Have you ever traveled to a place that just felt like home the minute you drove in? That’s how I felt about Tulum upon our arrival. We booked the trip months in advance to give us something to look forward to during the winter and I am so happy that we did. Let me tell you about our trip!
Tulum is different than other tourist destinations I’ve previously visited in Mexico. There are no all-inclusive resorts with sprawling properties. It’s a small town with a split personality. One one side is the town itself, inhabited by roughly 18,000 people. A 2 mile long road connects the main town to the beachside area which is lined with eco-friendly boutique hotels, bars, restaurants and shops. From the chic ladies at treehouse-inspired design hotel Azulik to barefoot yogis en route to a shamanic sound healing, Tulum attracts very different personalities.
We rented a car and got an Airbnb apartment in the main part of town. Not only did we save a ton of money by not staying at a beachside hotel, but we also got to experience more of the local culture via various day trips.
Lots of travel blogs recommend renting bikes or a scooter instead of a car as traffic can get quite bad but I’m not a biker and my husband was up for the driving challenge. If you’re up for an adventure, though, definitely opt for the bike route. We were stuck in traffic and had bikes zoom past us on many occasions.
What To Do
I’m a laid back traveler and had few things on my agenda this trip: FOOD, SUNSHINE, MORE FOOD. But first, an important tip if you plan on visiting: get cash in pesos. Don’t be fooled by the “convenience” of places accepting US dollars or ATMs that dispense US cash - USD prices are 20-30% higher than what it costs to pay in pesos. Lots of places are cash only, so either come prepared with pesos from home or use the ATM at the airport. Once you’re in Tulum, the ATMs in town are perpetually out of pesos or have giant service fees. A friendly shopkeeper suggested using ATMs inside the local grocery stores as those didn’t run out of cash as quickly.
Just Keep Swimming
We had a nice roof deck and pool at our Airbnb which satisfied the need for sunshine on a daily basis, but nothing compares to sitting oceanside with some sand between your toes.
Public beach access: there is plenty of public beach space in Tulum but most of it can be difficult to access because of the way the road and hotel entries are positioned. There is a main entry point for the beach as well as free roadside parking on the far left side of the main beach road. Bring your own umbrella, towels, beach blankets, snacks, drinks and have yourself a lovely day. I would suggest doing this earlier in the day when it is less crowded. There are also various places selling refreshments and beachside massages along the way.
Private beach access via a hotel - most of the hotels will let you use their beach loungers and facilities if you consume food & drinks at their restaurants. Spots are limited since they reserve most of their beach facilities for hotel guests, but it’s worth it. Bring your own towels.
Casa Malca had the most expansive facilities including large comfy beds, cabanas and a pool. This came with the steepest consumption rate of $75 USD per person. The rest were between $35-$50 USD per person minimum spend.
Nomade, Coco and La Zebra also caught my eye, the latter being our personal fave. Papaya Playa Project and Ziggy’s were recommended a ton online but we didn’t get to check them out.
Rainy day? Go to a cenote!
We caught a couple of rainy days but it was no problem whatsoever as Tulum is surrounded by cenotes - beautiful natural sinkholes revealing crystal clear groundwater and impressive caves. My inner geology geek was so happy to explore these marvels. There are hundreds of cenotes in the area - you can book in with a local guide to take you to some that are off-the-beaten-path. We opted for some more common ones - Gran Cenote nearby and Cenote Choo-Ha near the town of Coba. The first two photos below are from Gran Cenote and the second two are from Cenote Choo-Ha. Note that the latter is completely underground, which was super cool.
A Step Back In Time
Tulum is home to the ruins of an ancient Mayan port city which you can explore freely or via guided tour. You purchase tickets at the entrance of the park. There is parking nearby as well, for a fee. The structures are beautifully preserved and perched upon beachside cliffs - the views being absolutely breathtaking. There wasn’t a lot of information available on each structure, so if you want to learn more about what you’re looking at, I would strongly suggest booking a tour guide. There are also two public beaches that you can reach from the archeological site. One of the beaches was closed off during our visit as it was home to several turtle nests!
