Mexico is one of our all-time favorite destinations. For Americans, it is so easy to get there. Between Cabo, Todos Santos, Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita, Puerto Escondido, Cancun, Tulum, Merida.. there are so many stunning and beautiful places to visit. We decided to make a Tulum Travel Guide as we have all visited now and know some of the best places to stay, play & eat!
Tulum is a beautiful bohemian paradise, set on the warm crystal-blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. Back in 1990 there were only 2000 residents where as now it has nearly 50,000 full-time people living there. Tulum has BLOWN up in the last few years, especially during the pandemic. Emma was lucky enough to visit Tulum back in 2019 and said that the overall growth of the town and beach areas was insane now. She feels it’s more than doubled the amount of restaurants/bars/activities in the short amount of time.
There are so many stunning beachfront hotels, glamorous villas, yoga studios in the jungle, artsy corners, fresh-water cenotes, restaurants in the sand.. and more. I will share all of our favorites here and some of our TOP tips on how to get the most out of your Tulum vacation.
TIP: Tulum rests on the Caribbean sea and it’s located very close to the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, the water has the most beautiful turquoise color and it’s also very warm. Unfortunately, over the last few years Cancun, Tulum and Playa Del Carmen has been experiencing an influx of seaweed called, Sargassum washing up on shore in huge amounts. It’s a problem that the Mexican government is currently trying to take care of. We were so lucky however because on this trip the seaweed wasn’t as bad as what we’ve heard it can be. I just wanted to make sure to share this as it’s important to know before you book a vacation. There was NO seaweed when we went in February, the winter is supposedly better than the summer.
- Pre-Book your shuttle from the Cancun airport. Make sure it’s a reputable company. One of our friends booked a shuttle & they NEVER showed! Such a bummer and a hassle considering Tulum is about a 2 hour drive from Cancun. A company we recommend booking is CARM (not sponsored, we used them and it was perfect!). You can also book a roundtrip service which is very convenient!
- Pull out cash ahead of time or at the airport. Only use cash when dealing with the cab drivers as they might try to overcharge your credit cards. It’s easier to use cash. Also discuss price before getting in the cab.
- Know that you will most likely get scammed by cab drivers. If you are staying in Tulum town, know that you will need to take a cab (or collectivo if you’re open to it!) to the beach areas. Usually for a small cab this is around $200 pesos ($10 USD) for 3 people. It’s always going to be around $10 whenever you get in a cab, know this.
- Collectivos in Tulum is an affordable and easy way to get around if you are willing to be in a small van packed with people. Usually locals take this to get from one place to another – it’s almost like a small public van system. Plan on paying around $1 US to get from the town to the beachfront.. just stop on the main highway area and they will pick you up if they have space. Make sure they are heading to the beach & not Playa Del Carmen! Also, only do this if you have a couple of people with you. There won’t be space for 10 people.
- Make dinner reservations before your trip.. especially in the busy winter season. The most popular restaurants are pre-booked. Most places are on OpenTable!
- The best time to visit with the best weather is typically January-March. Emma visited in August 2019 and it was SO hot and humid. However, it is cheaper to visit during the summer vs winter – so keep this in mind.
- Don’t drink the tap water.. ever. It’s not safe – don’t even brush your teeth with it. Purchase as many bottles of water at Oxxo/7-11 as possible. Montezuma’s revenge is NOT fun.
- Keep your wits about you. Just like being in a large city you’re unfamiliar with.. if something doesn’t feel right, leave. If you notice sketchy people, leave the situation. At night, make sure you’re in the main areas and don’t go with anyone you don’t know. Better to be with groups vs alone. Don’t be flashy. Tulum has had some issues with cartel violence in the last few years, so keep this in mind. This doesn’t have to do with tourists, but sometimes people can get caught in the middle of a bad situation. Hopefully Quintana Roo can curb these issues soon.
Learn the Language:
The majority of people in Tulum speak English however here are a few terms in Spanish that I think are polite to use:
Hola – Hello
Gracias – Thank you
Como Estas – How are you?
Muy Bien – Very good
Cuanto Cuesta – How much is this?
Buenos Dias/Tardes/Noches – Good Morning/Afternoon/Night
Dónde está el Baño? – Where is the bathroom?
Some of you have expressed concerns about traveling to Mexico because of stories in the news. We feel fine about visiting Cancun & Tulum. We do our research and visit places that are known to be safe for tourists: The BeachFront Hotel Zone, Main Town. When visiting anywhere new, you need to always be vigilant and smart about your surroundings.
- Never walk alone at night.
- Never flaunt valuables.
- Never use ATMs outside or at night. We always use the ATMs in hotels or inside banks.
- Don’t go with anyone you don’t know.
Where to Bring & Pack
Linking some of our favorite sunscreens & beauty supplies that everyone needs when visiting Tulum! Definitely bring sunscreen as it is SUPER pricy in this region.
Go-To Beauty Recommendations
Where to Stay
There are many areas to stay in Tulum, from the jungle areas to Tulum Town and the beachfront. We’ve actually stayed in all 3 areas and we have many places to recommend.
This is by far the most popular and convenient area to stay! Filled with beautiful hotel properties, this area is more expensive than the other options but is the most central. All of the best restaurants, shopping, bars and beach clubs are located in this central spot. We recommend renting bikes and using them throughout your stay if you are staying in this area! Everything is on one central street so you can walk on the beach or just walk along the street to shop, visit restaurants, beach clubs, etc.
- NEST Tulum – Small boutique hotel with only 13 rooms. If you want a relaxing, low-key weekend, this is perfect! Kristy and Betsy stayed here for a night in the garden room during busy President’s Day Weekend and it was so beautiful. Still walkable to all the main areas but off the busiest part of the strip.
