Tulúm, Mexico

Full Guide to Tulum, Mexico - The Best Things to See and Do in Tulum

Tulúm is a charming and growing resort town on the southern end of Mexico’s famed Riviera Maya. With a palpable Bohemian vibe and a plentiful scattering of yoga practitioners and therapeutic massage businesses, this growing community retains its backpacker roots. Some say they can feel the presence of the ancient Maya culture, which dominated this region over 1,000 years ago. The adjacent and spectacular archaeological site of the same name is a prominent and impressive testament to this once-dominant civilization. At its peak between the 13th and 15th centuries, this ruin was a bustling trade and cultural center and is now a frequent tourist stop.

The town of Tulúm, bisected by the coastal highway, is a stone’s throw from the sparkling sand and warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. About 80 miles and two hours south of Cancún, the town is no longer the hidden gem it once was but is now well into the development phase, with the construction of homes and condos rising to keep up with those wishing to claim their slice of paradise.

Living in the central town will not require owning a car, and walking and bicycling are popular. In fact, it seems there are often as many bikes on the road as motorized vehicles. Motor scooters are also quite popular for those who would rather not pedal around town.

Tulúm’s reputation as a spectacular vacation destination and a growing expat community is well-deserved. With a tropical climate—temperatures averaging in the 80s F—Tulúm offers a Caribbean lifestyle without the need to travel to and from an island. Residents enjoy warm, turquoise Caribbean waters, a sparkling, perfect beach, and an offshore reef providing plentiful fishing opportunities, scuba diving, and snorkeling opportunities.

With the introduction of new, modern homes and condos, the population is thought to be well over 20,000. It continues to rise as more people seek an affordable Caribbean lifestyle a bit off the beaten path.

Retire in Tulúm


Some folks who have vacationed in Tulúm have returned, wanting to permanently claim the relaxing, low-stress lifestyle that seeps through the warm, tropical sands, into your soul.

You can live a relaxing life in Tulúm. Simply sitting on the beach and wiggling your toes in the sand isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon. Or you could explore the nearby jungle trails. If you crave more activity, you can snorkel the reef or paddle your kayak through the surf. Cooking a fish you pulled from the sea only an hour before is a good reason to invite some friends and host a dinner party. Many enjoy exploring numerous, stalactite-filled cenotes (underground caves filled with sparkling freshwater), and riding bikes through the jungle. If you like photography, you’ll find colorful tropical birds, large Iguanas, and monkeys seemingly posing for you to get the perfect shot.

Healthcare in Tulúm is provided by several small clinics and one small, primary hospital. The Hospital de Tulúm offers 24-hour emergency care. It has a small operating room and a few beds for extended stays. It’s a good choice for minor to moderate medical needs. Playa del Carmen (an hour north) and Cancún (two hours north) both offer larger hospitals and a more complete menu of medical services.

Getting to and from Tulúm is easy. The international airport in Cancún offers connections from all major airlines to major hubs across the globe. The highway to Cancún is direct and paved.

Those wanting to retire to Tulúm will require a Mexico Residence Visa. Application must be made at your nearest Mexican consulate before entering the country. The process is simple and straightforward, particularly if you apply for a retirement (pensionado) visa. Simply provide proof of income with your passport, marriage certificate (if appropriate) and a few other basic documents, and retirement visas are often issued the same day. (Migration policies are always subject to change.)

Lifestyle in Tulúm

Tulúm, Riviera Maya, Mexico

Discovering great restaurants is always fun, and Tulúm offers plenty. If you just want a small meal, sidewalk vendors can provide everything from hot dogs to tacos, including a cold drink for as little as a dollar. On the other end of the spectrum, you can find fresh seafood restaurants, Italian restaurants, and Mexican fusion restaurants offering all sorts of creative ways to prepare steak, chicken, and seafood. And like all good restaurants throughout Mexico, there will be plenty of fresh limes for squeezing and an abundant variety of spicy salsas available.

The town of Tulúm doesn’t sit directly on the coast, but is only a short distance away. However, the archeological ruins sit atop a 40-foot cliff overlooking the beach. In fact, it is believed to be the only Maya ruin with its own beach. Visitors to the site often bring their swimsuits to make for a complete day.

