Headed to Mexico soon and looking for the best Tulum itinerary?! Whether you’ve got a short 3 days in Tulum or a week or longer, I’ve got you covered!
Tulum is your true boho chic escape – full of trendy restaurants, lush jungles, beachside yoga, coral reefs, and poppin beach clubs. It’s way more touristy and expensive than other parts of Mexico, but the gorgeous turquoise beaches, seaside Mayan ruins, and crystal clear cenotes are reason enough to visit.
Add in all the instagram worthy art, swanky hotels, and amazing vegan food, as well as the sustainable and eco friendly practices – it’s got that perfect laid-back jungle beach town vibe.
You’ll find loads of hippies, millennials, and spiritual types here, some basing themselves in Tulum for months at a time. What can I say – I kinda wish I was one of them; who wouldn’t wanna wake up by the beach everyday in a town filled with gorgeous bohemian designs?
Tulum is a place I started constantly hearing about maybe 5-8 years ago or so. It’s been on my radar for oh so long – this trendy destination has gotten exceptionally popular the last few years and I’ve been dying to visit for a while.
So when I randomly found myself with an extra few days in the Yucatan Peninsula (after exploring Merida, Chichen Itza, Izamal, Los Coloradas, Valladolid, and Bacalar), I decided it was finally time to check out Tulum! And that I did!
Before we get into this Tulum itinerary, I’ve got lots of additional (important) info to dish out first!
Important Logistics for Your Tulum Itinerary
Where is Tulum?
Tulum is located on the Caribbean coastline of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo. It’s about 2 hours south of Cancun and 1 hour south of Playa del Carmen.
In my opinion, one of the biggest draws of Tulum is its location. It’s smack dab in the middle of oh so much! Meaning there’s tons of day trip opportunities and a great place to include on your Yucatan road trip itinerary!
But remember — Mexico is a HUGE country! Tulum is on the opposite coast of popular spots like Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita, and the up-and-coming tiny town of San Pancho, and nowhere near Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, or Oaxaca (although those are all worthy of their own Mexico trip). You’ll wanna save spots like Los Cabos, La Paz, and Todos Santos for another Mexico trip as well, since they’re far away from Tulum.
How to Get to Tulum
Thankfully, getting to Tulum is pretty easy. If you’re not already in the area, expect to fly into Cancun first. Then make your way to Tulum, by car, private transport, or bus! Lots more info below.
Flights to Cancun International Airport
First off, you’ll need to get yourself to Cancun. The closest major international airport to Tulum is Cancun International Airport (airport code CUN), located about an hour and a half north of Tulum.
Do note that there’s no airport in Tulum itself, although I heard rumors that construction for an airport in Tulum is starting soon and is set to be completed in 2023. Who knows, fingers crossed! That’d take a lot of stress (and crowds) away from the Cancun airport, thankfully!
There are tons of daily non-stop flights to Cancun from most major cities in the United States, as well as Canada and even Europe, too! For reference, I flew from San Francisco to Cancun in just under 6 hours nonstop.
Getting from Cancun Airport to Tulum
Once you’ve landed in Cancun, you’ll then need to get yourself over to Tulum of course! It’s not terribly far and thankfully a whole bunch of options.
Drive from Cancun: If you’re renting a car for this Tulum itinerary, you can easily drive from the airport. It’s a pretty straightforward drive down the Cancun – Chetumal/México 307 (a major highway) and takes about an hour and a half or so. You’ll pass Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, and Akumal on the way. If you’ve got the time, make a few stops!
Taking the ADO Bus: The most economical way to get from the Cancun Airport to Tulum is to take the ADO Airport bus. I used the ADO buses all around Yucatan and Quintana Roo, and found them super comfortable, safe, and easy! They run continuously throughout the day and late into the night.
You can either buy a ticket on arrival (at the ADO counter at the airport after exiting baggage claim) or beforehand on the ADO website (what I did and recommend – the buses fill up surprisingly fast!). Expect to pay about 385 pesos (~$20USD) each way. If you’re staying in town you can most likely walk to your accommodation from the ADO bus station, but you’ll need to take a taxi if your hotel is closer to the beach.
Pre-Booking a Private Transfer: By far the easiest way to get from Cancun to Tulum is by private transfer. While these will be more expensive than taking the bus, you won’t need to worry about anything! Most drivers are bilingual, will have cold water waiting for you in the car, have top-notch AC, will work around your flight schedule, and you’ll get dropped off right at your hotel.
Cost of transfers depends on how many people you’re traveling with – typically between $30 and $60 per person one way. Consider booking a roundtrip transfer to save time and hassles later on! Pre-book your private transfer from Cancun Airport to Tulum here.
Hiring a Taxi: Taxis are plentiful at the Cancun airport. Unlike the ability to book a private transfer ahead of time in English, you’ll need to negotiate a rate to get from Cancun to Tulum if you prefer to take a taxi. Expect prices to be around $100USD (~2000 pesos) one way. Know that taxis typically only take cash, so plan to take enough out at an ATM at the airport before hauling a taxi.
