unique and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the biggest protected area of the Caribbean too! Thanks to me, you can learn from my wonderful mistakes. I made the awful mistake of not booking a tour to Sian Ka’an ahead of time because I thought there would be availability since it was slow season (October). Well, please do not wait till last minute (like me) and result in not being able to go. If I did go, I would have booked Sian Ka’an Deluxe By Boat tour with Tony (see below for contact information).
Actually… funny story about that. I approached one of the tour stands and the guy working there, Tony, told me they were all sold out. He talked to his boss and they extended their hours to 10 pm (normally they close at 8 pm) so they can try and recruit more people for the tour. If we were able to find 2 other people to join me on the tour the next day, I’d be able to go! If not, I wouldn’t be able to go because it’d cost too much money to allow 1-2 people on a boat. So, my friend Jorden & I went on a mission and I basically “harassed” (as a hostel worker stated) to recruit more people to join me on the tour. I unsuccessfully failed, but it was an exhilarating 2 hours approaching random people on the street, random people eating ice cream, and going into random hostels and asking them.
SO long story short, BOOK YOUR TRIP IN ADVANCE! During slow season they only bring 1 boat out. During peak season, they bring multiple boats out. Either way, they book fast. You can book a tour online with iTour or you can book with Tony. The trip is from 8 am – 4 pm and it includes transportation, buffet lunch and soft drinks, snacks, snorkeling equipment, etc.
10. Party at I Scream Bar.
Every time I passed this place, it was crowded with people. It’s a very fun and lively place to get drinks at. The workers dance on top of the bar and they swing around poles. It’s amazing. I recommend checking the prices of your drinks though… we didn’t look at the menu and ordered a bunch of tequila shots and our bill was over $100 (2000+ pesos). Oops!
11. Kick it with Sancho, the donkey.
Sancho, also known as freedom donkey, brought my friends and I so much joy while we were there. He belongs to Zulum Beach Club, and walks around freely. He does whatever the heck he wants and sometimes ends up walking up and down the beach. Since he is a donkey, and donkeys kick, please make sure you are never standing behind him. I also recommend being careful with your food and purse. He ate my friends fries and he also went into a few people’s purses. He is literally the best though and brought us so much joy.
12. Get food or relax on the day beds at Zulum Beach Club.
Zulum was probably one of my favorite places on the beach. It’s not pretentious and the staff at the Zulum restaurant are SO nice!!! They also have the CUTEST blind dog named Nube (cloud in English). As stated above, they have a donkey that just roams around. He’s quite comical. The food was delicious as well and the portions are HUGE! The WiFi was super strong at the beach too! It’s a great place to eat, work, and relax. The workers there are phenomenal though and are so accommodating. One night we wanted to sit on the beach and chill, but every hotel we went to, we basically were escorted out because people are not allowed to be on the beach at night. We were only allowed to go to the restaurant. Well, not with Zulum. They’re amazing! We were able to sit on the lounge chairs and relax with Sancho, the donkey.
13. Take that Instagram-able photo at Kin Toh.
If you’ve seen Tulum, you’ve probably seen the infamous photo of people sitting in the nets of the tree house. That beautiful Instagram photo is located at Kin Toh restaurant in the Azulik hotel. I recommend making reservations there. It’s pretty expensive, so beware. I didn’t get the chance to go, but the views look amazing.
14. Purify, cleanse, and heal yourself with a traditional Mayan ceremony.
My best friend introduced me to a traditional Mayan ceremony that involves a temazcal (translation: house of heat). The experience encourages reflection and introspection. It was an experience I’ll never forget and something I’ll forever cherish. I encourage you to do this with an open mind and see where it takes you.
15. Get a breakfast bowl and work at Tulumski.
This was one of my favorite places to work at. They have strong WiFi and so many adorable dogs roaming around the cafe. The food was delicious as well! They’re known for their breakfast bowls. They cook it in a clay bowl. I also had the vegetarian sandwich… OMG. I think the best vegetarian sandwich I’ve ever had. SO good!!!
16. Spend less money on avocado toast.
You know how they say millennial’s won’t be able to buy a house because they constantly buy avocado toast? Well, have the luxury of eating avocado toast AND save some money! Tulum Art Club has the BEST avocado toast. It’s very filling and loaded with avocado. I had the avocado toast with cherry tomatoes… SO good.
17. Go to a full moon party.
Each night a different hotel hosts a full moon party. I recommend looking up which full moon party is on what night and go! You can look on Facebook for full moon events for each night.
