Tulum in Mexico is the prime example of what we would call a hype. Never have we travelled to a place where we felt that tourism was so dominated by “Instagram hotspots” as in Tulum. You will see lists of the best photo spots, the most photogenic smoothie bowls and the “most instagrammable” cocktails circulate on the Internet.
The fact that Tulum has undergone such a development in terms of tourism has, of course, both its advantages and disadvantages. Small spoiler: The pros do outweigh the cons, however. In our blog article we will show you what to expect during a vacation in Tulum – and of course we reveal our best tips for your journey.
1. Tulum on the Riviera Maya: What to Expect
Let’s start with what Tulum is all about: the Caribbean beach paradise. The sand on the coast is so beautifully bright, fine and soft, it makes you want to walk around all day in barefoot.
Speaking of the beach. This brings us to the next important point: Tulum is divided into two parts. It consists of Tulum Pueblo and Tulum Beach. Tulum Pueblo is the name of the town centre and is located more inland, about five kilometres from the beach. You can also find cheaper accommodations and restaurants here in Tulum Pueblo. There is a main road that leads through the town centre north-bound (towards Playa del Carmen) and south-bound (towards Bacalar). Idyllic wouldn’t be the word to describe the town centre as it’s certainly no gem. Whereas, Tulum Beach is where the hotel zone is at – all along the coast, which consists solely of one very long street. Here, you will find the upscale hotels, shops and restaurants.
The accommodations and boutiques in Tulum Beach seem like a boho-hippie Instagram feed attraction. There is so much emphasis placed on the aesthetics, that you often forget you’re actually in Mexico. Tulum has become the in-destination for “high society” and you can easily tell by the price level: a dress for $500 USD? Dinner for $150 USD? Overnight stay for $600 USD? Everything! Of course these examples are not representative of the entire Tulum, but it is clear that the price levels are set really high, especially in or along Tulum Beach itself.
Also good to know: there is a Mayan site in Tulum, which is known for its stunning location right on the coast. So if you don’t have much time for culture then you can at least immerse yourself in the history of Mexico in Tulum without having to drive very far. But we have to be honest: Compared to other places, the ruins of Tulum are not as spectacular – with the exception of that one location on the beach.
How long should I stay in Tulum?
Tulum was the very first stop on our 3-week road trip through Yucatán, and retrospectively we would still choose Tulum as our first stop again. Why? It’s actually because Tulum is so touristic, especially when you are in Mexico for the first time, like us, you have your doubts – but those doubt disappear immediately upon arrival in Tulum – of that, we can assure you.
We stayed 4 nights in Tulum and personally, this was an ideal length of time for us. We’re definitely not the type of people you would see lying on the beach all day. Since we had a lot planned, we were able to fill the three full days easily – and there was not much time to be lazy on the beach. So if you really want to switch off and chill on the beaches for a few days but also want to go on excursions, then you’re best to stay in Tulum for a bit longer.
The best time to visit Tulum
Although you can travel Mexico and Tulum all year round, the months from November/December to April/May are the most ideal travel time. During this period there is a dry season. The humidity is then not so high, it rains little and the temperatures are pleasantly warm.
The equivalent of the dry season is the rainy season, which goes from May/June to October. During this time, there is significantly more precipitation and the hurricane season also falls into the rainy season, with the highest probability of a hurricanes between August and October. But don’t worry: Dramatic hurricanes are rare on the Yucatán Peninsula.
We ourselves visited Yucatán between the end of November and mid-December. Our trip has once again shown that the weather does not always stay true to its climate forecasts. We had some rainy days with us, as well as the odd heavy downpour whilst in Tulum. What we’re trying to say is that you can never be 100% sure with weather in the tropics.
2. Beaches in Tulum
Tulum is blessed with miles of coastline and the beaches are just as long, giving you a variety of spots to choose from. The sand is very bright and soft, the sea is a brilliant azure blue in sunshine. Although there are some sections where hotels are clustered along the beach, there are no hotel bunkers and the beaches don’t seem overly crowded.
If you are staying at one of the hotels in Tulum Beach, you will most likely be spending time on the hotel’s beach. If you arrive from Tulum Pueblo, you have two options: Either you are looking for a nice spot (with a bit of luck in the shade of a tree) or you can treat yourself to a lounger in one of the beach clubs. For example: Coco Tulum or Ziggy’s Beach Club are very well known and popular.
