by Mac Candee

Posted: Saturday, May 15, 2021

I spent 31 days getting to know one of my favorite places on planet Earth - Tulum, Mexico. This beautiful jungle beach town is just one and a half hours away from Cancun, and it has everything you need for your perfect exotic vacation. This place has immensely grown in popularity in the last couple of years, in part due to the huge amount of attention Instagram influencers brought its way. However, social media might fool you - there’s a lot more than meets the eye here, and it can also be a lot cheaper than what you might expect. In this guide, I’m going to cover everything I can to help you have a great time in this paradise destination, including how to get there, where to stay, safety tips, fun things to do and even where and what to eat. This guide is going to help you have an incredible time once you’re there, as well as some tips on how to lower your costs.

1. Transportation to and from Tulum Airport

The most popular route to get to Tulum is to fly into Cancun airport and make your way over to your endpoint. There are three main ways to do this, and they are as follows:

  • Taking a taxi

This option is very convenient, but you can expect to pay anywhere between $80 and $120, depending on your negotiation with the driver. Generally, the more you trust the company and your driver, the less you can expect to pay. This might sound expensive, but it might just be your best option if you’re with a group of people, and you can split the total.

  • Rental car to/from the airport

If you decide to do this, you can rent a car from Cancun, keep it until the end of your vacation and then return it. Depending on how long you’re going to stay in Tulum, this can get a bit expensive, but it’s not a bad idea if you’re only there for a bit. Keep in mind that it’s about $30 per day for the cheapest car rentals, and an additional $15 - $20 in gas to get you to Tulum. A one-way rental is also an option. If you know you won’t be using a car for the duration of your stay, you can rent a vehicle in Cancun and leave it in Tulum. This, however, means that you’ll get a one-way rental fee, which can sometimes outweigh the possible savings. Add the numbers of the previous point and add a fee on top of them, and you’ll quickly see that it’s not such a bargain, unless you’re sharing it with other people.

  • Take the bus

I have found this to be the cheapest and most convenient way to get to Tulum. You can buy your tickets directly at a booth in the airport, after which you’re ready to go. However, I advise you to check the bus schedules, because the timing often changes. Personally, when I was there, there was only one bus from Cancun to Tulum, and it was at 3:30PM. If you can’t make it in time for this option, you can also take a connecting bus, from Cancun to Playa del Carmen and after that from Playa del Carmen to Tulum. This is the best option if you’re looking to lower your spending, and you’re not visiting with a large group.

2. Accommodation options

Even though it’s a more luxurious destination, there are ways in which you can save some money on where you stay. You can easily spend thousands of dollars per night, but I want to give you some alternatives as well. It all depends on your preference and how fancy you want to make it.

  • Option one: Stay in one of the hotels on the beach

This subcategory ranges from Azulik, which is probably the most expensive, to other accommodation options that can cost you about $100 a night. If hotels on the beach are your preference, the hotel district is going to be your most expensive option.

  • Option two: Stay at an Airbnb

This option is one that I personally like the most. There are two districts where you can find Airbnb’s - El Centro, which will give you the best prices and Aldea Zamea, which is halfway between El Centro and the beach. The second option is a bit more expensive, but also nicer, and you can expect to pay $50 - $100 per person per night. It’s possible to bring the costs down even more if you’re staying with more people, as was the case with me.

  • Option three: Stay at a hostel

Hostels are world-renowned for their affordability, and might just be one of the cheapest ways to travel the world. You can choose between a private room, which can sometimes be the same price as an Airbnb, or a shared dorm, which is a room with between 2 and 16 bunk beds. It might not sound luxurious, but it can be a fun opportunity to meet people, all the while keeping costs low. Choosing this option will allow you to stay in the city for as little as $10-$20 per day.

I just want to point out here that no matter what your budget is, you can still have an amazing time. Each option has its benefits and detriments, and no matter which one you choose, you can enjoy yourself to the fullest. You can find so many fun things to do on every budget level if you look for them - or read through the rest of this guide!

3. Transportation in Tulum

There are many fun things to do in all different areas of the city, and the landscape is stretched out, so you’ll probably need some form of commute to get around. It’s about 2.2 miles (3.5 kilometers) from El Centro to the beach, there are Cenotes in the vicinity, as well as field trips you can make that are a few hours away from Tulum. I definitely recommend exploring your options and thinking about how you’re going to get there, because it’s worth it even if it’s a bit more work.

  • If you’re doing a lot of road trips - rent a car.