But really, it’s way more economical to take the bus or arrange a private transfer beforehand. Honestly, I can’t think of even one pro to taking a taxi – they’re wildly overpriced and you risk paying even more by getting charged high tourist prices. Especially if you don’t speak much Spanish.
How to Get Around Tulum
There are two main parts of Tulum – Tulum Town (pueblo!) and the Hotel Zone (playa!). And they’re further than most people initially realize, connected by only one street – Avenida Cobá.
Rental Car: Yes, you can rent a car and get around Tulum that way, but I honestly don’t recommend it. The streets are busy, there’s tons of traffic, and parking can be a nightmare. I only recommend renting a car if you’re including a lot of day trips on your Tulum itinerary and aren’t taking organized tours.
Biking around Tulum: By far the easiest (and most popular) way to get around Tulum is by bike. Many hotels (in both town and on the beach) offer complimentary bikes to their guests, and there’s plenty of bike rentals available on the street should you need them. Expect to pay about 150-200 pesos per day ($7-10USD).
There’s even a designated bike lane in Tulum Town that runs the entire length of the main street. You can also rent a scooter if you’ve got experience riding one, meaning you can weave through the traffic in the Hotel Zone quite easily!
Taking a Taxi: Expect taxis in Tulum to be wildly overpriced – they’ve all got fixed rates printed neatly on a laminated paper they’ll flash in your face when you’re astonished at how much they quote you.
However, ALWAYS attempt to negotiate – I found some drivers wouldn’t budge on their rates at all, so I simply walked a few minutes in the direction I wanted to go, found another driver, and asked their rates.
Eventually I was able to confirm a price I was happy enough about. Fixed rates are about 200 pesos (~$10USD) from town to the ruins (I paid 100!), 400ish (~$20USD) from the ruins to the middle of the beach road (I paid 250!), and about 6-700 ($30-35USD) from the beach road back to Tulum Town (I paid 400!). Always confirm the fare before getting into the cab so there’s no unexpected surprises once you arrive.
There’ll be lots of stop-and-go traffic (especially on the weekend) along the beach road – it took me almost 20 minutes to go 3km in a taxi. Unfortunately, unlike other spots in Mexico (like Merida and Mexico City) ride shares don’t exist in Tulum so you’ll need to rely solely on taxis if you don’t have a bike or rental car.
Riding Colectivos: Colectivos are shared vans that primarily locals use. They’re cheap but super busy. If I was staying in Tulum for more than a few days I would have definitely figured out the colectivo bus system (pickup spots can be tricky – ask your hotel where to catch them).
If you wanna use them, look out for the white vans with destinations on their windshields. There’s plenty in town on Avenida Tulum.
Walking in Tulum: I clocked in over 20k steps each day I was in Tulum – great for working off all those tacos and smoothie bowls! You can easily walk around Tulum Pueblo – it’s not huge by any means and there’s only one main street (Avenida Tulum) with plenty of smaller side streets.
However, walking the beach road is a whole other story – there’s little to no sidewalks so I found myself walking alongside cars and bikers. I decided to walk on the beach itself instead, which was of course much more scenic and enjoyable!
How Long to Spend in Tulum
So here’s the thing → You can see most of Tulum’s main tourist sights and even have plenty of time at the beach with only 2 days in the area. That’s how long I spent!
However, most Tulum itineraries recommend you spend at least 5 days in the area. And some even 10! While I get you may be tempted to stay in the same area if you’ve got this much time for ease of traveling, I HIGHLY recommend getting out of Tulum and experiencing a more authentic side of Mexico. Yes, Tulum is fun and all, but trust me – it doesn’t come close to the “real” Mexico.
There’s plenty of nearby cities, towns, and even islands to explore in both Yucatán and Quintana Roo, including Merida (3 ½ hours away), Valladolid (1 ½ hours away), Isla Holbox (3 hours away), and even Bacalar (2 ½ hours away). I’ll get into this a bit more as the Tulum itinerary progresses!
If you have your heart set on visiting Tulum for a week or longer, add a few day trips into your Tulum itinerary. There’s so many great spots nearby!
When to Visit Tulum
Is there ever a bad time to visit the beach in Mexico? Unfortunately yes… keep on reading!
High Season: December to April
High season is crowded for a reason – temps are perfect (between the high 60s and low 80s), with only a slight chance of rain, and lots of sunshine with cool breezes on the coast. However, January through March sees the highest crowds and most expensive hotel rates of the year.
For reference, I visited Tulum in late December and had pretty perfect weather. It was a balmy 85F most of the time, with some rain showers that quickly passed by.
Low Season: July to October
Hurricane season starts in June, although the bulk of the storms don’t typically arrive until July or later. Expect lots of rain as well seaweed on the beaches. This is peak sargasso (seaweed season), which can leave the beaches unswimmable and not super picturesque. Plus, many restaurants, hotels, and shops close for a few weeks during low season.
If you don’t want your trip to be impacted by potentially stormy weather, I’d choose another time of year for your Tulum itinerary. June through August is typically the hottest time of year in Tulum, with crazy high temps in the 90s. Too hot and sticky for me anyways!
