Once a tiny, unknown fishing village along a stretch of untouched white sand, these days Tulum is a bustling, popular tourist attraction full of yoga retreats, shaded seaside hammocks and outdoor restaurants carved into the jungle.
You’ll still find plenty of white sand and plenty of fish, but now you’ll also find modern amenities like air conditioning and luxury spas.
Recently, I spent about three months on the coast—riding my bicycle down to the beach, drinking out of coconuts and taking day trips to lively Playa del Carmen and remote down the coast near Belize. After all that exploring, here’s what I recommend for your own Tulum vacation.
Where to Stay
Most of Tulum’s best restaurants, spas, and hotels are spread out along the coast on the beach or jungle side of the small coastal road. If it’s luxury and convenience you’re after, this is the best part of town to call home. Because it’s so luxurious and so in demand, though, expect to pay more for these premium addresses.
If you’re on a tighter budget or prefer a more local, less luxury experience, Tulum’s main pueblo (town centre) is about five kilometers from the beach and there are plenty of taxis and bicycle rental shops ready to help you get from a pueblo hotel to the shoreline. Try a budget hotel like Coco Hacienda where rooms are beautifully decorated and scattered around a jungle garden and two pools. Prices are about one-third (or less) of what you’ll find along the beach.
Food and Drink
Tulum’s food scene is serious and growing, with the competition driving up quality day by day.
Head to Eden where the Uruguayan chef may decorate your plate with local flowers and master bartenders serve up Mayan cocktails. Then there’s Ocumare, run by a Michelin-starred chef and serving up delicious, unusual gastronomic cuisine. Finally, don’t miss Cenzontle—a pretty jungle garden where you’ll find dishes like Mayan stuffed pumpkins and vanilla pork ribs.
For something less fancy, head into town for a cooking class at Rivera Kitchen or slip off your sandals and lounge on the beach with cheap tacos and coconut milk coffee at Taqueria La Eufemia.
What to Do
As you may have guessed, Tulum’s main attraction is its long, sandy beach. Spend some time strolling, swimming or snorkelling. Join a scuba diving expedition or book a boat ride.
If the jungle’s more your style, Tulum has plenty of that as well. Make some time to explore the local cenotes—natural sinkholes full of water—cycle along the jungle road and visit the beachfront Mayan ruins at Tulum or the sprawling jungle ruins at Coba.
For day trips, party town Playa del Carmen is just a short drive up the coast, sleepy Puerto Morelos is just south of some of the biggest hotels and spas in the region about two hours north of Tulum and the Sian Ka’an bioreserve is just south of Tulum.
When to Go
Tulum’s dry season – with warm, sunny weather and often a cool breeze – runs December through April.
This is also when you’ll find the biggest crowds and highest prices, so if you’re looking for a budget trip, June through October is the region’s off-season. September and October tend to be the rainiest months and the height of hurricane season. Keep in mind that some things close during the off-season.
If wildlife is a priority for you, whale shark season is June to August, sea turtles start nesting in late May and you’ve got a good chance of seeing baby turtles in July and August.
Tulum is a comfortable two-hour bus ride from Cancun Airport.
Budgeting for Tulum
If you’re planning to stay beachfront at one of the nice hotels along the coast, expect your trip to be a splurge. Prices for budget spaces on the beach start above $100 and go up from there, with high season often commanding double rates. Meals in nice restaurants off the jungle road will run about $15 to $25 per person (with more famous spaces charging more).
But don’t fret: Tulum isn’t out of reach for budget travellers. A night in the pueblo can cost as little as $38 in a hotel or $22 for a hostel bed. And Airbnb apartments list as low as $32 per night in the off season. In town, you’ll find cheap, tasty tacos (about $1 each) at Taqueria Honorio. And even the beachfront restaurants won’t always break the bank. At Taqueria La Eufemia, tacos start around $1.30 each.