The Yucatán Peninsula, home to Tulúm and the Riviera Maya, is among the safest regions in all of Mexico. It is easy to explore by bus or car. Dotted with small villages, the major cities of Cancún and Mérida, and medium-sized cities like Playa del Carmen and Valladolid (Bah-yah-doe-leed), you can generally find anything you need. Sam’s Clubs, Walmarts, Costco, and Sears are in all the larger cities and towns. The closest international airport is Cancún. Other airports are located in Cozumel and Mérida.

Cost of Living in Tulúm

Tulúm, Stay Healthy

Mexico offers a significantly reduced cost of living compared to the U.S., and Tulúm falls in line with that expectation, with the exception of rent. Given Tulum’s growth in popularity as a vacation destination and the rise in short-term rentals, you should expect to pay above-average rent in Tulum than in other areas of Mexico. To buy a 1,200-square-foot home, you’ll spend about $125,000, and rent for a two-bedroom apartment will run about $1,500 to $2,500 a month.

Utilities will run about $70 a month, which includes electricity, water, trash collection, and phone. A local beer will cost about $2, and an inexpensive meal will set you back 80 pesos, which is about $4. A nice dinner for two in a mid-range restaurant will cost 450 pesos (about $23).

On the southern end of Mexico’s Riviera Maya is the up-and-coming expat destination of Tulúm. This small but lively beach community offers a warm tropical climate year-round, as well as white-sand beaches and vibrant turquoise Caribbean waters. Good-value condos and homes mean retirees and other expats live by the beach for less. And an active expat community, great restaurants, and plenty of modern amenities and services make for a great lifestyle.

Here's an example of a monthly budget for a couple living in Tulúm:

ExpenseU.S. $
 Housing (rental of a furnished, two-bedroom home) $2000
 Utilities (electricity, gas, water, phone, cable TV, internet) $70
 Groceries $350
 Entertainment (dining out and other activities) $250
 Healthcare (IMSS or Seguro Popular for two people, plus $80 in extra expenses) $140
 Maid: Three times a week $140
 Gardener: Once a week $75
 Incidentals $150
 Monthly total$3,175

10 Things to Do in Tulum

Written by Don Murray

10 Things to Do in Tulum

About two hours south of Cancun, at the southern end of the famed Riviera Maya, you will find the small and very interesting town of Tulum. Your first clue that you have entered into a special place is that you will suddenly be sharing the road with a large number of bicycles, ridden by fully-grown adults. Those spending time in Tulum tend to have a love of the environment, and many prefer pedal power to gasoline engines.

The vibe in Tulum is clearly different from all other destinations along the Riviera Maya, in that it has an active population of those interested in a new-age lifestyle. Some say that Tulum is the place where old hippies go to die. I say it’s the place where old hippies go to live—in harmony with the environment and others who share their passions and environmental concerns.

Yoga studios abound, along with Tarot Card readers, legitimate massage therapists, coffee houses, boutique shops with yards of flowing colorful fabrics (that can be wrapped and wound into any number of feminine garments), and souvenir shops selling items related to the nearby Maya ruin, located directly on the beach. Coffee shops, bars, and restaurants line the main drag along with lots of gift stores. Many believe that the energy of the ancient Mayas is palpable here.

Expats have discovered Tulum and have been moving down, in increasing numbers, for the past decade. Thousands of snowbirds have also claimed Tulum as their winter nesting place as they escape the cold weather up north. There is plenty to do, year round and here are a few favorites:

1. Visit the Archeological Ruin


A short distance from the town of Tulum, you will find the ancient archeological ruins of Tulum. Situated on a tall bluff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, this Maya ruin dates back to around 560 AD but came to full power around 1200 to 1550 AD. Then, it was the center of coastal trade for the region. This ruin is one of only a small number of Maya cities that was walled. Parts of the wall still stand and rise from three to five meters in height. The beach, just below, is open to visitors and is spectacular, as is the view from the top.

2. Explore the Sian Ka’an Biosphere

This eco reserve covers over 2,000 square miles of environmentally sensitive coastal mangroves, open ocean, and closely monitored and environmentally protected beaches. Entrance is closely regulated, and certified guides are preferred to experience this area. Tour boats leave a small landing to explore the area. There is a good chance you will see dolphins, crocodiles, turtles, rays, and manatees.

