This article was written in collaboration with Azedo.com - Your Vacation Starts Here.
'I am not coming home'.
That is what I thought to myself the moment that I felt the salty Caribbean breeze run through me. Talk about a serious wanderlust fulfillment. To say the least, Tulum is a magical place. Pack your bag, leave the heels and dress shoes at home, read this guide and prepare yourself to relax ...
Part of the reason for Tulum's beauty is that it is not as commercialized as Playa Del Carmen nor Cancun. You will not necessarily find the large all inclusive modern day resorts but this is a destination that accommodates all people. From the luxurious travelers or honeymooners to the budget friendly back-packers to the middle men just looking for a place to crash with some friends.
Tulum has it all!
How to get there?
Tulum is about an hour to an hour-and-a-half south of Cancun and not too far from Playa Del Carmen if you are looking for a day trip. There are a few ways you may get there, however, my suggestion would be to fly into Cancun, rent a car, and hit the road south. (Side note: be prepared to wait some time at the car rental place - welcome to Mexico). There is one road to exit the airport and that road will take you directly to magical Tulum. Other options may be to fly into Cozumel, take a ferry to Playa Del Carmen, and then drive south with a car or bus.
Renting a car is not all that expensive. It is affordable for even budget travelers. For 5 days we rented a car for about $150 dollars total and gas was also fairly cheap. I recommend you don't book in advance as you can haggle prices at the airport car rental center. "El Burro Blanco" (what we decided to name our rental car) was a trooper and really allowed us to see Tulum as a visitor but also as a local.
Depending on what time you land, there are some things you may like to do on your way down. The Yucatan has a widespread amount of the most amazing underwater sink holes and caves better known as cenotes. Many which allow you swim and/or scuba dive in. So, don't forget your mask and snorkel because you do not want to miss this! Honestly, choosing which cenote to go to was one of the toughest decisions as there are a numerous amount of them in the most pure condition of mother natures beauty. Those that you find between Tulum and Playa Del Carmen are a bit more organized and populated with people and those that you find just south of Tulum town are a bit more secluded from the crowds and untouched hidden gems. (For more information on the best cenotes, see 'things to do' below)
There is one way into the main strip of Tulum Beach and one way out. One road and one street full of shops, the cutest beach shacks, and the friendliest crowds. There is also Tulum town which is just off the main road from where you enter the beach strip. The famous ruins are on the north side of the beach road and as you head further down you will find more restaurants, resorts, aroma therapy spas, smaller cenotes, a biosphere reserve, and deserted beaches. Tulum is your tropical forest right on the crystal blue caribbean ocean.
Best time of year to go:
For those people that prefer to travel with less of a crowd and without the super hot weather, you will find that it is best to visit Tulum between October through December. During this time you will truly be able to to take advantage of the sea breezes, good weather, and the less crowded beach scene while avoiding most of the rainy season and the hotter summer temperatures. In these months you will also get the benefit of the post hurricane-season breezes and reasonable priced hotels. During the moths of January through May, you will find that the crowds start to pick up a bit, the ruins are very crowded, and Tulum street will have people exploring all around. Personally, I visited Tulum in March, which apparently is prime 'peak-season', however, it was not too over-crowded. Although the streets were full, it was still a very pleasant and relaxed atmosphere. Everything was a bit more upbeat with beautiful sunny and breezy days. As most places in the Caribbean, the months of June through the beginning of September tend to be a bit more rainy. The nice weather will stick around through the morning and in the afternoon you will start to feel and see the tropical showers roll in. However, during this time you will find the lowest hotel rates and if you do not mind a cooling afternoon rain shower and super humid temperatures, summer time is your time.
On September 16th, The Mexican culture has their Independence day so the streets are packed with midnight celebrations and a lively atmosphere.
Tulum Money Guide
The local currency in Mexico is the Mexican Peso. Many places, especially in the well-known hotels in Tulum, Cancun, and Playa Del Carmen, will accept dollars. However, it is best to have Pesos so that you are able to go to the local places and avoid any extra charges. Some of the larger, more developed hotels will have places for you to exchange your dollars and the ATMs are easy to access as well however you will be charged a conversion fee. My suggestion would be to bring dollars and exchange them at an airport currency exchange. They typically have the best rates and will charge you less then pulling money out of an ATM. If you do happen to miss the currency exchange at the airport, do not fret! There are a few places on Tulum street where you are able to exchange - ask your hotel where the nearest currency exchange is. If you do decide to pull money out with a credit or debit card, do not forget to inform your bank that you are traveling internationally. It is important to know that although there are many ATMs on Tulum street, some exchange for only dollars and some only for pesos. So, keep an eye out for whichever currency you are looking for - the ATM machines will say it on there.
