You’ve probably heard of Tulum, Mexico. An artist’s enclave located on the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, it has become one of the most popular travel destinations. And for good reason. The white sand beaches, incredibly designed hotels, and refined restaurants are just a few things to love about Tulum.
Tulum is either a one-time destination or you fall in love and can’t stop returning. For me, it all comes down to how you choose to experience it. Where you stay, how you spend your days, and a bit of strategy can impact your time. There is no doubt that “Tulum” has changed over the years, for the better or the worst, depending on how you look at it.
So with a little research and a game plan, I returned to one of my favorite beach destinations in Mexico. This time the intent was much different. My husband and I were headed there for 10 days to specifically travel slow, disconnect, and stay in inspiring spaces. The architecture and design in Tulum are mesmerizing and otherworldly.
It’s one thing I love about the area — the atmosphere and buzz. You can feel the energy here and there are many ways to interact with it. For me, it’s through slow and intentional travel. We’re not partiers, so we certainly don’t show up for the late-night beach parties which you can certainly find there. We show up for the early morning walks on the beach, time in nature, and a lot of slow afternoons.
So with a rather relaxed itinerary, we arrived in Tulum, Mexico for what would be 10 days of disconnecting from the world and reconnecting with ourselves. A few reservations were made for restaurants and along the way, three bucket list hotels to give us the design inspiration we needed for life back at home.
Here’s a look at things to do in Tulum, Mexico, where to stay, and where to dine.
A Slow Travel Guide to Tulum, Mexico
What to Know Before Traveling to Tulum
Best Time of Year to Visit
Some may consider Tulum a year-round destination, you just have to know that the Riviera Maya is right along a major hurricane path. If you search hurricanes in the area, you can see many make landfall each year. Official hurricane season is August through the end of October (the rainiest months of the year). I would keep in mind that the airport does close down when a major one hits, so if you’re willing to risk it for the lower prices, have a backup plan or good travel insurance. The best time to visit Tulum is from November to February, where the weather is great, but hotel prices will reflect this. The summer months are very hot (May-August).
Getting to Tulum
The major airport you fly into is Cancun International Airport (CUN). You can find well-priced flights on Kayak. From the airport, expect to spend ~1.5 hours getting into Tulum proper. If you plan to explore a lot, I recommend getting a rental car (super easy and plenty of options). If you plan to stay at your hotel, can walk to nearby restaurants, and are okay with taxi fees, then a roundtrip shuttle service may be better.
We had no issue parking in Tulum with our hotels (sometimes it was busy like Friday/Saturday nights). It was great to have a car so that we could cut back on taxi fees and explore much more easily. Keep in mind you will need international insurance which can be done via the rental service. One other option is to use a credit card that offers international car insurance, like a Chase Sapphire card (be sure to confirm ahead of time that your CC has this). I always use Kayak to search for the best car rental deals.
As things are all over the map with procedures, my recommendation is to check frequently with local governments. I would recommend checking entry requirements with airlines as they will have the most up-to-date information. Mexico requires no testing or quarantine at the current moment and is open to air travelers.
For re-entry into the U.S., the requirements have changed a few times. Currently, a negative test is required to board your flight back into the U.S. This link has more information on this. I would recommend contacting your hotel for information on where to obtain a test.
How Much Time in Tulum
You could easily spend a week relaxing along the beach. We also decided to go inland to Cobá during our time which added a few more days.
Currency + Language
Spanish is the primary language, though you’ll find English widely spoken. Brushing up on your Spanish is always welcomed by locals. For currency, it is the Mexican peso. Some places will accept USD, just don’t expect a fair exchange back if you need change. I would recommend stopping at a local atm on arrival to pull out cash as it is needed for tipping, cenotes, and some restaurants. Most major places accept credit cards like hotels and bigger restaurants.
Good To Know + Travel Insurance
The water is not potable here. Please always check with your accommodations for brushing your teeth/etc. and drink bottled water.
Don’t leave without travel insurance. I cannot tell you how many horror stories I’ve heard over the years. When I was a travel agent, I sold mostly Riviera Maya for trips and travel insurance came in super handy on many occasions. I like World Nomads and you can search here for a quote:
How to Have a More Quiet/Slow Trip in Tulum
One of the biggest complaints around Tulum is that it has become a party destination. It is a party destination, I will completely agree with you. However, you can still have a quieter trip if you choose to. I have a few ideas and ways to have a slow travel experience in Tulum, sans the party.
My first recommendation is to pick a quieter, smaller hotel. We stayed at Be Tulum which was way quieter than say the next-door Nomade hotel. It was even quieter than Habitas which is known for hosting beach parties. I probably would have stayed at Be Tulum the entire time had I known. Many properties are upfront about whether or not they’re hosting DJ parties onsite. Call ahead and confirm if you’re worried about this.
My next recommendation is to be an early riser and not stay out late. We oriented our days so that we could be up early before the crowds and would retreat by 8-9 pm to our room. We had the best of both worlds in this scenario and much quieter atmospheres. For visiting sights nearby, this was super helpful as well.
Another way to have a quieter experience is to break up the stay by going elsewhere. There are SO many wonderful destinations nearby that aren’t on the Tulum run. A few ideas for quieter places to consider would be Cobá, Merida, Bacalar, and Valladolid. Get out of the main run, it truly does add a wonderful element to the experience.
And of course, the best way to travel slow is to stay longer and do less. I’m guilty of hopping from one thing to the next. By having a less scheduled itinerary, the trip feels entirely different. We can’t always stay for two weeks in one place, but we can control how much we do. Have your top “can’t miss” things and then leave tons of time to just be.
