How to Travel Tulum

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Most people that research Tulum will find photos of an oasis filled with luxury villas, lush tropical palm trees, and Instagram worthy dining. This “eco-chic” coastal town is located between the Mayan Jungle and the Caribbean Sea and has become one of the hottest beach destinations to travel to! Tulum attracts A-list celebrities, yogi’s, and people from all over all escaping for luxurious relaxation. Being our first international vacation, we decided to spend 7 days in Tulum! From eating the freshest foods, dipping in cenotes, checking out ancient Mayan ruins, and hanging out at the trendiest spots we basically hit all we could in a week! And we’re going to share our tips with you and what it’s truly like to travel to Tulum. From currency exchanges, precautions, and everything you’ll need to know before you go!

The best time to visit Tulum is November-December (before Christmas). You’ll avoid hurricane season and all the rain, and the weather will be warm but not too hot!👍🏼 The hotels are pretty reasonable during that time too. We went this past December and it didn’t rain once the whole 7 days we were there!☀️ The average temperature in Tulum in December is about 75 degrees. But Tulum was actually experiencing a cold front while we were there, so there were a few days it barely reached 70 degrees! It was in the 60’s at night which we thought was pretty chilly for Mexico. But overall it was perfect weather during the day for exploring around without it being too hot to be outside!

🌟 January – March is their busy season with lots of tourists. Rainiest months are June, September, and October.☔️

Customs in Mexico was surprisingly fast and easy. We stayed in a TSA-like line awaiting our turn. Once we got to the desk we presented our papers we filled out with our information, along with our passports. After a quick look to match us to our photo ID’s, a stamp on the passport, and we were on our way to living ‘la vida loca‘ in Mexico! 🇲🇽

To read more about customs and tips for traveling internationally for the first time, check out our blog post here.

Since Tulum is on the coastline and there is no airport, the easiest way is to fly into Cancun International airport. It’s about an 1 1/2-2hr drive from Cancun to Tulum. There aren’t any ride sharing services from apps like Uber or Lyft, but here are a few options to get you to Tulum:

If you think you’ll need a car to get you around Tulum or plan on adventuring through other parts of Mexico then this might be a good option for you. Although we’ve heard the airport is the worst place to rent a car (prices are higher)! Luckily the roads are easy to navigate, and the road signs were pretty easy to understand since they are recognizable symbols and not completely in Spanish. (More on renting a car in Mexico later in this post.)

If you don’t mind an extra leg in your journey, the ADO bus was the cheapest option. From the Cancun airport, you’ll go to Playa Del Carmen for 198 pesos (per person) and then 44 pesos from Playa Del Carmen to Tulum. So for the whole trip, it would cost you 242 pesos or ~$12 USD from Cancun to Tulum! This is a great option for anyone with a flexible schedule and doesn’t want to spend the money on a private driver. The downside is that the bus from Cancun doesn’t reach Tulum directly, you will have stops and will have to board another bus from Playa Del Carmen that will then take you Tulum. Since the drive nonstop is already about 2 hours, a bus ride down could take all afternoon. Also, the buses only run during specific times of the day. So again, if timing isn’t a huge factor to you, this is a great value and probably one of the safer options.

We decided to get a private taxi because we were so excited and just wanted to get there the fastest way possible! lol And as we walked from baggage claim to the front of the airport, there are taxi drivers from every company calling out to get your attention. This can be intimidating for most first time travelers. We decided to go with the Airport Cab Taxi (look for a yellow and black kiosk in the airport, and they wont be shouting at you lol). It costs us $30 usd per person, $60 total to go directly from the airport to our hotel in Tulum. And they even include a courtesy stop at 7/11 or some type of gas station where you can get drinks and snacks for the long ride.🙌🏼 The drive to Tulum from the airport went by pretty fast and the drive is scenic as we passed through different towns including Playa del Carmen! It’s easy to find a taxi in Tulum so they became our main source of transportation in town.

In Atlanta, a 15 minute Uber ride costs us $25, so $30 each for a 2hr ride isn’t bad at all! When you pay for your trip, they’ll give you a ticket that has a reference number on it. If you decide to book them for your ride back to the airport, just call and give them your reference number and you’ll get half off on your ride back! Basically $30 for a 2hr ride! Of course, we forgot about this until after and didn’t get to use it lol but at least we get to tell you!

Before traveling to Mexico, we read online that the airport was the best place to exchange money, and that they had the most favorable exchange rate. After being there for a week, we found the airport has a higher exchange rate than in Tulum (it was about 15%). And the place we found the best exchange rate was the bank next to our hotel (green building in the photo below) which was around 19.25%. There are banks and ATMs all around Tulum to exchange money that accept US dollars. In some cases, it was even better to have US dollars (if they accept it) because our money is worth more than pesos, so they are wanted! A $1 tip can go a long way in Mexico! It’s also good to know that the exchange rate fluctuates day to day, so one day it could be 19.25% and the next 19.20% or even 19.15%.

