The Complete Tulum Travel Guide: Downtown & Beach

Tulum is the hotspot destination of Mexico and is often cited as the tropical version of NYC or the new Bali. It’s known for its 10 km long strip full of bohemian beach clubs and shops right in between beach and jungle. This fancy part of Tulum is relatively new and referred to as Tulum Beach. Although this part of Tulum doesn’t feel as authentic as other destinations, it’s far better than touristy Playa del Carmen or Cancun.

Authentic Tulum can only be found in Tulum Pueblo i.e. downtown Tulum. Tulum Pueblo and Tulum Beach are separated approximately 5km from each other and can easily be reached by either bike or car. The vibe in Tulum Downtown is the opposite of the beach area and is characterized by a backpackers vibe with great (affordable!) restaurants and bars.

To make the most of your time in Tulum you will have to experience both areas. Besides, there’s so much to explore in the surrounding area that you could easily spend a week in Tulum. As there are many great things to see and do in the area, this extensive guide will explain everything you need to know to make the most out of your visit. This article will cover the following:

  • Getting around in Tulum
  • Where to stay in Tulum
  • Where to eat & drink in Tulum
  • What to do in and around Tulum

Getting around in Tulum

  • The main modes of transportation are bike or taxi.
  • Most hotels have bikes for rent (some even for free). In Tulum Beach you pay up to 15EUR per day whereas in Tulum Pueblo this is around 5-10EUR per day.
  • Going from Pueblo to Beach or vice versa will take you approximately 30-45 minutes (depending where you go to). There’s a maintained bike road available which makes it a fairly easy and fun ride.
  • A taxi can take you to and from the beach within 15 minutes for about 10-15EUR.
  • Tulum Beach has a long strip and getting from one place to another can be far by foot. Make sure to take a taxi in the evening as there’s no walking path available next to the underdeveloped road. Also, the lighting is very bad which makes it difficult for others to see you.

Where to stay?

When looking for an accommodation in Tulum, the first thing you have to decide is whether to stay downtown or at the beach. Both areas have great options, both for different reasons.

When staying in Tulum Pueblo, you aren’t near the beach but closer to the the main authentic center and cenotes. On the other hand, at Tulum Beach you’re closer to the beach and jetset part of Tulum. Also, in the center you can book great accommodations from around 30EUR per night (swimming pool included), whereas at the beach you pay on average at least 200EUR per night (no swimming pool). Hostels can only be found in downtown Tulum.

We’ve seen quite a few hotels at the beach and in general I think it’s not worth the money to stay at the beach. You can save a lot of money by staying downtown and simply get a bike to take you to the beach anyway. We experienced the best of both worlds by staying five nights in Tulum Pueblo and then ended our trip at the beach for two nights. However, if I would do it again I would probably just stay in Pueblo instead.

follow that dream sign tulum
Tulum Beach strip

Tulum Pueblo

Coco Hacienda: this was the hotel we stayed at in Tulum Pueblo and was definitely our favorite hotel during our trip in Mexico. This is a brand new hotel and part of Coco Hotels in Tulum (there’s one more downtown and two exclusive hotels at the beach).

coco hacienda pool view tulum
View from our terrace at Coco Hacienda

The spacious rooms are decorated beautifully and really spacious. Most of the rooms have a large bathroom with a jacuzzi and each of them have a cosy balcony/garden area with a lounge area and a hammock. There are two swimming pools on site and they also have a typical hacienda type of terrace where you can have breakfast (not included but delicious!), lunch and great drinks.

Another big plus of this hotel is their service, ranging from kind and helpful staff, free (!) bike rental, coupons for free drinks and entrance at all Coco properties in Tulum. The hotel is at walking distance to the main area downtown (5-10 minutes). It’s one of the best boutique hotels I’ve been to and it really felt like home after five days. Prices vary depending on the season but we paid around 75EUR per night.

Howlita: a cheaper, but great alternative for Coco Hacienda is Hotel Howlita. They offer stylish and clean rooms with a lovely swimming pool area, located at a walking distance from the bars and restaurants downtown. You can book a room for around 55EUR per night (breakfast included).

Secret Garden Tulum Hotel: this hotel also has great rooms and bungalows in a tropical garden area. All rooms have aircon and fans and some of the rooms even have a kitchenette. There’s no swimming pool but there’s plenty of room in the garden to enjoy this little oasis. Prices per night are similar to Howlita.