As we are not the type of people who chill on the beach all day long anyway, we would stay and chill for just a few hours. Our two favourite beaches were the following:
This stretch of beach translates to “paradise beach” and is located quite far north (but still south of the Tulum ruins). The Playa Paraíso is a fairly wide, long sandy beach, and comparatively not so crowded. If you walk north along the beach (to the Playa Maya or Playa Santa Fe), then you can even take a look at the ruins of Tulum in the distance.
It is a bit difficult to find public access to enter this beach. We had to cross via restricted paths such as walking through a camp site. There is also access between Playa Paraíso and Playa Maya, where there are even a few parking spaces. We just parked our car along the main road.
Beach next to the Azulik Hotel
We originally wanted to just take a look at the unusual eco-hotel called Azulik and landed unexpectedly on a really beautiful stretch of beach. The beach is like a bay and is very cozy. There is not much to do, but if you want to enjoy a few hours at the beach in peace, you are in the right place here. The access is rather hidden and just off the main road at the height of Punta Piedra.
Important: Seaweed along the Riviera Maya in Mexico
If you’re thinking about travelling to Mexico, you’ve probably already read or heard about the widespread seagrass issue. Until a few years ago, this problem was not really a problem in the region, but unfortunately, the situation has worsened dramatically over the past one to two years.
Explanation: What is seagrass and where does it come from?
Seagrass (also called Sargassum or “Seaweed” in English) is a genus of brown algae. The fact that seagrass is washed up on the beaches of Mexico is, in principle nothing unusual in the warmer summer months. However, in the last year or two, the situation has spiralled out of control. In just a few months, tons of seagrass were washed ashore every day. Swimming in the sea was (and is) barely possible, because there is almost no getting through the thick layer of seagrass.
Of course, there is the question of how it came to (and still is) such a tragic issue for the region. During our trip to Mexico we did not miss the opportunity to ask the local people about this. The concluding answer was that it is not yet fully understood. There’s no doubt however, that the problem is due to climate change, or at least due to negative human environmental impacts. The warmer the water, the more likely the seagrass will multiply.
We also did some research ourselves and found out that the American food industry is apparently partly responsible. Excess fertilisers and toxic substances are flushed into surrounding rivers and reach the Gulf of Mexico. This creates a nutrient and nitrate surplus, which contributes to the propagation of seaweed. We are not experts, but we assume that this problem is the result of many different factors.
Does seagrass affect a vacation on the beach?
Although the situation is rather dramatic, we would like to placate the situation a little: Seaweed is (fortunately) not constantly washed up. During our trip to Tulum (in November and December 2018), only high mountains of dry seagrass and very narrow seagrass stripes reminded us of the problem – as you can see in the photos. With us it was not really a problem to swim in the sea – apart from the very unpleasant seaweed stench, which was a bit disturbing.
However, we have read varying reports, and it seems like in certain months, the situation seems to be worse. Of course, visually it makes a huge difference whether one looks at an azure blue sea or almost only a carpet of algae in front of them. If you book a hotel on the beach, then we would recommend you to ask directly at the hotel – usually, the more expensive the hotel, the greater the chance that the beach is regularly freed from seaweed.
If you would like to know what a particular beach looks like, then we have a tip for you. Updates and photos from various beaches along the Riviera Maya are posted daily in this Facebook group: Facebook group “Sargasso Seaweed Updates Riviera Maya”.
3. Cenotes at Tulum
The mysterious underground freshwater pools can be found throughout Yucatán. Cenotes are limestone caves filled with crystal clear water. Those around Tulum are very easy to reach and thus super tourist magnets. If you want to visit one or the other Cenote, we recommend that you visit in the morning. Most of the Cenotes are terribly overrun in the afternoon. If you want to come in the afternoon, then remember that many Cenotes close at 4 or 5 pm.
The Gran Cenote (often called the Grand Cenote) is something of the classic among the Cenotes around Tulum. We were there in the afternoon – our mistake! At this time the whole place is like an amusement park. There were masses of people on site and the noise level was correspondingly high.
Before you can walk down the stairs to the Cenote, you first have to take a shower (even your hair must be wet). This serves to protect flora and fauna and is also controlled on site by two watchers. The water is crystal clear and wonderfully refreshing. Diving is not possible, the water is much too shallow. You can rest on a large meadow after swimming and soak up some sun.