Shoulder Seasons: May – June, November
The hurricanes haven’t arrived yet but the temps are heating up. You can normally find some excellent hotel deals if you’re willing to chance the weather!
Where to Stay in Tulum
When deciding where to stay during your 3 days in Tulum (or longer), you’ve essentially got two main options: Tulum Town or the Hotel Zone. No matter where you stay, make sure you book in advance, especially if you’re visiting in the high season (December to April). Also note that some hotels are adults-only; something to keep in mind if you’re traveling with children!
There’s pros and cons to both the town and beach of course:
Tulum Pueblo (also called El Centro and Tulum Town)
- Much better restaurants
- More nightlife (nightclubs and bars)
- Accommodations are less expensive (better for budget travelers)
- Can walk everywhere
- Access to everything you need — banks, pharmacies, convenience stores, etc
I stayed in Tulum Town and am so glad I did – it’s commonly known that the food is much better in town (as opposed to at the beach clubs) so I was able to walk to different restaurants every night for dinner.
I also went to a few fun bars, namely Batey Mojito & Guarapo Bar (for the best mojitos in town, fresh sugar cane stick included) and La Guarida (a cool space with tons of different rooms to hang out in).
A few popular and highly-rated hotels in Tulum Town are:
- Hotel Bardo: minimalist loft-style rooms with outdoor showers, private jungle gardens, and private pools
- Coco Hacienda Tulum: affordable luxury right in the middle of the city center, with lush green jungle vibes and two pools with pops of color throughout
- Layla Tulum: super instagrammable with it’s Moroccan-inspired rooftop pool and beds suspended with rope from the ceiling
- Live Tulum: great if you want an apartment-like hotel, since rooms have kitchens, some even with large fridges and an oven
- Wake up at the beach!
- Way more expensive
- Need to bike or take taxis to access all the beach clubs and restaurants
- Not much nightlife
Sun worshippers, if you’re looking for more of a true beach vacation, you’ll enjoy staying around here. Just remember food and accommodation will be much pricier.
In Tulum, you won’t find many large-scale resorts on the beach (like you will in nearby Cancun). Instead, these hotels are big on sustainability and preserving the natural beauty of the area. Expect them to be on the smaller side, some with only a few rooms, which makes the entire experience much more intimate and private.
The Hotel Zone is essentially made up of three areas along a stretch of 6 miles or so – north, middle, and south. North Beach is closest to the ruins, middle is centrally located, and South Beach is more secluded and typically less crowded.
Check out these highly-rated hotels near the beach:
- Mezzanine: consistently rated one of the best hotels in Tulum, with its private plunge pools, chemex coffee makers, and relaxing hammock area
- Habitas: Wake up to the sound of waves and jungle views. Being completely plastic-free, this hotel is big on reducing and limiting waste which I can fully support.
- Be Tulum: Adults-only and ultra-chic, this hotel has a boho aesthetic throughout its property. On your honeymoon? Check out the Jungle House – it’s epic.
- NEST Tulum: boutique hotel right on the beach perfect for couples looking for some privacy – the private villa even comes with its own butler and chef!
- La Valise Tulum: luxury jungle-themed beachfront bungalows filled with Mexican art and culture, with an amazing infinity pool and impressive bathtubs
What to Pack for Tulum
When packing for your trip, you wanna make sure you’ve got all the right clothing and gear for everything you’ve planned for your Tulum itinerary. Think about the activities you’ll be doing (swimming in cenotes, snorkeling in the ocean, exploring Mayan ruins, heading out for fancy dinners, going to nightclubs, etc) and prepare for those!
People dress very casually in Tulum. At times, I even felt a bit overdressed in my long skirts and dresses. Think jean shorts, crop tops, workout gear, and loose, flowy cotton dresses. You’ll also wanna pack a few bathing suits, beach cover-ups, bug spray, and comfy/flat sandals.
Here’s a few other necessities:
- Polarized sunglasses (better for blocking out the harsh UV rays)
- Beach bag and/or backpack: make sure it’s large enough to fit a beach towel or two!
- Hat/s: The sun is strong here! I love taking a wide-brimmed sun hat for the beach and a fun trucker hat when taking long walks.
- If your Tulum itinerary includes a bunch of snorkeling and you wanna stay super safe (and super sanitary), bring along your own mask and snorkel.
- A waterproof kindle or other e-reader for reading at the beach (I’d be worried a physical book may accidentally get wet!)
- Your hotel may give you towels, but we love traveling with a sand-free beach mat
- Reusable water bottle: better for the environment and a must for wandering around town!
- Reef-safe sunscreen: Regular sunscreen is strictly prohibited while swimming in coral reefs and protected areas, as well as cenotes. In order to help preserve the reefs and natural wildlife, pack some reef-safe sunscreen for use during your trip. We love ThinkSport (make sure the bottles are less than 3.4 ounces if you’re bringing them in your carryon)! Don’t forget about SPF lip balm as well!
- Aloe Vera Gel: always have some handy in case you get a sunburn; aloe will give the burn some much-needed relief
- Water shoes or waterproof sandals: Planning to visit a few cenotes? The natural landscape of cenotes can be very rocky and slippery so water shoes or waterproof sandals will definitely be needed to protect your feet.
