What you need to know about travel to Tulum!

If you’re looking for a Tulum travel guide, I have you covered. If you’re still on the fence, perhaps this info will make that decision easy for you. It is a truly gorgeous Caribbean destination in Mexico that is so close to the US, it is really convenient for us Americans. Last time I was there I was talking to a group of Brits on holiday and they said to me, “You’re so lucky you have this paradise so close to you! All we have is Greece and Spain.” 🙂 It’s all relative, I suppose, but they aren’t wrong that some of us are pretty lucky Tulum is a quick flight away.

Here’s what you need to know that will both inspire you to book your next trip and help you get the most out of it once you’re there. Read time is about 10 minutes and I’ll cover location, weather, vibe, restaurants, hotels and activities.

Tulum Travel Guide

Getting there

Tulum is on the southern part of the Mayan Riviera in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula. The water it sits on is the Caribbean Sea. It’s actually fairly close to Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. In fact, you will fly into Cancun to get there. HOWEVER, it is so different from both of those places and that is why it gets a special blog post all of it’s own. Tulum is a small city but the area with the boutique resorts Tulum is known for is called Beach Road or Boca Paila.

From the Cancun airport, it is about a 90 minute drive straight down the highway. You can rent a car or use a good transfer company. I highly recommend USA Transfers. I’ve used them several times and never had a hiccup. If you want to explore once you’re in Tulum (more on that later), renting a car may be the way to go. It’s a straight shot down one major highway from the airport to the Tulum area. Just be advised that Mexico has a lot of speed bumps (called topes) and they’ll even turn up on highways with high speed limits. KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD! If you don’t, you may take a flying leap on a speed bump. Also, obey the speed limits. If you do get pulled over, you may need to pay a “fine” so keep some cash on you.

Pro Tip: Once you arrive in the airport and get through customs, you will need to go through what some call the “Shark Tank.” This is an area where there are a bunch of people trying to grab your attention and sell you timeshares and taxi rides. KEEP GOING. Go all the way until you are actually outside and that is where all the car transfer companies are.

Beach at Nomade Tulum
Nomade, Tulum

Weather

Tulum has pristine beaches on the Caribbean Sea, jungles right across the street and has tropical weather year-round. The best time to travel to Tulum is December – April. During this time it will be the most mild and the least rainy. October and November may be less rainy. Technically, June – November is considered hurricane season. Be advised that in March it can get windy. I stayed on the north end of Tulum this year in mid-March and it was pretty strong winds the entire time. The upside was that it kept the heat down. The downside was that you were really getting blown about on the beach. Millions of people head to Mexico in March, so don’t let that deter you, just bring a hair tie. 🙂

The vibe

The best part of Tulum is the vibe. Many describe it as “eco chic.” I love boutique hotels, unique restaurants and shops and that is exactly what Tulum is about. If you’re looking for the perfect spot to wear your favorite boho maxi dress and lace-up sandals, you found it. People are both laid back and stylish. The restaurants are inspired by the natural surroundings yet still gourmet. The hotels are lux but also totally eco. When you’re really in the heart of Tulum Beach Road you won’t find any of the large, all-inclusive mega resorts. The hotel/resorts are all boutique and fairly small. Tulum Beach Road is all about integrating luxury with nature. It’s honestly an Instagrammer’s paradise.

During the day you can walk or bike to the beach and find everything from yoga to green juice to full-on happy hours. Most of the hotels have beds facing the beach. There is also the actual town of Tulum which is inland and more authentic Mexican where you can find cheap and awesome taco stands but this area does not have the same vibe as Beach Road.

Tulum Ruins from ocean view
Tulum Ruins

What to do in the area

For starters, you could just lay on the beach having sips looking out at the turquoise Caribbean Sea. So, that is always an option. BUT, Tulum has some cool things to do that I believe are worth it.

Tulum Ruins

Tulum was built by the Mayans and one of their beautiful temples and 13th century villages stands today in ruins overlooking the sea. It is only about a 15 minute drive from Beach Road. You can take a taxi to get there if you didn’t rent a car. You’ll take in some history and beautiful views. There is a path through the complex where you walk, so it’s easy to navigate. Get there EARLY. Ideally when it opens. This will minimize crowds and the heat won’t be as bad as it is mid-day. Check the website for the current opening times.

Cenotes

All around the Yucatan Peninsula there are beautiful cenotes which translates to “sinkhole” in Mayan. They come in all shapes and sizes but usually are marked by clear freshwater pools and rocky formations. My favorite of the ones I’ve seen is Gran Cenote. That one has both an outdoor natural pool and a little bit of cave, but no bats. You can snorkel which is pretty cool too. You won’t see tropical fish but you will see really cool rock formations under the water. A couple of hours here is good. 