Given the crowds of people, it’s a miracle that we managed to get a picture without people. Our tip: come in the morning, then you can enjoy this beautiful place in peace. In a separate area you can also observe turtles – so be sure not to miss that!
Information about visiting the Gran Cenote
Address: On the road from Tulum to Cobá (on the right), about 5 kilometres outside of Tulum
Getting there: From Tulum Pueblo by car (about 5 minutes) or by bike (about 15 minutes), free parking is available
Admission: 300 Pesos per person; Snorkelling equipment and lockers cost extra (all were given during our visit)
A slightly different, but very interesting Cenote is the Cenote Carwash (sometimes also called Cenote Aktun Ha). To those unfamiliar with Cenotes, this one looks more like a small lake than a Cenote. It is not the classic cave-like Cenote and thus not as spectacular as other Cenotes. But that does not change the fact that you can have a beautiful swim in it. Apparently there are even a species of small (but harmless) crocodiles, which live here – but we did not see them.
Information about visiting the Cenote Carwash
Address: On the road from Tulum to Cobá (on the left), about 8 km outside of Tulum
Getting there: From Tulum Pueblo by car (about 10 minutes) or by bike (about 25 minutes), free parking is available
Admission: 100 Pesos per person
The third Cenote we visited is called Cenote Calavera. Of all those mentioned above, it is least suitable for swimming and snorkelling. The reason being: it’s very dark and there are hundreds of bats buzzing all over the cave. In addition, during our visit, the water was not very clear.
But in saying that, the Cenote does offers something special: With a little courage, you can jump into a small hole in the ground and land a few metres below in the Cenote’s basin. The Cenote is also very popular with divers. We were there at 9am in the morning and were the only visitors together with another couple.
Information to visit the Cenote Calavera
Address: On the road from Tulum to Cobá (on the right), about 2km outside of Tulum
Getting there: From Tulum Pueblo by car (about 5 minutes) or by bike (about 15 minutes), free parking is available
Admission: 250 Pesos per person
4. Mayan sites in Tulum and Around
Mayan ruins of Tulum
No Mayan site in Yucatán can match this spectacular location right on the rocky cliffs. In our opinion, a visit to the ruins of Tulum should certainly not be missed. In an architectural sense, there are more impressive ruins in the Yucatán region. But that does not matter, because the stunning backdrop here certainly makes up for that.
A visit to the ruins takes place along a kind of circular route. We recommend that you schedule around 1.5 hours for it. You can go swimming down the beach – so don’t forget your swimwear if you want to swim. What you should know: due to the proximity of the ruins to Tulum and also to Playa del Carmen, this means that getting up early is required if you want to avoid the large crowds of tourists.
Tips on visiting the Mayan site of Tulum to escape the crowds:
- Come early! The area opens at 8am – we were there shortly before 8am, and at this time of day, the site is reasonably quiet on the site. But only for a short time – from about 10am it is jam-packed!
- Do not come on Sunday! Mexicans have free entry on this day of the week and you can expect to see more people on Sunday than on any other day.
Information about visiting the Mayan site of Tulum:
Admission: 80 Pesos
Arrival: about 10 minutes by car from Tulum Pueblo or depending on the location 5-30 minutes from Tulum Beach
Parking: 100 Pesos (You have to park a little further away from the ticket office and walk the rest of the way, which takes about 5-10 minutes. Beware of the parking scam and don’t pay more than 100 Pesos).
If you prefer to visit a more remote ruin site from Tulum, we would recommend Cobá to you. These Mayan ruins lie inland and are surrounded by jungles.
Unfortunately you can no longer climb the highest pyramid (“Nohoch Mul”). The whole thing was a bit adventurous, as the ruins are very steep. We would even say that the ascent to the Nohoch-Mul pyramid in Cobá was the craziest part of our Yucatán journey.
In case it should be allowed again: From above, you have an amazing view over the jungle just waiting for you. Be careful when descending, as you tend to look down too often and can quickly lose your balance. Side stepping down or walking down backwards helps with a stability and for safety there is also a rope to hold on to. Double caution is advised when it rains (as it was the case with us), because the stones then become very slippery.
The site of the Cobá Ruins is very extensive, which is why few explore it on foot. Therefore, shortly after the entrance you will come across the possibility to either rent a bike or to be guided by a rider on a cycle rickshaw. We opted for the latter. Payment is made at the end. The advantage of exploring with a bicycle rickshaw: You don’t have to worry about directions or getting lost, because the driver knows where to go and brings you to the highlights stress-free.
