Tulum Travel Guide 2021
Tulum has been all the rage for a while now. So many social feeds have been covered with the magical architecture, boho style, and jungle vibes that make Tulum special.
While one half of our sister duo has already vacationed in Mexico, Tulum is simply a whole other ball game. It's chic, full of life, and quite frankly...the perfect setting for an amazing vacation.
If you're considering visiting Tulum, Mexico sometime soon - here's the guide you need to have.
Getting to Tulum is easy. You simply book a flight landing in Cancun Mexico (Cancun International Airport) where you will clear customs, exchange dollars to pesos, and pick up your rental if you have one (don't worry we cover car rentals in this guide too).
Once you receive your stamped customs form, make sure you put it in a safe place because you'll need it to leave the country.
You may think that finding a place outside of the airport to convert your USD is more convenient. However, while in the airport, you can rest assured that you'll get a solid conversion rate even if you don't speak Spanish. Unfortunately, there is a hefty fee for the exchange but avoiding the headache of potential scams is worth it.
It's important to note that workers at the exchange kiosk don't talk you through the exchange process and while they are almost too efficient - they are very meticulous when it comes to signing your signature EXACTLY the way it's printed in your passport.
**I'm not sure why they take photo copies of passports when exchanging money - but this step is almost unavoidable.
Getting to Tulum + Renting A Car in Mexico
Tulum is about 1 hour 45 mins (give or take) from Cancun and essentially a straight shot on the highway.
You can opt to take a shuttle which should be arranged prior to arriving in Cancun or you can rent a car like we did! We wanted to drive to Chichén Itzá so getting a car was practical.
Before booking your rental, do your research. After learning about car rental scams in Mexico, we made ourselves very aware of what to look out for when booking early. Luckily, we were able to avoid the "surprise" of our rental price going from under $200 USD to almost $1000 USD.
If you hadn't heard about the "scams"...these extra "surprise charges" usually happen when you pick up your rental. Rental companies will charge you for the mandatory Mexican Liability Insurance not generally quoted in your online booking (especially in quotes from bigger rental companies).
To avoid this, we rented from a smaller local company called Avant Rent-a-Car. They included everything needed to rent a vehicle in Mexico for around $150 USD (we stayed for 5 days). Staff picked us up from the airport and allowed us to take a video of the rental before we pulled out of the lot.
The company is professional, answered all of our questions and now, we highly recommend them! Another company we recommend is Mario Friend Renta De Autos. Though we didn't end up renting with them, they responded quickly to our inquiry and the customer service was impeccable.
Gas in Mexico is pumped by attendants. Pay close attention to your attendant and your total if you are paying for gas in cash (aka pesos). Again, we did extensive research in this area. We found out that some gas attendants will try to switch your money and say you didn't pay them the correct amount.
During our first time getting gas, we had no issues. Though, when returning our car and getting gas closer to the airport, an attendant did try to pull a fast one on us. In our case, the attendant asked if we spoke English then attempted to switch a 500 peso to a 50 peso so we could pay him more money. I vehemently let him know that I had no 50's in my wallet and that I saw him switch my 500 to a 50 - he immediately apologized and said I was good to go.
Champagne Tip - Be Firm & Attentive!!
At the gas station - OXXO to be exact, you can buy a Mexican chip if you wish to have data during your stay. Just go inside, ask for a Telcel chip if your phone is unlocked, and say recharga. They will then offer you an internet package for around 70 pesos and you'll be set for the rest of your trip.
Tulum - Where To Stay
Once you get to Tulum, the fun literally happens all on one LONG road. While there is a "downtown" in Tulum, staying on the beach is way more convenient, especially at night when you want to get around.
The hotel zone is where you will find the bigger properties and beach clubs. Unfortunately, it is a bit more congested compared to staying on the beach.
During our visit, we lodged at this beautiful eco-hotel called Playa Esperanza (you can book via Airbnb) which overlooked the beach and gave us enough privacy for a peaceful vacation. The only downside of this hotel was that it was on the farther side of Tulum Beach so when there was traffic...we got stuck.