There are places you can do this in El Centro, and you can expect a fee of $30 per day, in addition to the gas you spend. I personally did this a few times, and I have enjoyed it. In my case, I picked up the vehicle just for one day and then returned it when I came back. That way I didn’t have to pay the fees for the whole 31 days and I could still get anywhere I wanted to go easily.

  • If you don’t feel like driving - take a taxi

This is another option you have at your disposal. Just beware that taxis can be very expensive, especially if you look like a tourist. I tried speaking Spanish, but they still tried charging me their high rates. In my case, I told them that I was staying here for a month and I knew what the prices were, and this helped me somewhat negotiate. However, if you’re a native speaker you’re going to get a much lower fare. Personally, me and my group only took taxis a few times when we were going out, and we paid between 100 and 300 pesos from El Centro to the beach, dependent on time of day, traffic and other circumstances.

  • Get a bike

This is the last and my most favorite option. You can choose between renting or purchasing a bike, and depending on how long you're staying, both options have their benefits. If you’re spending a few days, a bike rental costs between 100 and 300 pesos per day (in El Centro). After that, you can safely get around the beach, as well as in El Centro, thanks to the many paths along the roads. If you’re going to be staying for longer, I recommend going to Facebook Marketplace and finding an option that suits you, and then purchase a bike. You can sell it right before you leave, and this will usually allow you to get the best deal. It sounds like a lot of hassle, but it’s not as demanding as it sounds - you only have to find the bike you like, message the person, pick it up, maybe negotiate the price if you want a better deal and voila - you have a bike! Keep in mind that it’s a money transaction, and the purchase might be of around 1000 pesos, so it’s always better to meet out in the open when closing the deal.

  • Walk around

This is always an option, and Tulum is a very walkable city, where you don’t have to worry too much about strolling around. Don’t overlook this option, because you might miss out on some lovely sights.

  • Take a collectivo

First off, what’s a collectivo? This is a shared van, which goes around Tulum to pick up people, and it works like ride-sharing. Locals use this option to get from the city to places like Playa del Carmen, Coba and other destinations. It’s a great option for inexpensive travel and leverage carpooling for a cheaper ride.

4. Dining out

As with the accommodation, there are quite a few options for you to choose from in this area. You can opt for the more luxurious, touristy restaurants and bars, or decide on the more affordable, local options.

  • Beach options - high end

Keep in mind that the venues at the beach will cost you a lot more than their counterparts in El Centro. But even there, costs are varied. There are times I’ve spent about $50-$100 at Rosa Negra, which included nice cocktails and a great meal, along with some appetizers. At the same time, if you go to a place like Azulik, your minimum spend will be a $1000 to reserve a table. Keep in mind this huge price variety, and make sure to look everything up before you go somewhere, so that you’re not unpleasantly surprised. Also, don’t forget to make a reservation, because they fill up very fast. Especially if it’s a popular restaurant, and it’s a weekend, you need to be prepared. I used the Open Table App to do this, so I recommend you check it out as well.

  • El Centro - more affordable

This is where you can expect to pay more like local prices. Although, there is a lot of variation here as well with price. You can get some incredible tacos for $1 in a place like Taquería Honorio, or spend $10-$20 per entrée in the fancier places. An important note here is that you should only pay cash. That’s because most venues in this part of Tulum don’t accept anything else, and even if they do, there’s a 3%-5% transaction fee. So I definitely recommend not going cashless, because otherwise you might be in for unpleasant surprises.

5. Dining in

Staying in and preparing your food at your accommodation is also a great option not only for saving money, but also for not feeling like you have to go out for every single meal. If you choose to do this, listen up, because I’ll tell you all about which supermarkets you should choose from.

  • Chedraui

This place usually has the best prices in comparison to its competitors. It’s like a Walmart in Tulum - it’s massive, and it has everything you might ever need. You can find anything from swimsuits to pet toys, and of course in the grocery section - any type of food you might need. If you’re looking for a place to do your weekly shopping, this is a great option

  • Super Aki

This store isn’t as big as the previous one, but you still have most of what you need, and the prices are very reasonable as well.

6. Things to do in Tulum

If you want a more detailed description of all the different sights and experiences, check out this video where I do a deep dive into the topic. But as a rule of thumb - Mexico has some truly amazing cuisine, so you’ll never go wrong if you decide to spend your time satisfying your senses with colorful, tasty food. The beach clubs there are also fun, and an important part of the full Tulum experience. Cenotes are also a must-visit, since they are so unique. You can find them both inside Tulum, like Cenote Calavera, Gran Cenote, and a bit further out - near Chichen Itza you can find Cenotes Ik Kil and Suytun. I have a whole blog post on this topic as well, so if you want to learn more, check it out here. I go through everything - from the pricing, what to do there, if it’s worth it and anything you should bring or beware of.