About an hour and a half away are the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Coba. This was our favourite archeological site to explore. It’s situated in a gorgeous park which you can explore on foot or by bikes that you can rent at the front desk. It is home to two large Mayan pyramids, one of which you can still climb. After the archeological site we drove to Coqui Coqui nearby for some lunch. This is a beautiful tiny boutique hotel with an exquisite spa, perfumery and restaurant. The lunch we had was one of our favourites and their perfumes are to die for - highly recommend stopping by if you’re a fragrance junkie like me! We purchased the Coco Coco and Tabaco scents from the fragrance shop. They also make their own candles, room diffusers, bath oils and honey.
Food, Food, Food
“Will travel for food” is most definitely one of my mottos, and there was no shortage of delicious food on this trip. I went in with a Google Doc of 20+ recommendations scouted from the internet and from friends who had previously visited. Here were my culinary highlights:
Great atmosphere and conveniently located in walking distance from our apartment downtown Tulum. Humo had an eclectic menu and a cozy “dining in a tent in the jungle” vibe. You sit on the floor on comfortable cushions, surrounded by candles and incense which makes for a lovely date night. The tortillas they make were insanely delicious - there’s just something about the flavour of the corn that left me craving more.
If you want a quick and delicious “fast food” style taco fix on the main street in town, this place is awesome. Be careful with the salsas because one of them is KILLER spicy. We came back here twice. The chicken and vegetable taco plates were delicious, as was the queso fundido. Cash only.
Fresh pasta and seafood. Simple menu, daily specials and an incredible chocolate mousse dessert. We came back twice. This restaurant is located on the beach so if you come during the day you can take in the ocean views. Fun, lively atmosphere at night and there’s a pizzeria at the front of the property as well if you’re not in the mood for pasta. Posada Margherita is cash only. Leave room for the chocolate mousse.
Super trendy - felt like a supper club in NYC in the summer (see first two pictures above). The atmosphere was really fun and the bar area was always poppin’. They have live music two days a week and a DJ & dancing on the weekends. We went on a live music night and it was really nice. I loved the decor and the food was delicious. Expensive, but delicious. I still dream about their grilled avocado appetizer.
Tulum Art Club
Cute cafe, shared workspace and shop on the main road in Tulum. If you’re in the mood for a great latte or smoothie, stop on by. I had the buckwheat pancakes and they were really delicious. They also sell art made by local young artists, hence the name. Lots of really cool photography, pottery and prints were available for purchase.
Salon degustacion & Restaurant (in Coqui Coqui Coba)
Gorgeous food, beautiful setting. If you take a day trip out to Coba, make this a stop on your itinerary. The menu is Mayan-inspired and really unique. Ants and grasshoppers were present in a few dishes. We were conservative and didn’t order any of those dishes but perhaps we should have. The hotel itself is beautifully designed and situated on a lagoon.
La Zebra Restaurant & Bar
Their breakfast is SO good. If you want to come and enjoy their beach club one day, get here early and enjoy breakfast on the patio before settling in with your beach blanket.
Mateo’s Mexican Grill
Super touristy and loud but the fish tacos really are as delicious as everyone says they are. We ordered both the grilled and fried fish taco varieties and although both were a delight, we preferred the grilled version.
El Camello Jr
A more authentic fish taco experience on the main road in Tulum. The guacamole and nachos were also delicious, but I was partial to the grilled fish tacos. They have tons of seafood specials as well and it’s a place that was highly recommended to us by several locals.
Probably the best gelato I’ve ever had outside of Italy. It is SO good. I had the Ferrero Rocher flavour and I wish I could have it on tap, available to me daily. They serve three delicious vegan flavours as well. It was a frequent stop for us and there are two locations, both on the main beach road.
Overall, my husband and I really loved this trip and we’re definitely earmarking it as a destination we’d like to come back to. Everyone we encountered was incredibly kind and friendly.
Have you ever been to Tulum? What’s your next travel destination in 2019?