Where to Stay in Tulum, Mexico
If you’ve read this post on the best design hotels in Tulum, you’ll find a whole list of incredible hotels to choose from. Our itinerary was Be Tulum (3 nights), Coqui Coqui Cobá (3 nights, not in Tulum, it is inland), and then Habitas Tulum (4 nights). You could also consider booking one of these amazing Airbnbs in Tulum.
Some of my top tips for choosing a hotel in Tulum :
- Pick a hotel that is close to Tulum Beach along the main drag of the 15. It’s a one-way road in and out and the traffic can back up a lot between Habitas Hotel down to say Be Tulum.
- Book in advance as many are boutique hotels with limited rooms.
- Book a hotel that has beach access as the main beach is private.
My top choice for hotels in the area:
- Be Tulum
- Habitas Tulum
- Coqui Coqui Cobá (inland about 40 minutes, read my full review here)
- La Valise
- Hotel Esencia
Search for more hotels in Tulum here:
Where to Eat in Tulum, Mexico
A few tips on dining in Tulum. I’d recommend making reservations for dinners 2-3 weeks in advance as they do book up. Many restaurants are located at hotels so don’t be afraid to hotel hop for food!
Arca – This was one of our favorite restaurants in Tulum while there, we ended up coming back twice. The suckling pig here is amazing as are the cocktails.
Antojitos La Chiapaneca — Located in Tulum town, this local spot for authentic tacos hits the spot. These are so good, please order the al pastor tacos!
Casa Jaguar — Very rustic and refined, the seafood menu was incredible. Love the outdoor space and their cocktails are amazing.
Moro at Habitas — Another restaurant in Tulum we ate at a few times since it was at our hotel. Dinner was delicious and loved their breakfast too.
Maresias at Be Tulum — We ate here several times for breakfast/lunch while staying on property. The food is rather good, cocktails are great. If you’re at the hotel, you can order food from the amazing beach.
Macondo at Nomade — Come for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The breakfast is really good with tons of classics and healthy choices.
Posada Margherita — Absolutely adored this spot on the beach for Italian food. The atmosphere here is great and the pasta/pizza is delicious.
RosaNegra — Great Latin American food with a lot of influence from South America.
The Kitchen Table — One more spot I wish we could have had reservations for was this. I love the concept of locally sourced ingredients from the Yucatan Peninsula and cooked over the fire.
Things to Do in Tulum
While my suggestion is to take advantage of as much disconnect time by the beach or the pool, this area is home to some incredible experiences. I’d recommend picking a few to add to your itinerary and then see how you feel when you get there. The Yucatan Peninsula is one of the most magical areas of Mexico to visit.
Shop along Tulum Beach
So it’s not exactly on the beach, but one street in are plenty of local boutiques. You’ll find jewelry, home goods, and clothing stores all down the 15. It makes for a great stroll in the mid-morning if you’re looking to do a bit of shopping.
Explore the local cenotes
It is an absolute must when visiting the Yucatan Peninsula. Cenotes are these natural swimming holes that are underground and fill up with natural water. They’ve been used as a source of water dating back to ancient Mayan times. There are over 6,000 cenotes!
When you choose to visit a cenote, I would highly recommend getting there early before the crowds. The popular ones fill up and even some now require a reservation to visit. You’ll need to rinse off before going in, you’ll need cash to enter at most, and be prepared to bring your own towel unless you want to pay for one. You can also rent snorkel gear at a few.
The favorites that I have visited in the area are:
- Cenote Calavera (the one with the small hole you see people jumping into. Closest to Tulum)
- Gran Cenote (absolutely beautiful and just past Calavera. When you arrive, head to the very back for the very blue water.)
- Ik Kil (This Cenote is near Chichén-Itza and can be done in combination with a visit there. It is breathtaking.)
- Dos Ojos Cenote
- Cenote Aktun Ha
You could also consider booking a tour if you don’t have a rental car and will save you on taxi fees when combined. Here are a few to consider:
Take a day trip to Chichén-Itzá
One of the most impressive areas of Mayan ruins, it is home to the famous pyramid. It is truly beautiful and so much to take in. The Temple of Kukulcan jets out and the entire area is equally impressive. If you don’t have a rental car, I would recommend booking a tour to get out to the area. While you’re there, I’d combine it with a visit to the famous cenote Ik Kil which is not far away. I would do the ruins first and then cool off with a swim in the cenote after.
A few tours to consider:
Swim in the Caribbean
I cannot recommend spending a few hours a day in the ocean. It’s truly so magical here and the water has a beautiful turquoise color to it. You can hop in right there at Tulum beach or consider a few other ways to experience it. You could get out on the water for a snorkel trip or a catamaran trip as well.
Visit the Cobá Archaeological Zone
When we stayed in Cobá, we spent an early morning visiting the ancient Mayan city of Cobá. Having already done Chichén-Itza, this was a welcome slower-pace are to visit. The amount of visitors is nowhere near Chichén-Itza but equally impressive. The area is quite large, I would recommend getting a guide and one of the bicycle tours (especially if it is hot). It helps support local tourism and you’ll get a great overview of the historic site.
A few other day tours/trips to consider
While in Tulum, you can certainly do so much in the area. From cenotes to Mayan ruins, this part of Mexico is a very special place to visit. You can certainly visit on your own and there are a few experiences I would recommend booking a tour for. The ones below are the ones that stood out to me as “better experienced” via a tour, and especially if you don’t have a car.
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Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.
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I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.
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