Tulum: Travel Guide

Tulum may no longer be Mexico's best-kept secret, but that doesn't change the fact that this jungle paradise is extremely easy to fall in love with. If you're going to Mexico for the typical spring-breakers experience, Cancun and Playa del Carmen are right up your alley; but if you're looking for an off-the-grid, intensely authentic getaway spot, Tulum can't be beat.

This beach town is anything but stereotypical, with an effortlessly cool bohemian vibe that translates to its recent influx of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and aesthetically constructed eco-chic resorts. Tulum is likely quite unlike anything you've ever experienced, and it radiates an indescribable healing spirit that leaves you feeling restored, recharged, and full of inspiration.

We compiled this post as a comprehensive guide of everything Tulum has to offer - both the well-known, and the unknown. Read on to discover the parts of Tulum that make it so special.


 

TIPS WHEN TRAVELING TO TULUM

Tulum is a two hour drive from the Cancun airport, so you'll either need to rent a car, pay for a private transportation service like a taxi, or ride one of the buses from the airport (like ADO). You can find a breakdown of the different traveling options here, but I prefer renting a car at the airport since it makes exploring much easier.

Most places in Tulum are cash-only. Most of the upscale hotels and hotel restaurants accept credit cards, but the stand-alone restaurants tend to not. While there are ATMs on Boca Paila (the coastal road), I would recommend bringing cash. There is an HSBC bank downtown if you need to exchange money while there.

AC and Wi-Fi are not guaranteed. If those are important to you, I would double check with your hotel before booking.

The hotels along Boca Paila can get expensive, so if you’re on a budget, downtown Tulum (called Pueblo by locals), has cheaper accommodations and more local hotspots.

The town is solar-powered, and there are no streetlights — most hotels provide flashlights. The restaurants and nightlife are mostly open-air and in the jungle, and while they have a lot of natural methods of repelling bugs, you may want to be prepared with bug spray.

Summer (off-season) is my favorite time to go. The flights and hotels are a little cheaper, the crowds are thinner, and the daily breeze off the sea makes the heat bearable.

I live in San Diego, so I usually cross the border and fly with Volaris Airlines from the Tijuana Airport. They offer a direct red eye flight to Cancun, and it’s much cheaper than flying from San Diego or LA. This is especially true when booking your flights last minute – I booked mine 1-2 days before. I also recommend purchasing their V Club Membership, which costs $27/yr and gives you discounts for each flight – sometimes as much as $50!


 

THINGS TO DO/SEE IN TULUM

I could honestly spend an entire week in Tulum lounging in a hammock just staring at the horizon and crystal clear turquoise waters; but Tulum has a lot to offer, so here's how I recommend exploring:

 

1. Boca Paila

This narrow road is packed with boutique hotels, globally acclaimed restaurants, and bohemian stores, all separated by jungle lots. Even if you're staying downtown, this area is a must. It's one of the best places to get lost and truly experience the beauty of this rustic beach town. Most hotels offer free bikes for their guests, but my recommendation is to walk, even though the road is long. If you're patient enough to walk the entire length of Boca Paila, you'll come across Matcha Mama, a charming, Tulum-esque coffee shop with friendly employees. If you get hungry, you can venture over to La Onda next door, known for the "best pizza on earth". More recommendations on Boca Paila come later in this article.

 

2. Pueblo (Downtown Tulum)

A 20-30 minute drive from Boca Paila, downtown Tulum is an insight into the lives of the locals. Most of Tulum's residents work at hotels on the beach, but spend their time outside of work in Pueblo. Quirky souvenir shops and incredible (yet inexpensive) restaurants are the highlights of this area. It’s definitely a more affordable area to stay in. We stayed at Casa Santiago, a villa-turned-b&b. The place was peaceful and charming, and far away from the hustle and bustle of the downtown nightlife.

Late night dancing and mojito rooftop bars are a nightly occurrence in Pueblo. Two of my favorite coffee shops in Tulum happen to be in this area as well: Del Cielo is a great breakfast cafe, and Ki’Bok is home to a gorgeous courtyard lined with local palm trees. Both are definitely worth a visit.

My favorite spot in Tulum Pueblo is Flor de Michoacan, aka Popsicle Heaven. This paleteria is a total gem, with a variety of fruit popsicles made daily with fresh local fruit, juices, agua frescas, coffee, and desserts. The prices are much lower than getting a popsicle or ice cream in Boca Paila. I personally love the cream-based popsicles because you can actually see the frozen fruit slices inside the paleta - plus, they're delicious! The cream based popsicles are slightly more expensive than the regular ones but are still cheap at around 40-45 pesos ($2-3) each.

 

3. Cenotes

I’m sure you’ve seen a Cenote picture on Instagram before - there are more than 7,000 cenotes in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula! These turquoise natural pools are sheltered by gorgeous limestone overhangs quite unlike anything you've ever seen.

The cenotes were worshipped by Mayans as fresh water sources and are perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving. You'll want to spend all day exploring these caves, so be sure to plan accordingly! Dos Ojos, Cenote Azul, Grand Cenote, Rio Secreto, and Cenote Ik Kil are the most well-known, and you should plan a trip in the early morning to avoid crowds. You'll need a ticket to enter the cenotes, so make sure to bring cash with you.

 

4. Pablo Escobar’s Mansion (Casa Malca)

Casa Malca, originally Pablo Escobar's former mansion, is a hotel and art gallery with an amazing collection of contemporary artwork. It was purchased in 2012 by Lio Malca, a renowned New York art collector and gallery owner. The building was renovated into a boutique hotel that Malca decorated with rare pieces from his art collection. The hotel features stunning ocean views with a unique vibe and a captivating history.

