Tulum is one of my favorite destinations in the world. The vibe is easy-going and laid back. Tulum encourages visitors to partake in a slower-paced life, even if just for a few days. Whether you’re a beach bum, a history enthusiast, or an adventure seeker, Tulum has something for everyone. Trust me, I love visiting Tulum so much, that I made it my first international trip since travel shut down. So without further ado, I thought I would share my ultimate Tulum Travel Guide: Where to Stay, Eat, and Play!
Tulum Travel Guide: Where to Stay, Eat, and Play
Tulum is located on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula along the beautiful Caribbean coastline. It’s a great location to unwind and feel refreshed. Over the years, it has become a popular destination and it’s easy to see why. Its white-sand beaches, turquoise blue water, Mayan ruins, delicious food, and the countless cenotes to explore makes it a great alternative to the typical Cabo vacation. But before booking your flight, here’s what you need to know:
To get to Tulum from the United States, you must first fly into the Cancun airport. From there, Tulum is a 1-hour 45-minute drive away. The ADO bus is the only option if you prefer public transportation. It runs directly from the Cancun airport to Tulum with a few scheduled spots per day. I recommend booking a taxi or luxe private transportation for peace of mind and ease. Alternatively, it’s safe to rent a car and drive yourself to town.
When to go
The most popular season in Tulum is winter, so expect it to be crowded and prices will be higher than normal. I wouldn’t recommend visiting during the low season (summer) as it’ll be incredibly hot and humid. The best time to visit is during the shoulder season. Prices will be more reasonable and you’ll get to enjoy all that Tulum has to offer without the hoards of tourists.
The primary language spoken in Tulum is Spanish. However, you’ll be able to get by with minimal Spanish since most staff at restaurants, tourist attractions, and hotels speak English as well.
Tulum uses pesos but most places accept US dollars. Keep in mind that you’ll be charged more if you’re paying with US dollars. I recommend getting pesos at an ATM at the airport, your hotel (if it has one), or a local bank.
Tulum is incredibly safe as it is a touristy area, but normal precautions still need to be taken, especially if you’re planning to drive in-land in Quinta Roo. As with all destinations, exercise common sense (i.e: do not wander down a dark road at night, be mindful of your surroundings…). It is also safe for solo female travelers as I have traveled to Tulum solo twice.
What to Pack
Tulum is a beautiful beach town so pack light, breathable fabrics. If you’re planning to eat at one of Tulum’s fine-dining restaurants, be sure to pack something a little more formal. Swimwear is always a must and so is reef-friendly sunscreen if you plan on swimming in the ocean. There are also mosquitoes around the area so feel free to pack some bug spray as well.
Where to Stay
If this is your first trip to Tulum, booking hotels can be a little tricky. To simply put, Tulum is a huge town that can be divided into two main areas for hotels: the beach (playa) or Tulum town (pueblo).
Unlike Cancun, you won’t find many large-scale resorts on Tulum Beach. In fact, many of the hotels on Tulum Beach are dedicated to sustainability and preserving the area’s natural beauty. As a result, many of these resorts aren’t overbearingly huge and obstructing any views. The hotels along Tulum Beach offer guests a chance to experience a simplistic, natural, barefoot luxury. Additionally, a lot of them take great care by using renewable energy, reducing plastic waste, and giving back to their local community.
Habitas is a completely plastic-free hotel. In fact, the property uses locally sourced and natural materials in the construction of it’s building. They also participate in recycling and composting programs to reduce and limit waste. Habitas is leaving no negative and lasting impact on the environment, designing each room by weaving in the surrounding area and natural landscapes.
Be Tulum is an adults-only, ultra-chic hotel right in the middle of Tulum beach’s hotel zone. The decor style features elements of nature and a boho aesthetic throughout the property. Be Tulum offers guests complimentary bike rentals, loaner snorkel gear, as well as free parking and WiFi.
This stunning beachfront hotel gives guests the option to unwind in a sophisticated and beautifully designed bungalow. Guests could choose between beach or jungle facing rooms. Furthermore, La Valise has pledged to protect and preserve Tulum’s vulnerable oceans and surrounding land by many sustainable measures.
Papaya Playa Project encourages guests to reconnect with nature. This barefoot luxury resort has taken several sustainable measures such as providing guests with 100% clean, sustainable water. They participate in many sustainable and socially responsible projects from recycling, gardening and plantations, and community involvement.
Hotels in Town
If you’re more interested in cenotes, Mayan jungles, and ruins, staying in town will be your best option. It’s a great launch off point for any adventure seeker willing to trade up immediate beach access. Not to mention, staying in town is a budget-friendly option!