- Portable battery charger: Charge your phone on the go and never run out of battery
- Noise-canceling headphones: Great for both the plane and the beach! I’m obsessed with my AirPods and Noah loves his Bose Quiet Comforts.
Is Tulum Worth the Hype?
Yes and no. It really depends on what you’re looking for! I like Tulum’s vibe way better than nearby Cancún and Playa del Carmen, but it’s far from my favorite place in Mexico.
I honestly kinda feel like everyone romanticizes Tulum (kinda like they do Hawaii). Tulum’s definitely got its own fair share of problems like any major tourist destination does — drug-related gang activity, corrupt police, lots of plastic pollution, and OVER-TOURISM (and over-development) to name a few.
The area is getting more and more popular, meaning it’s even less authentic and even more expensive than it used to be. Sure, it’s still super fun, but like I noted before, I’d opt to only stay a few days and then explore other areas of the Yucatan Peninsula. If crowds and parties aren’t your scene, head south to Bacalar instead (it’s way more chill and less touristy and OMG the water).
Other Important FAQs for your Tulum Itinerary
Like the rest of Mexico, the local currency in Tulum is the Mexican Peso. I highly advise you to take out some pesos at an ATM at the Cancun Airport upon arrival (as you’ll get the best conversion rate using an ATM and never at a currency exchange kiosk).
You’ll always wanna have some pesos on you for smaller restaurants, taxi rides, shops, and street vendors. While plenty of restaurants take credit cards, not all do. Be sure to ask beforehand, and understand that many add an annoying 5% upcharge for credit card use.
Psst – USD is accepted at most places, but the exchange rate will be abysmal. I always recommend paying in pesos and NEVER in USD if you can avoid it. There’s ATMs all over Tulum Town, so finding an ATM should never be a problem.
I used quite a few ATMs in Tulum but note they all charge a hefty fee. I recommend you get a no-fee ATM card if you don’t already have one (we’ve been using Charles Schwab for years and haven’t paid a pesky fee in forever).
At the time of writing (January 2023), the peso is equivalent to 5 cents USD (or 1 USD = ~20 Mexican pesos). I found it easy-ish to convert in my head by thinking of 100 pesos = roughly $5USD (or 200 pesos = ~$10USD). It takes a bit of practice but after a day or two you’ll be able to do the conversion super quickly in your head.
Tipping: Tipping is standard practice in Tulum, anywhere from 10-20% of the bill depending on the level of service. Be careful when paying as some restaurants automatically add tip onto the bill (which you can choose to pay or not).
Expenses: Tulum is expensive, there’s no way around it. Hotels are expensive, food is expensive, taxis are expensive, and even the souvenir shops (with the same goods you’ll find all over Mexico) are expensive. Even hostel dorm beds tend to be overpriced.
Depending where you’re coming from, expect to pay higher or similar prices for food and drink. For example, smoothie bowls were roughly 200 pesos ($10USD), a plate of 3 fish tacos in the hotel zone cost me roughly 350 pesos ($18USD), and specialty coffees were about 85 pesos ($4-5USD).
If you wanna save on costs, stay in Tulum Town, rent bikes or take collectivos, and take the ADO bus to and from the Cancún airport.
I heard more English in Tulum than I have in all my time in Mexico combined. That’s not to say everyone speaks perfect English — plenty of taxi drivers, restaurant staff, and everyday locals speak primarily Spanish and have limited English.
Knowing Spanish (or at least learning some key phrases) will help you on your trip to Tulum.
A few helpful phrases to start you off:
- Hola = Hello
- Adios = Goodbye
- Buenos dias = Good morning
- Buenas tardes = Good afternoon
- Buenas noches = Good night
- Cuanto cuesta? = How much does it cost?
- Cómo te llamas? = What is your name?
- Me llamo… = My name is…
- Soy de… = I am from…
- Cerveza = Beer
- Margarita = Margarita
- La cuenta, por favor? = The check, please?
- Gracias = Thank you
- Para llevar = take away
Safety in Tulum
I know, I know. Mexico gets a bad rep. But I can assure you I felt completely safe during my few days in Tulum. Use precautions like you would elsewhere in the world – like keeping expensive jewelry/watches at home, hiding electronics, being extra careful and observant at banks and ATMs, and knowing your alcohol limit.
With that being said, the police in Mexico are corrupt, and Tulum is no exception. A guy I met said even the police hustled money out of him a few days prior. Use precautions and always trust your gut — if this happens to you, pay up and get on with your day (your life is worth more than a few bucks).
Stick to Bottled Water in Tulum: Like the rest of Mexico, you cannot drink the tap water in Tulum (brushing your teeth is fine). You’ll find bottled water everywhere you go, and it’s important to stay hydrated in the heat. I found restaurants to always use filtered water in their aguas frescas (flavored waters that are oh so delicious), and asked about ice when I wasn’t sure (which was always made with filtered water as well).