Tulum is also great for day trips. There are many exciting sites in the area, so if you have the time, I definitely recommend including one or two excursions in your itinerary. This is also a topic discussed in depth in my Things to do in Tulum video. Just to name a few I liked a lot, Punta Allen is just south of Tulum, only a two hours drive, Chichen Itza, which is also roughly the same distance and many more.

7. Safety tips

As any foreign land, if you don’t know the area, it’s better to be more cautious. As a general rule of thumb, I don’t recommend walking around the outskirts of Tulum at night. That’s where the majority of petty crime happens, and you don’t want to put yourself in harm’s way. In my time there, I never really had any problems, but we mainly took taxis at night, and avoided sketchier areas. That said, I walked around at El Centro and never had an issue, but I was never out after 11-12 PM.

Another tip is to download the Spanish language directly into your Google Translate to use anytime, even if you’re offline. In this way, even if you have to speak to someone who doesn’t know English, you can easily communicate through your phone. I was trying to improve my Spanish skills when I was there, and yet every time I spoke to a local in their native language, they responded in English. Since the destination is so popular for English speakers, the majority of the workers that deal with tourists have a good level of fluency.

8. General tips

  • Taking money out of an ATM

When you want to get some more cash, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First off, when taking money out, the process is reverse compared to the USA. In general, you put your card in, make your choice, receive the card back and after that - get your cash. In this way, people are much less likely to forget anything. But in Mexico, the order is reversed - you first get your cash, and then you can expect to see your card after selecting something along the lines of “finish” on the screen. Make sure you always double-check if you got your card, because this makes it so easy to forget, which can easily cause you immense stress.

  • Make sure you double-check if you’re getting pesos or USD from the ATM

I had an uncomfortable situation once where I went to an ATM to get some cash, and due to not paying enough attention, I accidentally withdrew $800, instead of 800 pesos. This caused me to be worried all night as I ventured back to my accommodation, because I was carrying so much cash with me. The other drawback is the huge transaction fee - it was 7%. Luckily, my Charles Schwab Credit Card refunded these charges, so I got the nearly $60 fee back.

  • Check the ATM conversion rate

On one of the last steps when withdrawing any amount, the ATM will ask you if you want to accept their conversion rate. This is never in your favor, so I recommend that you decline when you see this question pop up on the screen. Just this alone can easily save you up to 10%. Make sure you pay attention to it, because it can make a huge difference. Once you decline, the ATM will use your home bank’s conversion rate, which will be much better for your wallet. Just make sure you decline the conversion rate, and not the ATM fee, which is the previous step of the process. As a rule of thumb, even if venues accept USD, always have pesos on you, because otherwise you’re going to get an unfavorable exchange rate.

  • What to do if you don’t have an international phone plan

You have many options for staying connected - you can either get a SIM card at the airport or in many places around El Centro and gas stations. You can find many affordable choices there. My personal pick is Google Fi, which costs me around $70 a month for unlimited data all around the world and free texting. I choose this because I travel often, but if you’re only in Tulum for a couple of days, maybe talk to your phone provider first to see if they can give you a temporary international plan. This might be the cheapest option, but if it’s not, you can always get a sim card once in Mexico

  • Haircuts

If you need to make use of this option while you’re staying in Tulum, there are many places you can choose from. In El Centro, you can get a haircut for anywhere from $3-$10, but if you’re down by the beach, expect to pay USA prices or more.

  • Gym

If you don’t want to lose your beach body while on the beach, you might be considering getting a gym membership. A venue I would highly recommend is Evolve fitness in El Centro. The monthly fee is around $45, as well as their daily/weekly rates. If you’re staying closer to the beach, you can check out Jungle Gym, which is a more pricey option. This will cost you $400 per month or $22 per visit. It’s a unique experience, so if it’s worth it for you, you can give it a try, but it’s still worth a pretty penny. The last option I want to mention is on Playa las Palmas. This is a space where you can go to work out free of charge right on the beach. It’s a more makeshift option, so don’t expect it to be too luxurious. That said, you get a fantastic view of the ocean, as well as a workout, so it’s also a great option to consider.

Closing Thoughts

This has been my Tulum travel guide. I hope it has been helpful to you, and I wish you lots of sun, fun, and an overall great experience there. Even though it got famous through Instagram, you can still stay in this jungle paradise on a budget, and if you want to splurge - there are plenty of options. If you have anything to add to my tips or use them in your adventures, feel free to let me know. Thank you for reading and happy travels!