TULUM, MEXICO: TRAVEL GUIDE
The wild attack on the senses after touching down in Mexico is indescribable. From flavourful tacos to crystal clear blue waters, you can't beat the adventures to be had in this wonderful country. As it was my first time to the region (apart from my trip to Cuba, which you can read about here), I wanted to head to one of the more touristic areas of the country - Quintana Roo. The region is famously known for its parties, cenotes and flocks of tourists that head there each year.
Tulum is arguably the most famous destination in Quintana Roo, and has increasingly grown in popularity over the last few years thanks to Instagram. The town is bustling with backpackers, travellers and digital nomads, making it the perfect destination for people who want to get a taste of Mexico, while being surrounded by other travellers looking for a good time.
Tulum is known for being one of the most expensive areas in Mexico and Quintana Roo, so be prepared to pay at least double what you would anywhere else in Mexico. Hostels are pretty affordable in comparison to the rest of the costs, and you can find a hostel bed for as cheap as £7 per night.
Eating out and drinking will be on the more expensive side, especially with all the boutique cafes, burrito bars and restaurants around. If you plan on eating out at a restaurant/cafe for at least one meal a day, you should budget £20 - £40 per day. There are still some more affordable street food options which are a lot cheaper, and you can find a tacos for as cheap as £0.50 per taco.
Activities like visiting cenotes, going to the Tulum ruins, any tours, etc, are expensive, and you should budget an additional £30 - £100 per day/every other day, if you plan on doing any of these.
So what's a good amount to budget for your time in Tulum? I was spending between £60 - £120 per day during my time in Tulum, and I think that is pretty standard for most of the people staying there as well. It is possible to do it for cheaper, however I think I think Tulum is better enjoyed when you can spend a little more, there are plenty of other places in Mexico that you can get away with spending a lot less - so keep that in mind!
HOW TO GET FROM THE AIRPORT
I flew into Cancun from Lisbon, with a stopover in Madrid. For the first flight, Lisbon to Madrid, I flew with Easyjet and paid €50 (including baggage), and for the second leg of the journey I flew Air Europa and paid €250 one way.
Prior to arriving into Mexico I had decided to prebook an airport transfer to my accommodation in the Hotel Zone of Cancun. I arrived pretty late at night and it gave me some peace of mind and security until I got my bearings a little better. For this service I paid £25 with a company called Welcome Pickups - you can book your car here.
Alternatively you can catch an ADO bus into the centre of Cancun and get a taxi or local bus to the Hotel Zone from there, however I would recommend that you feel confident doing this straight off the plane!
I decided to spend the night in Cancun, however a lot of people get directly on an ADO bus from Cancun airport and head straight to Tulum - you can book your ADO bus here.
Upon arriving in Tulum, I was surprised with how spread out the area was. For example, to walk from downtown Tulum to the beach takes around an hour and a half, and if you want to visit to Hotel Zone on the beach, that would be more like 2-2 and a half hours.
There are a couple of alternatives to walking when visiting. Firstly, is to get taxis between places. The Tulum taxis have flat rates depending on where you’re asking to go, so it’s very hard to negotiate a lower price. Typically the minimum for anywhere, even if it’s a 5 minute drive, is 150 pesos (£5.50), however this price can easily rack up to 400-600 pesos (£15 - £21) if you're going further out of the centre. If possible, it's best to use taxis sparingly or find people you can split the price with, otherwise it can end up being incredibly expensive.
Alternatively you can rent bikes for the day and cycle everywhere. The terrain is very flat so it makes for a nice journey, however be careful of the midday heat, Tulum is incredibly humid and it can be pretty harsh to cycle in! You can rent bikes from Mayan Monkey hostel if you stay there, or there are some bike rentals like Ola Bikes! To rent a bike for the day will cost you 150 pesos (£5.50) and you can usually get from A to B within 10 - 40 minutes by bike.
It's no secret that Mexico isn't the safest destination on your bucket list, and I think that it's a destination you have to visit when you're a confident traveller, ESPECIALLY as a solo traveller. Personally, I didn't encounter any issues, however Quintana Roo does have a bit of a reputation for being unsafe for tourists.
So how can you travel to Tulum safely? Firstly, your common sense will get you a lot further than you think. Don't wander around alone at night, don't get in taxis alone if you don't feel comfortable, don't leave your drink unattended.
Thankfully Tulum is always packed with tourists, so make use of making friends at your hostel and always travel with them in groups if you can. A lot of attacks are done as an opportunistic moment, so be vigilant, confident and careful. I always recommend not bringing out too many of your valuables when you're going out and about, for example just bring one card, a little cash for the day and your phone (buying a Mexican SIM will also give you some peace of mind).
If you're not sure about something or you need some advice, ask your hostel staff, they are there to help and can make sure you're safe and comfortable if you ever need anything.
WHERE TO STAY
During my time in Cancun and Tulum I worked with Mayan Monkey, a hostel chain that has three locations in Mexico - Cancun, Tulum and Los Cabos. For my one night in Cancun I stayed in one of Mayan Monkey's private rooms, which was on its own floor and had it's own private balcony. The hostel is located right in the ‘Hotel Zone’, a long strip of hotels and resorts along the beach front. In Cancun this is where the majority of the action happens, so staying here will ensure you’re in the middle of it.
For my time in Tulum I stayed in Mayan Monkey again, and really felt at home during my time. I was (kindly) offered another private room, and really got to know the hostel well. Each day they host different events and each night hosts a party in the Mayan Monkey bar downstairs. They also offered bike rental for 150 pesos per day, a kitchen, coworking space, free breakfast daily and had a few different common areas to hang out in.