Other Things to Know
Tulum is a Pueblo Magico: There’s a reason Tulum’s been designated as a Pueblo mágico (Magic Town) by the Mexican government (just like Todos Santos, Teotihuacán, Izamal, Valladolid, Sayulita, Bacalar, San Miguel de Allende – wow, I’ve been to quite a few of them!). Those Mayan ruins right by the sea really are quite spectacular, as are the white, sandy beaches.
Flushing toilet paper: And last but not least, it’s advised not to flush toilet paper in Tulum since the septic tanks can’t really handle it. I forgot a few times and nothing happened, but try and be mindful of this.
So without further ado, let’s get to it – the ultimate Tulum itinerary coming right up!
4+ Days in Tulum Itinerary
Tulum Itinerary Day 1: Arrive and Explore Tulum Pueblo
You’re most likely flying into Cancun and then making your way to Tulum on your first day in Mexico, so take this day to acclimate yourself to the area a bit. I recommend exploring Tulum Pueblo for a few hours or so. You can easily get around on foot or bike if your hotel has them (I wouldn’t bother renting them just for town though, it’s pretty small).
Tulum Pueblo, unlike the swanky chic beach area, feels way more authentic, and you’re reminded that you’re in an actual, living Mexican town. There’s cheap taco joints serving al pastor on plastic plates, colorful street graffiti painted by the locals, and lots of cute street dogs. It’s a great mix of affordable eats and trendy hotspots.
You’ll see locals going about their everyday lives, shop owners practically begging you to look at their mass-produced souvenirs for sale, and tourists on their bikes strolling the town. It’s a small bustling town (albeit kinda gritty) that can be thoroughly explored in a matter of a few hours.
While there aren’t tons of things to do in town itself, here’s a few:
Street art: Not many know this (since Tulum is overshadowed by so many other artistic aspects), but there’s a whole bunch of colorful street art and murals in Tulum Pueblo.
These pieces by local artists are all over town, albeit kinda hard to find. You need to really seek them out to find the pieces – they’re fairly hidden from view on the backstreets of Avenida Tulum.
And you never know what you’ll find – popular pieces include the giant sea turtles, Mayan women cooking together, and a deep-sea diver kiss.
Local food tour: Foodies rejoice! If you want to savor some authentic Mexican specialties (where the locals go) and skip the touristy hot spots, this Tulum food tour is for you. Expect to try tacos de guisado, fresh fruit juices, tamales, mole, and more.
You’ll also learn about the city’s culture and history, so it’s a great introduction to the area. This downtown Tulum food tour is actually with the same company as the food tour I joined in Merida, so I can vouch it was a great time with some really great food.
Boutique and Souvenir Shopping: You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to shopping in Tulum town. Every few feet there’ll be either another small boutique or souvenir shop filled with items you won’t find at home. While many sell similar things, there’s still plenty of gems to be found.
Think handmade hammocks, fedora hats, colorful sugar skulls, intricate woven art dreamcatchers, hand stitched table runners, unique jewelry, and intricately beaded artwork. Go check out the Tulum Bazaar, a shopping mall of sorts with a wide range of shops and vendors, including souvenir shops with gift items to handcrafted pottery and artwork.
Do note that if you’re visiting other places in the Yucatan Peninsula, you’ll find prices to be exceptionally higher in Tulum. I bought a hat in Valladolid from a flea market in the main square for 200 pesos, and found almost the exact same hat in Tulum for 750 pesos (in a boutique no less so no bargaining there).
Where to Eat in Tulum Pueblo
- Matcha Mama: Easily Tulum’s most Insta-famous açai bowl spot now with four locations – a few scattered around the beach and one in town. The location here in town is typically way less crowded and there’ll hardly be a line! It’s pink and chic and all kinds of tropical goodness. While I thoroughly enjoyed my smoothie bowl, I wasn’t impressed with their lack of sustainability (why can’t they use reusable bowls instead of paper containers)?
- Raw Love: This trendy raw vegan restaurant will really change your mind about vegan food if you had any prior doubts about it. Expect to find lots of salads, raw soups, acai smoothie bowls, and fruit bowls on the menu. I’m completely obsessed with the chocolate dream bowl – absolutely delicious and made with dates and cocoa nibs – with no added sugar! There’s two locations to choose from – Raw Love Town and Raw Love Playa. I visited Raw Love Town and wish I could eat there every single damn day.
- Humo: One step inside Humo and you’ll feel like you got transported right to the jungle, complete with a domed bamboo structure and lots of comfy pillows. Don’t miss the grilled octopus and a few cocktails. Lots of authentic and original blended flavors of Mexico!
- Burrito Amor: I completely get the hype of Burrito Amor. My pollo burrito was one of the best burritos I’ve ever had in my life (and I eat a lot of burritos living in San Francisco!). I love how they’re wrapped in banana leaves – so sustainable! They’ve even got vegan burritos if you don’t eat meat.
- Antojitos La Chiapaneca: Unfortunately this spot was on vacation for my entire stay in Tulum, but I’ve heard the tacos are cheap and delicious!
- La Reyna de Michoacan: Hot day? Have a paleta, a Mexican popsicle. There’s tons of flavors to pick one, with maracuya (passionfruit) always being my favorite!
