Tulum, Mexico is a small, quiet, and slow-paced Mexican beach town in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula. It is located along the gorgeous Mayan Riviera and coast of the Gulf of Mexico (one hour south of Playa del Carmen and two hours south of Cancun), surrounded by ruins and cenotes as well as lots of history and culture.
I spent four nights in Tulum during my first solo trip, staying at Mama’s Home Hostel from May 23 to May 27, 2015.
I fell in love with this town almost immediately after arriving. It is so laid-back and has a chill vibe and it is surrounded by gorgeous natural beauty. There are many cenotes and ruins to explore nearby.
First of all, let’s learn a little bit about the areas of Tulum:
Tulum can be separated into three designated areas: the beach, the ruins and the town.
The town or “pueblo” as it is referred to by the locals, is located more inland from the ocean. This is where you will find stories, shops, supermarkets, produce markets, banks, the ADO bus terminal, guesthouses, hostels and small hotels. There is an abundance of delicious cheap and local restaurants in town serving authentic Mexican cuisine.
The beach or “playa” sits along the coastline from the Sian Ka’an Biosphere to the south edge of the Tulum ruins. Along the beach, you can find fancier, ecological, boutique hotels and more affordable beachfront cabanas. There are many great restaurants (more expensive food than in town) along the beach as well.
The Tulum “ruinas” are the archaeological site where the Mayan ruins are located. The small road leading to the ruins is lined with restaurants, an outdoor shopping “mall” and commercialized area geared towards tourists, a few mid-range hotels and hostels, a bus stop for the ADO buses on their way from Playa del Carmen to Tulum town, and sadly, even a Subway (I will never understand people who choose to eat the same food they could eat at home, in Mexico. It is beyond me, but they are seriously missing out on the wonderful local flavours and cuisine!).
What I love about Tulum is the relaxed atmosphere and lifestyle of the locals. I went for a walk every morning and afternoon around the town and through the local residential neighbourhoods and there were always locals sleeping on park benches in the main square, enjoying an ice cream or fresh fruit on the street with their families, and relaxing in hammocks in front of their houses.
The locals were all very friendly in Tulum. On one of my morning walks, I was wandering down a side street close to my hostel and noticed a local man selling fresh coconut water from a stand in front of his house. I decided to buy one from him, and he invited me to sit on a plastic chair with him in front of his house, along with his mother. The whole family, along with kids and at least three generations, lived in a small thatched hut with a wooden roof. The floor looked to be either dirt or cement. The house had only one large room and everyone slept in hammocks.
The man Felipe, who was selling coconut water, spoke good English and we chatted while I drank my fresh and natural coconut water, about where I was from and what I did for work. He worked as a scuba diving instructor and guide at Dos Ojos Cenote, which is just north of Tulum. On his one day off a week, Monday, he sold coconuts in front of house to supplement his income to help provide for his family. It was a really neat experience to be able to meet a local and connect and interact.
What surprised me about Tulum, was that the minute you venture off the main avenue and away from souvenir shops, most locals, even those working in restaurants frequented by tourists, do not speak any English. It was difficult to communicate at first, but I remembered some phrases from my Spanish phrasebook and quickly figured out how to order food and buy bus tickets, although when they asked me a question in Spanish, I had no idea how to respond.
But I loved the challenge of having to navigate the language and being able to practice my knowledge.
I hope that my detailed guide to Tulum will be the most detailed and comprehensive one you’ve read online, and my goal is to provide you with all of the information you need to travel in Tulum on a budget and independently.
Why You Should Visit Tulum:
The Mayan ruins of Tulum are located ten minutes from the town of Tulum and they are unique in that they are the only Mayan ruins overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The archaeological site is small and compact which makes it easy to see and experience in one to two hours. The ruins of Coba are less frequented by tourists (compared to more popular sites like Tulum and Chichen Itza) and they are spread out in the jungle, located about one hour from Tulum. You are still able to touch and climb the ruins and the main pyramid called Nohoch Mul, where you will be rewarded with stunning views!
Murals and Street Paintings:
Beautiful murals and colourful street paintings can be found on random buildings throughout the streets in Tulum (town). If you wander around the residential side streets, you will surely come across at least a few of them.