You can find a full post on Casa Malca on Style with Nihan.

 

4. Ruinas Mayas de Tulum

You can find myriad pre-Columbian Mayan ruins around the area, but my personal favorites are the ruins in Tulum and in Coba, a two hour drive from Tulum. The ruins in Tulum are perched precariously at the edge of a cliff and offer a breathtaking view that you can’t miss. Tip: Bring your swimsuit and take the stairs to the beach below the ruins. It’s open 8am-5pm and costs 40 pesos ($2) per person.

 

5. Beach

You can't visit Tulum and not spend time on the beaches! Spend your time going on beach walks and exploring other hotels in the area. A lot of the hotels also operate day clubs where you can rent out beach cabanas and soak up the sunshine for only 40 pesos a day.

Make your way to Raw Love next to the Ahua Hotel, a vegan cafe, coffee shop and restaurant located directly on the beach under a palapa roof scattered with colorful hammocks and tables. Their raw vegan dishes are touted as the best in Tulum, and the "Train Wreck" coffee is incredible.

 

6. Sian Ka'an Biosphere

Located on the south side of Boca Paila, this reserve is a Unesco World Heritage site home to tropical forests and mangroves, as well as a marine section intersected by a barrier reef. Various companies offer eco-tours around the reserve - don't miss swimming in the Kaan Luum Lagoon while you're there!

 


 

WHERE TO STAY

La Zebra: One of my favorite hotels in Tulum. If you’re looking for a luxury barefoot experience, this is the hotel to stay at. They're renowned for their customer service and the entire hotel is picturesque from top to bottom.

Nest Tulum: Natural simplicity. Rustic comfort. If you want to see the exact definition of these terms with your own eyes, you’re going to have put Nest Tulum on your destination bucket list. And don’t say that I didn’t warn you – you’ll never want to leave! 

Casa Malca: Detailed here.

Be Tulum: Ultra-hip, expensive and one of the most attractive design hotels in the area.

Nomade: Very popular with celebrities and fashion designers. The hotel features glamping-style gratitude tents and a super cute dining room reminiscent of the palaces from the Ottoman Empire era.

Yaan Wellness Spa: I’ve heard a lot about Yaan, which is directly across the street from Nomade. They offer Mayan energy therapies and traditional Temazcal sweat lodge ceremonies, which sound nothing short of mystical.

Sanarà: Famous for its yoga studio that overlooks the beach, it’s one of the hotels that stood out to me while I was researching and exploring the design hotels in the area. Sanara means “you will heal” in Spanish, and the owners clearly designed the hotel as a private sancturary.

 

WHERE TO EAT

La Zebra Restaurant: Definitely try their fish tacos and shrimp & octopus tacos! They were probably the best tacos I’ve ever had! You’re going to have to try them for yourself, but the thick, homemade, blue corn tortillas really stood out.

Hartwood: Possibly the most famous restaurant in Tulum. It’s called the best restaurant in the whole area by many. Don’t forget to make a reservation as you don’t want to miss out! Everything is wood-fired, and the menu changes daily. I always ask the servers what they think of the new dishes and I recommend doing the same. They have an impressive wine list too.

Nest Tulum’s Restuarant: Only open to hotel guests! Everything is made from scratch and you can even see the chef in action through the view to the little kitchen. Everything we ordered was super fresh and mouth-wateringly delicious, but the best part of having dinner here is eating and sipping your drink while listening to the sound of the waves. My daily life is very stressful, and I’m always in a rush, so the relaxing dinner sessions at the Nest is something I already miss.

Casa Banana: This Argentine restaurant calls on the flavors and styles of Mexican cuisine using wood-fired ovens. Their jungle dining atmosphere, side dishes, and wine list full of well-aged wines from Argentina are worth mentioning.

Posada Margherita: A very sought-after Italian restaurant in Tulum! I haven’t had a chance to try this spot yet since I’m a big fan of eating Mexican food in Tulum, but I’ve heard great things and want to try it soon. I’ve read an article where this restaurant’s vibe was mentioned as “Italy-meets-shack-on-the-beach-in-Mexico” and I think that’s worth a taste.

 

WHERE TO GET DRINKS

Gitano: One of the best spots in town for cocktails, dancing, and light bites. Their creative cocktails like the Mescal Mule and Stardust are famous and well worth the price!

Be Tulum Hotel: If you’re into swanky experiences, this is your spot. Their spicy margaritas are a must try.

Casa Jaguar: Hit up this spot on a Thursday night for their full night-life experience.

Batey Mojito Bar: Widely known for their Mojitos, Batey is the spot to get drinks and listen to live music in Pueblo.

 

WHERE TO PARTY

Casa Jaguar: This place is known for the cool, bohemian vibe and their jungle parties on Thursday.

Gitano: Get yourself to Gitano on a Friday night. You won't regret it. They throw the best jungle parties in Tulum.

Papaya Playa Project: This is the place to party in Tulum on Saturdays nights. I can honestly say this was one of the best clubbing/late night beach party experiences I’ve ever had. The DJ set was AMAZING and losing yourself to dancing on the sand while the wind is hitting your hair is an unforgettable experience.

La Zebra: On Sundays, the town heads to La Zebra for salsa on the beach. The live band starts around 9:30 and while everyone is welcome to join, sitting back and watching the feet fly is a lovely way to spend an evening. La Zebra also boasts a shockingly good cocktail program in case you were afraid of going thirsty.


Tulum is a magical place that inspires a different way of thinking. If you're looking for a creative outlet or an atypical experience, this charming beach town is the place to be.

 

 

 

This post has been adapted from Style with Nihan. Nihan is a lifestyle blogger based in LA, San Diego, and Istanbul.

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