Peso bills come in 500, 200,100, 50, and 20 denominations and the coins come in 10, 5, 2, 1, and 50 centavo. When you go to a local place in Tulum town you will typically find that they charge at local prices rather than tourist pricing. However, since Tulum has become such a hot spot more recently, many places charge standard pricing - not overly cheap nor super expensive. If you are looking to eat budget friendly with a local dining experience, I would suggest to explore off the beaten path for local spots versus where you see tourists.
Where to stay?
As mentioned previously, Tulum accommodates people traveling for all sorts of reasons. Whether it be your honeymoon or with a group of friends or for a yoga retreat or even just because you are a lover of vegan food. Tulum is your perfect simple getaway. Depending on your budget, there is a wide-range of places to stay. Most well-known and most popular is Azulik Eco Resort and Maya Spa - it is one of kind. A friend actually referred me here and I was blown away by it's uniqueness. It is a beachfront tree house with a swing on each balcony and every room has its very own pool. As you can imagine, you might pay your traditional high-class budget for a place like this but maybe not too crazy for some.
I was traveling with my boyfriend and was fortunate enough to find one of the few hidden accommodations to live like a real 'Tulum-ian'. I am a firm believer that the best places are not overly advertised. We had booked the trip the night before we left so we were not exactly sure where to stay or even what to do - just winging it! Sure enough, we found a hidden gem! Towards the end of the beach road, it becomes less of a crowd and a bit away from the larger hotels but also still accessible to walk to the main part of the strip. What said 'camping' wasn't actually your traditional tent camping. It was the most rad loft style bungalows with a mattress upstairs, mosquito net to protect us from all sorts of flying creatures, a cool ocean breeze, and the perfect combination of serenity. However, this may not be for all people considering it is however a shared bathroom style and outside showering area but if you want a real Tulum experience, I most definitely recommend Turquesa Tulum Jungle Camping.They even have an agreement with the resort next door which gives you full access to the their beach and amenities.
What to do?
The cenotes are a sacred secret swim spot in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, a true escape to the fresh water turquoise pools of the world given to us by mother nature. So they say, this is where the Mayans communicated with the 'Gods' - better see it to believe! I am no history buff but sounds pretty magical if you ask me. Since the Tulum area is a bit off grid, a lot of water comes from these cenotes. There are many hidden ones and also some larger ones where you can swim in the crisp mineral-rich waters of the underworld surrounded by the sounds and smell of the tropical jungle trees. Personally, my favorite was Dos Ojos which translates to 'two eyes'. The fresh, cool waters are crystal clear and you can see fish, really cool rock formations, and dropdown that goes further into the earth with divers coming out. Sounds pretty freaky if you ask me but also an impeccable experience! Also, if you forget your snorkel gear, you can rent it there!
Before heading off, I most definitely recommend stopping by Cenote El Pit at the end of the dirt road. Many people skip this after spending the day at Dos Ojos but I most definitely recommend a quick trip down the road while you are in the area. It is totally different from the large and wide open cenotes. This is more so a deep and rugged pit of natural mineral water. The chilled air coming up will blow you away. There are other cenotes like Grand Cenote which the one of the largest and most popular. Along with other very small ones in hidden areas that only locals know about. Swimming around in the cenote truly makes you feel like you are lost in another time - it is like swimming through ancient Mayan history.
Beach Cruisin' on Two Wheels
Many visitors of Tulum Beach choose to rent bikes and I most definitely recommend it. Although it is also accessible to walk, renting beach cruisers is a fun way to get around. You can find many places to rent bikes once you enter the beach area. Traffic by car can get a little crazy as there is only one road and it is usually backed up by water trucks delivering water. Remember, this place is 100% off grid.
For all my Yogis Out There
In general, Tulum will make you become a more euphoric form of yourself. The endless options to take on the love of yoga in Tulum will fill your body with desire. As many people go to Tulum for Yoga retreats, there are also many 'by donation' classes that are not always advertised on-line but as you walk the streets you will see the signs.
