Tulum is currently touted as the place to come to in Mexico at the moment because it has something for everyone. Pristine white-sand beaches and crystal clear seas entice tourists and there are a plethora of fantastic Mayan ruins and beautiful cenotes nearby to be explored.
The food is fabulous and with a buzzing nightlife that has been compared to Ibiza, Tulum seemingly as it all. Oozing cool it’s easy to see why Hollywood stars, families and travellers alike flock to this lovely town.
That said, Tulum won’t be for everyone. A lot of the beachfront is now boutique hotels and although lovely, these could be anywhere in the world, lacking any real Mexican identity. But Tulum has lots to do, so being more ‘touristy’ shouldn’t put you off visiting. We felt very safe during our visit to Tulum, but that’s because we exercised caution and didn’t show off any valuables.
If you want to have a good time in Tulum, you don’t have to spend a huge amount of money. There are still plenty of great budget-friendly food and accommodation options. From great restaurants to happy hour deals, this article will help you see the best Tulum has to offer.
Table of Contents
We went to look at bus tickets at the ADO bus station across the road and the bright lights enticed us in. Beyond the bar lies a huge garden area with beautiful lamps hanging from the trees. Wooden tables fill the garden but we opted for the sofa in the corner to relax.
Margaritas were on happy hour (6 pm – 8 pm) and our waiter suggested we try the mezcal version. We asked for a spicy margarita and when the drink arrived with a spicy salt rim we were excited.
The drinks were incredible. Spicy and zingy, we enjoyed them slowly, our lips tingling from the heat. Everything you want from a spicy margarita! Pretty great value at $120 pesos for two.
Great bar with two live music shows every night. In the centre of the bar is an old Beatle which has been converted to be a sugar cane press. Instead of using sugar, sugar cane juice is used and pressed by hand.
They have a variety of Mojitos – we opted for a ginger and a Mexican version – they were moreish.
Just as an FYI, they don’t take card.
A short walk from our hostel we found a steak restaurant that had been recommended by people in the hostel. It was very busy so we were lucky to get a table so quickly.
The menu looked amazing and had options for every budget from tacos to enormous steaks. We both opted for the house speciality, the flank steak. It came with cactus, guacamole, jacket potato and half an onion.
A choice of four dips had arrived earlier with some tortilla chips and we used these with the steak. We had splurged and ordered a bottle of Chilean red wine. It went so well with the meal. Rather an extravagant meal but a great way to start our time in Tulum.
This restaurant can be found next to the public beach in Tulum. After a full morning in the sun and wanting a little break from the heat of the midday sun, we headed to this restaurant.
Typically the prices were nearly double the usual, so we opted for the steak nachos to share. An enormous platter arrived, generously covered in steak, melted cheese, beans and guacamole. It was a generous portion and we didn’t need anything else to eat.
We ordered some mango smoothies which arrived like frozen drinks. They were scrumptious and so refreshing.
Once we paid we then received a token that allowed us to go to the loo for free and have a shower to get all the salt & sand off us at the end of the day. If you bought your car, your parking would also have been covered which would make it better value.
Probably the most beautiful empanada restaurant, we stumbled across this outdoor haven selling yummy empanadas. The restaurant itself is a huge outside area decorated stylishly. The empanada menu was full and everything looked mouth-wateringly good. We choose the cut beef with herbs and spices and the black truffle and onion on the recommendation of the chef. When they arrived they were large and golden brown. We shared the empanadas and instantly wished we had more money on us to order more. We could have gone through the menu. A definite must-visit.
El Camello Jr.
A little bit out of town we enjoyed the walk which helped us build up an appetite. With more locals than tourists in the restaurant, we were excited about seeing the menu. We ordered a small ceviche as a starter, then the octopus as a main and a bowl of seafood soup. We debated whether we should have gone for the medium ceviche (about 20 pesos more) and then we were relieved we hadn’t because the small portion was enormous!
