traveling in tulum
Tulum! When we started telling people we were headed to Mexico and they asked where in Mexico we were going, most hadn’t heard of Tulum which I was surprised about. It seems to be a good mix of both beach resorts + local spots. In an effort to share the love, here’s a recap of what we did, saw and ate in Tulum!
Before I get into the nitty gritty, I thought I’d cover a few things that might influence your decision to go to Tulum in the first place.
Bests + Worsts
The best part about traveling to Tulum was the mix of local culture and tourist friendly areas. When I’m traveling in a foreign country for the first time, I don’t usually want to stay somewhere like a resort where you don’t need to leave the compound. I’d rather get the full experience of the place. In Tulum, you can easily get from town to the beach in a matter of minutes and it allows you a well rounded experience.
The worst part about our trip was probably the state of Mexico in general. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised, but it made me really sad to see that most of the locals live in shacks on the side of the road and that the quality of the roads can be really terrible. I’m lucky that Seb was driving anyways (manual car), because I’m not sure I could’ve dealt with all the potholes and crazy drivers. It was also strange to walk down the street and see very nice villas on one side and slums on the other. It’s not something that made me feel unsafe, but I could see that being the case for other people. It made me truly grateful for how well kept our roads + public areas are at home!
Things to know
Renting a car to drive to Tulum is very cheap, but the drive is two hours with SO MANY SPEED BUMPS. This was only mildly bothersome on the way down, but since I got sick the night before we left (I think from a virus, not food/water) the 2 hour ride back was excruciating.
The exchange rate you see on Google is not always what you get in restaurants/shops. They often have the exchange rate posted for you to see, but don’t expect everywhere to be the same.
The beaches have recently been dealing with an excess of seaweed. This doesn’t make for great swimming.
Most restaurants and shops are open air, so if you’re hot-natured, be prepared for no A/C.
Many places take American dollars which is very convenient if you don’t want to take out a bunch of pesos.
The tequila is just as delicious and as cheap as you’d think :)
WHAT WE DID
Day 1: Travel + Explore
We landed in Cancun a little after noon. The custom lines were longgggggggg so just something to keep in mind. I believe it was their busy season. We took a shuttle to the rental car place, got set up with our vehicle, and headed out to Tulum. The drive was right about two hours long and, as I mentioned, there are a ton of speed bumps. There also wasn’t much between Cancun and Tulum unless you pulled off the highway in Playa Del Carmen, so if you’re hungry like I was, you’re out of luck.
Once we reached Tulum, we rode through town to our Airbnb called La Coordenada Perfecta which I understand roughly translates to “the perfect location.” It is really very adorable. There’s a coffee shop downstairs along with a common area. Our apartment was a studio concept with the cutest kitchen + patio area. It did luckily have air conditioning so I didn’t die of a heat stroke in my sleep. Once we got settled and changed (because it was 85 degrees and I had already started sweating - a very welcome change from NC winter weather), we decided to go eat a pre-dinner dinner because my blood sugar was dangerously low. We took the bikes provided by the Airbnb down to Burrito Amor which is the cutest outdoor bar/restaurant with delicious food. We of course had some margs, but the best part of the meal were the sauces that they provide for you to dress your burritos with. We had honestly intended to come back here for breakfast one of the following days, but sadly we never made it.
After dinner, we explored town a little and picked up some water + supplies. After taking our haul back to the apartment and digesting a bit, we ventured out for second dinner at Chacabar. It’s located in this newly developed area of Tulum that is beautifully designed to be modern but still feel like you’re in the jungle. There are also a few other bars in the area so I think it would’ve been a great spot for drinking + hopping around with little effort. I had pizza and Seb had a mole dish. Both delicious + very good cocktails too. After two dinners + some exploring, we headed up to the pool on the roof of our Airbnb for a late night dip and then called it a night!
Day 2: Beach
My number 1 priority on this trip was, of course, SUN. Seb’s number 1 priority on any trip like this is, of course, not getting sunburnt. Surprisingly, we’ve learned how to deal with this well. We always look for a place that will rent us an umbrella + chairs and luckily there is no shortage of those in Mexico. We ended up at Piedra Escondido, a boutique hotel right on the beach. Normally their chairs are reserved for people who have a room but they had vacancies so we were able to grab a spot. Instead of paying a rental fee, they have a minimum required spend at the restaurant which, in my opinion, is a better deal anyway. They serve you at your cabana so we started with a smoothie, fruit bowl and Mexican coke for brunch and snacked on seafood salad, tuna tostadas, and fish tacos throughout the afternoon. Plus plenty of cocktails. They had one of the best mezcal cocktails we had during the trip. We stayed from roughly 11am to 6pm, ate everything previously mentioned, and had cocktails throughout the day and I think our bill came out to roughly $100 USD - best day ever.
