Though it’s hardly a hidden paradise now that bloggers, hipsters and celebrities alike are flocking there, Tulum remains a little gem located on the east coast of the Yucatán peninsula. Because of its close proximity to the equator, it’s far more tropical than other parts of Mexico, and with that comes beautiful white sand beaches and clear blue water. Yet despite its growing popularity, it still feels refreshing secluded and charmingly rustic. For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend it as a destination for the high-maintenance traveler, but in my opinion, that’s exactly what makes Tulum so special. I finally had the chance to see what the hype was about, and my only regret is that I couldn’t stay longer. If you’re considering a visit, (and you should), be sure to check out the travel guide below for tips on navigating the city.
What to do:
- Swim in the cenotes (natural freshwater swimming holes formed by the collapse of limestone rock). We chose Cenote Dos Ojos based on proximity, but from what I hear, you can’t really go wrong with any of the cenotes.
- Visit Sian Ka’an, a biosphere reserve with wetlands, lagoons and lots of interesting wildlife. We weren’t able to fit a visit into our schedule this time, but the tours get rave reviews.
- Take a tour of the Mayan ruins that date back to the 13th century. Directly below the ruins is a beautiful beach that’s open to the public, so bring your bathing suit and a beach towel. (Tip: To avoid crowds, arrive as soon as the ruins open (8am) because large buses filled with tour groups will start crowding the area after 9-10am).
- Take a yoga class – If you consider yourself a yogi, then you’ve come to the right place. Most hotels offer classes, but there are plenty of facilities within Tulum that cater to yoga retreats, etc.
- Shop in Tulum centro (the main part of town). The streets are lined with affordable shops that sell leather goods, Mexican blankets and hammocks, embroidered dresses, jewelry, and much more. (Tip: most vendors are willing to bargain, so don’t feel obligated to pay the initial asking price).
Where to eat:
- Hartwood – If you’re a foodie traveling to Tulum, then you likely already know about Hartwood. It was started by two American chefs from New York, and has gained the attention of food critics all over. Hartwood is an eco-friendly restaurant (operating only with electricity generated by solar panels), and all of the food is cooked over a wood-fire oven. I had read incredible things about Hartwood beforehand, and it did not disappoint. We had the ensalada de jicama to start, followed by the platillo de pulpo (grilled octopus), and costillas al agave (pork ribs that literally fall off the bone). And the fresh cocktails we enjoyed with our meal with were just as delicious. We topped our dinner off with cinnamon ice cream for dessert. (Warning: The line gets long quickly, so stop by in the afternoon when they open at 3pm to make a reservation for that evening. Doing this saved us from any waiting and allowed us to walk right in at our reservation time).
- Posada Margherita – A shabby chic beachside restaurant that’s known for their fresh juices, made-to-order pasta, and authentic seafood. Everything from the complimentary baked focaccia and cheeses were noteworthy, but the tomato basil and vegetable pastas were a favorite. We actually ordered so much food on our second visit, that the servers had to borrow the empty table next to us to accommodate all of our plates (true story). The food alone is enough to keep you coming back, but the ambiance is just as special, especially at nighttime when the restaurant is illuminated only by flickering candles.
- Gitano – Best known for their tasty mezcal cocktails, with food that’s said to be just as promising. We didn’t get the chance to dine here, but we did peek through during the day and thought it looked adorable (see bottom right photo from collage above).
- El Tábano – I had read great things about El Tábano, specifically the poblano pepper crepes, which, although were very tasty, didn’t live up the hype in our opinion. We also ordered the shrimp tacos and ceviche, both of which satisfied our lunch cravings.
- Ziggy’s Beach – Ziggy’s Beach is connected to The Beach Tulum hotel (where we stayed), so we enjoyed many of our meals there. The breakfasts were probably our favorite, but I loved stopping by for guacamole and fresh coconut water in the afternoons. The tuna nachos and organic beet and goat cheese salad were also delicious.
- Street food – Admittedly, some of the best Mexican food we ate were some tacos from street vendors in town.
Where to stay:
- After thorough research on hotels in the area, we settled on The Beach Tulum, a charming boutique hotel with 20 rooms (all of which are beachfront). Since this was my first time visiting, I can only really speak for our hotel, but we were very happy with our choice and would love to go back again. The vibe is laid back, yet elegant, and all of the staff were extremely warm and welcoming. We found the most competitive rate through Orbitz, and booked a Deluxe Room, which included a private terrace with a hammock, couch, table and chairs that opened right up to the beach. The rate also includes free wifi (often intermittent depending on the wind) and a complimentary breakfast each morning from Ziggy’s Restaurant (which is also available for room service upon request). Unlike many of the hotels in the area, The Beach Tulum provides air conditioning from 5pm -9am, but the ocean breeze and ceiling fan help keep the room cool during off hours.
- Other hotels that looked lovely as we passed by: Coqui Coqui (if you’re looking to splurge), Ahau Tulum, and Ana Y Jose, among many others.
How to get around:
- Upon arrival to Cancún International Airport, you’ll have the option to rent a car or take a taxi down to Tulum (about 80 miles from CUN). We didn’t want the responsibility of having a car (which turned out to be the right decision for us since taxis are so readily available in Tulum), so we booked round trip transportation to and from the airport through SuperShuttle. Most hotels are happy to book transportation if needed, but we found that the price for SuperShuttle matched the price that our hotel was offering (about $200 usd).
- Tulum is relatively small in size, so we alternated between walking, biking and taking taxis. We found the taxi drivers to be very friendly.
- Language: Spanish is is the main language spoken in Tulum, but most of the locals speak English fairly well.
- Currency: The Mexican Peso is the local currency in Tulum. Some places will accept credit cards, but be sure to keep plenty of cash on hand, as many places are cash only. Tipping is optional (if you feel inclined to tip, no more than 10% is customary).
- Climate/Best time to visit: Rainy season begins in June and lasts through October, while dry season runs December through April. Temperatures average around 28° C (82° F), with strong humidity throughout the year. (Tip: Most of the hotels and restaurants are open-air, so I would advise against visiting during rainy season. We arrived in mid June and were met with a heavy wind and rain storm for the first few days that was no joke).
- What to pack: One of the things I loved most about Tulum was how casual it was. The blogger in me packed some impractical items that I didn’t end up using, so the less is more saying really holds true in this case. Some things I would recommend packing: bathing suits, hats, breathable clothing, minimal makeup, comfortable shoes, sunblock, bug repellant for mosquitos (thank me later), and a flashlight (the roads are very dark at night, so we used the flashlights on our iPhones to light the way).
- Arrive early: Tulum is filled with tourist activities, so when visiting these popular sites (cenotes, ruins, etc.), it’s best to arrive as early as possible to avoid the crowds.