(I’m so behind on travel blog posts that it’s really shameful, but my friend Jess is thinking about traveling to Tulum and I wanted to be able to share all of my insight with her — so here we are.)
I’d seen so many beautiful pics of Tulum and knew that Steve and I needed to get there before Instagram completely took it over. We booked our flights and chose a beautiful hotel, Viento del Mar, along the beach road. Why am I not linking to the hotel? Oh, because it’s closed. It was raided by police five days before our departure. Yep. (It had to do with a land dispute, not drugs.)
It’s a LONG story as to how I figured this out (via Instagram — because they didn’t contact us!), but I did and we were thrown into a panic. What now? Do we choose another hotel? Cancel and go to another destination? Throw in the cards and cancel the whole trip?
After weighing our options, we decided to still go to Tulum but stay in an all-inclusive, Dreams Tulum. Don’t do that. Tulum is all about the diverse landscape and the amazing food — neither of which you get at an all-inclusive. By the third day, I was so sick of the food and the small area of beach where you could swim that I spent a stupid amount to rent a car so we could explore. Below are all of the things I would absolutely recommend in Tulum.
Tulum is split into two areas — the town and the beach road. Staying in town is much less expensive and it’s easy to get to the beach, but many beach areas require you to pay for access. I just prefer to already be on the beach. (We obviously didn’t stay at these properties, I’ve heard very good things from those who have.)
I still cringe at how bad the food was at our all-inclusive. I couldn’t handle it and HAD to have something not mass made at a resort. Here are the few places we ate:
- Antojitos la Chiapaneca: I still think about their tacos al pastor. It’s a walk-up space on a side street off the main road in Tulum town. Tacos are about $0.50 each and served on paper plates. We had a full lunch for $5 USD.
- Natural Juice: Because who doesn’t love a fresh juice on vacation?
- Mivida: The outside seating is in an old dismantled cottage right on the beach — so adorable — and the grilled octopus is delicious.
- Le Zebra Beach Bar: This place is so fun! We went on a Friday night and there was a live band and great margaritas (and a few tequila shots).
We were also told that Kitchen Table and Hartwood were musts. (We skipped KT because the menu was really limited and Hartwood was closed for renovations when we visited.) The other musts on the return list include Taquería Honorio, Casa Jaguar, Gitano, Matcha Mama and Raw.
Get out your camera and get ready to take tons of pictures. Tulum is the most Instagram-able place I’ve ever been.
- Cenotes: Cenotes are sunken limestone swimming holes all over the Yucatan. There are so many close to Tulum, but we only had time for one, so we went to Gran Cenote. We rented snorkel equipment and a locker and I followed a turtle for about 30 minutes in pure bliss. (Anna Everywhere has a great guide to cenotes.)
- Tulum Ruins: Again, we were limited in time, so we stuck to the closest ruins in Tulum. We thought we were getting there pretty early — around 9am — but it was already packed. It was very hard to get a photo without any people in it. The ruins are cool to see and worth the small entrance fee, but if you have time, Coba is reportedly really cool, less visited and only about an hour away.
- Visit Tulum town: If you’re like me, you want to spend as much time on the beach as possible, but town is definitely worth a visit. Most of the shops are tourist-driven, but there are a few gems and lots of great places to eat.
- Read all of the reviews before booking a place. Some areas of the beach (farther north) are much rockier and you can’t really swim. If clear water and soft sand are important, do the research.
- The beach road is really long and you have to drive very slowly, so the farther south you stay, you’ll be adding significant time to your drive.
- Don’t worry about your hotel being raided or being stopped by police. That was obviously a rare occurrence and we had no issues the whole time we were there.
- If you drive (which I recommend because it’s very easy), know two things:
- You have to buy insurance IN Mexico, which makes the cost of a car much more expensive. (Don’t be fooled by the $5/day rates!)
- Watch for topes, or speed bumps. They’re MASSIVE and will completely ruin the car if you don’t slow down. (They’re also often where police check points are, so slowing is a good idea.)
Would I go back?
Absolutely. We didn’t get to experience Tulum like you should. There are so many delicious foods to be eaten, cenotes to swim in, ruins to visit, etc. I want to be able to experience Tulum with a proper beachfront stay in a hammock with fresh fish tacos. Now, to convince Steve to go back …