Booking.com

Tulum Beach

There are so many options at the beach to choose from, but prices are ridiculously high. Believe me when I tell you you’ve got yourself a “bargain” when you pay around 200EUR per night. Don’t be surprised to pay this amount of money for a room without your own bathroom. I’ve done so much research about which hotels offer great quality and affordable prices, and I’ve narrowed it down to only two options that fall into this category.

Hip Hotel Tulum: to spoil ourselves at the end of our Mexico travels, we stayed two nights at Hip Hotel Tulum. We chose this hotel over Rosa Del Viento for the mere reason that this one was closer to all the bars and restaurants (5 min. walking distance). We had a beautiful room right at the beach with a large bathroom and veranda with a hammock. Breakfast is included and was absolutely great with lots to choose from (such as eggs, pancakes and typical Mexican chilaquiles). The view from the restaurant is breathtaking and can’t be beat. Also, staff was friendly, there are plenty of sunbeds and lounge areas with a cool bohemian vibe. We actually stayed at the hotel site most of the time to get most out of our time here, and on this side of the strip chances of seaweed are lowest.

Hip Hotel Tulum Beach

Rosa del Viento: this hotel is another gem at the beach and is highly recommended if you want to have a great hotel experience at (relatively) reasonable prices. It’s at the far end of the strip near Pablo Escobar’s mansion, but if you’re not planning on doing much, this is the perfect place to stay. The hotel rooms are large and cool, they have a great bar area and beach area. Note: if you want to go out for dinner at night it’s recommended to take a taxi as the roads get dark and it’s too far to walk (approximately 20-30 minutes).

Booking.com

Where to eat & drink?

Tulum Pueblo

  • Sabor De Mar: for the best Mexican fish dishes! It doesn’t look fancy with plastic furniture and only 8 tables but it’s been one of our favorite dinners for sure. The owners are really friendly and prices and it’s incredibly cheap. Make sure to go here, although be prepared to wait in line in front as it is quite popular (many locals).
  • Antojitos La Chiapaneca: cheapest food we’ve had but definitely some of the best authentic food too. It’s a family business along the main road and there are lines with people waiting to eat here. They’re famous for their pork dishes which is so tasty! It’s so much fun just observing: the younger guys preparing food together with the older ladies, the men of the house behind the “pay desk” and the oldest man of the family doing the dishes. Sidenote: the dishes consist of simple plastic Disney plates and cups. Highly recommended if you want to eat inexpensive but good food and experience the real Mexico in Tulum.
  • Pizzeria Manglar: amazing pizzas and very cheap. It’s is next to Coco Hacienda in a cosy back garden. You easily walk passed it if you don’t know it’s there. Best pizzas in town!
  • El Camello: similar to Sabor De Mar: cheap and Mexican food. It’s always crowded and there’s usually a waiting line.
  • Tres Galeones: amazingly cosy and beautiful restaurant hidden away behind hanging flowers. Bonus: they often have great live music.
  • Lunch tip: El Gourmet. The best sandwiches and great juices and smoothies. The perfect spot to have a break after visiting cenotes or the beach.

Where to have drinks?

  • Bateys: mojito’s freshly made of real sugar cane and great live music!
  • Encanto Cantina: fun place to have some drinks and listen to live music.

Tulum Beach

  • Casa Banana: best steak ever, great service, beautiful location and definitely worth the price (European prices). Highly recommended for a quality night out.
  • Rosa Negra: we were recommended this place and it looked very-very classy from the street. It’s was a memorable night as the food was so good, very unique and of high quality. It feels as if you’re in a fancy NYC restaurant and they even had a cool lightshow, which was an unexpected surprise. As you may have already guessed: it was insanely expensive. If you have a big wallet left at the end of the trip, then you can consider this. However, to be honest, I preferred Casa Banana much more. Other similar restaurants nearby: Gitano and Hartwood.
  • Mateo‚Äôs Mexican Grill: located at the beginning of the strip this can be reached easily from Tulum Pueblo too. It’s a cosy and affordable place at the strip to have some drinks and food. During sunset, they have a nice rooftop to watch the sun fall into the sea.

Where to have drinks?

