The town of Tulum in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula has surged in popularity in recent years. How can it not? With its beautiful beaches, proximity to several Mayan Archeological ruins and delicious food, it's hard to beat. You will find a LOT of blogs out there that will tell you all the hottest restaurants, bars and beach front resorts in Tulum. There are a lot of them. This post will mostly focus on cheaper lodging alternatives and restaurants in Tulum town proper. I will share all the places I've been to. I will divide this guide to two parts since there's a lot to share. I've been to Tulum three times in the last three years and will share all the deets so let's dive in shall we?
This is obviously optional but one I highly recommend. Tulum is a 90 minute drive south from Cancun Airport. There are available and cheaper collectivos (shuttle buses) that can take you from Cancun airport into Tulum town (with a stop at Playa del Carmen). If you're in a really tight budget then you can take one of these shuttles into Tulum. The bus stop is in the center of town and you can either walk or cab to your hotel from there. I found information about collectivos via THIS LINK.
If you do decide to rent a car, I highly recommend America Car Rental. Let me explain why. There are available car rental agencies right outside the airport. The usual car companies like Hertz, Alamo, Dollar, Enterprise, etc are all there and can also be reserved prior to arrival via travel sites like Expedia. However, the rates you will see when you reserve are not accurate. By law, Mexico requires that you purchase comprehensive insurance when renting cars. Our first time in Tulum, I was so excited to be renting a car for $8/day and we were staying for a week. I sincerely thought we got an awesome deal until they told me about the insurance and our rental cost us close to $400. Rates vary depending on how many days you need the car and the time of year you're renting. The car we rented from Dollar was old and sad looking and during our trip, we suffered two flat tires that couldn't be fixed and we ended up buying two new tires that the agency only partially reimbursed us for since we didn't use an affiliate company for the replacement. We had to go to what was closest to us obviously.
So on our next visit the following year, I did research and discovered America Car Rental. Their office is not located at the airport but there is a person you will meet upon arrival that will take you to their office via a shuttle. The rates they show you on their site are all-in and the exact amount you will be charged when you pick up your car. Tire and glass coverage is optional but inexpensive so I always get that extra. Roads in Tulum aren't the best so it doesn't hurt to make sure you're covered. Their cars are new and cleaner than the ones they rent you at the airport. The best part? They have a branch right in Tulum so if you ever run into trouble with your vehicle, you can walk right in their office and someone will help you immediately.
The reason why I choose to rent a car is because of time management. I get to go anywhere I want at my own time. Signing up for tours require you to be in a bus with several other tourists and involve you having to wake up ridiculously early for pick up and be dropped off late since the bus will need to pickup/drop off everyone at their respective resorts. Plus they keep you on a tight schedule and you're only given a short period of time to explore each site you're visiting. We noticed this while observing tour groups when we went to visit Chichen Itza and Cenote Ik-kil. We wandered around until we were ready to go and stopped to eat where we felt like it. Others were herded around and given timelines as we watched and floated lazily in the cenote. You're on vacation, trust me when I say you do not want to be on a schedule.
Since you're renting a car and will need to occasionally stop for gas, be aware that there is (unfortunately) a scam going around gas stations where they switch out bills on unsuspecting tourists who are not familiar with Mexican pesos. This may be a recent issue with the surge of tourists in the area. Whenever you hand over cash, it is important to hand EACH BILL over one at a time so it's clear to both of you how much you are handing over. A friend and I on two separate occasions have been a victim of this scam. Let's pretend you asked to get 400 pesos worth of gas, attendant gases you up and you hand him two 200 peso bills and think you're done. He'll knock on your window saying you made a mistake and handed him one 20 peso bill instead (or worse, two 20 peso bills). He's showing you the bills to show you've made a mistake. Since you're unfamiliar with Mexican money, you become confused and hand him more. Did you really make a mistake or did he just scam you? I've read threads on this so it is real and unfortunate but just be aware whenever you pay. I now always make them hold up their hands and I hand them the bill one at a time while counting. Better safe than scammed.
To be fair, it's easy to fall for scams like this anywhere you go and this doesn't take away from the fact that most of the people I've met from Tulum have been nothing short of friendly and accommodating. Don't let this deter you from visiting.
There are plenty of lodging options in Tulum. From 5-star resorts down to a hostel with a cot in a hallway and nothing but a mosquito net over it. I've stayed in hostels in my 20s and have no qualms about shared bathrooms but for our stay in Tulum, we chose basic accommodations without sacrificing comfort. I picked these two spots for its proximity to the supermarket and affordability. Being on a budget, it was important that we were able to quickly buy snacks or lunch items we can pack and bring to the beach. We even purchased a cheap styrofoam cooler and bought ice and our own beer to bring with us. This is where a car becomes handy. Most hotels would rent bicycles to guests for free but riding a bike limits the amount of items you can carry with you. You can find information about both places below.
- Hard to miss since it's right at the corner as soon as you enter town across the street from the supermarket and a 7-eleven
- Free breakfast (sandwiches, pastries, fruit, coffee and juice)
- Free use of bicycles
- One stop shop. They have a tour agency, car rentals and money exchanger in the same space.
- Since it's right on the main road, some reviews have mentioned issues about noise. I personally have never had problems with it
- The main common area can get quite busy in the morning since all tour groups meet here before heading out to their respecting trips
- No fridge in rooms so you can't store perishable items like leftovers
- Located around the corner from iTour just a short walk from the main road so still close to the supermarket
- Has a local convenience store nearby for late night snack runs
- Has a pool and a backgarden
- Free tea/coffee and fruit in the morning
- Rooms have a mini fridge so you can store small perishable items like yogurt or leftovers (or cold beer!)
- No free breakfast
- No bicycles
There are several other options in town if you want someplace even quieter or private. There are even a few affordable Airbnb's near Sian Ka'an if proximity to the beach is important to you. Just know that if you don't have a car and choose to stay by the beach then your dining options will be limited to the pricier restaurants and bars that are in that area. And it will be a very long (and hot!) bike ride if you do decide to visit Tulum town. Again, get a car.
Thanks for reading! Look out for part two of this guide where I share the restaurants I've been to and all the tourist spots worth visiting.