The ceviche was full of prawns and octopus and so zingy. The octopus was buttery and delicious and the seafood soup was hearty and full of seafood. An enormous meal but so good. Nothing was left. Fresh and excellent value.
This is the public beach where you don’t have to pay. Here they have beds & sun loungers that can be rented. We just lay on the beach which was lovely because of the white-sand beaches and crystal clear seas. The beach has palm trees providing shade and the view is idyllic. Clear blue waters lap the beach and the water is just the right temperature to cool you down.
Many of the hotels will allow you access to their private beaches if you are willing to pay, either for a bed or food & drinks. With a public beach as fabulous as Playa Paraiso, there really is no need to.
When we visited Tulum (November 2019) the beaches had no seaweed in sight. Just fine white-sand beaches and crystal clear seas. Beaches that will take your breath away.
Rent a bike
We rented bikes to head to the ruins and the beach and we loved our day of cycling around. It’s so much fun and there are great cycle lanes so you always feel safe. We loved the freedom it gave us to go and see everything. You can rent a bike for 100 pesos a day and it’s well worth it. A really fun activity.
If you’ve come all the way to Tulum, then the ruins are a must-visit. A small sight, it doesn’t take you long to go round the whole complex but the views of the ruins against the backdrop of the Caribbean blue sea is an unforgettable sight. You are not able to climb the ruins any more but this doesn’t detract from the experience. Take mosquito spray!
There is even a beach within the ruins. With white-sand beaches and crystal clear seas, it’s nice to cool off whilst looking up at some of the structures on the cliff edge. But please be aware that these are popular ruins and there are a lot of visitors, so you’ll probably take the best shots of the ruins from the sea. Due to a nearby airport, no drones can be flown over the ruins or the nearby beaches.
At the entrance we were offered a combination deal – our entrance to the ruins and a snorkelling trip, totally for USD $35 per person. Included was an hour and a half-hour boat ride & snorkelling. We saw lots of fish, stingrays and even two turtles. It was a great decision and having been prepared to see a couple of fish, it was mind-blowing how much we saw on such a short trip.
At Playa Pescadores there were lots of different tour operators so you could probably get the snorkelling trip cheaper if you go directly to them. However, we only had 6 people on our boat and a guide showing us all the different wildlife, so we were happy with the price we paid.
We chose not to go in a tour and got to the ruins by ourselves using one of the second class buses. We’ve written a separate article called “A Guide to Climbing the Ruins at Coba” about how we got to Coba & total costs, etc.
Located in between Valladolid and Tulum are the ruins at Coba. Less developed than Chichen Itza, you are able to climb the temples. The site is vast so renting a bike is recommended. We got a guide (Daniel) who was excellent and gave some fantastic background to the sight and the Mayan history & culture. We highly recommend getting a guide and giving the ruins some context.
We suggest that if you want to climb the main temple that you do it before 9.30 am. By 9.45 am there was a steady stream of people going up and down. As we left the ruins at 11 am the car park was full and huge groups were wandering through the ruins having arrived from Cancun and Playa del Carmen. It is worth the early start to avoid these crowds. Take mosquito spray!
There are lots of cenotes to be visited near Tulum. We heard great reviews about Gran Cenote but that visiting earlier is advised to miss the crowds. Tulum has a huge variety of cenotes – Cenote Car Wash (towards Coba), Garden of Eden (closed Saturdays), Dos Ojos (towards Playa del Carmen), Cenote Escondido / Cenote Cristal (20 minute bike ride away), Casa Cenote or Nicte-Ha (both towards Playa del Carmen) – so you have your pick of which ones to visit.
There is also the option to dive some of the cenotes, but you will need to have an advanced diving qualification. There are lots of dive shops in the centre of town that can arrange these trips. If you have this qualification we’ve been told this is an absolute must-do.