The laid-back, slow-paced and relaxing vibe in this small town is refreshing, especially coming from a fast-paced Western country where the people are always focused on keeping as busy as possible. Everyone in Tulum just goes with the flow. If something doesn’t get finished one day, there’s no worries, because it will be completed the next day. Everyone I met in Tulum was so easy-going and friendly.
Authentic and Cheap Mexican Food:
The variety of food that can be found in Tulum pueblo is amazing. There are many family-owned local taquerias (taco places) and loncherias (lunch places) that serve authentic Mexican cuisine at a great price for budget travelers. I was always eating something in Tulum, because I just wanted to try it all!
Proximity to Gorgeous Cenotes:
There are many gorgeous and unique cenotes (underground system of caves and river systems and natural pools of freshwater exposed to the sky, where you can swim and dive) in the area surrounding Tulum pueblo. Some of the best ones include Gran Cenote, Dos Ojos, Casa Cenote, Cenote Calavera/Temple of Doom, Cenotes Cristal and Escondido, Zacil-Ha, Cenote Carwash and more.
When To Go:
The cheapest and best time to visit Tulum, in my experience, would be the shoulder-season months of May and November. During these times is when you will find the least amount of tourists and crowds and the best prices on accommodations and flights. The weather is hot and humid during May with average temperatures of +35 degrees Celsius in Tulum. I didn’t experience any rain during the month of May.
The most popular times to visit Tulum are between the months of December and March. This is high season, and there will be more tourist crowds, and higher prices for everything. The weather is “cooler” during these months – around +26 degrees Celsius on average.
Where To Eat:
Check out my guide about the best places to eat in Tulum for detailed recommendations.
Tulum has a wide variety of places to eat. There are street food carts, family-owned “loncherias” (lunch places) serving cheap authentic and traditional Mexican cuisine, as well as more upscale and fine-dining restaurants and everything in between.
Another good option for budget travelers instead of going out to eat every day, is to purchase groceries and cook your own meals at your hotel or hostel.
You can buy your ingredients from one of the many produce markets in town or a local supermarket. There is a large open-air produce market located on Av. Tulum as you are walking towards the restaurant El Camello (opposite direction to the beach). Another good market is located on Calle Sol between Calles Jupiter and Alfa Sur.
Getting To and From Tulum:
Getting to the town of Tulum is easy via the ADO first or second class buses. ADO is the main bus company name in Mexico.
The only ADO bus terminal in Tulum is located on the town’s main avenue (Avenida Tulum) between Calles Alfa and Jupiter Norte. You can purchase tickets for first and second class buses there.
According to the ADO website, there are only two direct first-class buses from the Cancun Airport to Tulum daily, at 2:15 PM and 5:30 PM. The one-way cost is 210 pesos.
Alternatively, you can take a bus from the airport to the city of Cancun and then buy another bus ticket to Tulum. The Cancun city bus terminal has more frequent departures throughout the day. A bus from city of Cancun to Tulum costs around 130 pesos and takes two hours and twenty minutes.
There are also many second-class buses running from the city of Cancun to Tulum. They cost 92 pesos and take around two hours and forty minutes to arrive.
From Playa del Carmen:
The main ADO bus terminal in Playa del Carmen is located on Avenida 5 at the corner of Avenida Benito Juarez. It has been newly renovated and looks amazing, with marble floors and everything. From here, you can take a first-class bus to either the Tulum Ruins (you will get dropped off in a parking lot at the corner of Highway 307 and a narrow road that leads you to the ruins. It takes about a 10-15 minute walk to get there) or the bus terminal in the town of Tulum.
First-class buses from Playa to the town of Tulum cost around 62 pesos. There are lots of departures throughout the day. It takes one hour to get there.
Second class buses to Tulum
Valladolid’s ADO terminal is located at the corner of Calle 39 and Calle 46. It is new and modern and looks great!
First-class buses from Valladolid to Tulum cost around 108 pesos with departures spaced out through the day. The journey takes one hour and thirty minutes.
