Tips To Know Before Traveling to Tulum, Mexico

Tulum is a beachside paradise on the Mayan Riviera
Tulum is a beachside paradise on the Mayan Riviera | © Helmut Corneli / Alamy Stock Photo
Kristin Carleen Busse

With immaculate white-sand beaches and turquoise water, Tulum in Mexico is an ideal beach vacation destination and has hotels, shops and restaurants to suit all budgets. Read on to learn everything you need to know before you plan your first, or next, Tulum getaway – including transportation tips, when to go and what to see.

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Stay in town if you’re on a budget

Staying on the beach in Tulum is far more expensive than staying in town, and luckily the center is also where many of the hostels are found. Most of the accommodation options on the beach can cost hundreds of dollars per night, whereas downtown hostel dorms, Airbnbs or hotels are much less expensive.

If you’re light on pesos, stay in a downtown hostel

Visit during low season for the best deals

It’s best to plan your trip to Tulum during the low season, which means avoiding late December, February to April and the summer high season. Instead, head over sometime between late August and early December to avoid the crowds and high-season prices.

Hire a bike to explore the area

Tulum town is just a few kilometers from the beach, making it an easy cycle ride to the coast. What’s more, there are plenty of independent bike-hire shops, and hotels and other accommodation often rent bicycles too, or even offer them to guests for free. Hiring a bike in Tulum is a great way to get around cheaply and efficiently, although you might want to take a taxi if you plan on having a drink – or four.

Riding bikes through Tulum is a cheap and efficient way to travel

Use pesos not dollars

Many businesses in Tulum accept US dollars as well as Mexican pesos, which seems incredibly convenient, especially for those visiting from the US. However, if you take a look at the exchange rates, you’ll realize that using dollars means you’re paying a massive premium for the same product or service, so stick to pesos – wait until you arrive in Tulum to withdraw pesos from your account at a bank ATM, and you’ll get the best exchange rate.

Choose your cenotes wisely

Most people who come to Tulum want to visit one of the area’s natural limestone sinkholes, which are known as cenotes. There are many of them around, and they vary widely in terms of size, price and attractiveness. If you want to save money, visit an off-the-beaten-path cenote, such as Zacil-Ha, as the well-known cenotes such as Dos Ojos are much more expensive, and often crowded as well.

Snorkel in the sparkling waters of Gran Cenote

Cut down on your waste and use biodegradable supplies

Tulum has grown so quickly that it struggles to deal with the amount of waste produced by locals and visitors, and now faces various environmental challenges. Do your part by bringing or buying a reusable water container and asking to have it filled in bars and restaurants that you are visiting – don’t worry, they’ll fill it from 20-liter bottles of purified water. Alternatively, you can buy a large water bottle that you keep in your room and refill a smaller reusable bottle to take out with you each day, which will cut down on the number of plastic bottles you use. Other good practices to remember are refusing plastic straws in bars and restaurants, and considering using biodegradable insect repellent and sunscreen. Maya Solar is a great Mexican brand of sunscreen, or purchase some at home before your trip.

Don’t miss the ruins

It might be tempting just to hang out on the beach in Tulum, but it would be a shame to miss out on the Mayan ruins. They’re some of the only Mayan ruins located right on the water – the Mayans obviously knew good real estate when they saw it. A visit is an interesting cultural experience – and makes for great vacation photos.

The Mayan ruins are located on the coastline, around 3km (2mi) from the town center

Visit Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

It’s a bit of an effort to get there, but it’s worth arranging an outing to Sian Ka’an. It’s at the end of the road after you pass all the beach hotels, and as soon as the buildings end you enter the virgin Mayan jungle. Set up a tour to see all of Sian Ka’an’s treasures.

Take a yoga class

Tulum has developed into an eco-chic destination in recent years, and a huge number of yoga places have sprung up. Whether you are a practiced yogi or a beginner, capitalize on the plentiful opportunities to stretch and relax, either at a one-off class or by embarking on a retreat for a few days.

Explore more of the area with an easy day trip

Whether you want to swim with the sea turtles in Akumal or dance the night away in Playa del Carmen, it’s easy to get up and down the Riviera Maya and visit nearby attractions. Don’t worry if you can’t afford a pricey taxi, as there are regular colectivo minibuses that shuttle passengers up and down the coast.

Head to the coral reef in Akumal for a chance to spot a hawksbill sea turtle

Shop early or late

Tulum’s tropical sun is relentless, but you don’t want to miss out on exploring its many shops and boutiques, which carry everything from curated home goods to souvenirs. Plan your shopping trips right after breakfast or dinner, when the temperature is cooler, and spend the hottest times of the day at the pool or beach. Luckily, most shops open early and close late.

Buy a local SIM card

If your cellular service provider charges high out-of-country rates, buy a local SIM card. You’ll get free calls within Mexico and usually to the US and Canada, and look for a package with some data for unlimited use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Look for off-the-beaten-path places to eat

Dining out in Tulum can be expensive, but some of the best, cheapest and most authentic places are downtown, just a couple of blocks off the main strip. How will you know if the place is any good? Look out for the taco restaurants or stands with the most customers or the longest line. But if you want to dine at some of Tulum’s most famous eateries, such as Hartwood, you’ll need to make reservations way ahead of time. Many places will accept reservations a month or more in advance, either online or by email.

Grab a seat at a taco stand to order cheap, delicious food

Use bank ATMs

While it might be tempting to use any ATM you come across, especially if you see your country’s flag on it, it’s probably best to avoid the majority. There have been some cases of ATM skimming in Tulum, which almost always happens on machines that are not located in banks. Look for a bank downtown and get your cash from their ATM instead.

Experience what Tulum used to be like

To experience the Tulum of old, stay farther down the beach road, where you’ll run into fewer people and less traffic. Soak up the atmosphere and don’t worry about missing out on the buzz of the center – it will only take a few minutes to bike or taxi to the busier areas where more boutiques, bars, restaurants and beach clubs are located.

There are plenty of quiet spots to explore in Tulum

Be extra careful crossing the road

It is very important to know that pedestrians do not have the right of way in Mexico. Some drivers may stop and wave at you to go ahead and cross the road, but be extra vigilant, even on crosswalks, and pay close attention to buses and combis (small transport vans), because they are seemingly always in a hurry.

Check for seaweed before planning your stay

In recent years seaweed (or sargassum) has been a seasonal issue on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. There are times of the year when there isn’t any at all, and other times, such as between late spring and early summer, when there may be a lot washing up on the beach daily. So unless you don’t mind sunbathing in – or next to – a huge pile of seaweed, do your research before you book. Live webcams are a great resource.

Though the Tulum waters are often clear, excess seaweed can be an issue

Purchase travel insurance

Travel insurance may be the most important thing to consider before booking a trip to Tulum. All the good hospitals in the Tulum area are private, which means that you’ll have to pay to use their facilities. In fact, they won’t let you leave until you do. These hospitals are businesses and just like any other business, they need income to remain open and running. Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s always worth spending the money on travel insurance to be prepared for all eventualities.

This article is an updated version of a story originally created by Jack Guy.

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