  • La Eufemia: the only cheap bar at the strip to have drinks and food. Very laidback vibe and great cocktails! Note: when we were there they weren’t located at the beach but next to I Scream Bar. Apparently they are back at the beach right now.
  • Mateo’s Mexican Grill.

What to do?

Cenotes

Grand Cenote

Grab a bike and visit this beautiful cenote. From downtown it will take about 20 minutes, from the beach 45 minutes to one hour. It opens at 8.00AM and getting up early is rewarded as you’ll have the place to yourself. Tip: when you enter the cenote make sure to not go to the main cenote area on the left side but instead walk a bit further and go down a bit more on the right side. This is the perfect place to take photos and swim with baby turtles all by yourself! Entrance fee: $180 MXN per person.

Grand Cenote Tulum Hidden
Secret second pair of stairs down at the Grand Cenote

Cenote Calavera

This one is located on the way to the Grand Cenote. We went here after the Grand Cenote and were a little disappointed as it didn’t look as good as in the photos. It’s a round hole where you can jump in but it’s located in something that looked like someone’s (not so pretty) back garden. Entrance fee is $100 MXN although we accidentally entered the place for free as there was no one there. We were kind of lucky I guess as we were leaving within 5 minutes.

Cenote Dos Ojos

This one is translated to “two eyes”, as it’s actually two cenotes that are connected by a 400m underground passageway. I haven’t been here unfortunately but apparently it’s one of the best cenotes in Yucatan. Also, it’s the best cenote to go diving or snorkeling. This cenote has a depth of nearly 120m into the earth, which makes it a very unique one to visit. This place can’t be reached by bike from Tulum so you’ll need a car, taxi or book a tour to get there. It’s about 22km from of Tulum and the entrance fee is $350 MXN.

Laguna Kaan Luum

Relatively unknown and mostly visited by locals. It’s a big laguna with a very deep cenote in the middle. The color of the water is crystal blue and the sandy bottom can be used to scrub your skin. It has a large wooden dock to lie down and enjoy the surroundings. Entrance fee is 50MXN per person and is a great alternative when you want to cool down without going to the beach. It’s located about 5-10 minutes outside of Tulum and can easily be reached by car, taxi or maybe even bike. On the way back make sure to arrange a taxi or just wave at a colectivo on the side of the main road.

Beach & nature

Paraiso Beach

This is a public beach on the left side of the strip near the Tulum Ruins. It’s a relatively quiet beach and doesn’t have a lot of clubs and hotels. Here, you can take a few good photos with a paradise like hanging palm tree.

Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve

For wildlife, nature and beaches this is the place for you! There are many day tours to this National Park. Be prepared to see dolphins, crocodiles, birds, turtles, flamingos and even jaguars. Also, it is located along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the world’s second largest barrier reef.

Casa Malca Hotel

On the other side of the strip at the far right, you’ll find Casa Malca a.k.a. Pablo Escobar’s Mansion. It’s difficult to find as it’s pretty hidden away and doesn’t have a name sign. However, if you see big potted plants and a big fence, you know this is it. They have rebuild this into a fancy boutique hotel. It has become a famous insta spot, but it’s difficult to get in. As long as you tell them you want to check it out for making a reservation, they’ll let you in.

Tulum Beach Clubs

  • Coco Tulum
  • Nomade
  • Papaya Playa Project
  • La Zebra
  • Azulik
  • Ziggy’s Beach Bar
  • Cheaper option: La Eufemia
Coco Tulum Beach Club

Ruins

Tulum Ruins

The only ruins located right at the sea shore. Make sure to go here in the early morning because it can get really hot during daytime. It’s a good alternative to the Coba Ruins, mostly because of its great location. Also, it’s a fun bike ride from Tulum Pueblo as well as the Tulum Beach. Entrance fee is 65MXN per person.

Coba Ruins

This one is located between Valladolid and Tulum and is supposed to be best during the afternoon at sunset. Also, it’s one of only ruins that can still be climbed to the top. It’s a rather large and there are a few options to explore the ruins: walk, by bici taxi or by renting bikes yourself. Coba Ruins are located 45 minutes from Tulum and can be reached by car, taxi, ADO bus or colectivo. Entrance fee is 70MXN.

Are you looking for more inspiration for your trip to Mexico? Check out The Ultimate Yucatan Travel Guide or other posts related to Mexico.

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