On the way out, we stopped at a gelato shop and had some delicious ice cream. Because we rented the car, we were able to easily drive down to the beach and park which ended up being helpful since at the end of the day we were anxious to get back, shower, and change. I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but since we ate throughout the day and Seb wasn’t feeling dinner, we stayed in and enjoy margaritas at the apartment instead of going out. The funniest part about this day was that even though Seb literally never left the umbrella, he still ended up getting burnt during our 5 minute walk from the car to the beach. He’s a true ginger!
Day 3: ADVENTURES
On the third day in Tulum, we decided to get up a little earlier and head to the Zona Arqueológica Muyil ruins + see a cenote. The Mayan ruins were so interesting and it was nice to get out before it got hot and before a lot of other tourists showed up. This was probably Seb’s favorite part of the trip and I really enjoyed getting to walk through the jungle between the different ruins - the trees are beautiful! After the ruins, we headed over to Cenote Crystal. Cenotes are sinkholes that fill up with water where a lot of the locals go to swim. They’re fresh water and clear to the bottom - so beautiful, cool water and in the middle of the jungle! One of the most unique places I’ve ever been. I will say, I’m not a big fan of swimming places that I’m not familiar with so this freaked me out a little. Cenote Crystal does have a jumping platform and scuba diving opportunities as well.
We finished all of that adventuring by about 11am so we went back to the apartment, changed, and headed out for lunch in town. We went to Don Cafeto which seemed to be equally full of tourists and locals (it’s always a good thing if the locals eat there, right?). One of the BEST things we ate in Mexico was the pickled carrots served before our lunch. They were spicy but so delicious, and I’ve since found a recipe for them that I’m hoping will be as good as what we had at Don Cafeto. It was a leisurely lunch with two giant margs and we did a little shopping aftewards to let the buzz wear off before riding our bikes back to the apartment. We picked up some colorful glasses for my mom’s birthday and I found a pair of huaraches! They’re not as brown as I’d like them to be, but they said that they darken with time + sun, so I’m looking forward to wearing them in. They were incredibly cheap for a handmade leather shoe and I’m so excited to wear them once it warms up!
Later that evening we ventured back out towards the beach to go to Kitchen Table. The loveliest atmosphere - an open kitchen nestled in the middle of the jungle. We literally sat right underneath a tree. It was the best dining experience we had while we were there and the food was top notch and rounded off a fun day in Tulum!
Day 4: More beach
What’s Mexico without beaches? On day 4, we headed back to the beach, but a little farther south this time. We ate a healthy breakfast at Raw Love, which was one of the spots I most wanted to go to when planning the trip. It was the cutest outdoor seating in the sand and would’ve been a great place to sit and work. We also had the sweetest waitress who made the whole thing even better. After breakfast, we grabbed a bed + umbrella at Akiin Beach Club. It was a beautiful premises with shops lining the walk down to the beach and raw edged wood steps leading into the restaurant, but was definitely more of a “club” feel. I felt like the waiters hovered more than I’d like them to and wasn’t totally comfortable because of it, but I really wanted to try the bed vs. a lounge chair so I got to have that experience. Another thing to note about Akiin is that they provide you with towels which would’ve been handy if our Airbnb hadn’t provided them for us. During the afternoon, we ordered some tempura shrimp and a poke bowl and Seb had a few cocktails. I wasn’t feeling 100% so I only had one cocktail, but it was delicious. We left around 5 and headed back over to the apartment. Unfortunately, by the time we finished showering, I felt pretty bad. I thought I was just coming down with a cold and Seb was super sweet to offer to pick up dinner from a nearby food truck park, Palma Centra, so that I didn’t have to miss out on our last dinner in Mexico. We ate dinner and I drifted off to sleep fairly early, but ended up being up most of the night due to what I now think was either a virus or the flu. Not fun but I don’t blame Mexico.
Day 5: Sickness + travel
I had full intentions of getting up early to explore more or at the very least go to brunch before we headed to the airport, but by morning I could barely get dressed. Seb again came in clutch and got all of our bags packed and in the car while I was moving very slowly. The two hour drive to the airport was literally the most miserable thing I’ve ever done in my life because speed bumps + pot holes + nausea is the worst combination, but I made it! We returned our rental car without issue, took the shuttle back to the airport, and said goodbye to paradise. It was a long day getting home and Seb ended up getting sick the following day, but the trip was still so fun and very worth it. There’s so much we didn’t get to explore in Tulum, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we head back there again one day - maybe even stay at a resort next time!