I really enjoyed my time at Mayan Monkey and appreciated how well the hostels were thought out, fun and social. For a dorm room you can pay as little as £7 per night, which is more than worth it for the amenities you get!
The Tulum Ruins and archaeological site can be found a few kilometres down the beach to the north of Tulum town. The ruins are a must when you're in Tulum, and it's the perfect introduction to Mayan history. The ruins open at 9am each day and close at 3:30pm, however I recommend getting there just when it opens so you can beat the crowds and the heat. Tickets cost 80 pesos (£2.90), which you can buy at the door, and you can also pay for a tour guide when you arrive, this price depends on how many people you have in your group but can range from 70 pesos - 500 pesos.
Give yourself around an 1.5 to 2 hours to explore, maybe longer if you have a guide. I arranged a deal with a taxi driver who waited for me until I was finished with the ruins, for this I paid 600, which included 3 taxi rides in total.
CENOTE CYCLING TOUR
The Yucatan Peninsula is known famously for its cenotes, which is the largest cave system in the world. Cenotes are natural sink/swim holes that occur when the natural limestone collapses, exposing these bodies of water that have become some of the best places to visit in Tulum.
The Yucatan Peninsula has over 6,000 cenotes and Tulum has an endless list you can explore. I decided to do a cycling tour, visiting some of the cenotes around the town. The tour was hosted by Mexico Kan Tours and cost $99 USD (£72), and lasted around 8 hours. While the tour was a little on the expensive side, it was completely worth it and was one of the highlights from my time in Tulum.
The tour started at 7am, where we were given our mountain bikes for the day. There was only myself and a young couple from the States in the group, which meant it was intimate and personalised. Our guide and us set off to the first cenote - Gran Cenote, which is one of the most famous in the area. The Gran Cenote often packs out pretty early, so thankfully we were able to get there just as it opened so we could explore a little more freely.
The tour included snorkelling gear, which was an amazing addition so we could see the underwater caves underneath the cenotes.
We had an early lunch in the jungle at a family owned restaurant that served vegan dishes including a fruit salad, hummus and avocado toast with pickled vegetables, as well as traditional Mexican coffee that has orange and cinnamon, called Cafe de Olla (it's delicious, you should definitely try it).
The next two cenotes were around 40 minutes cycling through the jungle. The path was incredibly rocky, putting the mountain bikes to good use. You definitely need to be a confident cyclist to ride on the track, but it's a lot of fun to tackle - we even saw a tarantula on the way!
The second and third cenote were only across the road from each other. We started at Cristal cenote, which was completely open in the heart of the jungle, with a platform you can jump off and some underwater caves you can (try) to free dive down to. The third cenote, Escondido, was very similar, except with stunning blue and turquoise water which was stunning to look at - it also has a rope swing!
This tour was one of my favourite experiences in Mexico so far, and I definitely think it was worth the money. You can book the tour here!
ESMERALDA K (VEN A LA LUZ)
This famous art exhibition, Ven a la Luz (meaning 'come into the light') is located down the Hotel Zone of Tulum and is a famous icon of Tulum. The lines to snap a picture with this woven women can often get up to an hour long. I arrived at the statue at around 7:30am and there were already a few people waiting to have their turn.
Be prepared to have to wait, however I completely think it's worth it.
Matcha Mama is another Insta worthy spot that is a perfect brunch location. Situated just down the road from Ven a la Luz, you can find everything from acai, coffee, juices and more at Matcha Mama. I arrived at around 8:15am and it was still very quiet, which was perfect for photos.
If you can't make it all the way down to the Hotel Zone, there are a few other Matcha Mamas in Tulum, including one in downtown!
In case you haven't had enough cenotes during your time in Tulum, you have to visit Cenote Calvera. The cenote is one of the closest to Tulum Downtown and takes around 15 minutes to cycle to. Calvera is a semi closed cenote and is one of the best cenotes for jumping from above.
Calvera is a super popular spot, especially for photos, so if you want it to yourself it's best to go in the mornings before it gets too busy, the opening hours are between 9am - 5pm each day.
The cost is 250 pesos to enter, and you have to pay an additional fee if you want to bring anything like a camera, go pro or drone in (this ranges from 200 - 300 additional pesos).
Tulum's local beach, Playa Paraiso, is a popular spot for an afternoon swim and chilling out. The beach stretches for a few kilometres, and is often lively for most of the day. Getting to the beach you can either cycle or get a taxi, you can expect a taxi to cost between 200 - 300 pesos each way, so grab a group to make the most out of it!
There are a few different vegan burrito and taco places in Tulum to try, I ended up going to La Vegan to try some tacos for lunch. The food was tasty and cheap, definitely a great spot to visit for a quick meal! The restaurant offers a range of different meat substitutes including vegan fish, seitan and tofu, as well as just some vegetable based taco options too.
I went for some of the vegan quesadillas and vegan fish tacos, which were super delicious and affordable!
STRAW HOSTEL AND CHE HOSTEL
The three main hostels in Tulum - Mayan Monkey, Che, and Straw Hostel, all host wild parties every night of the week. Depending on what you're looking for, you can visit any of these hostels and check out what's happening. Che and Straw Hat both have a wheel of 'dares' that you can dare to spin if you want, although you have to do whatever the consequence is.
NEED A MAP OF WHERE I WENT?
HERE YOU GO!