We loved that the Mexican pesos are very colorful and the bills are very distinguishable from each other. 20 pesos is blue, 50 pesos is purplish, 100 pesos is yellow, 200 pesos is green, and 500 is brownish. 🌈

Exchanging at the airport was pretty easy and an exciting moment for us! Tip: we heard to not exchange too many pesos because they may not be worth as much when you get back to America (if you have some left over and want to exchange back to US dollars). So we found the best way to do it was to do a little at a time instead of all at once. We exchanged about $100 each time, which also helped us to budget and learn about the world of haggling!

Most places in Tulum at the beach (where it’s more touristy) accept major credit cards as well. We used our cards at some nice dinners, and saved our pesos for taxis and places that didn’t take it. There is a small percentage fee they charge for using a credit card, around 4% which ended up being like $5 usd between the 2 of us.

The hotels in Tulum are becoming more and more recognizable thanks to social media! And surprisingly, staying in Tulum can range from a few dollars at a hostel to expensive luxurious beachfront villas. We definitely recommend doing your research before you go and check out what hotels offer more valuable accommodations within your budget. You can find hotels that offer an assortment of perks from all-inclusive, free bicycle rentals, lounge chairs at the beach, and yoga classes, just to name a few. During our 7 day trip we explored our options and stayed at both one that’s budget-friendly, and an all-inclusive luxury resort. Check out our blog post here where we compare the two!

Tulum is known for their ancient ruins so they’re a MUST see when visiting! It’s very easy to do both in one day if you start early. The Coba Ruins are about 45 mins from Tulum, and it’s about 1 1/2hrs from there to Chichén Itzá (a little over 2hr trip total). Fortunately our hotel was located in a prime area with plenty of car rental options within walking distance. We decided to go with Mex Rent a Car because of their affordable prices and availability of economic cars on such a short notice. Most of the car rental companies quoted us around the same price except the worst was Avis (like double the price of the others). The process was very simple, you’ll need your passport and photo ID along with a $106 deposit (which will go back to your card when you return the car in the same condition you received it).

To rent a car for a full day was 700 pesos or $34.89 including insurance (make sure you look for any hidden fees). And take photos of the condition of the car before you drive away. If there is any dings or scratches, you don’t want to get blamed and have to pay the bill.

Of course it’s always a risk to rent a car in a foreign country. Not gonna lie, we were a little nervous about it at first! We had read things about corrupted police in Mexico that will stop foreigners and make them pay insane fines. But as long as you take precaution and follow the road signs and speed limit (it’s clearly marked everywhere) you should be fine.

🌟 Make your stops and get gas in a safer area (like Tulum) so that you don’t have to stop somewhere you don’t know as well.

Other options to get to the ruins would be to take a tour or have a private taxi drive you around for the day. But you never know with us, we can be very spontaneous sometimes so we’d prefer to be on our own time which is why we rented a car.

The ride was easy to navigate and we got to drive through some smaller towns on the way back to see life outside of the more resort areas. We planned to be back to the hotel before the sun went down (just to be safe) but like we said we’re spontaneous and definitely stopped at a few unplanned places lol. We also forgot that the time changes in the area around Chichén Itzá and the sun during December in the Yucatan Peninsula goes down around 5pm! There aren’t many streetlights at all and roads are more narrow than what we’re used to in America. But there are plenty of other drivers on the road, and we had no run-ins with the police. #blessed!

The cenotes are like the hidden gems of Mexico, another must see! A cenote is a natural sinkhole resulting from the collapse of bedrock that exposes water underneath. They were sometimes used by ancient Mayans for sacrificial offerings 😱, but today they are a popular hang out spot in Mexico where people swim and snorkel. There are over 6000 different cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula alone! And each one is so different than the next. We got to visit two very different ones while in Tulum. One more well-known and crowded, the other very private like we were hanging out in someone’s backyard. You can expect to pay around 100 pesos to enter, and some cenotes (especially the more popular ones) have rules and regulations so make sure to read up before heading out. We were almost not allowed in one because we brought our tripod. 😬

🌟 Most cenotes close pretty early, so definitely look up their hours while making your plans for the day! And another good thing to know is that you must shower before entering, head to toe including your hair.

Mexico is one of the world’s greatest travel destinations and millions of visitors travel safely here each year. While Mexico has experienced a surge in drug-related violence, Tulum has remained a relatively safe travel destination! We had no issues and felt very safe the whole time we were there. We definitely consider Tulum to be a safe place but you can’t forget Mexico is considered a third world country, so always use precaution!

