Tulum is one of the hottest vacation destinations these days. Situated along the coast of the Caribbean Sea, Tulum is definitely the jewel of Mexico’s Riviera Maya. With its pristine coastline and historical ruins, it’s hard to not fall in love with the magic in Tulum.
Back in the day, Tulum used to be a hidden gem. A laid back getaway that only a few knew about. However, due to the rise of social media and word of mouth, Tulum has transformed into a hotspot for high-end dining, boutique shopping, and yoga retreats.
To be candid, we were both looking forward to visiting Tulum. It was hyped up all over social media and became a destination high on our bucket list. Whilst we absolutely fell in love with the beauty of the town, we did not really enjoy the overall ‘vibe’ of the place. Don’t get us wrong, Tulum is home to some of the most stunning beaches, historical ruins, and fantastic restaurants we have been to on our travels. That being said, it lacked a feeling of authenticity. So much of it felt curated like a perfect Instagram feed. We got the sense that this was a destination built for ‘influencers’ the moment that we figured out that nearly every trendy restaurant or hotel charged astronomical cover charges for just entering the premises.
Tulum Ultimate Travel Guide
Want to visit Pablo Escobar’s mansion…there’s a fee for that. Want to sip cocktails on the net overlooking sunset….there’s a fee for that. Want to enter the beach….90% of the time there’s a fee for that! Nearly every place we went had a fee and it made the entire experience feel like a rip off at times. Not only that, but it’s very hard to find the local charm of Tulum. We noticed that the majority of travellers were couples or families. Not as many backpackers, and solo adventurers. This would be the ideal holiday vacation for a romantic getaway. If you are willing to spend some money, this is also likely the perfect destination for you. Nevertheless, if you are a slow budget traveller like ourselves and enjoy the local charm of the places you visit…we would not necessarily recommend a trip to Tulum.
That being said, we still made the most out of our two weeks there, and ultimately, we were happy we got to finally see it for ourselves. We both collectively agreed we would go back to Tulum one day for a romantic holiday when we had the proper funds to do so! Nevertheless, below is our guide for all the best things to do and places to eat during your time in Tulum. We hope this helps you plan your next vacation to Mexico!
P.S. If you want to find a place that was similar to Tulum back in the day (before it got popular)… a laid back, low key paradise, check out Holbox. Trust us… You’ll thank us later.
Things To Do
Kaan Luum Lagoon
This lagoon is located about 15 minutes away from the heart of Tulum town. It is definitely one of the more underrated, and lesser-known tourist attractions which is why we were so happy to find it. We arrived in the late morning and had the place nearly to ourselves. With two large wooden docks, you can bring lunch, a towel, and a good book and sit out there for an entire afternoon. The water at the lagoon is extremely shallow and clear which makes for some amazing photos! They also have swings and kayaks for rent, if you wish to explore the outer banks of the lagoon. If you have access to a car or are willing to grab a taxi, we highly recommend you stop by the lagoon for some afternoon relaxation.
Did you know that Mexico is home to over 6,000 cenotes? What is a cenote you may ask? Cenotes are natural pits or sinkholes that result from the collapse of limestone, which exposes natural clear groundwater beneath it. The cenotes found in and around Tulum are some of the best in all of Mexico! We spent an entire day cenote hopping and it was an unforgettable adventure.
Now, when it comes to choosing which cenote to visit, that can be difficult. There are so many! Below are the ones we opted to see and we can genuinely say, none of them disappointed us and each was unique in their own way!
We started our day out at Dos Ojos because it was one of the more popular cenotes and we wanted to be sure we got there before the crowds. It was so incredible! We were the only ones there for about 45 minutes, as we swam around and explored the depths of the cenote. What we liked about Dos Ojos was that there were two areas, hence the name ‘dos Ojos’ which translates to ‘two eyes’ in English. One of the sides is known to be popular for divers and it gets busy around 10 am.
This is another extremely popular cenote in the area. We actually opted not to visit this one only because we heard it was relatively similar to Dos Ojos and we wanted to try to find some more off the beaten path.