3. Selva Maya Eco Adventure


Although a more commercial adventure than Sian Kaán, the Selva Maya Eco Adventure is a fun way to spend the day in the jungle, and is ideal for small groups and families. With everything from off-road vehicles, zip lines, suspension rope bridges, rock walls for climbing, cenotes (underground, freshwater springs) for swimming and snorkeling, and rappelling, Selva Maya is a great family adventure.

4. Snorkeling

Although many places along the Riviera Maya are great for snorkeling, getting to the reef from Tulum is more challenging. But don’t despair. There are more than enough snorkeling options available. First, cenotes are wonderful for exploring, and many are completely open to the sky, at the top. Next, the Sian Kaán Biosphere Reserve is a beautiful place to snorkel. Licensed guides will provide the equipment, boats, and knowledge. Also, day trips to nearby Akumal and Cozumel will provide world-class experiences.

5. Beaches


The beaches in Tulum share the same, sparkling white sand present all along Mexico’s northern Caribbean coast, known as the Riviera Maya. Brushed by the clear, warm aquamarine waters of the Caribbean Sea, it’s impossible to make a bad decision when choosing a beach. The obvious first choice has to be the Playa Ruinas (the beach of the ruins). Sparkling white with the advantage of a great view of the ancient Maya ruins sitting on the cliff, just above. Another wonderful choice is the Playa Paraiso (Paradise Beach), bordered by cliffs and punctuated by plentiful palm trees. This is a postcard-perfect beach. Las Palmas is also a great choice. And, find your way to Secret Beach at Sian Kaán Reserve.

6. Rent a Bike-Go Shopping

This is a no-brainer for a fun day. Bike rentals are readily and economically available in Tulum. This small town is where hidden treasures are best found by biking or walking. Countless small gift and souvenir shops populate the main street, where car parking is often a fantasy. Move a block off the main drag and explore the side streets. Allow yourself to be drawn through doorways by the aromas of scented candles, incense, and essential oils. Discover handmade jewelry and other crafted items. When hungry, park your bike in front of a small coffee shop for a home-baked treat.

7. Caves and Cenotes


The Yucatan Peninsula is said to have over 6,000 known cenotes. And Tulum has its share. In fact, Tulum is home to the world’s largest underground cave and river system, Sac Actun. Much of the system requires special cave diving certifications but there are a number of cenotes where snorkeling and simple explorations are an option. Check out the local cenote known as the car wash, a peaceful location with an open top, stalagmites lots of plants and fish, as well as a ton of beautiful Lilly Pads. Great for snorkeling.

8. Nightlife

If your idea of nightlife consists of more than staying home and petting the dog, Tulum has you covered with more than a few nightspots to liven things up. In no particular order, check out the almost famous Papaya Playa Project. This is the place where the beautiful people gather. Importing the latest, hottest DJs from across the globe, the Papaya Playa Project is the place to see and be seen. Best described as chic and upscale. You never know what famous celebrity you may encounter. For a bit less glitz and glamour while still delivering a fun evening, try Nomade. The magical transformation from a daytime beach bar to a nighttime beach club works. The food is great, and the energy is positive. Three more-night spots deserve your attention, and all offer possibilities. Batey can be found among the collection of bars in downtown Tulum. Find your way to both Mojito and Gitano on the beach. Gitano is wonderful.

9. Take a Bath in Healing Mud

For those who believe in the healing energies of mud, Tulum offers a complete spa experience built around that premise. The Mayan Clay Spa and Bathhouse offers a menu of diverse treatments with sessions for 60 minutes, 90 minutes, and two hours.

10. Take a Nap on the Beach


Relaxation is in short supply in most of our lives. Whether you come to Tulum as an expat, snowbird, or visitor, it is easy to forget that relaxing should be an important part of our days. Find a quiet spot on one of the beaches or maybe in a hammock. There are plenty of both. Turn off your cell phone, and allow the gentle breezes to massage your soul.

There are ample activities to keep one occupied in Tulum.