Hotel Bardo encourages guests to stay and be present. The rooms are minimalist in style, putting mindfulness front and center. The property features loft-style rooms, an exterior shower, and a private jungle garden. And although you’re not located directly on the beach, you can also enjoy a private pool right outside your door.
This hotel’s location allows guests the opportunity to explore the many restaurants, bars, and boutiques that downtown Tulum has to offer. The property’s decor features lush greenery and pops of color. Coco Hacienda also has massage services that you can book on-site.
This 10 room hotel seeks to integrate travelers with local experiences and touches of luxury. The property honors the surrounding landscapes and has responsibly utilized resources in their design. Orchid House’s on-site restaurant features local Mexican fare that changes seasonally. Guests can choose from booking a stay in their Master, Jungle, or Garden Suites
Where to Eat in Tulum
One of the best things about traveling to Tulum is the abundance of delicious eats around town. Tulum has many health-conscious, vegan-friendly options — which makes it the perfect destination for all foodies. Here are some of the best restaurants in Tulum:
Hands down, Arca serves the best food I’ve ever had in Tulum. The restaurant is incredibly innovative, serving micro-seasonal dishes based on local roots and flavors. Arca’s executive chef and co-owner, José Luis Hinostroza, has earned his accolades working at the culinary world’s finest establishments. He has taken his techniques and culinary prowess to the thoughtfully curated menu at Arca.
Casa Jaguar serves meals that are inspired by the local flavors of the Yucatan Peninsula with a hint of international influence. Their ethos is “simple, unpretentious, sophisticated yet abounding with flavor.” The menu changes seasonally based on what is available during that time of year.
Moro, the restaurant at Habitas, is open to all visitors, even if you aren’t a guest at the hotel. As with most eco-conscious restaurants in Tulum, Moro serves sustainable and locally sourced fare. Grab a healthy juice or order one of their Mediterranean inspired dishes. The atmosphere is upscale and romantic, making it the perfect restaurant for date night.
Hartwood is one of the most popular fine dining restaurants in Tulum. The menu changes daily based on what is available at their local markets and farms. Additionally, Hartwood is dedicated to sustainability practices. Their entire restaurant is powered by solar panels, and they break down waste by creating 100% organic compost. Reservations is hard to come by so be sure to book a table ahead of time by emailing: email@example.com.
You probably recognize Raw Love’s iconic entrance. Besides being one of Tulum’s most Instagrammable spots, Raw Love is also the go-to cafe for raw, vegan, healthy eats. Their menu goes beyond smoothie bowls, serving up delicious entrées of the gluten, sugar, and dairy-free variety.
One of the newer bars to emerge onto Tulum’s restaurant scene, Bar Atila is a great place for natural wines and lighter fare. Their menu is served in a tapas style, which makes Bar Atila a great place for small groups. Sharing the same executive chef, José Luis Hinostroza, Bar Atila is the sister brasserie to Arca — promising quality with every bite (and sip).
If you’re looking for something a little heartier and more indulgent, Posada Margherita features made-to-order Italian cuisine. Their pasta is made from scratch from the moment you place your order and no sooner. Posada Margherita’s menu is made up of family-owned recipes passed down from Genoa. However, they honor Tulum by using freshly and locally sourced produce and seafood caught by local fishermen. Be sure to try their homemade gelatos and their craft cocktails.
I’ll be honest — the food at Gitano falls short when compared to the other restaurants on this list. However, Gitano is a great place if you’re looking for a vibrant, lively atmosphere. The cuisine is a seasonal, Modern Mexican fare cooked over an open fire grill and wood-burning oven. The menu is designed for a shared dining experience, making it a great spot for smaller to larger groups. Be sure to order their mezcal and signature cocktails during your visit.
Another Tulum Instagram hotspot that actually has two different locations, one on the beach and one in town. Matcha Mama’s beach location is an adorable shack (and the one most commonly spotted on Instagram). It’s a great place for smoothie and acai bowls, kombucha, juice, and generally healthy snacks.
I Scream Bar
Ice cream is always a great idea, especially when it comes to combating Tulum’s warmer climate. I Scream Bar serves guilt-free, vegan ice cream so you can feel good about this sweet treat. They also offer sugar-free options while serving up mezcal and tequila for those looking for something stronger. They’re located in a recycled-materials only building, powered by solar panels, and use eco-friendly utensils. I Scream Bar serves up indulgence that you can feel good about.