Not only are the big pyramids worth seeing but also the small ruins. For your visit, you should plan to spend at least two hours there. It took us about 1.5 hours on the rickshaw and at the end, explored the ruins near the entrance by foot. Cobá is no secret, but the crowds of visitors is more bearable.
Information about visiting the ruins of Cobá
Admission: 80 Pesos
Transport on site: best with the bike rickshaw along with a driver (140 Pesos per hour) or by bike (both rental stations are just after the entrance)
Arrival: approx. 45 minutes by car from Tulum Pueblo or with the ADO-bus
Parking: 60 Pesos (There is a large parking lot with barriers at the entrance.)
5. Restaurants and Cafés in Tulum: Our Tips
With the large selection of restaurants and cafes in Tulum you can quickly lose track. The good news: There is something for everyone in terms of taste and budget. Since Tulum is very popular with expats, you will also find plenty of options outside of Mexican cuisine.
The little cabin just off the main street of Tulum Beach has become an Instagram hotspot in recent years. We only became aware of this when, we witnessed several (sometimes questionable) photoshoots within a very short time, while enjoying our Açai Bowl.
Nonetheless, Matcha Mama is worth a visit. Freshly squeezed juices, smoothies and, of course, smoothie bowls are served here. Since everything is freshly made, it takes a little longer than usual, but that doesn’t matter. The space here is unfortunately very limited. There are only six swings and a few isolated stools to sit on.
Address: Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila (= Beach Road), Kilometre 8.2
Prices: Açai Bowl about 200 Pesos, Green Smoothie about 120 Pesos
Hartwood is currently one of Tulum’s trendiest restaurants. This means that people are queuing up to eat here and without reservation you have little chance of securing a place. Even after our visit, we still didn’t quite understand why the restaurant experienced such an exponential hype.
The food is delicious, no question. We ate very well. However, the price level is really over the top. We paid about 90 euros (including tips) for two people. But when we would looked at what we paid for, we’d only ordered and shared a starter and a main course with a side dish. Unfortunately, there is no classic menu. Instead, the waiter brings a large board and explains the individual daily specials. Also there are only a few vegetarian dishes, most of them are fish and meat dishes. Our conclusion: you get really delicious food here, but whether or not it’s worth the money, is debatable.
Address: Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila (= Beach Road), Kilometre 7.6
Prices: Cocktails about 200 Pesos, food between 350 and 700 Pesos
Del Cielo is a pretty hyped up breakfast bar in Tulum Pueblo. The menu is very extensive: everything from avocado toast to porridge and granola. The dishes were delicious. There’s plenty of fresh smoothies and juices to drink, as well as good coffee.
Del Cielo was quite busy during our visit, so we found the atmosphere a bit too hectic and the noise level a bit too loud. The indoor lighting was personally a little too dim, but the outdoor terrace and seating was much nicer.
Address: Avenida Satélite Sur 5, 77780 Tulum (Tulum Pueblo)
Prices: Superbowl (vegan with coconut yoghurt) 180 Pesos
The El Asadero is actually a popular steak restaurant, but there was plenty of choice for us as vegetarians too. It was recommended to us by our hotel staff. The prices are fair, the ambience quite international, and the staff there very friendly. As a welcome starter, they serve nachos with five different dips. Conclusion: very solid and thoroughly recommended.
Address: Avenida Satélite Norte, 77780 Tulum (Tulum Pueblo)
Prices: 350 Pesos for 2 dishes and 2 corona
6. Staying in Tulum: Our Accommodation Tips
We spent a total of four nights at the Hotel Biwa Tulum. It is located in Tulum Pueblo and not along Tulum beach. (We’ll get to the advantages and disadvantages between Tulum Pueblo and Tulum Beach soon.) We would have imagined the Biwa Tulum a bit smaller in scale, but we felt very comfortable. The rooms are huge (even though we had a standard double room) and the bed is very comfortable.
The roof terrace is great. They also serve breakfast, which we personally found could do with some improvement. The selection was too modest, so we ended up at the nearby Art Club on the third day. However, the staff were super friendly and accommodating. There is also a pool in the courtyard, which we did not test. You can also borrow free bicycles. All in all, very good value for money and ideally located if you want to stay in Tulum Pueblo.
