I certainly haven’t been to all the beaches in the world, but of the ones I’ve visited so far, Tulum is my favorite.
It’s easy to get to from the East Coast. Hop a flight down to Cancun and a short hour and a half drive later you’ll be in Tulum! I use the car service Tucan Kin for the transfer.
If you get tired of beaches and turquoise blue water (who are you??) you can visit a selection of Mayan ruins or swim in cenotes.
Tacos and margaritas!
Where to Stay
Tulum has one stretch of road through “town” and one stretch of road along the beach called the “Zona Hotelera.” While lovely, staying along the beach in the hotel zone can be pricey. My second trip to Tulum, we stayed in an AirBNB in a new neighborhood called Aldea Zama. It’s in between the town and the beach zone. It was convenient enough, and you could either bike or take a cab to the beach or walk into town.
One thing to remember about Tulum is it’s in the jungle, so if air conditioning is a thing you like, make sure your hotel or apartment offers that. Once I stayed in an open-air, eco resort. I wouldn’t do that again.
You can stay at a hotel with beach access or go to a hotel with a beach club where you pay a daily minimum for use of the facilities. Ahau Tulum is my favorite spot along the beach. I’ve also used Papaya Playa Project’s beach club, but the beach is much rockier at their end. There are also beach clubs near the public beach, Playa Paraiso, but I like the beach area by Ahau Tulum better.
Despite my serious and abiding love for tacos, Posada Margherita is my favorite restaurant in Tulum (it’s Italian). The food, but even more so the view, is wonderful.
My other favorite spots: Taqueria Honorio, Chacabar
Mayan Ruins: An Overview
Three sites are relatively easy to explore from Tulum: Tulum Ruins, Coba, and Chichen Itza.
The Tulum Ruins sit on a cliff along the beach. There’s even a small beach area you can climb down to depending on the tide. It’s a wide open space that can be crowded and you definitely need sunblock and a hat. I’d recommend being one of those tourists who carries an umbrella to block some of the sun.
Pro-tip: If the line to get in the Tulum Ruins is really long, join one of the guided tours. It’s only 90 pesos more and gets you through the doors much quicker. The tour only lasts 45 minutes, or you could leave the group once you get through the crowds.
Coba, a short drive from Tulum, has the only temple in the region you can still climb. It is high, steep, and scary. But so worth it. The walk from the entrance of Coba to the main temple is through jungle cover, so you’re also spared some of the blazing Tulum sun.
Pro-tip: The drive from Tulum to Coba is very, very easy. We rented a car and drove ourselves. That also allowed us to hit several less-crowded cenotes on our way back to Tulum.
Chichen Itza is impressive, but expensive. It’s also the farthest trip from Tulum. You can no longer climb the temple here, so if you want that experience go to Coba. Annoyingly, they let souvenir hawkers inside the grounds at Chichen Itza and they harass you the entire time you're walking around.
Pro-tip: If you want to experience a colonial-era city, bus from Tulum to Valladolid and base there for your visit to Chichen Itza. The cab driver who picked us up at the Valladolid bus station also took us to Chichen Itza, waited for us to see the site, and drove us back to Valladolid for 600 pesos. Valladolid is definitely worth seeing.
A Tale of Three Cenotes
We rented a car to visit Coba. After climbing the main temple, we were ready for a dip in the fresh, cool Cenote water. We picked three random cenotes that presented a great variety in experience.
Cenote Zacil-Ha - small cenote, but a public park area has been built up around it. They had lounge chairs, a small restaurant, and some shops. There were several platforms to jump off into the cenote.
Cenote Car Wash - more like a small lake.
Cenote Calavera - more of a cave-like cenote. It had one major opening and two very small openings you could jump through if you’re a real thrill-seeker. I jumped through one of the smaller openings and once was enough for my blood pressure.
There are a host of other cenotes you can visit on your own or with a guided tour.
Ready to Go?
Transfer service from Cancun to Tulum: Tucan Kin
Easy and cheap bus service as an alternative to private car service: Ado Buses
Beach club at Ahau Tulum
Posada Margherita - my favorite restaurant (they also have a small hotel)
Chacabar - Italian spot in Aldea Zama
Taqueria Los Chachalacos - great selection of tacos
Taqueria Honorio - small, local taco stand, probably the best for tacos