This is a really fun cenote in the shape of a giant circle. The only way to get in… is to jump! Just kidding they have a ladder if needed, but if you’re brave enough it’s really fun to jump in!
This cenote is a bit of a drive out of the way, but believe us when we say it was one of the most spectacular places we have been in all of our travels. This cenote is deep underground with a hole in the ceiling that illuminates sun beams down in the middle of the day. The cenote is a giant cave and something truly remarkable. The water inside was pretty cold and we decided to just dip our toes in, but we would both suggest a day trip to this one if you have the time.
The Tulum Ruins are famous because they are ancient ruins located right along the coastline. These ruins are absolutely stunning to see and we definitely recommend you take time first thing in the morning to take a look. After a trip to the ruins, you will understand the rich history of Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
The Muyil Ruins are similar to the Tulum Ruins however, a little lesser-known. These ruins are about a 15-minute drive away from the centre of Tulum. Far less crowded and a beautiful place to walk and explore. It was really quiet there and we enjoyed exploring with fewer people around.
One of the best parts about Tulum is the clear ocean water and white sand beaches. The coastline of Tulum is to die for. Upon arrival to Tulum, we were quick to understand that in order to get access to the beach you have to either be staying at a hotel along the beach strip, or you have to purchase food & beverages at the restaurants, or hotels with it. There were pockets of beach you could get access to for free, however, these parts of the beach were not as nice and picturesque as the rest.
After spending 2 weeks in Tulum, the two of us mastered the best way to get down to the beach and enjoy a day at the sea.
The further down you drive, the nicer the beach. Once you arrive in Tulum, you’ll understand what we mean. Essentially, there is only one road along the beach area. The further down you drive, the nicer the beach will be. We personally found the nicest beach to be in front of the Nomade hotel.
Ride a bike down, or drive down and pay for parking. If you are staying in the central town of Tulum you will need to either drive to the beach if you have a car or rent a bike. Biking to the beach can take roughly 20-30 minutes…so you will get a workout in. We rented a car and found that for about $20 USD we could get full-day parking right in front of the best beach we found. Yes… $20 is right. This is what we meant by feeling ripped off.
Drive to Los Amigos Beach, just past Nomade and Casa Malca! This is where we parked and to get in you don’t have to pay too much. Our tip is to walk through and pretend you are staying there to get to the beach. Once on the beach, you can find the day beds and umbrellas and ask one of the servers if you can sit there! It is important to note that they do require you to purchase at least one drink per person, but this was by far the most affordable and reasonable spot we could find, plus it was on the nicest beach! If you don’t want to pay at all and just want sun you can just walk onto the beach and once you’re facing the water turn and walk to your right. There are plenty of spots to lay down a towel and relax.
THE BIGGEST TIP OF ALL!
If you are trying to get into a hotel-like Nomade, or if you try to get beach access through a hotel that you are NOT staying at and you enter through the front…be prepared to pay a hefty cover fee. Anywhere from $100-$200 per person. We really wanted to enjoy lunch at Nomade because we had heard they had a great selection. To get in, we walked along the beach and walked up to their beach-side restaurant as if we were staying there. Nobody questioned us, we got right in and we enjoyed a great lunch without having to pay the cover. So, to get in anywhere without paying, try to do so via the beach, NOT along the street.
Coco Tulum Swings
One of the cutest little beach bars with swings that overlook the water! This was a super cute place to watch the sunset. The two of us enjoyed cocktails there one evening after a long beach walk and it was the perfect place to end our day.
Azulik is a hotel that is seen all over social media. It was designed to reconnect with nature and its open wooden architecture is out of this world. We will admit it was pretty spectacular to see. Nevertheless, again, you cannot get in without either staying there or having dinner reservations. Therefore, be prepared to drop a few hundred on the experience. If you want to have sunset cocktails on their rooftop, they also offer this to tourists for $60 per person, not including your drink. For us, this time around we opted out of this experience because we are budget travellers. However, if we were here with family, or on a romantic vacation, we definitely would have dropped some cash to experience it in its entirety.
After being turned away many times throughout the week, George and I became pros at pretending like we were staying in these places. One day we walked right through Azulik on our own and got to see it for ourselves before getting caught. It was a funny memory and although we didn’t get any photos it definitely was a pretty fun experience.