Second-class buses cost
From Playa del Carmen:
There is a large parking lot where all of the colectivos depart from, located on Calle 2 between Avenidas 15 and 20. These local shuttle vans are also lined up along Calle 2.
Upon arriving at the Cancun Airport, exit the terminal and keep walking to the right until you see the red and white ADO buses lined up in a small parking lot. Inside the airport, right before the exit, you will find a ticket booth for the ADO buses. You can purchase a ticket to downtown Cancun or Playa del Carmen. There are only a few buses per day that go directly from the airport to Tulum. They are usually at 2:15 pm and 5:30 pm (check the schedules before you depart). If you decide to go to downtown Cancun or Playa del Carmen first, you can easily buy a second bus ticket on to Tulum. The bus to Tulum will stop at the ruins first and then make its way to the ADO terminal in the town of Tulum.
The website www.ado.com.mx lists ADO first class bus schedules and prices in pesos.
It takes approximately two hours to get from Cancun to Tulum.
If you are already in Playa del Carmen, you can walk or taxi to the ADO bus terminal located at the intersection of Avenida 5 and Benito Juarez and purchase a ticket there. It takes 45 minutes to one hour to get from Playa del Carmen to Tulum.
Buses from the Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen cost $156 pesos and from Playa del Carmen to Tulum is $62 pesos.
The ADO buses are comfortable, safe, convenient and reliable. They have washrooms on board, luggage storage and air conditioning.
The ADO bus terminal in Tulum is located on Avenida Tulum between Calles Alfa and Jupiter. The terminal services Cancun, Carrillo Puerto, Chetumal, Merida, Palenque, Playa del Carmen and Valladolid.
Colectivos are shared shuttle vans that serve as a cheap way for the locals to get around. A one-way ticket costs between $30-$40 pesos. Colectivos are comfortable and fast and they have ice-cold air conditioning. They do not operate on a fixed schedule, like the buses do, and they depart once the van is filled with passengers (you won’t usually have to wait for too long, maybe 15 minutes at the most). Colectivos run along Highway 307 from Cancun to Tulum every day, usually from 5 am until 11 pm. They often make stops along the journey to their destination, picking people up and dropping them off along the route.
In Playa del Carmen, the colectivos start departing from a parking lot on Calle 2 between Avenidas 15 and 20. The drivers will be calling out the destinations that they are heading to. Listen carefully and when you hear someone yell “Tulum,” head over to their van and wait for it to have enough passengers to depart. You pay the driver when you reach your destination.
Once in Tulum, you can easily walk anywhere within town. You can also catch a taxi or colectivo to get to the ruins and cenotes surrounding town. Taxis generally cost 70 pesos to get anywhere outside of town. Some taxi drivers speak English, but it’s better if you know how to say some basic phrases in Spanish! They will definitely appreciate your efforts to learn their language.
Colectivos line up at various stops along the boulevard on the main avenue going through the town of Tulum. Wait anywhere along the main avenue and one will drive by come soon enough to pick you up. They cost 40 pesos and can take you to the Tulum ruins, Casa Cenote, and various other cenotes and attractions along Highway 307 between Tulum and Cancun. They are a cheap and convenient local way to get around, and they leave more frequently than ADO buses.
Another good option for getting around is renting a bike, from one of the many places in town. I rented from Kelly’s Bikes, which is located on the main avenue going towards the beach, on the right hand side of the street, just past Scotiabank (at Avenida Satelite). If you stay at Mama’s Home and tell the staff at the bike rental place, you get 20 pesos off of your daily rental price, making it only 60 pesos per day instead of 80 pesos that every other place charges.
There are a few other bike rental shops located on the main avenue in Tulum as well.
Biking is a convenient way to get from the town to the beach or the ruins in about twenty minutes. You can also bike to Gran Cenote and other cenotes along that highway outside of town (opposite direction of the beach). There is a paved bike path that runs along the highway going towards the ruins and beach, which is safe and convenient. Once you get there, you can lean your bike up against any tree and lock it.
Getting Around Tulum:
Where to Stay (Accommodations):
Whether you are planning a short vacation or adventure in Tulum, or you are planning to stay there longer term and travel slower, here are some options for short-term and long-term budget accommodations for independent travelers.
