Why Go To Tulum
In the past decade, Tulum has grown into a coveted vacation for luxury travelers; however, it still tempts bargain hunters who remember when this tucked-away jewel of Mexico’s east coast was more of a secluded getaway. When the sun goes down, you’ll have the opportunity to indulge in the city’s mixology scene and explore its sprawling nightlife. However, it’s during daylight that Tulum truly shines. Here, you’ll find some of the best-preserved Mayan ruins –ruins that have the cerulean waters of the Caribbean Sea as a backdrop. And there are other out-of-this-world wonders, including several cenotes (or underground water-filled caverns) and bioreserves. Let’s not forget Tulum’s main draw for most visitors: its beaches. White sand and turquoise waters beckon travelers to spend their days lazing in the sun, listening to the waves. Whether or not you’re a fan of the beach, visiting one of Tulum’s many shorelines is a must-do.
Best Months to Visit
The best time to visit Tulum is between November and December. You’ll get the benefit of post hurricane-season breezes, plus the hotel prices are reasonable. Not to say that it’s hard to find reasonable room rates at other times of the year – this small pocket of the Yucatán has one of the widest ranges of price points on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. If you’re concerned about crowds, though, avoid the region from January to March. For the best weather, avoid June, September and October – which experience the highest amounts of rainfall.
Culture & Customs
The Riviera Maya is better known as a North American getaway spot than a bastion of traditional Mexican culture, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. For a taste of local flair, try dining at a local Mexican eatery or exploring Tulum’s small downtown.
Just outside the entrance to the Tulum ruins, you can often catch a group of five costumed men performing flying and dancing stunts atop a tall pole. The performance and the men are loosely known as “Voladores,” and they’re recreating a prehistoric ritual most often associated with the Totonac Indians of central Mexico. According to some travelers, that’s all you need to know. The performers work for donations, so if you stop to watch or take photos, make sure you have a few pesos to offer.
The Voladores routine is an extremely acrobatic and unique spectacle, meaning it is probably worth a few U.S. dollars. The performances do not happen on a structured schedule, but you can expect to spot one around the peak times to visit the ruins.
It will be both helpful and respectful to know some basic Spanish vocabulary, and at the very least to say “please” (por favor) and “thank you” (gracias). Mexico is typically more conservative than some other beach destinations. Nude bathing is not allowed, but some female sunbathers (predominantly European) are known to go topless in the area. In general, the dress code remains similar to most beaches in the United States.
Some Tulum locals keep an afternoon siesta, typically starting around noon or 1 p.m., to relax during the hottest part of the day. However, you won’t find the practice as common in Tulum as you might in Spain.
Tulum can get very crowded with international tourists and local vendors. It is common for vendors to approach tourists on the street or beach with several wares in tow. This can annoy many travelers, but if you politely say “no, gracias” they will move on.
What to Eat
Over the years, Tulum has cultivated an impressive parade of local and international chefs who have opened trendy, yet rustic restaurants that put the spotlight on some of the region’s most celebrated ingredients, including huitlacoche (Mexican truffle) and cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork). These new eateries blend seamlessly with the casual dives locals love. Though traditional Mexican flavors are the focus of many of Tulum’s menus, there are a variety of other cuisines represented here, including Italian at Posada Margherita and Casa Violeta, and Thai at Mezzanine. But if it’s the traditional flavors of Mexico that your palate seeks, head to Safari (famous for its Airstream trailer-turned-kitchen), El Tábano or Antojitos La Chiapaneca (for its spit-roasted meat).
For more upscale meals, consider Kitchen Table, Gitano (well-known for its mezcal cocktails) and Hartwood (though you should be prepared for a wait at this extremely popular eatery).
True to Tulum’s bohemian ethos, this beach town is also chock full of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly restaurants, including Arca, Ziggy’s and Raw Love, which earns praise from guests for its collection of healthy smoothies and bowls.
Travelers should exercise common sense when traveling in the downtown area: for example, don’t walk around alone at night. If you’re staying in a beachside cabana, be sure to lock your doors. Don’t walk on isolated areas of the beach at night. Driving during the daytime is relatively safe, but take caution when driving at night, as some foreign travelers have experienced robbery. That being said, Tulum occasionally sees violent crime, though it’s not usually against tourists. For the latest safety information, visit the U.S. State Department’s website.
You should not drink the tap water in Tulum. To avoid unnecessary illness, always make sure your bottled water is sealed, your ice has been tested for purity and your food has been prepared with bottled water. Food at your resort will likely not be an issue. Should you choose to venture out to other establishments, it’s best to check with your server about their food preparation practices. Additionally, travelers recommend washing your hands before you eat every meal and snack. As you spend your days exploring, you may unintentionally pick up microbes your body isn’t familiar with. These could make you sick.
Getting Around Tulum
The best way to get around Tulum is by taxi. In theory, you can walk or bike to the beaches, to the ruins and to Tulum Pueblo, but there’s a chance of overexerting yourself. You can rent a car in Cancún or Playa del Carmen, but it is not recommended because of reported auto crimes. Buses aren’t a viable option either – the only ones available are the shuttles that take vacationers to and from the other Riviera Maya areas, and to and from the airport in Cancún.
Privately owned buses travel the difference between Tulum and the rest of Riviera Maya, as do colectivos, or chauffeured white vans. To visit the nearby island of Cozumel, you can take the bus to Playa del Carmen, followed by a ferry ride.
Keep in mind, there is no airport in Tulum, so you’ll need to fly to a neighboring airport and travel from there. The closest airports to Tulum are the Cancún International Airport (CUN), which is about 75 miles north, and Cozumel International Airport (CZM), which is about 50 miles northeast. Because Cozumel is an island, you’ll have to take a ferry from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen and arrange for transportation from there to Tulum.
Driving from Cancún or Playa del Carmen to Tulum is not worth the hassle – residents motor the rocky roads swiftly, and you could easily be overwhelmed. Some travel sites have also reported problems with auto robberies (particularly at night) and even police scams, where the officers pull drivers over and then demand a bribe. If you do decide to drive, you will not need to obtain an international driver’s license; your U.S. license is valid in Mexico.
Taxis pretty much have a monopoly on getting you from your hotel to the beach (your other options are to walk, bike or drive yourself – and the last one is not recommended), but you can also use them to get to the ruins or the reserves. They hang out around the hotel areas, but you can also find them near the bus terminal. Luckily, the fixed fares are reasonable. You’ll pay around 100 pesos (about $5) to ride from the popular hotels to the beach and ruins.
You’ll get a little exercise, and a little independence, by biking your way around town. Some hotels offer complimentary bike rentals to their guests, but there are also a handful of companies (including Ola Bike Tulum and iBike Tulum) that will deliver wheels directly to your hotel. Some companies also offer tours of the area to cenotes and beaches.
Walking is always affordable, and in Tulum, it’s also feasible. You could choose to walk from the hotel areas to the beaches, the ruins and even Tulum Pueblo, depending on where you’re located. However, you may find taxis are a more comfortable option, given the heat. And you should always exercise common sense and not walk long distances alone at night.
Entry & Exit Requirements
Bring an up-to-date passport with you to Mexico, and expect to be issued a Mexican Tourist Permit when you arrive. Its cost is absorbed into your plane ticket, but you’ll need to hold onto that card and present it upon departure. You can also fill out this card online in advance by requesting a form from the Mexican government. For more information on entry and exit requirements, visit the U.S. State Department’s website.
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