- Taqueria Honorio: Another famous taco spot in Tulum Pueblo. They open crazy early (at 6am) so you can even have tacos for breakfast!
Night: Explore Tulum’s Nightlife
After some delicious dinner in town (I highly recommend either Burrito Amor or Humo), it’s time to experience some of Tulum’s famous nightlife!
And don’t worry, the pueblo’s got something for everyone. There’s both laid back, eclectic yet affordable bars as well as night clubs where you can dance until the wee hours of the night.
Have a low-key night at Batey’s Mojito and Guarapo Bar, with some of the best mojitos in town (they put fresh sugar cane sticks into all their drinks), and/or listen to some live music at La Guarida. Santino Bar (locals love to dance to reggae here!), Nana Rooftop Bar (the best artisanal Mezcal cocktails around), and Caribe Swing are other popular spots to hang out.
If you’re looking to party all night, you’ll be glad to know Tulum’s got some epic nightclubs. People travel from all around the world to experience Tulum’s hottest music events – all super loud with beats from talented DJs. My hotel was actually right next to the new Animal Club, so I heard music all… night… long. Until 4am. Something to keep in mind when deciding where to stay, haha.
Tulum Itinerary Day 2: Mayan Ruins and Beach Time
Morning: Tulum Ruins
Time to start officially exploring! The Tulum Ruins are considered by many as the most beautiful of the Mayan Ruin sites around Cancun, and it’s true. The ruins overlook the stunning turquoise water and white sandy beaches – such a sight to see. The archeological ruins of Tulum are one of the best-preserved coastal Mayan sites in not only the Yucatan, but all of Mexico.
Easily the #1 thing to add to any Tulum itinerary. Don’t miss it!
Because of this, Tulum is also one of the most popular ruins to visit, meaning you’ll want to get there super early and plan to explore on your own or with a private guide. Don’t join a group tour – you’ll get stuck in a group of 20 some odd sweaty and sticky people (it gets pretty humid over here depending on the time of year).
I visited the Tulum Ruins on my first visit to Quintana Roo as well, and the ruins and views were just as impressive the second time around.
A few tips for visiting these impressive Tulum Ruins:
- Buy your tickets at the entrance, not beforehand in the parking lot. Entrance tickets should cost about 85 pesos (~4.50USD).
- Go with a private guide, but skip the public tours. You can find a private guide at the entrance of the archaeological site for a few hundred pesos.
- Go EARLY. The ruins are by far the most popular site to see in Tulum, and it gets crowded. While the site is pretty large, everyone is fighting for the same views, so you’ll be glad you beat the crowds (and heat as well). I walked in around 9:30am, fully expecting it to be crazy packed and was pleasantly surprised with the lack of massive crowds. Once I was ready to leave about an hour and a half later, there were infinitely more people around.
- Skip a visit on Sundays – since entrance is free on Sundays for Mexican citizens and residents, it’s insanely packed.
- Don’t miss El Castillo (the Castle) – it’s Tulum’s main pyramid and the most impressive in my opinion.
- You cannot climb any of the structures anymore. This is a thing of the past. If you want to climb some ruins, head over to Ek Balam near Valladolid, Izamal near Merida, or Coba, northwest of Tulum.
- Take in the sea views – this is where I took my best photos, with the ruins on the cliff overlooking the bright blue water. Absolutely spectacular. Keep on walking past the throngs of people and you’ll find some quieter paths right along the water.
- Look out for the sun-tanning iguanas – they’re all over the old stone structures but hard to find since they crawl in and out of them so fast. And blend in quite well!
- You can only head down to the beach at certain times of year. When I was visiting in late December it was turtle-breeding season, so tourists were not allowed to climb down to the beach.
- Exit towards the beach (don’t walk back to the entrance) and then hang out at Playa Paraiso. More info next!
Psst – if you’re really into immersive art, you should also check out Tulum Mystika Immersive, not far from the ruins. It’s a one-of-a-kind mystical sensory experience that helps you connect with Mayan cosmology, nature, and music – exactly what Tulum is all about! Plus, I can only imagine how cool the photos would be! Kinda reminds me a tad of the TeamLab experience I had in Tokyo, Japan!
Afternoon/Night: Lunch, Beach, and Hotel Zone
Once you’re done exploring the ruins, it’s time for the beach! Spend the rest of the day hitting up a beach club (or two), stuffing your face with some fish tacos, and walking/biking down the Hotel Zone street.
Unlike Tulum Pueblo, you’ll need a bike (or taxi) to get around easily. The road is long – at 10km (6miles), so think about your transportation ahead of time. I didn’t realize how expensive taxis would be, so didn’t make it down to the southern side of the road/beach.
If you’re walking (like I was), you probably won’t wanna walk the entire road – it’s 10km long! I ended up taking a taxi from the northern part of the beach (close to Playa Paraiso) to the middle area near Coco Tulum, and walked a bit from there.
A few things not to miss in the Hotel Zone:
Fish tacos for lunch: Villa Pescadores has some of the best fish tacos in all of Tulum, and it’s the perfect spot for lunch after visiting the ruins.