I stayed at Mama’s Home Hostel located on Calle Orion between Calles Sol and Venus (south of the main avenue). This hostel was top-notch and one of the best I have stayed at so far! You can read my detailed review of the hostel here.
The hostel offers spacious and beautifully designed private rooms, as well as a 6-bed mixed dorm that is air conditioned and a 10-bed open-air mixed dorm. I stayed in the 6-bed dorm and it was great. The hostel provides the most amazing and elaborate breakfasts I have ever seen! They are different every day and are ready and served to you at the table once you wake up. The staff is really what makes Mama’s Home truly a special place. The owner, Jose, is so friendly and helpful, providing great recommendations for things to do, places to eat and how to use the public transportation. He pays close attention to the needs of his guests. He organizes fun group activities and events every evening (like pina colada night, BBQs, movie nights and more) and is engaged and actively participates. He also is always available for guest concerns or questions. Rosi works hard keeping the hostel clean at all times, and cooking fantastic breakfasts in the mornings.
This hostel offers fast and free Wi-Fi, breakfast is included, fun social activities in the evenings, a friendly, communal and relaxed atmosphere, a book exchange, free maps of the town, bike parking, and more. I highly recommend staying here when you visit Tulum.
Check out my detailed guide to other budget-friendly accommodations here.
Hostels are a cheap alternative to hotels and they are a great option for anyone traveling on a budget. Hostels are generally pretty cheap in Mexico (around $14 CAD average per night) and are very affordable if you plan on traveling slower and staying in one place for a longer period of time. Many hostels have the option of staying in a shared dorm (either same-sex or all-female, and in various sizes) or a private room.
Aside from Mama’s Home Hostel, there are also many other hostels in Tulum:
Hostel Sheck (located at Calle Satelite Norte and Calle Sagitario)
Chill Inn Hostal (located at Calle Gama Oriente between Orion and Beta Sur)
Quintana Roots Hostel (located on Calle Sol Oriente #19)
Day Tripper Hostel (located on Calle 4 Oriente between Avenida Satelite Norte and Centauro Norte)
Secret Garden Tulum (located at Calle Sagitario and Calle Acuario Norte)
Una Noche Mas en Tulum (located on Calle Jupiter Sur between Avenida Tulum and Calle Sol Oriente)
La Gran Mosca Verde Hostal (located on Calle Venus Oriente between Calles Beta and Orion Sur)
El Zapote (located on Calle Osiris Norte between Oriente and Sagitario)
The Weary Traveler Hostel (located on Calle Polar between Calles Orion and Beta Norte)
House sitting is an exchange between a homeowner and housesitter, where the housesitter lives in and takes care of the home and sometimes pets, while the homeowner is away on vacation. This exchange is usually completely free (though some homeowners may ask you to contribute some money towards electricity or internet).
House sitting is a great option for budget, long term and slow travelers, as it allows you to save money on accommodation while being able to live in one place for longer. A huge advantage is being able to have an entire apartment or house to yourself and enjoying the comforts of home while traveling!
I have not used house sitting yet, but I definitely plan to in the future.
Couchsurfing is a website where you can find locals in any destination, who allow you to stay on their spare couches, in shared rooms and sometimes private rooms, for free. The average stay is usually between two to four days, but depending on how well you connect with your host, the length of time could vary.
You can browse through profiles on the website and contact locals prior to departing, to see if they are willing to host you. This is a great accommodation option for those looking to travel cheaply, and who are willing to forgo some privacy. This is a great way to live and travel like a local, and hosts can often provide great insider recommendations and tips for things to do, places to see and where to eat. There is also the potential for your host to become a great friend!
The Couchsurfing website also has forums and meet-up events for many destinations. I have not used Couchsurfing yet, but I always search for Couchsurfer meet-ups and utilize the forums for my destination prior to traveling.
If you are planning on staying in Tulum for longer and traveling slower, then renting an apartment might be a good option for you. Depending on your budget, VRBO, Roomorama, and FlipKey have a variety of apartments for rent.