If you want to visit one of the newer rooftops, that hasn’t caught on to charging tourists astronomical cover fees yet…you should definitely grab a drink on the rooftop of Kanan Hotel. This hotel has nest-like tables in the treetops similar to Azulik and it is one of the most beautiful places to sit and watch the sunset. We arrived up there around 5 pm to secure a table and ordered drinks one evening. It was really beautiful and something we definitely recommend you do if you want a similar experience without breaking the bank.
Nomade for Lunch
As we mentioned before, Nomade was a super tasty place to enjoy lunch! If you are able to get beach access stop by for a bite!
Sfer Ik is the free museum next to Azulik designed by the same artist. They offer tourists free access for 15 minutes to walk around and experience. No professional cameras are allowed in, but this is another great way to get an idea of the vibe Azulik has if you’re not willing to pay to enter.
Follow That Dream Sign
What is a trip to Tulum without visiting the infamous Follow That Dream Sign? To find the sign simply type in Lolita Lolita into Google Maps and you will find it. The sign is just an overall great reminder to keep chasing your dreams and it made us happy to drive by every day!
Tulum Ultimate Travel Guide
Where to Eat
If you are a burrito fan you MUST stop by this place for a bite. Their burrito menu is huge and they have vegetarian options too. What we loved most about this place was that the burritos were extremely fair price in terms of restaurants in Tulum, plus it was a short walk from our Air b n B.
Arguably the best pizza place in Tulum. Pizza Manglar is located a bit off the main path and is known mostly by locals. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much, however, when you walk in it’s a super cute outdoor seating vibe. They have a proper woodfire oven and they make some of the best pizza ever! Comparable to any bougie LA pizza joint and again at a fair price. We ate here 3 times. We loved it so much and they even do delivery!
If you like ceviche and real authentic Mexican food, stop by Chamicos for a tasty lunch!
Gitano: If you are looking to dine at one of the trendiest spots in Tulum check out Gitano. Gitano hands down had the cutest ambience and a really tasty well-rounded menu. If you go try their whole roasted fish it’s to die for!
Such a fun bar that serves up some incredible cocktails. If you like Mezcal then definitely stop by. The best part about this bar is the swings! Just don’t drink too much, or you may fall on your butt!
Arca is also one of the better restaurants in Tulum and although on the pricier side, definitely worth it! The menu is seasonal and the plates they dish out are works of art. Some of the best selections of seasonal dishes can be found at Arca.
Similar to Arca, Hartwood is another amazing restaurant which features a seasonal menu. Be sure to arrive right around 5 pm if you want a table. This place is usually pretty packed at dinner time.
This was our go-to spot in the morning! We would start our day out here with a tasty smoothie bowl. It’s also a good spot to sit if you need an afternoon pick me up. There are two locations in Tulum. One in the centre of town and one along the beach. Both are cute!
Raw Love Tulum
If you like smoothie bowls and good matcha lattes, check out Raw Love Tulum. They have some really tasty breakfast options!
Tulum Ultimate Travel Guide
Where To Stay
There are hundreds of hotel options in Tulum. With the rise in tourism, there is definitely something for everyone. Expect to pay more for a room if you are along the beach. For more budget accommodation, you can almost definitely be sure you’ll be staying inland towards the centre of Tulum town.
On our trip, we decided to book a room through Airbnb. We were able to get a pretty good deal with a room around $250 for 5 nights. We will link it here for you if you’re interested. It was a private room with a kitchen in a shared apartment complex with a rooftop pool. We had our own kitchen and private parking for our rental car which was great. See it Here.
Below we will list out some of the more high-end popular places to stay near the beach! If you have the budget, definitely check one of these out!
La Zebra – Click Here
Nomade – Click Here
Casa Malca – Click Here
Azulik – Click Here
Ahau – Click Here
And that concludes our lengthy, yet informative Tulum blog! We hope you guys found some value in this and can’t wait to hear about your adventures in beautiful Tulum. That was Tulum the ultimate travel guide.
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