Tulum quickly skyrocketed to the top of my Favorite Destinations list after our first trip and remains there. So much so that we celebrated my Bachelorette in Tulum this past June. I’m planning to share more on that later but for now, here’s our itinerary from our first trip to Tulum which I promise is still relevant!
December 30, 2016 – Travel Day
We arrived in Cancun around 8PM under the impression that we had prearranged car service. Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication with the hotel and, alas, no car. Somewhat stranded and almost two hours from our destination, we had no choice but to take a Super Shuttle to Tulum (116 USD one way). Certainly not ideal considering the long journey, but seemed legitimate and safe judging from their popularity among other airport travelers. In the end, ironically, it was cheaper than the originally planned car service.
Note: you can also take the ADO bus from the airport to Tulum for much cheaper if your travel times align with the bus schedule.
Along the way we mentioned that we were hungry so our driver took us to a taco spot right off the highway in Playa del Carmen – Mr. Pancho. Kevin got El Pastor tacos for only six pesos and loved them. I wasn’t as brave and chose not to get anything. In the end, there were no issues so try at your own risk!
December 31, 2016 – Tulum Town
At some point overnight, it started raining and continued through most of the morning. I was bummed about the lack of sun but we made the most of the day by going into Tulum Town to explore. Note: all taxis into Tulum Town during the day are 70 MXN. We exchanged some cash we had brought at San Jorge’s before ending up at DelCielo, a charming cafe that boasts healthy and delicious breakfast options. Patrons order at the counter and there’s usually a line so be prepared to stalk a table if you want to sit while you eat. The food is worth the wait!
After breakfast it was still raining so we continued to wander around town. My first impression of Tulum Town didn’t necessarily match what I had envisioned before arriving. To be candid, it is a bit gritty, only partially developed with pockets of cute shops, cafes and restaurants and other stretches of ruble and abandoned spaces. Our favorite little street was Calle Centauro Sur where you can find a really cute coffee shop, Ki’ Bok, and mojito bar, Batey, that I regret not going back to try.
That afternoon, the sun finally came out and we spent the rest of the day reading and lounging on the beach. After a few hours of rest and relaxation, we rented bicycles from our hotel and rode down the street that hugs the waterline and is littered with eco-friendly boutique hotels, Mayan spas and organic vegan restaurants. This is the Tulum we were looking for and immediately fell in love with this charming Beach Town.
We returned later that night to celebrate the New Year with a long, lazy dinner at Casa Banana, an Argentinian steakhouse with a large outdoor wood-fired oven. The ambiance was perfect for the occasion – rustic yet sophisticated, buzzing with lots of energy and good vibes. The food is amazing too, we shared the homemade chorizo, beet salad, filet mignon and red snapper. Note: a taxi to this area (from our hotel) is 130 MXN during the day but increases to 150 MXN at night.
We rang in the New Year on the beach, sipping champagne, looking at the stars and listening to the waves crash – it was the perfect start to 2017!
January 1, 2017 – Beach Day & Beach Town
We woke to the most gorgeous sunrise and blue skies over the Caribbean Sea. We went immediately to the beach where we stayed for the remainder of the day.
When we finally peeled ourselves off our lounge chairs, we took our bikes and went back into the Beach Town, stopping along the way to take pictures and explore different areas. We stopped for ice cream from Origami and a happy hour beverage from Mur Mur before dinner at Posada Margherita.
This adorable Italian place is located on the beach with stunning views of the water. When we arrived there was a two hour wait but luckily there are tons of cute nooks and picturesque sitting spaces to enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine while you wait. Our experience at this restaurant wasn’t perfect (poor service) but I loved everything about it from the fresh pasta to the white-washed tables, potted plants that line the walkways and mason jar candle holders. We sat directly on the beach which was a bit breezy but otherwise very romantic. Highly recommend Posada Margherita!
January 2, 2017 – Mayan Ruins
The following morning we were finally ready to forego the beach for a few hours. The concierge at our hotel recommended that we visit the Mayan Ruins first thing before all the tour buses arrive to avoid long lines and waits. Since our hotel is located on the north side of Tulum’s Beach Town, we were able to ride our bicycles there and arrived around 8AM when they opened.
In addition to the admission fee (70 MXN/person), we hired a guide (560 MXN/group) to provide context to what we were seeing and detail the history of this ancient Mayan civilization. The guide station is located to the left of the ticket lines and the tour takes about 45 minutes. It wasn’t anything spectacular but it covers the basics. For example we learned that the Mayan’s built a stone structure that served as an early hurricane alarm system and would sound based on the direction of winds.
After visiting the Ruins, we relaxed on the beach for a few hours until our scheduled afternoon massage (70 USD/person). The hotel we stayed at does not have a spa but they outsource to Leonardo and his daughter, Andoeny, when guests require spa services. Both were awesome and very professional!
After a very relaxing two hour massage on the beach, we showered and biked into the Beach Town to watch the Rose Bowl and cheer on Penn State. We ended up at Mateo’s Mexican Grill which, as far as we can tell, has the only TV in Tulum. This lively restaurant has a sports bar vibe in stark contrast to most Tulum spots. They also have a great elevated area to enjoy happy hour and watch the sunset.
At halftime, we abandoned the game in search of food and found ourselves at Casa Jaguar, an open air jungle restaurant with great cocktail options and beautifully prepared food. We shared the tuna appetizer and grilled octopus.