We did a snorkelling tour at Playa Pescadores, as mentioned above. It was an absolute highlight of the day seeing the stingrays and turtles. With a huge coral reef nearby it is unsurprising that we saw such an abundance of sea life. A real thrill to see so many beautiful creatures swimming in the clear crystal waters below you. To protect the incredible sea life, make sure you use reef-safe sunscreen which is bio-degradable.
Have a night out
Tulum is a party town. There are lots of amazing bars in the centre of town and club nights for you to party into the wee hours of the morning. There is a different place for every night of the week so it’s worth chatting with other travellers and locals alike to find where everyone is going.
If you’re in Tulum around a full moon there are meant to be some epic full moon parties at Papaya Playa Project where international DJs play and you dance on the beach with your feet in the sand.
Day Tripper Hostal
Places along the beachfront are now almost exclusively expensive hotels. Luckily Tulum town has a lot going on & being cheaper you can find some great hostels to stay in.
We decided to stay in Tulum for 5 nights and braved our first dorm experience. We booked two beds in an 8-bed dorm, however when we were taken to our beds, we walked through a room with another 8 beds. Technically there was a door to separate the rooms but it was always left open so was realistically a 16-bed dorm.
The smell was pretty bad and although we had lockers most people’s things couldn’t fit in. Therefore there are a lot of bags all over the place and depending on the people, a lot of stuff all over the place too.
- Good central location. A 15-minute walk from the ADO bus station.
- The hostel is cheap. When reading the cons, you need to take into consideration we paid USD $40 for a bed for 5 nights. This is not a hotel but a very good hostel.
- Individual light, power socket and curtain provided for each dorm bed.
- Excellent breakfast every morning. Prepared by the hostel staff, you sit upstairs and you are brought your food, which constantly varies, but often includes fresh fruit. Tea and coffee facilities are available and afterwards, they’re even kind enough to wash up for you.
- Great roof terraces. The top terrace gas a bar, hammocks and lots of tables for chilling. There are also eating areas on the floor below near the kitchen, where WIFI is slightly better.
- Small kitchen but a large fridge for everyone’s food. Clear instructions to label your food and a pen is even provided. There is also an area where people can leave food that they no longer want so it can be shared.
- Staff clean the hostel every day.
- Staff are very friendly and really try and make your stay fun.
- In the reception area, there is a load of helpful information on attractions, restaurants and transport options all over the walls to help travellers.
- Great restaurants within a short walk – great steak place ($$$) and a fab empanada place ($$). The chicken place across the road and the taco stall nearby were also recommended although we didn’t make it there.
- Laundry across the road. Very cheap ($56 pesos) for about 15 items. Ready the following evening. Everything returned the right colour & size!!
- The shower is effectively a hose coming out of the wall but it is hot and very effective, so no complaints from us.
- Drinking water can be found in the reception area. A small donation towards the cost is requested.
- Fans in the room. Air conditioning is turned on at 9 pm every night and off every morning at 9 am.
- Paid for an 8 dorm room – realistically 16-bed dorm…and all the smells that go with it! 😷
- WIFI is not great. Get up before 7 am if you have any emails to send.
- We rented bikes at the hostel and by the end of the day, the chain kept coming off the bike. Luckily a nearby bike shop came to our rescue. Another girl in the hostel said she’d had the same issue all day too. Probably better to rent a bike somewhere else.
- The mattress was very thin, the pillow is pointless (even folded over) and the sheet on my bed was ripped.
This hostel was a great budget option for staying in Tulum. We were able to do loads of activities and try some incredible food here because we were saving so much on accommodation.
The other guests were friendly and the communal areas in the hostel are lovely if you fancy hanging out. It is 100% the staff that make this place feel like a home away from home. With breakfast included it’s great value and we’d recommend it to any traveller on a budget.
For us, the white-sand beaches and crystal clear seas were the absolute highlights of our visit and Tulum had without a doubt the best beaches we saw in the whole of the Yucatan peninsula with no seaweed in sight.
Have you been to Tulum? What were your favourite activities? Share your favourite restaurants and bars with us…