The Ultimate Guide to Tulum
If you're planning a trip to Mexico's hottest destination right now, use this guide to know where to stay, where to eat and what to do in Tulum.
Chances are, prior to about 2018, you’d probably never heard of Tulum. That’s because it’s only been on the trendy travel radar in recent years. But with Instagram making Tulum the hottest place to travel to right now—in large part because there are no Covid restrictions for travel to Mexico—I’d stand to bet that your IG feed is filled with influencers strolling the white sand beaches, lounging in their private pool or dining at one of the über-trendy restaurants in town. And I'd stand to bet you've seen photos of the iconic statute above.
Maybe you’re not looking to travel on trend, but just looking for a quiet beach destination. Tulum is still a great bet. Wherever you are in the Riviera Maya, you're bound to stumble upon glowing white sand and striking blue waters. In my subjective opinion, however, Tulum takes the win for having the best beaches in the region. Tulum's large main beach hews closely to its overall quintessence – it's sedate and still feels untouched in some areas.
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And if you think nearby Playa del Carmen and Cancun are a little too… well, touristy, then I’m sure you’ll love the boho beachy vibes of Tulum. Although the town is only about an hour south of Playa del Carmen, it feels like a whole other world. Instead of grand retreats lining the road, you'll find palm trees and lush jungle. Instead of hotel-only restaurants, you’ll find rustic-chic beachfront cafes serving inexpensive authentic cuisine. It goes without saying that for those seeking relaxation and unplugging (within reason), Tulum is a wonderland.
Where to Stay
Tulum and Playa del Carmen are starkly different – and that carries on to the style of hotels you’ll find in these towns. The hotel scene in Tulum used to be pretty chill and low-key. The town had a humble former fishing settlement history—which I love—but due to instagram blowing this place up in recent years, it’s become drastically different than the town I visited ten years ago. Now you’ll find hotel after hotel along the “hotel zone”, and while most of them are more boutique-style properties, there are still dozens more than there were when I had first visited Tulum.
My top hotel picks are Be Tulum, La Zebra, and Nomade. These are all in the hotel zone, right on the beach, and are super cute, trendy boutique hotels that will put you right in the heart of all the action.
Papaya Playa Project also offers very bohemian "cabañas" right on the beach. This is what they call their rooms, which are basically individual bamboo huts with thatch roofs. Though you won't be living the lap of luxury, the concept is quite cool (think glamping on the beach) and the location is wonderful, with immediate access right to the beach.
Traveling with a group and need more space? I recently stayed in one of the penthouse villas at Panoramico Tulum, which is in the town of Tulum (so about 10 minutes from the hotel zone) and we really loved it. The villa we rented was chicly decorated, with three large king bedrooms—all with ensuite baths—and our very own, private rooftop infinity pool. There’s also the coolest circular-shaped shared pool at the top of the complex that’s just so IG worthy. You can book several of the villas at Panoramico on AirBnB and VRBO. Below you'll find a complete tour of our room at The Panoramic, Tulum:
If you’re not married to staying right in Tulum, one of my favorite properties in the world is actually just north of Playa del Carmen, about an hour away from Tulum. The Rosewood Mayakoba is truly heaven on earth. Their villas are INSANE, the service is five star and, put simply, you just won’t want to leave the property. Read more about Rosewood Mayakoba here.
Where to Eat
Tulum is the land of super cute, trendy breakfast and lunch spots. They’re seriously everywhere. The hardest part about a trip to Tulum, if you’re only there for a short time, is finding the time to eat at all the super cute restaurants and cafes.
The Real Coconut is my favorite spot for breakfast. Serving up über healthy, yet delightfully delicious dishes, set amongst a bohemian vibe right on the beach with ocean views, The Real Coconut will have you wanting to come back day after day.
The same goes for brunch/lunch spots. Make sure to stop at the infamous Raw Love Tulum, which has the giant sculpture at the entrance that you’re sure have come across in about a hundred Instagram photos already. Though open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s best for breakfast and lunch. Other great options are Matcha Mama and Liefs Vegan Van.
Gitano (shown below) might be one of the sexiest nighttime outdoor dining spaces I’ve ever seen. With intimate, tucked away tables, a combination of red lighting and white lanterns and lush tropical plants galore, it makes for a visually stunning and sultry ambiance. Their cocktails are out-of-this-world and the service is superb. Oh, and their food is pretty good too (actually, it’s REALLY good).
Posada Margherita is a triple threat: it has one of the best views to watch the sunset at dinner, the food is incredible, and it’s one of the best places in Tulum to get shots for the ‘gram during the day. With white wooden distressed furniture right on the sand, the venue makes the perfect backdrop for any type of lifestyle photos.
Other great dinner options are Nü Tulum, Kitchen Table, Farm to Table and Rosa Negra.
If you’re wondering what to eat in Tulum centro, you must try the garlic shrimp at El Camello Jr., seared tuna at Único (which I heard has maybe closed?) and the empanadas at Antojitos La Chiapaneca. There's also a super cute breakfast/brunch/lunch spot right in el centro called Del Cielo (shown below)
What to Do
Whether you’re in Tulum or Playa del Carmen, there are a lot of cool things you can do to keep your vacation fun and exciting. When in Tulum, you can witness Mexico’s captivating pre-Hispanic cultural treasures. Tulum itself is home to 13th century ruins. Magnificent Mayan ruins of Coba are also a short drive away. If you want to hit the beach, head to the pretty beaches of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. Offshore snorkeling is also a delight there.
The region is also known for its cenotes, and they’re everywhere. Some of the more popular cenotes include Dos Ojos Cenote, Gran Cenote, Cenote Calavera, Cenotes Tankah, Cenote Zacil-Ha and Saytun Cenote.
If you have kids in tow or want more of an all-in-one cenote experience, consider spending the day at Xcaret. They have several water-centric theme parks across the Mayan Riviera, which feature real cenotes to explore, lazy rivers to float, jungle trails to hike and zip lines to soar through the jungle. Use code "LOVE2021" for 15% off your booking of any stay or theme park admission by clicking the banner above.
Of course, don't forget to stop by Raw Love Tulum and get your IG-worthy shot with the giant sculpture of the guy with the hands opening his chest (it's played out, I know... but it's almost like a right of passage for Tulum these days).
There's also some great beach clubs. We spent quite a lot of time at Manaxab Beach Club, but there's also Mia Restaurant & Beach Club and Coco Tulum.
If you go to Tulum and end up using any of my recommendations, please let me know! I love to hear other people's thoughts. And if I missed a spot that should be on the list, please tell me so I can add it! Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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