Tulum, pronounced [Tuˈlum], is located in Mexico on the Yucatán Peninsula, in the state of Quintana Roo. Known for its beautiful white beaches, (minus the current sargassum better known as “seaweed”) picturesque cenotes and contemporary food scene this Yucatán town has become an Instagram mecca, attracting tourists from all over the world. In this blog post, I’m going to be going over everything you need to know about Tulum, and why Tulum should be your next vacation destination.
Summertime, is Tulum’s most popular season, drawing in tons of tourists due to its affordable prices, bohemian flair, and chill vibes. Initially, I was a little nervous, since I was traveling to Tulum from the west coast. I personally don’t like to be trapped on a plane for long periods, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.
I flew out of the San Francisco International Airport on Aeroméxico Airline, which is the flag carrier airline of Mexico based in Mexico City. They had the best deal for this last-minute trip considering that it was a red-eye that included a quick layover in Mexico City, and then onward to Cancun. Cancun is going to be the closest airport to fly into to get when traveling to Tulum.
Surprisingly Aeroméxico Airlines spoke primarily Spanish even though we were still in San Francisco, so if you are uncomfortable speaking Spanish or want instructions in English regarding customs, I would recommend flying an American based airline. (P.S. Keep reading to find out why I suggest this flying with an American Airline)
Once my flight arrived in Cancun we had to use the emergency exits to exit the plane and take the shuttle to the baggage claim because the airport had a complete blackout so make sure you’re always prepared for anything when traveling. Due to the blackout, navigating through the dark baggage claim got a little confusing when looking for the exit.
Thankfully I only travel with carry-on’s so I didn’t need to wait for my luggage to arrive, but of course, I walked out on the wrong side and got bombarded with “need transport/ ride?” from all of the transportation/ car rental companies. If this happens to you just say “No gracias” and keep it moving. I would recommend planning your transportation in advance as we did via rental car agencies.
I would definitely recommend either getting a rental car or scheduling a transfer shuttle service through your hotel or online. Even though they say Uber works in Cancun it’s 100% frowned upon because there is a rivalry between the taxi union and Uber and they aren’t happy about it making Uber unsafe for not only the driver but also the passengers.We chose to get a rental car since Tulum is about an hour away from the airport and we wanted some flexibility when it came to exploring different locations.
Location & Safety
Alright, let’s get to the question that everyone has…is Mexico safe? The amount of times I’ve been asked this question since returning from Mexico is surprising!
While Mexico has experienced a surge in drug-related violence, Mexico is just like many other countries that are still developing in certain areas, so of course, there are precautions you should take, but Tulum has remained a relatively safe travel destination.
Like I mentioned before, it will take around an hour to get to Tulum Town proper, but add 10-20 minutes if you want to drive down QROO15 to get to the actual “Instagrammable” places. Below is an overview of the different areas within Tulum, and the best zones to stay in.
Tulum Beach South (middle to end)-
My first recommendation would be to stay in Tulum Beach South. When you think “Tulum” like the Tulum that you see on Instagram this is the area that they are referring to. This area has tons of boutique hotels, and bigger resorts (seen in the picture below), chic shops, and top-notch restaurants. This is the area where you should stay if you plan on taking insta-worth photos and want to have quick access to your hotel at any time within a short drive or even a walk/bike ride away.
Tulum Beach Zona Hotelera North (beginning)-
This area is very nice and is located near the first half of the beach. This is a good location if you’re looking for more of a secluded feel but still want to be down the road from all the action. Tulum Beach Zona Hotelera North is going to cost you a bit more because this area has the top resorts with a lot of land so guest who stay on the property will be on their own private beach.
Aleda Zama is a new development that is in progress in Tulum located off the main road, Av. Coba and is about 10-15 away from the popular Tulum beach area. This neighborhood is great If you’re searching for accommodation on Airbnb or VRBO and want to be close to Tulum Beach, and still have the eco-chic house vibes for a lower price.
La Veleta (Where we stayed) –
This area of Tulum has a lot of new development and has a ton of new luxury hotels under construction. It is still developing and is about 25-30 minutes away from the beach. If you want a quieter scene and are staying long term in Tulum with a large group, and want to experience the local side of the Mexican/ Mayan community, then this is a great choice .Our Airbnb had a fabulous private patio and an infinity pool with killer views of the sunset. If you’re new to Airbnb, you can sign up here to get $55 off you first adventure!
Where to Eat- Breakfast
There are a ton of great food options in Tulum, but after a long flight, nothing sounded better than a fresh Acai bowl. Raw Love, located off of Tulum beach at the Ahau Hotel is a great go-to spot for a casual healthy breakfast or snack alternative.
Raw Love serves up exclusively raw foods from Pad Thai to raw brownies, but they are known for their delicious açaí bowls. I got the tropical kiss bowl and it was came with pineapple, banana, passionfruit, mango and ginger, which were all really refreshing.
As seen in the picture above Raw Love is a cash only restaurant so you’ll want to bring enough pesos incase you decide to try more of the vegan items on the menu.
This place had the best shrimp tacos/ seafood I’ve ever had hands down! If you appreciate good service and tasty tacos at reasonable prices, then you’ll want to visit La Coqueta.