- Azulik Tulum – One of the most famous spots to take Instagram photos, this hotel has a private beach and every room is stunning for IG Shots. Set in treehouses & more.
- La Zebra – If you want to be in the MAIN party area, this is your hotel! They have one of the best beach clubs & the rooms are beautiful.
- Conrad Tulum – If you are a Hilton member & want to stay at a larger hotel to cash in points, the Conrad is brand new and supposedly beautiful! Still located beachfront but a little further out from everything else.. it looks wonderful. Brand new and just opened!
Villas & Jungle Area
Emma and her friends stayed in the area where all the villas and AirBnB’s are located and absolutely loved it! Staying in an AirBnB or villa is a no-brainer if you have 8+ people. There are SO many brand new villas in this area that are in between the beachfront and Tulum Town. There are even private gated communities that are really nice and even safer to stay in. The only thing to consider is that you have to take taxis pretty much everywhere from there. Emma and the girls did not mind doing this at all. Totally worth it! Most of the villas come with a concierge who make ANYTHING happen. Emma set up multiple days of chef services and the concierge called cars for them throughout the weekend.
- Top Rentals Mexico – Emma and her friends booked a villa through AirBnB. This company is called Top Rentals! (Not sponsored, they paid full rate!) They have 20+ villas in their arsenal and plenty of options to choose from. They also have chefs in their network and recommendations for ANYTHING. (masseuses, yoga instructors, etc.) Highly recommend booking through them or booking through their AirBnB. (Emma’s AirBnB is the 1st image above)
- Jungle AirBnB – This looks so gorgeous!
- Penthouse AirBnB – The design here is beautiful. (Image above)
- Huge Pool & Private Security – The reviews are amazing and that pool is so big!
The town of Tulum is about 10 minutes away from the beachfront via car. It’s a lot more affordable to stay downtown, but there are still lots of great restaurants and things to do around this area! Emma stayed in a hostel downtown a few years ago that served amazing breakfast and she still talks about it.
- Layla Tulum – A boutique hotel with a beautiful moroccan theme. Gorgeous heated rooftop pools!
- La Tulumena – Central beautiful boutique hotel close to all the restaurants and walking street.
- Che Hostel – If you are young and looking for a party vibe, Che Hostel will be perfect! No frills but planned activities, group events & of course a pool.
Where to Eat
Tulum is one of the most delicious places to eat in Mexico. With amazing cuisine and chefs flocking here from all over the world.. there are award-winning restaurants, amazing 5 star eateries, small taquerias, and so much more to offer!
- Hartwood – One of the most popular restaurants, the food is AMAZING. Their menus are written on large chalkboards daily because they create new and delicious meals every single day. Culinary experience and make reservations far in advance. Emma and her 9 friends ate here and absolutely loved EVERYTHING! $$$$
- Rosa Negra Tulum – A complete party vibe but it is SUCH a blast. Expect sparklers, loud music, drinks flowing. This is in fact a dinner place so everyone gets a table. You’ll find people dancing at their tables and eating at the same time. The food is fantastic but if you want a calmer vibe, do NOT come here. ;) Emma and her friends arrived at 10:30pm for dinner and partied til 1AM. The food was fantastic.
- Ilios Greek Restaurant – Not only is the food incredible but this restaurant has a show too! Fire dancers, sparklers, plus everyone gets to throw a plate in total Greek fashion. How fun is that? Get seated by 8pm because the show starts at 9. Loud music here as well, but less crazy than Rosa Negra.
- Gitano Tulum – We didn’t eat here, but wished we had! The girls went there to party after 10pm, but the dinner section looked gorgeous. According to Eater: “The vibe is the allure at this swank jungle getaway with an old-world feel that merges 17th century Mexican architecture, candlelit dinners, and overgrown palm trees and vines. The food is a blend of Mediterranean Mezze, Mexican American tacos, and appetizers like quesadillas cut into acute triangles like the ones at American chain restaurants. Order a smoky, citrusy Gitano Swizzle or any of the delicious tropical mezcal cocktails, and snack away in this irresistibly hip setting.” $$$$
- Matcha Mama – Amazing açai bowl place & healthy breakfast spot.
- Raw Love – Beachfront healthy vegan brunch & lunch spot with yummy smoothie bowls, desserts and fruit-centered dishes.
Things to Do in Cancun
There are TONS to do in this gorgeous region. Of course, there are the typical beach activities like parasailing, jet skiing, sunset boating, snorkeling, diving and more. More than just the beach, here are some fun activities:
- Bike Riding Cenoté Tour: Emma and her friends took this affordable tour and had a BLAST. Such a great way to start the day, and the cenotes were gorgeous and refreshing! The guide was the sweetest and the little town they rode bikes around was adorable. Perfect day activity!
- Half-Day Sailing Tour with Open Bar and Snorkeling: This tour was so fun. They picked the girls up at their villa and they had the best day. Delicious food, open bar, gorgeous snorkeling and great music! Everyone swam in the ocean all day long.
- Visit Coba Ruins: None of the girls were able to do this while they were there but everyone says they are AMAZING! We definitely want to do this the next visit. Gorgeous Mayan ruins in the jungle and by the ocean.
- Take a Yoga Class: So many people come to Tulum to ONLY do Yoga so definitely try to get in the zen mode while visiting. There are so many options! Tribal Tulum or Stand Up Paddleboarding Yoga look like great options.
- Go Shopping: Tulum has of the world’s best beach shopping!
There is SO much more to do & see in beautiful Tulum and we look forward to going back. We hope this blog helps you plan your next trip.. Have you ever been to Tulum? If so, please comment on all your favorites so we can add those to our list for the next trip. :) We have nothing but amazing things to say about the people and this area and can’t await to return!
Kristy, Emma and Walker
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