I found a bunch of the restaurants (and restaurant staff) in the hotel zone to be unnecessarily pretentious and overpriced. Some with minimums of $75-100 per person for a meal. Kinda ridiculous if you ask me. Psst — the restaurants in Tulum Pueblo (El Centro) are way more laidback with better food overall.
Hang at the beach! You’re in the hotel zone, of course you need to spend some time at the beach! Thankfully, Tulum’s got a whole bunch. You’ll find beach bars and beach beds available for rent all along the beach (many with a minimum spend, so ask ahead of time).
- Playa Ruinas: Right near the Tulum ruins, which you can sometimes only access depending on safety of the wooden steps leading down to the beach as well as turtle nesting/breeding season. It was closed when I went. No facilities here, but that just keeps it unspoiled.
- Playa Paraiso: I swear, I’ve never felt softer sand than here at Playa Paraiso. I loved kicking my sandals off and just walking on the shore for what felt like miles and miles. The beachfront is wide and there’s lots of sand and snorkeling boats here.
- Las Palmas: This beach is typically less crowded and more private compared to popular Playa Paraiso.
Boat and Snorkel Trips: While walking on the beach, especially near popular Playa Paraiso, plenty of locals will ask if you want to take a snorkeling tour to the nearby Mesoamerican coral reef in Tulum. You’ll see the empty boats right on the shore!
Spontaneous snorkel session anyone?! Boats then travel north and you get to see the ruins from a different perspective – right from the water! Want your own private tour instead? Book this tour right here in advance.
Hit up some instagrammable spots in Tulum: The whole area is insta-famous, and the beach is no exception.
A few of the most popular photos are Follow That Dream Sign, Matcha Mama, Ven a la Luz at Ahau Tulum Beach (which is now controlled and costs 60 pesos to see/photograph), and the swings at Coco Beach Tulum (although hard to get a photo without any others in it unless you go early).
Tulum Itinerary Day 3: Cenote Hopping
Next up on your Tulum itinerary – cenote hopping!
Everyone always talks about the mesmerizing waters of cenotes, but what exactly are they?
Cenotes (pronounced suh-NO-tay) are natural freshwater swimming holes; essentially, sinkholes filled with groundwater (connected to much larger bodies of water deep under the surface). Some are even part of massive cave systems, full of stalagmites and stalactites. Pretty fascinating, right?
They’re an iconic feature of the Yucatan peninsula, meaning you’ve got to add a few to your Tulum itinerary! Cenotes are located all around Quintana Roo (there’s said to be upwards of 7,000 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula alone), so you’ve got your pick.
Psst: I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of cenote photos plastered all over IG and Pinterest. They’re pretty epic if you ask me.
Here’s a few of the most popular and closest cenotes to Tulum:
- Big Cenote
- Cenote Escondido
- Gran Cenote
- Cenote Zacil-Ha
- Cenote AkTun Ha
Cenote Suytun, one of the most photographed cenotes in the Yucatan, is about an hour and a half away from Tulum. I went when I visited Valladolid (as it’s only 15 minutes away), but think it’s worth the drive from Tulum if you really want the photo. It’s pretty epic if you ask me. Most people don’t swim (as the cenote is pretty shallow) and just come for the photo, haha.
If you rented a car for your Tulum itinerary, you can easily get to the cenotes by driving. However, if you didn’t, there’s a few tours you can take instead, thankfully!
Here’s a few recommended tours from Tulum that bring you to a few cenotes:
- Visiting Secluded Cenotes by Bike: Journey through the high forest on the outskirts of Tulum and discover a variety of caves, caverns, and cenotes that are hidden underneath the jungle of the Yucatan. Explore, swim, and snorkel in three secluded cenotes by bike, far from the crowds.
- Four Cenote Adventure plus Lunch: Visit four incredible cenotes in the middle of the pristine jungle beyond Tulum. Enjoy swimming, canoeing, zip-lines, and even jungle trekking before heading to a Mayan village to try some exquisite traditional Mayan cuisine. Yum!
- Snorkeling & Underground Cenotes Half-Day Tour: Explore a 600m cave until you arrive at an area where the ceiling of the cave has collapsed and natural light shines through. Learn about the different geological formations that characterize the Yucatan. Get ready – this adventure requires a flashlight (included in the tour). Lots of colorful fish and possibly even a few dolphins await!
- Scuba Diving in Cenotes: Discover the magical underwater world of Mexico’s world famous cenotes by scuba. Take a 30-minute scuba diving course before plunging into these beautiful natural swimming pools surrounded by mangroves. A great first scuba experience!
Tulum Itinerary Days 4 and Beyond: Day Trips!
After a full 3 days in Tulum proper, it’s time to get outta the area! There’s a whole bunch of wonderful day trips you can take from Tulum – deciding where to go is the hardest part.
While Tulum is worthy in and of itself as a destination, there’s tons to do right outside its borders. Think (more) ancient ruins, quaint colorful towns, island adventures, and even a lagoon that rivals the Maldives (yes, it’s true).
So add a few of these day trips to your Tulum itinerary! You won’t regret it.
Psst – interested in a few of these day trips? You’ll probably wanna extend your Tulum itinerary to at least a week or so! My favorites are Bacalar and Chichen Itza/Valladolid!
