This post is near and dear to my heart because my trip to Tulum is one of my all time favorites! I started hearing about Tulum awhile back from friends, but never knew much about it. Nothing more than a tiny beach town 5 years ago, Tulum is now rising in popularity amongst bloggers and celebrities (and with good reason!) Tulum is a bohemian jungle paradise: you feel like you’re transported to another world when you visit, and it truly has something for everyone from high-end luxury to outdoor adventure.
One of my best friends Lo Shepherd texted me saying she wanted to go on a trip for her birthday somewhere tropical, and that’s when Tulum instantly came to mind! So we packed our bags and found some last minute tickets and thus began one of the most memorable trips of our lives! As amazing as this place is, it’s best to plan what to see and do so you have the best possible experience
Tulum is an ancient Mayan city that has become more of a hot topic in recent years as dozens of luxury eco-hotels have made their home there, attracting celebrities and a large presence from social media. This has made it an interesting mix of the old and new; you can explore ancient ruins during the day and some of Mexico’s best nightlife at night. Tulum is broken up into two main areas: the town and the hotel zone, and you will spend most of your time in these two places.
The town is where you will find all of the hostels and more local (and affordable) food and nightlife. It is a 15-minute drive from the hotel zone and the beaches, so you will need to take a taxi or rental car to get to the beach. This is where I stayed when I visited and because we had a rental car we didn’t mind being further from the beach, and we were happy to get to experience a more authentic side of Tulum outside of the higher-end tourist area.
The hotel zone is where you will find all of the luxury hotels and villas that are probably what you’ve seen on Instagram, and are also extremely expensive. Staying in this area is better suited for those who might be on a honeymoon or are looking for a more luxurious vacation. This long strip of hotels is in the jungle and beautiful to walk or bike around, eat, drink, and explore! You can still find affordable food options here and if you want to explore the hotels, you can access most by renting a cabana for the day or buying food/drinks.
Where To Stay
Hostels (Price: $)
I personally stayed at Lum Hostel (aka Casa Lum) and absolutely LOVED my stay there, and you can read my review of this hostel here! This place is perfect for the budget traveler who is still looking for a beautiful aesthetic and great atmosphere. The hostel is modern and design-centric but still very communal and makes it so easy to befriend other travelers. Lum is located in the center of town and has plenty of cheap (and delicious) food and drink options within walking distance.
Airbnb (Price: $-$$)
Believe it or not, you can rent a LUXURY VILLA for $30/night in Tulum through Airbnb! I think this is the absolute best option for those who are looking for more privacy and luxury but are still on a budget, because you’ll get the best of both worlds. You will still be about 15 minutes from the beach most likely and will need to account for taxis or renting a car, but for the money you save it’s kind of a no-brainer. Here are a few links:
*Note: The prices on Airbnb fluctuate by season and the more affordable options get booked far in advance, so make sure to plan ahead!
Eco Hotels (Price: $$$$)
And of course there is the option to stay at one of the ultra-fancy boutique hotels that influencers love to post about on social media, and they sure offer an incredible experience! The hostel zone in Tulum has created a culture around environmentalism and sustainability and all those that want to be a part of the action have to uphold certain standards. This has made it appealing to more eco-minded travelers, and the hotels offer everything from healthy vegan eats to yoga retreats and health classes. So if you can afford it, you are in for quite the detox! The hotels here are a work of art and each has a unique atmosphere and vibe. Here are a few of my personal favorites 🙂
Things To See
Tulum is the only Mayan city built on the coast which means you get the chance to see ancient ruins right on the beach! The limestone cliffs date back to the 13th century and were built to create a walled city to protect the Mayans from invaders. This spot is most likely the first photo you see when you google “Tulum” and a must-see for good reason, and conveniently puts you right by the public beaches in town. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to see the ruins during my trip due to seaweed from a storm but next trip its’ on the top of my list!
You can’t come to Tulum without experiencing at least a few of the thousands (that’s right, thousands) of cenotes that make this area so unique. There are approximately 6000 cenotes in the Yucatan alone! A cenote is basically a sinkhole filled with crystal clear fresh water and can be out in the open or a part of a series of caves. What’s cooler than swimming in a natural pool in the middle of the jungle with bats and local birds flying around? Here are a few of my favorites:
In Tulum you have two options for beach access: the public beaches and the private beaches. The public beaches are the stretch before you get to the hotel zone, and everything after that is private and can only be accessed by either staying at one of the hotels or purchasing something. Deciding on which to go to depends on what you’re looking for; are you looking for quick and easy and don’t mind being around other families and tourists? Or do you care more about the atmosphere and being in total relaxation mode?
If you do end up wanting to access the private beaches, keep in mind that the hotels in Tulum can be pretty strict and don’t be offended if they say no! From my experience, as long as you buy something like a drink or rent a cabana, you won’t have a problem. I typically try to avoid the touristy luxury hotel vibe and look for a more authentic experience but these hotels are so incredibly designed and look like they mold into the jungle, so it was a cool experience just appreciating the beauty 🙂
Food & Drink
I have to first give the disclaimer that both my friend and I are vegan so we mostly ate at vegan and vegetarian restaurants, but I still highly recommend the places we ate at and will include a few others I’ve heard about! Food and drinks in Tulum can range from super cheap to very expensive depending on where you go, and we tried to stick to the cheaper end which still resulted in amazing meals. There are great food options in both the town and hotel zone, so you won’t be missing out either way. Here are a few of my favorites 🙂
Who would have thought that in the middle of a jungle in Mexico there would be a vibrant nightlife scene… but there is! Tulum has some of the best nightlife of anywhere I’ve traveled and knows just how to combine classy and fun. The key is knowing which night to go, since the more famous parties only happen once a week. Here the “musts” on my nightlife list:
Gitano (Friday nights)
The party starts at 10pm on Friday night’s at Gitano, and as soon as you walk in you’ll notice this isn’t like your average bar. This place has such a beautiful atmosphere and vibe and is a great place for a more laid back and upscale night talking to friends, but don’t worry – there’s plenty of dancing, too! The drinks are comparable to US cocktail prices but are super fresh and will definitely set the mood right. You can find their event page here.
Papaya Playa Project (Saturday Nights)
Dim lights, neon art, disco balls, barefoot dancing in the jungle… that’s Papaya Playa Project. This weekly beach party is where everyone’s at on a Saturday night, and no matter the season you’ll be sure to be surrounded by thousands of cool people from around the world and locals alike. I was never the type to like the deep house music that this nightlife scene prides itself in, but dancing to this music in the jungle just takes you to another place. Pro tip: once a month they host their world-famous Full Moon Party and you might just brush shoulders with a celebrity. Word was Ed Westick (that’s right, Gossip Girl) was here the weekend before me if that’s any motivation. See the event calendar here.
This late-night spot is great if you want to keep the party going, which picks up around 2am and doesn’t end till the sun comes up. The electronic music is a bit more upbeat than the other two spots and attracts all the local dance enthusiasts. You can keep up with their happenings here.
For a real local experience, you can’t miss Batey back in town. This mojito bar is well-known for its nightly live music and is a great place to hang with friends or dance if you want to. Start your Sunday night off here and jump around town to salsa dance the night away.
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