If you do stay at Playa - know that you also might have difficulty seeing at night (depending on your room). We stayed in the Josefina where the room and bathroom are VERY dimly lit. After 2 nights, we moved on to Akumal Beach where we stayed at La Bahia Condos.
Akumal is quiet and quaint but allowed us to connect with more locals. It's also about 30 mins from The Hotel Zone, so we had to leave a lot earlier to ensure we didn't hit Tulum traffic.
What To Do + Style
One thing about Tulum is that it's not short on places to visit. In fact, in the span of 5 days we weren't even able to hit half of the sites and restaurants! While we did spend time at more popular spots like Taboo, Raw Love, Mia, and Mambo - there were other unique places along the Tulum strip.
Most restaurants have amazing food. You can literally walk up and down the street and pick any establishment to eat from. The plus? All of them are photo worthy - so if you're looking for prime insta-content, you won't be let down.
Restaurants at the beginning of the Tulum strip close early, so you would want to head out around 7pm. On our first night in Tulum, most restaurants’ kitchens had closed by the time we made it out, however, the sweetest lady from Coco's went above and beyond to make us dinner even AFTER her restaurant had closed. -- P.S. If you're vegan or gluten-free and worried about finding food options...don't. Tulum has a ton of accommodating restaurants (including those downtown)!
If you love hookah - the best BY FAR is at Ambar. The hookah was the smoothest I've ever had in my life.
For parties, Beach Clubs are popular in Tulum and they are almost always packed. You may want to look at spending a few nights in Tulum to really experience their vibes. Other than eating and partying, you can find cenotes in restaurants, along the highway, and visit the Tulum ruins!
Yoga is also a big thing in Tulum! The spaces/shalas are stunning. Because the place is so Zen, you will find incredible teachers in the city. We secured a private yoga class with Itzel who also teaches at Holstika. She is AMAZING!!
When it comes to style - you want to pack light clothing where your body has room to breathe. Tulum is hot and dusty so don't pack anything that you don't mind getting dirty. This same comment applies to shoes. Heels are not really a thing in Tulum unless you pack a chunky heel or wedge to avoid the rocks and dirt. Otherwise, our only other style tip is to be comfortably chic.
If you have a car, and considering the 2 hour drive to Chichén Itzá...do it! The site is indescribable, so this is something you have to see for yourself.
**You can't take food inside the ruin area but water and other drinks are allowed.
Tickets can be bought at the site, where it will cost around $30 per person without a guide. On the drive you can experience so many local towns and stop for a bite to eat!
The only downside is there are vendors trying to sell you something every second. If hassling get's on your nerves - just be prepared.
While Mexico is relatively cheap, Tulum is arguably more expensive. Be prepared to spend a pretty penny on dinners if you want to venture out to more popular places or party at the beach clubs.
It should not be dismissed that Tulum is in THE JUNGLE. While it doesn't necessarily feel like that when you're walking around...if you don't bring Deet and OFF...your body WILL let you know that you're not in the city.
Ensure that you have some kind of repellant and travel with it to re-apply every few hours.
When you arrive at Cancun International Airport, (you want to get there early) make sure you have your stamped immigration card with you! If you're travelling while health protocols are still in place, be sure to fill out your departure health questionnaire prior to entering the security line as this will delay you.
The questionnaire QR codes can be found at any check in counter or on the tables you see once you take the escalator to enter the first security checkpoint.
**Be sure to check your country's COVID requirements for re-entry after leaving Mexico because you may need a negative viral or PCR test 3-5 days prior to your return.
As a self-proclaimed Beach Snob from The Bahamas - the beaches are no where near as beautiful as those back home BUT Tulum itself is absolutely gorgeous. The fact that the buildings and hotels all have insane stylized designs, the town retains the jungle feel, and that there are so many experiences wrapped up in one little area makes this the ultimate getaway.
The destination is hands down a 10/10 for anyone looking for a new place to visit!