It’s located in Tulum Town right as you get into town, and offers outdoor seating with bright and colorful decor. We each ordered fresh juices that were made to order right in front of us. I really enjoyed eating here and the staff was so nice!
Nomade, located on Tulum Beach was everything I could have wished for and more. This Instagram famous hotel is so popular that they named their restaurant La Popular! Just kidding, I made that up, but La Popular is known for its expertly prepared grilled seafood and is beautiful location on the beach.
This restaurant is seriously breathtaking and is styled with Moroccan rugs and offers stacked floor pillow seating. The coolest part for me was being able to walk over to the chefs counter and hand select the exact shrimp that I wanted. I was shocked when the bill came, because for the quality of the food you are getting the price is so affordable. I think my meal was around $50 with tip which is outstanding.
This night was definitely my favorite memories in Tulum! Side note, this is the only place the accepted my American Express credit card, but then again this is an upscale restaurant, and was well equipped to do so unlike some of the other places.
Back at it again with another Instagram famous spot! I Scream Bar has one of the best happy hours in Tulum Beach. This place is really lively and located right off the main strip. If you’re looking for a great atmosphere, great music, and cool drinks, then look no further! I scream Bar offers liquors made of Ice Cream, hints the name I Scream Bar. We walked past this place at night and it was packed, so it seems like it would be a great bar at night as well. I Scream Bar is cash only!
Camarada Tulum Gastropub is brand new, and has an awesome affordable happy hour menu as well as dope nightlife! Before heading to dinner at La Popular we stumbled upon Camarada. The host named Nacho is the reason we decided to try out this place.
He was so friendly and actually gave us the recommendation to eat dinner at La Popular! Camarada’s vibe is crazy, sexy, cool and is the hottest new spot in Tulum. The dance floor is a sandy area where the DJ plays all night giving guest serious Tulum vibes. This was also one of the places with the latest happy hour from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM.
Tips & Tricks
Tip #1: Cash
The most important thing to know is that most of the Tulum community is cash only. American dollars are accepted, but it’s best to withdraw money in town at an ATM to avoid higher fees near the beach. The fancier places do accept most major credit cards, but to be on the safe side I would recommend using a Mastercard or Visa card. My American Express card was only accepted at one place throughout our trip.
Tip #2: Water & Grocery
If you are planning to stay in Tulum for multiple days I would recommend stopping by the Walmart in Playa Del Carmen on the way to Tulum to pick up a case of water and snacks. Keep in mind that you DO NOT want to drink the water in Mexico. This my friends is 100% true. The water in the Yucatan is contaminated by garbage dumps and runoff, so you need to avoid drinking tap water.
Yes, this means even using tap water to brush your teeth, and don’t forget to close your mouth in the shower. It’s best to Stick to bottled water to be sure that the water you drink won’t give you problems with your digestive system or a cause “Montezuma’s revenge”, something no traveler wants.
Tip#3: Passport Safety
Finally , the moment you’ve all been waiting for, drum roll, please…..make sure you have the numbers of the U.S. Embassy and a copy of your identification with you at all times. We stopped to grab something to eat at one of the restaurants in Tulum Town, and the next thing you know someone had broken into the window to steal a backpack, and my passport happened to be in the backpack (I totally forgot I had stashed it away in there).
I usually keep my passport in the hotel or carry it on me but made the mistake of taking it with me and left it in my friend’s backpack who accidentally left it in the car (cries in Spanish). It was hell trying to get back home, but I learned that If the airline and agent are able to confirm your identity, you will be allowed to pass through security after the additional screening.
I was flying Interjet and when I went to the airport to see if I could apply this rule they denied me because they get “fined a fee”. I had to purchase a ticket with an American Airline and not a Mexican Airline in order to get back, so shout out to Southwest Airlines for allowing me to fly back to the United States. That being said I would reccomend flying wit an American based airline in the furture in case anything ever happens while abroad.
Things to Do/Activities
Mexico is home to more than 3,000 cenotes [sei·no·te] which are natural sinkholes connected to a network of thousands of underground rivers and caves, that the Mayan people believed to be the entrance to the underworld. This is what I really looked forward to doing the most, and was even more excited when I found out that there was an Environmental tour in Akumal, that included a cenote.
All proceeds from this Environmental tour go towards the animals in the sanctuary, and during the tour, you get the chance to visit the wildlife refuge in the jungle of Akumal and interact with some of the animals. We also learned about the harmless and stingless Mayan bees, and then got to go swimming in the crystal clear waters at the underground private cenote.
The coolest thing to me was the free, I repeat… free Garra rufa pedicure. The Garra rufa are attracted to the the vibration of your feet entering the water, and will immediately congregate around any patches of hard or dead skin to feed. Because they have no teeth, their nibbles should feel ticklish rather than painful. I definitely recommend this tour to anyone looking for an authentic sanctuary tour!
I had a great time in Tulum and would recommend traveling to Tulum if you have the opportunity! This place is so magical and offers a different vibe like no other place. I’m already trying to plan when I can go again and see some of the things that I missed this first time around. Have you been to Tulum? If so comment down below telling me how your trip was and what spots you went to.