Workaway or HelpX:
Workaway and HelpX are websites that connect volunteers to various forms of work in destinations around the world. You can browse through the listings on either website for free, but you have to purchase a membership in order to contact hosts. In exchange for 4-5 hours of work, 5 days a week, you get free accommodation and sometimes free food. You normally have half a day as well as two free days during the week to explore your destination. There is a variety of work available, including helping at a backpacker hostel, guesthouse/B&B, non-profit organization or assisting local individuals with their needs.
Volunteering abroad is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture and language of a place, while connecting with the locals. It is a really good option for those looking to travel slower, longer and on a budget, as you will be saving money on accommodation costs (and sometimes food costs).
Here are some Workaway and HelpX volunteer placements that I found to be interesting during my research:
Volunteering at a hostel – http://www.workaway.info/889965589523-en.html
Bed and Breakfast – http://www.workaway.info/988934244136-en.html
Hotel work – http://www.workaway.info/493589966795-en.html
Hostel and Juice Bar – http://www.workaway.info/378956896915-en.html
Backpacker hostel – http://www.helpx.net/host.asp?hostID=32906&network=9
I have not used either of these websites, but I am planning to in the future.
Airbnb is a website where local homeowners rent out private rooms in their home, or their entire home/apartment, for a daily, weekly or monthly fee. Airbnb rentals are often cheaper than hotels, and you are able to live like a local and have the comforts of home while traveling. You are often provided with a key to the house or apartment (unlike Couchsurfing), so that you can come and go as you please. Since it is a business transaction, much like a hotel, you are not expected to help out around the house.
Here are some Airbnb rentals that I found during my research that have great reviews:
https://www.airbnb.ca/rooms/4502053?s=RyagLPuK – $20 USD per night
https://www.airbnb.ca/rooms/5858384?s=w6qmy9Jg – $24 USD per night
https://www.airbnb.ca/rooms/3843937?s=w6qmy9Jg – $41 USD per night
https://www.airbnb.ca/rooms/3153261?s=w6qmy9Jg – $62 USD per night
https://www.airbnb.ca/rooms/3877314?s=w6qmy9Jg – $45 USD per night
https://www.airbnb.ca/rooms/5077746?s=w6qmy9Jg – $38 USD per night
I have used Airbnb (but not in Tulum) and had an amazing experience!
If you’re not keen on staying on at a hostel and are looking for another short-term budget option, then a budget hotel might be right for you. Here are some options in Tulum:
Calm Cabins (located at Retorno Polar Street #64)
Hotel Palma Real (Carretera Tulum-Coba Km 21.5, Manzana 17, Lote 4)
Las Tres Palmas Hotel (Calle Venus #88 between Calles Satelite and Centauro)
My Tulum Cabanas (Carretera Boca Paila Km 7.5)
Maya Yoga Hostel (Av. Tulum #89 between Calle Centauro Norte and Satelite Norte)
Maison Tulum (Calle Alfa Norte and Calle Sagitario)
Mango Tulum Hotel (Calle Polar Oriente with Av. Coba, behind OXXO)
Las Palmas Maya (Carretera Boca Paila Km 8.5)
Posada Margherita (Carretera Boca Paila Km 4.5)
Tulum is known for its eco-hotels, beachside bungalows and boutique yoga hotels. If you are looking for a unique accommodation that is still within a budget or just looking for a little splurge, here are some options:
Yoga Shala Tulum: This is a yoga hotel on the beach, located on Carretera Tulum-Punta Allen Km 4.4. Accommodations include private rooms with a shared or private bathroom. Prices range from $49 to $89 USD per night.
Ahau Tulum: This is a guesthouse with huts on the beach, located on Carretera Tulum-Punta Allen Km 4.4. The “Bali Huts” are $72 USD + 19% taxes per night.
Coco Tulum: This place has palapa-roofed bungalows on the beach, along with wind and solar-powered electricity, located on Carretera Tulum-Punta Allen Km 7. Their prices range from $79 to $195 USD per night.
Things To Do and See:
Check out my detailed guide for things to do and see here.