Read more about the U.S. Mexico Travel Advisory here.

In our opinion, Tulum can be expensive but doesn’t have to be depending on what you plan to do. Mexico is cheaper in general, and you get more for the dollar there. The town of Tulum is much less expensive than the beach. But even the prices at the beach are no more than a trip to NYC or LA. Most of our dinners were between $20-$40, and that includes a margarita or two 😉. One dinner cost us about $70 each but that was a luxury restaurant that we treated ourselves to for our birthday, and even that wasn’t terribly bad for everything we got. We’ve spent more at Nobu Malibu in California!

For being in Tulum a whole 7 days, we think what we spent was reasonable. If you skip the luxury resorts, you can see most of Tulum without having to spend a fortune!

I’m sure you’ve heard this before “Don’t drink the water in Mexico!”, well it’s true. That even means things you don’t think about like ice in your drinks, using water bottles to brush your teeth, and keeping your mouth and eyes closed when showering. If you love water like us and drink a lot of it, go to the nearest grocery store and stock up on packs of water to save some money! When out to eat or at the bar if you request water you’ll notice a water charge since the only option is bottled water. But most resorts & hotels will provide a couple bottles at a time and more if you ask!

Brush up on your Spanish before you go, it will help you! People will be friendlier and more apt to help you out if they see you’re trying. Most people in Mexico speak English, especially in the tourist areas. It’s easy to communicate there, but we did have a few taxi drivers that didn’t understand English at all, so it definitely came in handy to know a little bit! We tried speaking it to everyone just for fun and also to try and learn more about the culture and get more from the experience. 🙌🏼

Take the white and red taxi cabs, we found these to be the best and safest getting around. And they’re easy to spot especially in the beach area! They take pesos and USD. Just in case you come up short, some will accept credit cards but there is a minimum spend of 1000 pesos or $50 usd.

Another great way to get around Tulum is by bike. Some hotels offer bicycle rentals and there are a few bike shops to rent from as well, like iBike Tulum. The roads in Tulum are pretty narrow and there aren’t many sidewalks by the beach, so it can be tight especially around lunchtime when everyone’s out and about. But there are some bike lanes to get to and from the town of Tulum, and right to the beach!

When exchanging money try to have exact amounts, most people are honest but being taken advantage can happen. If you need change they may say they have none and try to scam you, or there’s a chance they’ll give you back the wrong amount of change because they think you don’t know any better. So always be aware!

If you’re not a hotel guest, there’ s a minimum spend at most of the hotels on the beach in Tulum. The most common minimum we saw was 1000 pesos/50 usd per person just to go inside. So plan ahead on which places you’d like to visit the most or else it can add up quickly!

The Wifi in Tulum was on and off. We found that we had absolutely no service by the beach (the main area) but pretty good service in town. This can be tough if you’re trying to look up locations on the GPS or make reservations, so definitely plan ahead and check in with friends/family at home when Wifi is available!

However, if you’re hanging out and getting a drink most restaurants/hotels will allow you to use their Wifi.

Most things in America have fixed prices, especially in major cities, there really isn’t room for negotiation when it comes to buying something. In Mexico, we had more fun than we thought haggling prices and seeing what kind of bargain we could get. For the most part, we won! We did our best not to be real silly and low ball. As long as you stay respectful and reasonable, you’ll most likely get what you want. Haggling benefits them because they get to make a sale, and you because you get to take home some cute Mexican souvenirs! 🇲🇽🎒

Be aware that there may be holidays and things going on that you don’t know about. During our 2nd night in Tulum, we heard an alarming sound of what seemed like bombs going off and gunshots that grew closer and closer to our hotel.😱 Being two American girls with literally no way of understanding the overnight clerk at the front desk, we weren’t able to sleep easy that night. It went on for about 3 hours, there were police sirens, ambulances, and firetrucks that kept roaming around the streets. And the internet wasn’t the best so a quick google search for the town’s local news wasn’t accessible easier.

Eventually the noise died down and we were able to sleep, but honestly without any ease. The next day we were able to ask the English speaking front desk attendant about the noise and they let us know that what we were hearing the night before was the start of a celebration! The Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe! We were so relieved that it wasn’t what we thought, and even got to see a celebration! So definitely check your calendars for any celebrations that could be going on during your visit. If we did, that would’ve saved us the panic attacks.

Of course with any place you travel to you need to stay cautious of your surroundings. But spending a few days near Tulum’s turquoise water and beautiful white sand beaches will make any worries melt away! Not only is it a beautiful destination but it’s also easy to explore and navigate. This was our first trip out of the country and we absolutely fell in love with Tulum, Mexico and can’t wait to go back! 😍🌴🇲🇽

**Check out our Ultimate Girls’ Guide to Tulum in our blog post here!

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