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Over the past couple of decades, Tulum has transformed from a sleepy little village into a booming international hotspot. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise because the Jewel of the Mexican Caribbean got its nickname for a good reason! It’s hard to resist the draw of white sand beaches, Mayan ruins, and lush jungles, not to mention the incredible food, wildlife, and activities. Even if you have to deal with thousands of other tourists for the experience.
However, Tulum isn’t your typical Mexico locale. Due to Tulum’s popularity and climate, it functions differently than other cities, and it’s important to know what to expect before you arrive—or even book. Here are 10 things you need to know about Tulum before visiting!
1. Biking is the best way to get around
Driving around Tulum isn’t very complicated, but the roads are not well-paved and very narrow. Additionally, parking is extremely limited around town. These factors can make driving a hassle rather than a convenience. Taxis are also an option, but don’t be surprised to hear fares as high as $25 per mile!
Biking is the easiest and cheapest way to get around Tulum for all these reasons. You can get from one end of the city to the other in just a few minutes, and the beach is very accessible by bike as well—just watch out for potholes! Check with your hotel first to see if they offer bikes to guests. If not, there are plenty of local shops that offer daily rentals.
2. Seaweed can be a BIG issue
Few things can wipe the fun from your vacation faster than the smell of seaweed washing over the beach! The area around Tulum often has large deposits of sargassum that wash up on shore and linger in the shallows. Not only are these piles smelly, but they make it hard to see and swim in the waters.
The seaweed is typically the worst from May to October, but it can happen other times as well. Some hotels have the staff and money to keep up with it all year long, but lower-budget stays don’t always have that option. Do research on your hotel before booking to see if other guests had issues, and you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches later.
3. Paying with American money works, but it’s not smart
Many local vendors and restaurants will accept American dollars, which seems like a great thing. However, if you check out your bill, you’ll quickly see that the convenience comes with a considerable premium charge!
It’s much smarter to pay with pesos to receive the lower rate on pretty much everything. There are banks in town where you can use your debit card to withdraw in pesos and maximize your vacation budget without any additional hassle.
4. If you’re on a budget, you should stay in town.
Tulum has a reputation for being incredibly expensive, but it doesn’t have to be! One of the easiest ways to save money is skipping the beach resort and staying in town. The beachfront hotels will cost you hundreds of dollars each night, whereas the hotels, Airbnbs, and hostels in town average between $55 and $120 per night.
It may sound a bit inconvenient, but the beach is just a few minutes from town by bike or car. Plus, staying in town also allows you to experience more local culture because the beach areas are geared toward tourism.
5. The most authentic food is downtown
Another big concern for budget-minded visitors in Tulum is food. Tulum is known for having some of the most unique restaurants in the world, but many of them come at a steep price.
However, if you want to skip the pizzazz and enjoy authentic, local cuisine, downtown Tulum is the place to be! Most residents live in town, so pay attention to where they’re congregating rather than where the tourists are. You’ll find some of the best food you’ve ever had in small, unassuming taco stands or tiny eateries that you may otherwise pass over!
6. Some beaches can only be accessed through a hotel.
If you decide to stay in town, there is one significant thing to be aware of. Due to the extreme buildup of resorts along the beachfront, finding an entry point for the southern beach can be difficult. The beaches are all public, but few areas have public access points available. So if you can’t find public parking along the coast, you’ll have to enter through a hotel.
The main snag with going through a hotel is that many of them have a minimum spend requirement for you to have access to their cabanas, chairs, and bathrooms. To avoid this, head to the northern beach area, which has less development and more parking. There may be more people and fewer beach chairs, but it’s more likely to be free.
7. There’s so much more to do than just the beach!
Don’t limit your daily plans to the beachfront! There are plenty of adventures waiting just a few minutes away from the town center.
Tulum is home to some of the only waterfront Mayan ruins in the world! They are fascinating to visit, and the history is mesmerizing as well. Additionally, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a must-see. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to incredible animals, including wild cats, monkeys, flamingos, manatees, and turtles! Finally, set aside some time to visit one of Tulum’s famous cenotes. These limestone sinkholes create beautiful freshwater pools where you can swim, float, and explore.
8. The best time to visit Tulum is between Easter and the end of June.
Like most tourist destinations, Tulum has a busy period and a slow period. For Tulum, the quiet period typically happens between Easter and June. Plan your trip during this break to avoid the crowds, but don’t forget to check out the seaweed forecast before you book.
Planning to visit in the spring also offers better weather than the summer months. Not only will it be hotter in the summer, but you’ll have to deal with the rainy season as well! So for multiple reasons, the best time to visit Tulum is in the spring.
9. Tulum has two sides: Boho-chic and party.
You can have two very different experiences in Tulum, depending on where you stay and explore. Some parts of town have a breezy, boho-chic vibe that makes you want to relax and take a yoga class. Other parts feel like a full-out spring break party with music, dancing, and beach clubs.
If you don’t mind mixing the two, you can explore everything at your leisure. But if you have a strong preference for one of the other, do some quick research to figure out which places will fit your personal vibes the best.
10. A hefty price tag doesn’t mean classic luxury.
If you check into a beachfront hotel in Tulum, it’s going to come with a large price tag. But the price doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be basking in “classic” luxury every second.
Many of Tulum’s most expensive hotels are actually eco-stays where you’ll be outdoors and living with the elements. These can be incredible experiences, but if you hate the thought of an open roof and outdoor shower, you’ll have a terrible time.
Additionally, it’s not uncommon for hotels to lose power, not provide A/C, or struggle with bugs. Once again, the best course of action is to do your research! Make sure you’re checking into a hotel with the amenities you want, then be willing to go with the flow if something doesn’t go as planned.
Closing Thoughts About Tulum
Tulum is an absolutely incredible city with so much to offer. Whether you’re looking to connect with nature, enjoy the culture, or just bask on the beach, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Tulum. But remember, do your research, be flexible when plans change, and most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy the experience.