Day Trip Option #1: Cozumel
Located roughly 2 ½ hours away from Tulum (drive to Playa del Carmen then take the ferry over), the island of Cozumel is a great option for a day trip. Cozumel is a small island known for its beautiful beaches and incredible coral reefs, so it’s a great place to spend the day relaxing at a beach club, partaking in a snorkeling tour, or simply strolling through the colorful downtown area. There’s a reason it’s one of the most popular day trips from Tulum!
Everyone’s favorite beach on Cozumel is Playa Palancar, which is on the island’s southwestern tip. It’s a stunningly calm beach and offers some great beach clubs and amenities. Plus, it rarely gets hit with seaweed that can sometimes be present on other beaches in Riviera Maya.
While here, don’t miss a glass bottom boat snorkeling trip and/or a catamaran tour to Cozumel’s El Cielo Beach and Palancar Reef. Renting a convertible buggy and exploring the island is a fun way to spend a day as well!
Day Trip Option #2: Chichen Itza and Valladolid
If this is your first time to the Yucatan Peninsula, you need to get yourself over to Chichen Itza. It’s the most well known ruin in all of Mexico and one of my favorite day trips from Tulum.
This area was a large pre-Columbian city built by the Maya people, and is still visited by approximately 2 MILLION people every year. Kinda wild, right?
The Kukulkan Pyramid in Chichen-Itza (known as “El Castillo”), is listed as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World! I highly recommend joining a guided tour as the history of the Mayan civilization is oh so interesting and there’s lots of it. Unfortunately, climbing the ruins at Chichen Itza isn’t allowed anymore (and hasn’t been since 2006).
Thankfully, getting from Tulum to Chichen Itza is super easy on a guided tour (like this one!) as it’s only a little over 2 hours away. Many tours also visit Valladolid, a cute colonial city with vibrant colonial architecture, as well as a nearby cenote, so you can really see a whole lot in just one day.
This Tulum to Chichen Itza tour even has tequila tasting as well (plus visits to Valladolid, lunch, and a cenote), and it’s super reasonable!
Day Trip Option #3: Sian Ka’an
If you’ve never traveled to this area, you may have never heard of Sian Ka’an. What is it?! A biosphere reserve renowned for its natural beauty and diverse wildlife (home to thousands of species of flora and fauna) – it’s even a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Guided tours from Tulum are pretty pricey (starting at ~$100USD) but worth it for the transportation alone (it’s pretty tricky to get here on some questionable roads).
Most tours include time wandering the ancient ruins of Muyil (with a variety of birds, plants, and animals – maybe even monkeys), gazing out at the unblemished jungle (it’s absolutely remarkable!), taking a boat ride through the trading canals of the ancient Maya civilization, and floating back down through the canals between mangroves. An epic, adventurous day!
Day Trip Option #4: Bacalar
Bacalar is actually right by the Belize border, but only a 2 ½ drive from Tulum! The main draw of Bacalar is its location right on Lake Bacalar, also called the Lagoon of Seven Colors due to its spectacular blue and turquoise hues. And that it is! There’s a reason it’s known as the “Maldives of Mexico”!
People say Bacalar will be the next Tulum – so get there now before it loses its authenticity and untouched charm. I spent 3 nights in Bacalar, but you can easily see its highlights in a very long day from Tulum. But however long you stay (as a day trip from Tulum or a few days like me), definitely take a sailing trip on Lake Bacalar. The color of the water in the lagoon is unreal – I wish I could float in those waters all day, everyday.
This sailing trip goes to all the main highlights of the lake – including Pirate Canal and Bird Island. Plus lots of seasonal fruit, perfect when out on the water.
Day Trip Option #5: Playa del Carmen
Located roughly halfway between Cancun and Tulum (an hour away from each) is Playa del Carmen, one of the most visited beach destinations in the world. And for a reason – have you seen the sparkly blue waters?
You can spend your day at a beach club downtown (Mamitas Beach Club, Kool Beach Club, and Encanto Beach Club are good ones), book a parasailing tour, and even swim with whale sharks during whale shark season (between June and September)!
It’s got tons of unpretentious charm and a laid-back beachy carefree vibe. Don’t miss a stroll down Fifth Avenue (“La Quinta Avenida” in Spanish), the most popular pedestrian-only street in Playa del Carmen with countless restaurants, souvenir stands, shops, and nightlife.
Day Trip Option #6: Coba Ruins
With its pyramid shaped temples with views over the surrounding jungle and only an hour away from Tulum, Coba is one of the best day trips from Tulum. Especially since it’s completely different from other archeological sites.
First of all, Coba is located in the middle of the jungle (helloooo jungle vibes), and most importantly, you can still climb the main pyramid (Nohoch Mul), which just so happens to be the highest in all of the Yucatan Peninsula.
If you’re looking to visit both Chichen Itza and Coba, this guided tour from Tulum takes you to both on the same day! Perfect for those looking to hit up a few Mayan ruins!
Are you visiting Quintana Roo soon?! Hope this (very) comprehensive Tulum itinerary helps you plan your trip!