I went for a walk one morning and was lucky enough to run into a hand-written sign that said 'Yoga by donation class'. It was an hour-and-a-half class in a tree-top bungalow with the blue ocean directly in front. It was full of couples, solo females, and people of all ages. The instructor provided energy that made you sink into moments of your present life and embrace everything around you. It was truly a touching experience and unlike any other yoga class I had taken. After this class, I happen to walk by Yaan Wellness, energy, and healing spa which is the most incredible place to relax and be pampered, with yoga classes among the treetops of the forest, and great treatments and massages available.
Water Fun Activities and the Ruins
Tulum offers a wide variety of fun on the water. From kite surfing to scuba diving to paddle boarding on the biosphere reserve, you will be overwhelmed with the endless amount of things to do. While paying an entrance to the ruins, you also have access to the beach right below the ruins so while you are swimming you are surrounded with a piece of Mayan history. I suggest packing a day bag and going to check out the ruins and hit the beach below afterwards! Side note, get there early as this is the main attraction of Tulum. Watch out for selfie sticks!
A Secret into the Mayan Traditions: Temazcal
There are many Mayan traditions that still live on in Mexico. One of my favorites happens to be what is known as the Temazcal Ceremony. If you have not heard of it, you have not experienced anything like it and the beauty in it is indescribable. You sit in a heated dome while purifying the body and mind, heal the sick, and provide a spiritual haven to our body. A must do during the full moon.
For more information: https://themexicanlabyrinth.com/2015/01/18/feeling-the-heat-in-a-traditional-mayan-temzacal/
The Secret Road South on the Boca Paila Peninsula
Not many venture far south of the main hotel strip of Tulum. Seriously, you are missing out if you don't. In the past years, Tulum was thought to be a dusty and beaten up dirt road with a few cabanas and no electricity. Now, if you drive south enough on the Boca Paila peninsula, you will still find just that. Car or no car, your time in Tulum will be the most incredible experience - you most definitely will not want to return. However, if you happen to rent a car, I most definitely suggest exiting the comfort of the now discovered Tulum area and run your wheels to the end of the peninsula. And when I say the end, I don't mean just ten minutes to the end. Pack lunch, towels, and your hammock because this is an unorganized secret Tulum adventure that most don't make happen. The more south you go you will start to notice that the hotels, resorts, and civilization will die out a bit. You will see a camp site, a small cenote, and eventually the biosphere reserve. Which, by the way, is a great spot for a killer sunset over the mangroves. Then, you approach a bumpy, dirt road with unsealed, pot-holes. You go back and forth whether to keep driving or turn back. Keep driving, my friend. Yes, you will be dodging crater like pot holes. Yes, you will be dodging rocks in the road. Yes, your car will get extremely dusty. And, yes, it will take you some time to get down there depending on how often you choose to stop. But, I promise that it is worth it. If El Burro Blanco could make it, so can you. So they say, life is about the journey, not the destination ... right? Your time will feel endless and forget about phone service - it will just be you, the ocean blue, and the green jungle. Along the way, you will come by deserted beaches and the most perfect spots to hang your hammock and start your picnic with no other souls in sites. The water is the perfect Caribbean turquoise color and your body will be filled with complete serenity away from the crowds. Your destination is what feels to be like the end of the earth and finally you will arrive in a small fishing town by the name of Punta Allen. This is the absolute epitome of small-town Mexico giving you a feeling that you have just stepped back into uncivilized time with ramshackle houses and sandy streets. There are a handful of locals there, a small run-down school in the center, old fishing pangas washed up on the shore, and abandoned buildings. The drive back will feel even longer back to civilization but as that worry subsides you will forever look back on that adventure and crave it all over again. It is one hell of a beautiful adventure if you are up for it.