18. Embrace yourself at a full moon women’s circle.
I can’t begin to express my sincere gratitude for this experience. I’ve never attended a women’s circle, but it was simply amazing. A full moon women’s circle is when a group of women come together to embrace the moons energy. It’s usually free, but based on donations. My friend stumbled upon it on Facebook. Each women’s circle is different from another. My experience was based on cleansing, singing/chanting, massage line (so amazing), powerful messages, words of encouragement, and connecting with other women through communal energy.
19. Watch the full moon rise over the horizon.
This is a experience you don’t get often… unless you live somewhere where you have a clear shot of the moon rising over the horizon. I am from the Bay Area where there’s hills, houses, tall buildings, etc. that block the horizon. It was an incredible sight watching the moon slowly rise over the ocean. I watched it at the Tulum beach.
20. Indulge in yummy food at Farm to Table.
Farm to Table serves meat and vegetarian/vegan options. The food uses organic, local, and seasonal products. I went there for breakfast and had a yummy acai bowl. There’s a lot of variety of food to choose from.
How to get to Tulum:
It’s super easy and nothing to stress over. The bus leaves every 45 minutes from the Cancun airport. There’s only 4 buses that go directly to Tulum from the Cancun airport. Those 4 buses still stop in Playa Del Carmen, but you don’t have to switch buses. If you can’t make the 4 direct buses, it’s still super easy. You will get a ticket from the airport to Playa Del Carmen. After you get there, you’ll have to buy another bus ticket to Tulum. The Playa Del Carmen bus station has food and drinks, and outside of the bus station, there’s McDonald’s and everything you can think of. It’s a super touristy location.
Collectivos are a very easy and cost effective way to get somewhere. It’s basically a ride share in a big van. They’ll squeeze as many people that can fit and they will drop off anywhere on the way. It’s super cheap too. From Playa Del Carmen to Tulum (~1 hr ride), it was only 45 pesos (around $2)! They leave at Calle 7 and 15 Ave every day until 11 pm. You’ll see a line of vans and someone standing there directing people.
Getting around is super easy. I highly suggest renting a bike so you can easily mob around Tulum. You can bike to the ruins, cenotes, beaches, pueblo, etc. Depending where you’re staying, everywhere is about a 10-50 minute bike ride. If you don’t want to ride a bike, you can also walk to certain places. Everything is a little spread out so you might have to walk an awfully long time. If you don’t want to ride a bike or walk, you can take a taxi. Taxi’s are pretty cheap and reasonable. There’s no meters though so you should ask how much it is before getting in. It was pretty much 150 pesos ($7.42) from the pueblo to the Tulum beach, and 120 pesos ($5.94) from Tulum beach to the pueblo. *prices are subject to change.
Where to stay:
Where to stay depends on what you’re looking for and what type of vacation it is. If you want a resort type of vacation, then staying at a resort on the beach is best. However, if you don’t want to pay resort prices, I recommend staying at an Airbnb or hostel in the pueblo (city center). It’s a lot more lively, cheaper than the beach, and there is a lot to do there. There’s little shops you can get souvenirs at, tons of restaurants that are open pretty late, bars you can drink at, etc. Our Airbnb was located two blocks from the ADO bus station and located right near the pueblo. It was the perfect location, strong WiFi, and spacious. It’s about a 45 minute bike ride to the beach or a ~$10 taxi. If you don’t have an Airbnb account, you can get $40 off your booking if you sign up with my link.
How do I get back to Cancun Airport:
Buy your ticket at the ticket counter at the ADO bus station. I recommend not buying your bus ticket online because you still have to physically buy your ticket at the counter. My friend made the mistake of buying a ticket online and assuming she purchased it. Turns out she actually didn’t purchase it, she only reserved it. Since she didn’t show up to purchase her ticket by a certain time before departure, they sold her ticket to someone else. Make sure to read the fine print if you decide to book a ticket online.
There’s 4 different terminals at the airport so I recommend looking up where your airline flies out of. I made the mistake of not doing that, and I fell asleep on the bus. When I woke up at one of the terminals, no one got off the bus so I didn’t either. At the second terminal stop, a bunch of people got off. I decided to ask the bus driver and he told me the previous stop was my terminal (face palm – ugh). I had to hurry off the bus, run really fast with my luggage to the airport shuttle, and ride to the correct terminal. The shuttle runs every 30-40 minutes in case you miss it. Basically, just look up which terminal to fly out of and if you have questions, ask the bus driver. They speak English and can help you out. If you’re flying out of Southwest, you’ll be flying out of terminal 4.
I absolutely LOVED Tulum and know you will too. What was your favorite part about Tulum? Have any questions or comments? Comment below!
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