forget cancun, go straight to tulum!

Updated November 2016


For those of you planning a Latin American adventure, there really are only a few starting points. And for those leaving from the UK, chances are if you're starting in Mexico, you'll be flying into Cancun with Thomas Cook. Sure, you don't get fed, watered or entertained - but it's bloody cheap!

However, whilst the temptation may be to head to throw on a sombrero, buy a beer and sit on the first beach you come to, we implore you to get on a bus and get out of Cancun, as just a couple of hours down the coast is the real destination for anyone in the know! 

Once a hippy outpost, Tulum is now the Caribbean beach destination on the Riviera Maya. Boasting uncluttered picture-perfect white sand beaches and a laid-back vibe, it was by far our favourite spot in the Yucatan - and with beautiful beach front resorts and highway adjacent backpacker retreats, it really does have something to offer on every budget. 

Here's our guide on what to do, where to stay and how to get there!

 

Cenotes

If you only have time to visit one cenote, make it Dos Ojos. By far the most famous, this popular cenote is said to be part of one of the longest cave systems in the world - and the waters is beautiful! Perfect for both snorkelling and diving, this sand-bottomed pool is full of fish and a fantastic place to cool off on a hot day. To get there simply jump on any collectivo heading toward Playa del Carmen and the driver will drop you off at the entrance. Cost is 120 pesos for snorkelling.

If you're in town for a while longer, consider checking out Gran Cenote (just a few minutes drive from Tulum) - or if you're doing a day to trip to Chichen Itza, why not stop at Ik Kil on the way back?

 

Explore by bicycle

Depending where you stay in Tulum, bicycles will prove very useful during your stay (many of the popular hostels are in town, a 3 km cycle/walk away). But even if your accommodation is already at the beach, taking the time to explore the miles and miles of untouched beach that extend beyond the town in the cooler early morning or late afternoon was a wonderful way to get in a bit of exercise.

Bikes are also an excellent way to reach the many cenotes in the area.

Rental is available from many hotels/hostels but if not, there are a couple of places on the highway heading toward the large traffic light intersection that do reasonable one day to one week rentals, with prices starting at 80 pesos for 24 hours.

 

Visit the ruins

The Yucatan is dotted with Mayan ruins, and for visitors to Tulum, you'll be pleased to know that at least three are within day-trip distance from the town.

The first, and most obvious, would be the 'Tulum Ruins', situated on the cliffs overlooking the sea (and visible from the beach). Whilst it is open all day, be sure to arrive nice and early (doors open at 8 a.m.) to beat the crowds. Entrance costs around 60 pesos.

For those that would prefer a more Indiana Jones experience, then head to the Coba Ruins. We have a full how-to guide in the pipeline, but this day trip is easily negotiated by public transport with entrance costing 38 pesos.

Whilst we visited Chichen Itza from Valladolid (giving us a chance to arrive long before the big crowds), if you're based on the coast for the duration of your stay, then one of the tour companies can arrange a day trip here.

 

Take a yoga class

Given that Tulum is full of expats escaping the US, Canada and Europe in search of a more chilled existence on the beach, it was of little surprise to discover that yoga is pretty darn big here, with signs all over town bringing your attention to yet another class.

Thankfully, we've discovered this comprehensive list of all the beach-side hotels that offer yoga. Definitely something to consider if you're in town for a while!

 

explore the town

Perhaps because its beaches are so beautiful, people tend to forget about the town upon which Tulum was born. Yet, venture along small streets off the main highway and you will find large public squares draped in flags, authentic (and cheap) Mexican cuisine, locals going about their business, and a slice of real Mexico.

We always stress how important it is to go beyond the tourist culture in an area - Tulum is no exception.

 

Where to stay

This 100% depends on what you want to be near, and perhaps more importantly, your budget. There are dozens of beautiful boutique hotels a stones throw from the ocean - but they're not cheap.

Understandably then, the majority of the hostels are located in the centre of town. Our top pick (and the hostel we spent a few nights at) was Mama's Home. Whilst it may not belong to 'Mama' anymore, Jose has done an amazing job at creating a hostel travellers want to stay at - and a great breakfast to boot! Click here to find out more, or make a reservation.

 

Getting there

If you're coming straight from Cancun airport (well, we DO recommend it!), you'll need to hop on a bus to Playa del Carmen. These depart at least once an hour, and cost around 156 pesos.

From here either take a further bus to Tulum (ADO costs 62 pesos), or one of the regular collectivos (small minivans) that run regularly from Playa del Carmen. These take appprox. 45 mins and costing 35 pesos.

Heading south or inland, 1st and 2nd class buses leave the bus station on the highway to most destinations throughout the Yucutan, with connection to the rest of Mexico.

 

Budget-breaker or maker?

Maker. If you want to stay on the beachfront, then a more pricey hotel is your only option. However, the highway has plenty cheap eats and backpacker bars.