Eating and Outing
This is the infamous question. If you haven't been to Mexico, you have not actually eaten Mexican food. That is my theory. I have traveled to 18+ countries and eaten 'Mexican' food in many places but nothing compares to when you eat a meal in a home country. I must say that my favorite place had to have been La Eufemia. I had never heard about it before going to Tulum but the simple sign with green VW bus parked outside and the sandy pathway to beach drew me in. "Hippy Chit Taco Boutqiue" - I had no idea what to expect quite honestly. However, this was the best place we could have stopped out. And apparently, we weren't the only ones to uncover this gem. It was a shack on the beach with beach bags nearly sitting in the water with Spanish music playing, the most fun bartenders, and the BEST tacos I have ever had in my entire life. I don't usually like going back to a place more that once but we went back nearly every day for cheap and delicious tacos that the workers started to become family. I never laughed so much in my life. Oh, and did I mention the Margaritas? Not just any margaritas but if you are up for a zing, the Jalapeno Margarita is where it is at. You spend all day and all night here and make friends that will last a life time.
Many dinner places happen to stop serving food around 10. My boyfriend and I were not interested in eating at the larger commercialized restaurants but rather the local spots that we could find. It was about 9:45PM and we were starved - not knowing where to grab dinner. What we thought was going to be a 'hangry' night of us eating junk food actually ended up being the most amazing dinner meal we had. We had no idea the name of it but we called it Mamma's place because it was a family run restaurant and the mother cooked us the most delicious meal possible. If you have never had Mole in Mexico - you must. For all of you foodies out there, I do not think you will find better a better mole then right here. If you do not know what mole is, imagine a burrito covered in what looks like chocolate sauce which a hint of sweetness. On our last day, we made it a point to stop there to tell her that her mole was the most amazing and find out the actual name of the restaurant so that we could share it with others - El Tábano.
If you couldn't tell yet, Mexico brought many delicious, mouthwatering tastes to my life. In Tulum town you will also find many traditional, off-the beaten path, local spots to eat at. But, we had an experience that was out of this world. I am nearly positive that no other tourists had eaten there before. After walking around the town for nearly two hours, we chose to walk down a road of abandoned buildings, stray animals, children running around barefoot, and a dusty road. We came across a poster board that had five food items listed with pricing in pesos next to it. We were curious what it was all about so we peaked in. A man by the name of Christiano approached us with a bright smile and asked us to join him in his backyard for dinner. Him and his elderly father made us a home cooked Mexican meal with eight different varieties of homemade salsas directly from his home kitchen. We were blown away with the mouthwatering tastes and the kindness that he brought with it all. At the end of the meal, on a handwritten note he wrote please 130 pesos which is much less then ten dollars for a table full of the most delicious traditional Mexican meal in form his home. We were left speechless by this moment. I can not name the exact location but if you see this man around Tulum, make conversation and suggest a meal together, his smile and family cooking is something you will never forget.
Before leaving Tulum we knew we wanted to eat some amazing vegan food since it is such a big scene there. But, where was our golden spot? After talking with locals, we discovered a place called Restaurare. If you do not walk by it and if you not hear about it you will not even know it is there. It is nestled into the trees of the jungle and the tables are built around the tree stumps. The people that work there are beyond kind and informative on their favorite vegan dishes. We ordered our servers favorite Mushroom ceviche which was Oyster mushrooms marinated with cucumber and lime with Yuca chips. I made sure to order an extra side of Yuca chips because they could not have possibly been any more fresh. Also, as many people worry about the mosquites in Mexico, they made their own repellent out of all holistic ingredients. Restaurare was the cherry on top of our last night's dinner. Whether you are a lover of vegan food or not, your mouth will explode with flavors.
One last food suggestion if you are on the hunt for the best huevos rancheros, Zamas is your place. The perfect breaky spot to watch the sun come up from the horizon and eat the best huevos rancheros you could possible imagine.
As far as nightlife goes, most known is Casa Jaguar. The atmosphere is so unique, the people are so kind, and the cocktails are so delicious. They also serve food until about 10 although I did not have the chance to eat here. You are literally dining in the jungle, the atmosphere is incredible. However, do not expect local pricing here. This is the jet set of Tulum and the nights here are known to get wild. Don't worry what happens at Casa Jaguar, stays at Casa Jaguar.
All in all, Tulum's white sandy beaches and laid back vibe is perfect for all adventurers. It is a place that forces you kick back, relax, and enjoy the simple life. From the Mexican authenticity to the endless amounts of things to do and see it is a place that explores endless parts of our inner self. Tulum is my happy place and I think that you will find that same feeling. It is the perfect escape! Let the salty Caribbean breeze take over you and sounds of the jungle green sink in. Peaceful vibes will surround you.