There is an HSBC bank located at Avenida Tulum (main avenue) and Calle Alfa, right next to the city hall on the central plaza in town. They have a reliable ATM and they change foreign currency. There is also a Scotiabank located on Avenida Tulum and Calle Satelite that has an ATM as well.
I have not taken any tours in Tulum, but this is a list of tour companies that I would consider using in the future:
Mexico Kan Tours – Located on Av. Tulum between Calles Orion and Centauro. This tour agency offers a selection of tours to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, cenotes, and ruins as well as activities such as diving, kitesurfing, stand up paddle surfing, zip lining, and snorkeling. They can book a variety of spa treatments and massages for you. You can also participate in holistic Maya treatments like the temazcal ceremony.
Rivera Kitchen Tulum – This is a cooking class that explores authentic traditional Mexican cuisine.
Edventure Tours – Located at Local #5 at the Tulum Ruins. This agency provides snorkeling, zip lining, rappelling, and ATV tours.
Savana Travel and Tours – Located on Av. Tulum between Calles Orion and Beta Sur. They offer tours to Sian Ka’an, Chichen Itza, Coba, Ek Balam, Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman and Cenote Dos Ojos. They also have a business centre with fax and internet service.
Sian Ka’an Jeep Safari – Offering tours of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere.
Adventure Tour Center – They offer cenote tours, Akumal tours, Coba ruins tour, and a Muyil River Float.
Eco Colors Tours – Offering eco-friendly tours
Selva Maya Eco Adventures – They offer zip lining, rock climbing, rappelling, swimming and snorkeling.
There is a tourist information kiosk located on the central plaza, across from the HSBC bank in the town (open from 9 am to 5 pm daily). You can also ask the staff at your hostel or hotel for recommendations and travel advice and tips, as they are a wealth of knowledge! The website www.todotulum.com also offers good information on what is going on in Tulum.
There is a local clinic called Centro de Salud Tulum (Calle Andromeda between Calles Jupiter and Alfa. Phone: 984-871-2050) that is open 24 hours. They can handle minor health problems but for more serious health issues, heading to Playa del Carmen or Cancun is you best bet. There are lots of farmacias (pharmacies) in Tulum as well, where you can pick up medical supplies and medications. Farmacia Similares is located at Avenida Tulum (main avenue) and Calle Jupiter (phone: 984-871-2736) and they have a doctor on staff for simple consultations every day of the week.
You can call 066 for police, fire or ambulance emergencies anywhere in the Yucatan (their equivalent of 911), 24 hours. There is a police station and fire department about 2 kilometers from the town on the road to the hotel beach zone.
Safety for Solo Female Travelers?
As a first time solo female traveler to Tulum, I felt very safe. I walked alone often, while wandering around the residential side streets. I biked to the Tulum ruins alone also. I also walked at night with a group of people from the hostel I stayed at, from the Batey Mojito Bar in town back to the hostel. I had no problems whatsoever.
The only time I felt slightly uncomfortable, but not in danger, was when I was walking alone on the residential streets north of Avenida Tulum. It was the middle of the afternoon and it appeared that most locals were taking siestas indoors, as it was a scorching hot day. I was completely alone walking down these streets and I was walking in what was a visibly poor neighbourhood of Tulum. I only saw a few locals around on my walk and then I noticed a white truck that was driving very slowly in the area where I was walking. It made me a little nervous because I was literally the only blonde-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian female tourist walking around in the area (and the only person in general) and I became aware of this at that moment. I felt my gut instinct telling me to go back to the more populated area of town. So I made my way towards the main avenue, and everything was fine.
It could have been completely harmless and there is nothing inherently wrong with a truck driving slowly through town, but I wasn’t going to stick around to find out. I think it’s good to have experiences like this, so that you become aware of what your gut instinct feels like when it’s trying to tell you that something is “off,” and then listening to it. It is helpful to know in the future, so you are better able to recognize your gut instinct if you actually find yourself in a dangerous or threatening situation.
For a more detailed post about the safety in Mexico for solo female travelers, click here.
More information about Tulum:
Have you been to Tulum? What did you love about the town and area? Would you return for another visit?
Let me know in the comments.