Nature Parks

When you’re in the area, you’ll see tons of advertisements for Xel-Ha, XCaret, and other “Disney-like” nature parks. My advice is to skip those. They are touristy and crowded. I recommend visiting Aktun Chen. This park is way less crowded and has zip lines, an underground cave and a small cenote. The cave is millions of years old and made National Geographic’s list of Top 10 Underground Walks! It’s really beautiful. They also have animals you can get up close to and pet. The baby monkeys were adorable! We spent about a half-day here and it was super rewarding.

Monkeys Mexico Tulum Aktun Chen
Wildlife in Aktun Chen
Cave-Aktun-Chen-Tulum-Mexico
The Cave at Aktun Chen

If you want to do some activities but prefer to go with a guide, I’d recommend YucaTreks. They have some great package 1/2 day and full day tours. I did the Tulum Lite tour and it was great. We saw the ruins and Gran Cenote in one morning. Afterwards, they took us to a beautiful stretch of beach and made us a delicious lunch, stopping at a bodega for $1 beers on the way. They also have good snorkeling and sailing options. Up the coast in Akumal, there are awesome sea turtles to snorkel with. They were huge!

Nightlife

There are lots of really cool restaurants along Beach Road. You can pretty much make a night out of dressing up (beach chic, of course) and going out to one of the restaurants along the jungle road. One thing to keep in mind is that although you are in Mexico, this area is kind of pricey and also has the big-city wait times. So, just know that going in and plan to have a cocktail or walk around while you wait for your table. Some places take reservations. Hartwood is the current “must go” spot but you’ll have to work at getting a reservation. I tried nabbing one 4 months out and they responded and told me to email back 2 months ahead and then I when I reached back out, I couldn’t get anyone to respond. So, I missed Hartwood.

The decor in the Tulum restaurants is on-point. Most are outside and set within the jungle with great lighting and boho vibes. The cocktails are complex and usually based on the tropical surroundings. Nightlife in the area dies down fairly early. This is not a party-all-night kind of place. But Gitano is open the latest and has a disco ball in the middle of the jungle! It’s a good spot to end the night.

Pro Tip: Wear mosquito repellant. The restaurants will light mosquito coils and citronella, but you’re still in the jungle. I wore Ben’s 30 Deet and it worked like a charm. And, I’m a complete mosquito magnet. Check Amazon for the best prices.

Some top restaurants (at least as of 2017):
Gitano Tulum Bar
Gitano, Tulum

There are countless others, though. Eater did a great article on the top Tulum restaurants. I recommend reading before you go. If you don’t want to mess with that scene there is also a place called Mateo’s that is more casual and laid back. For ultimate laid-back, go to Tulum town (inland). There you’ll save lots of money and get awesome tacos in a casual atmosphere.

Shopping

Tulum is known for chic boutiques integrated with the jungle atmosphere. You can walk Beach Road and hit up some favorites while you wait for your table. They’re all pretty pricey and specialty, but definitely fun to look at regardless of it you buy. Here are some good ones (again, as of 2017):

Josa Boutique Tulum
Josa Boutique, Tulum

Hotels

Tulum has my absolute favorite kind of hotel – cool, unique, boutique but still luxury. There are tons of great places and it’s hard to go wrong. You’ll want to double check to make sure they have A/C if that’s important to you (some really live up to the “eco” in eco chic). I would recommend making sure it’s on a good stretch of beach and has ample space to sit outside. Search for places along Beach Road, ideally between Azulik and BeTulum.

Some favorites:
View from Room Nomade Tulum
Nomade, Tulum

Honestly, this post is already so long and I could go on and on. This Tulum travel guide will help, but it’s really hard to go wrong with anything you do there. Keep your eyes peeled for good flight deals and plan ahead for high-season since the hotels are small.  I promise, you will not be disappointed!

Comment with any questions and I’m happy to help! If you are thinking about doing a vacation rental in Tulum instead of a hotel, but can’t decide which one is better, check out this article for tips on how to make the right decision.

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Marissa is a travel consultant and digital marketing professional from Chicago, USA. Her business, Sips & Sojourn, specializes in helping busy people with full-time jobs travel more and travel better. Travel is Marissa's absolute passion but she believes you can hold down a successful career AND travel the globe. Marissa enjoys unique destinations, design hotels, sampling a culture's food and drink and meeting local guides focused on small, immersive experiences.

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