Charly’s Vegan Tacos
The perfect taco spot for vegetarians, vegans, and meat lovers. These tacos are enough to convince any meat-lover into making more vegetarian-friendly choices… especially when tacos are concerned. Charly’s started as a popular local food truck and eventually earned its own permanent location. The chefs have managed to turn popular Mexican dishes into fully vegetarian and vegan-friendly versions while maintaining its robust flavor. What’s best? The restaurant is set in a garden with beautiful wicker lanterns above, making it a great spot for an evening meal.
What to Do in Tulum
Whether you’re seeking adventure, spiritual enlightenment, a tan, or just a good time — Tulum has lots of activities to fit every traveler’s style. Here are some of the best things to do in and around Tulum:
Explore the Cenotes
A cenote is a natural water well found mostly in the Yucatan Peninsula area of Mexico. Some cenotes are associated with ancient Mayan traditions and offerings. Today, a lot of them are accessible for tourists to visit, swim, snorkel, and scuba dive. Here are some of the best cenotes to visit in and around Tulum:
- Gran Cenote – en route to the Coba ruins, this cenote is one of the most popular ones for tourists.
- Cenote Zacil-Ha – This cenote is more like a natural swimming pool, so if swimming in a deep cave freaks you out, cenote Zacil-Ha will be perfect for you.
- Cenote Dos Ojos – this is one of the best cenotes for divers and it’s located just 30 minutes away from Tulum. It’s a very popular spot for snorkeling and diving so be sure to visit earlier in the day.
- Casa Cenote – One of the more unique cenotes in the area, visitors can swim or kayak on the turquoise blue water surrounded by trees and mangroves.
- Cenote Calavera – Cenote Calavera is a quiet, more local cenote in the Tulum area. It’s the perfect cenote for thrillseekers looking to take a 13ft jump into the water below. For those afraid of heights, there’s a ladder on the side that you could use to lower yourself down.
- Cenote Azul – this cenote has two separate swimming sections – a shallow and a deeper end. It’s a popular snorkeling site and a great option for those who can’t swim.
- Cenote Suytun – the iconic cenote we all see (and love) on Instagram. Cenote Suytun is famous for the beautiful beams of light that hit it’s turquoise blue waters from above. This is a popular photo spot so be sure to arrive as early as possible.
Spend a day at the Beach
It’s no secret that Tulum is home to some of the world’s best beaches. With miles of coastline and white sand, there’s never a shortage of beautiful ocean views. Here are some of the best beaches in Tulum whether you’re looking to lounge in the sand, or explore the open water:
- Playa Paraiso – translates to Paradise Beach and is one of Tulum’s most popular beaches.
- Playa Ruinas – home to well-preserved Mayan ruins that overlook the Caribbean Sea.
- Las Palmas – less crowded and perfect for a little more privacy compared to Playa Paraiso.
- Akumal Beach – great for snorkeling and spotting sea turtles.
- Secret Beach – this off-the-beaten-path beach is located in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. This is a more hidden, local spot so please be respectful and do not leave any trash behind.
Bike Around Town
One of the best things to do in Tulum is to explore the beach or town by biking. You can bike from cafe to cafe, or hop between instagrammable spots. Keep in mind that the town is located quite far away from the beach. If you want to explore Tulum town and cenotes, be sure to rent your bikes there. If you’re hoping to explore the coastline, pick up a rental bike from your hotel.
Tulum is a health-conscious, eco-friendly town that encourages visitors to focus on mindfulness and stillness. This is why many of Tulum’s eco beach hotels offer yoga sessions right on site. Although a few hotels in town do offer yoga sessions as well, here are a few other options:
Visit the Ruins
There is so much to explore in Tulum and its surrounding areas, especially if you’re interested in Mayan history. Of course, Chichen Itza, one of the 7 wonders of the world, is located just 2 hours away from Tulum. But you don’t have to travel that far to explore Mayan ruins. The Coba ruins are located 50 minutes away from Tulum. For something even closer, head to Playa Ruinas where you can visit the Tulum ruins just 15 minutes from town.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean. The reserve leads small group tours (no more than 6 people) to ensure an authentic experience. There are several different tour options from nature walks, reef snorkeling, boat tours along the Mayan route, and bird watching.
The Ultimate Tulum Travel Guide for Every Travel Style
I might be biased, but Tulum has so much to offer guests with different travel styles. Adventure seekers can explore the many cenotes, and beach bums could kick back and relax on one of the beautiful beaches. No matter what, Tulum is definitely worth a visit. Not only will it fuel your sense of exploration, but it’s the perfect place for a little R&R as well. And the truth of the matter is this: no matter how many times I visit, I still keep coming back.