You can book the hotel here: Biwa Tulum
Where to stay: Tulum Pueblo or Tulum Beach?
Most hotels are located either in Tulum Pueblo (i.e. in the city) or along the street of Tulum Beach. Of course, now comes the question: which area is better to stay in? We summarise the advantages and disadvantages of both.
Staying in Tulum Pueblo (City Centre)
The city centre of Tulum is no gem, but we felt very comfortable here. It consists of one large main street, which sees quite a lot of traffic, as well as some checkered side streets. Tulum Pueblo is definitely the more authentic place to stay.
The price level of accommodation in the city centre is lower but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any nice hotels here – in fact, you get a far better value for money here and the restaurants are generally cheaper.
However, being in the centre of town has both advantages and disadvantages. Of course, the biggest drawback is that you are about 10 minutes drive (or 15-20 minutes by bike) from the beach. So a nice evening stroll from your room to the beach doesn’t quite make the cut.
If you’re travelling by car, then you should know that the parking lot situation in Tulum Beach is a disaster, because you can hardly find a park on the street these days. It used to be that you could, but now you find traffic signs everywhere with the crossed out “E”, which means something like “parking prohibited”. Unfortunately, we travelled mostly by car and often regretted it because you’re probably faster by bike in the end.
Tulum Beach is a one-of-a-kind stretch of road that winds its way for several kilometres along the coast. However, don’t expect this to be the romantic sort because there is a ridiculous amount of unexpected traffic and the road conditions can be rather catastrophic in some sections.
Of course, the biggest advantage of Tulum Beach is that you are near the beach. You don’t have to think about what to pack for your beach day beforehand because you’re not that far from the room anyway. So, if the beach is your holiday purpose, then you are best to go for Tulum Beach.
The biggest drawback to Tulum Beach is the price level – the hotels can be extremely overpriced, which means that you have to fork out extra just to have a certain standard. The same also applies to restaurants, but in our opinion, the price difference for accommodation is much more noticeable.
We would like to add that Tulum Beach is really very touristic and the entire street with all its shops and restaurants is purely aimed at the tourists. Anyway, even if you’re in Tulum Beach for the night, it makes sense to borrow or rent out a bike.
Conclusion: Which Part Should You Stay In?
If you can afford it and the purpose of your visit is to come to Tulum for a beach holiday, then choose Tulum Beach. If you prefer to live in an authentic neighbourhood and do not want to fork out too much money for accommodation then Tulum Pueblo is the better choice.
7. Transport and Getting Around Tulum
If you do not intend to spend the whole time in your hotel, then getting around the area is going to require some means of transport. Many destinations can only be reached by bike and/or car. In addition, Tulum Pueblo and Tulum Beach are actually quite a fair distance apart.
Many hotels offer free bike rental for their guests. Otherwise, there are also some shops where you can borrow bikes. The price for a day is about 150 Pesos. By bike, you can reach many places in both Tulum Pueblo and Tulum Beach, including the ruins of Tulum and some Cenotes. The advantage of going by bike is that you don’t have to worry about parking (this is especially the case for Tulum Beach).
We ourselves travelled the entire time by car, which we picked up right after we arrived at the airport in Cancun. For the more far away destinations, car is the best choice – this is the most comfortable way to reach places like Cobá. It’s also handy for getting to the Cenotes.
In saying that, we would definitely recommend a car as a sole means of transport only if you are doing a proper road trip through Yucatán and thus have a need for it in the first place. The reason: parking situation on some sections of the Tulum Beach Road is more than problematic. Most of the car parks belong to hotels, which of course only hotel guests are allowed to park in. There are a few larger, paid parking spaces that are outrageously expensive (and even then, unfortunately only very few spots). Parking along the street is forbidden almost everywhere (you can see the parking ban at the traffic sign with the crossed out “E”).
You can quite comfortably and affordably get yourself around from A to B with a Taxi. The prices are fair: Depending on how far away you are, but you would pay about 100 to 150 Pesos for the distance between Tulum Pueblo and Tulum Beach. Important: Price are negotiated beforehand.
Disclaimer: Affiliate Links
This blog article contains our personal recommendations in the form of so-called affiliate links. If you book or buy something through the links, we will get a small commission. For you, this does not change the price at all. A million thanks from the both of us!
Have you been to Tulum before? If so, what was your impression? If you have any other tips for Tulum – we would love to read them in the comments below! Much appreciated!