During our most recent vacation in Mexico we chose Playa Del Carmen as our base. As we have been intrigued by Tulum for quite some time now and it’s only an hour away, we decided to plan a day trip to check it out and see if we’d like to plan a longer stay in the future. In this post, we will share some tips and information to help you plan a similar trip and/or to see if Tulum would interest you.
Due to of its abundant options for outdoor adventure, historical sights, abundant and stunning beaches, a unique dining scene, and shopping opportunities, there are a lot of things to do here on the beach and in town.
Tulum continues to be a popular tourist destination for those wanting something different than large hotels and all-inclusive down the coast on the Yucatan peninsula. About 1.5 hours away from CUN – Cancun airport, it’s easily accessible from North America.
While there is some good and bad to this, Travel + Leisure has dubbed Tulum as one of the top vacation spots for “Xennials”. It truly is the Instagram capital of the world; “May the forces of Instagram be with you…when you visit Tulum”, or at least that’s what it feels like.
- Took the ADO Bus from Playa Del Carmen Turistica to Tulum at 08:00
- Picked up bikes from iBike at 09:30
- Rode our bikes to the Grand Cenote for a swim at 10:00
- Rode our bikes to the beach (right at the fork in the road) and had lunch at 12:30
- Rode our bikes to Playa Pescadores at 14:00
- Rode our bikes back to iBike at 16:30
- Took the ADO Bus from Tulum to Playa Del Carmen Turistica at 18:00
First Impressions of Tulum:
Tulum town feels a little low-key and dusty compared to Playa Del Carmen. It’s quite easy to walk around and we did feel quite safe. The more local and standard food options are also in town, including Taco Honorio (we really wanted to eat here but it was closed) and Pollo Bronco. New boutique hotels are starting to open and with the murals, it’s starting to change, you can see it and wonder if it will end up more like Playa Del Carmen town.
As we left town to make our way to the beach, we came to a fork in the road and decided to go right first as this is where the bulk of the hotels are. As you make your way towards this stretch, you start to see how trendy Tulum is but also really low-key and laid-back (minus all the staged selfies, sorry not sorry for photobombing your photos). This area of Tulum reminded us of Ubud Bali, with elements of Canggu and Seminyak; it’s hip and trendy but with better beaches.
We had lunch at the famed Taqueria La Eufamia and while the setting was nice and the service pretty decent, the food was not very good; they were passable fish tacos. If you want to hang out here, grab a beer and maybe some chips and guacamole, but that’s it.
While there are numerous hotels and similar accommodations, infrastructure hasn’t made its way to Tulum beach; there is no electricity or public sewage. I think this might explain why there isn’t a W Hotel here yet and other larger resorts. As most of the trendy restaurants don’t open until 18:00, Tulum is a place where you spend your days exploring or sitting on the beach and then get ready for a dinner cooked over wood-fire in the jungle.
When you turn left at the fork in the road, you go towards Playa Pescadores, the beach near the ruins. This beach is also stunning and doesn’t feel crowded but it is livelier with locals and tourists; lots of drum circles, pot smoking, music, etc. It does look like a nice place to swim though and the backdrop of the ruins and beach is quite beautiful (you can understand why this is one of the most Instagrammed spots in the world).
“Cenotes” (say-NO-tay) are swimming holes that were formed when the limestone ground collapsed and the water flows from underwater caves. They are quite important in Mayan culture and were used as places for sacrifices as they were said to be portals to other worlds. The Gran Cenote is one of the more popular and known ones, so that’s the one we chose. We biked to the Gran Cenote and it took us 20 minutes from iBike. While many people do bike to the Gran Cenote and there is a bike lane, it’s not a true bike lane in the sense; it’s actually on a busy highway. The worst part is that the current roadwork is making the road narrow, hence the bike lane is more part of the highway than an actual bike lane. While we did feel a little nervous, we proceeded and took our time.
I had heard the water was cold and while I was skeptical about the whole experience, it ended up being the highlight of the day; the scenery, the water, and how peaceful it was made it such a unique experience. I’d recommend going early when it first opens as tour busses start to show up around 11:00. It cost us $10US to enter the cenote and if you want to rent a locker and/or snorkel gear that costs extra and you need to provide ID for the rental. They do not provide or rent towels so bring your own.
The Bus – How We Got to Tulum from Playa Del Carmen:
ADO is a bus line in Mexico and we chose this method of transportation due to the price, comfort and convenience. While you can take “colectivos” (mini vans) for cheaper, they stop along the way and aren’t as comfortable. Hiring a car for the day can also get very expensive. Unfortunately, you can only buy tickets in person as the online purchase system only appears to work for Mexican credit cards. We chose the 08:00 bus to town and purchased our tickets at 07:30 for $51 pesos (prices vary on the bus). We decided to leave from the Playa Del Carmen Turistica Station as opposed to the Playa Del Carmen Alterna” station. If you want to go to the ruins, select “Tulum Zona Arqueologica”.
One thing we would recommend doing is purchasing your tickets for the bus the day before, including the return trip. We decided to purchase our return bus ticket at 12:00 while we were in Tulum and the buses were starting to sell out and we ended up waiting 35 minutes in line. They accept credit cards in person at the kiosk but you need a valid photo id.
The Bikes – How We Got Around in Tulum:
A big part of getting around in Tulum during our day trip was via bike. We read some reviews online and settled on iBike. It took us about 20 minutes to walk to iBike from the bus station in town and if you are renting the bikes for the day, they should be returned by 17:30. Overall, we enjoyed the rental of our two modern beach cruisers (with hand brakes) from iBike. We chose to pay with credit card and were charged an additional 16%.
Cash is King:
This is a big one and hard for some of us to deal with; many places in Tulum only accept cash as payment. The idea of walking around with large sums of cash can be a little unnerving but there are ways to get around it. We made sure to set a budget for the day based on where we couldn’t pay with credit card and brought that amount of money plus a little extra. Then, we also had a small reserve of Canadian dollars to exchange in town if needed, and our CIBC Air Canada AC conversion Visa, a credit card that allows you to load local currency and take it out at an ATM for minimal fees (you also get one free transaction per month). We have also found that the card works the best at HSBC’s and they have 2 HSBC’s in town.
We enjoyed our time in Tulum and hope to go back sooner than later to fully enjoy all it has to offer. While we were prepared to swim in the ocean, there aren’t many facilities with showers and so it is best left for when we will have a place to stay there. We also wanted to stay for dinner at one of the unique wood-fired kitchens in the jungle but couldn’t make it work with the bus schedule and our fear of getting stuck in Tulum.
We may consider renting a motorbike or car next time but one thing to consider for those who do is parking is scarce in some spots, especially for cars. The roads can also be a little rough in spots with potholes and gravel so be cautious and make sure you have sufficient insurance on your rental car and/or motorbike.
We think that spending 3 nights in Tulum would give you enough time to enjoy the local food in the town, visit a few cenotes and the ruins, relax on the beach, and make reservations at a few of the renowned restaurants. As Tulum gets more popular and development is slow, it has been pushing up the price of accommodations due to lower inventory which makes is less affordable than Playa Del Carmen.
Have you been to Tulum? Do you have any tips?
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