January 3, 2017 – Cenotes
On our last day, we planned to visit the Cenotes and I’ll preface this by saying, I don’t think we did it correctly. At the recommendation of our hotel, we actually took a taxi around to a couple of local Cenotes instead of doing an organized excursion (1200 MXN/day). We also snorkeled instead of diving which, if I went again, I would probably skip in favor of diving lessons/tour because that’s really the best way to see and explore the Cenotes. Hindsight’s 50/50, right?
Regardless, we still really enjoyed visiting these natural swimming holes. We went first to Casa Cenote which is an open air Cenote surrounded by Mangroves that eventually links to the ocean (125 NXM/person). Mostly, we saw small fish and lots of rocks covered in algae. Note: They offer guided tours for 350 MXN which includes equipment rental but it’s small enough that we chose to explore on our own.
Next we went to Dos Ojos, which is much larger and more commercialized (200 MXN/person). This flooded cave system is one of the longest underwater cave systems in the world with 28 known Cenote entrances. While Case Cenote was bright and open, Dos Ojos is dark with cool, clear water that is void of much vegetation or sea life from what we could see near the surface level.
Note: We paid an entrance fee at each Cenote which did NOT include any snorkel equipment. Both Cenotes charged 50 MXN per snorkel mask, life jacket, fins and locker (i.e. 200 MXN/person).
After a long morning of swimming in cold, limestone waters, we were ready for the sun and sand. We stayed on the beach until sunset, soaking up every last ray of sunshine before walking over to Kitchen Table for our final dinner in Tulum. Hidden in the jungle and away from the fray, there is something very calm, peaceful and serene about this restaurant. It was, by far, the best food and service of our trip and the perfect ending to our mini vacation.
The next morning we took a taxi to the airport (1500 MXN one way) to catch our flight back to winter in Chicago!
Accommodations & Country Specific Details
Stay: Diamante K Hotel
We booked super late and stayed over a holiday so our hotel choices were pretty limited. Regardless, we really enjoyed our experience at Diamante K, it is extremely affordable compared to many other options on the beach. We stayed in a Garden View Bungalow with Private Bathroom and still had really great views of the beach. Note: Many rooms share a communal bathroom. From the reviews, they sound well maintained though we never visited ourselves.
The rooms are pretty basic and not designed to spend a ton of time in- no TV, no carpet, no sitting spaces, just a mosquito net covered bed, small nightstand and chair. There’s no AC but there is a fan above the bed to help cool things down. The bathroom is also pretty bare bones and we didn’t have good shower pressure or warm water until our third day (still not quite sure what happened the first two days).
The staff at Diamante K is friendly and helpful but a little inconsistent. They gave us great restaurant recommendations and tips about things to do during our stay but dropped the ball on organizing our transport to and from the airport.
Our favorite aspect of Diamante K is their private beach, truly a little slice of heaven. Perfectly located to bask in the sun all day with soft sands, palm trees and clear blue water, it is so easy to relax and unwind. From cabanas to hammocks, there’s a space for everyone but never over crowded. The onsite restaurant delivers food and drinks directly to the beach so there’s really no need to ever leave! Note: there is only one restaurant and bar onsite that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. We ate lunch there every day and the food is decent but nothing amazing.
Diamante K is located on the northern side of Tulum’s Beach Road, close to the Mayan Ruins and a good 10-15 minute bike ride to where most of the other hotels, restaurants and bars are located. We didn’t mind making that journey each day but at night, there are no street lamps so we had to use a flashlight to guide our way back. For the most part, Tulum seems like a safe haven and we were more worried about potholes and (perhaps fictitious) wild animals that lurk in the jungle than anything else.
I would stay there again but I might first explore options more centrally located in the Beach Town. As far as staying in Tulum Town vs. Beach, I’m 100% pro Beach hotel.
To Tulum: We flew into Cancun International Airport (CUN) via American Airlines. We took the blue Super Shuttle to Tulum (116 USD + tip) and a taxi back to the airport (1500 MXN). The highway to Tulum is pretty populated and passes all the big resorts that line the water in Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Riviera Maya. Most things we read said the trip takes about two hours but we made it in one hour and 15 minutes each way.
Around Tulum: We rented bikes from our hotel (200 MXN/bike for 24 hours) that we used to bike into the Beach Town and the Mayan Ruins. If you stay closer to the Beach Town, you may be able to get away with walking but there are long pockets of jungle so definitely recommend the bike. There are also plenty of taxis which you need to take if you visit or stay in Tulum Town.
Note: Our original plan was to rent a car but after speaking with a few people and not knowing what the road to Tulum is like plus our strange flight times, we scratched that idea. If I were to go back, I would prefer to rent a car. I know it has its risks but it is more efficient for getting to and from Tulum and gives you more flexibility to visit the Cenotes and Ruins outside of Tulum.
If you do decide to rent a car, make sure you CAREFULLY review the contract. before signing or agreeing to anything. We had friends go a few months after us with a rental car reservation who booked a car for $100 and were upcharged $450 upon check-in. In the end, they also took a taxi.
Currency: Mexican Peso (MXN) but they also accept USD. I recommend bringing cash because most restaurants, cabs and activities on the beach are CASH ONLY. ATM fees are ridiculous, if you’re lucky enough to even find one that works! They have different ATM’s that distribute Pesos or USD so be mindful about which type of money you need.
Language: Spanish. Surprisingly, not as many people understood English as well as I had anticipated.
Outlet Adapter: The standard voltage is 127 V. The standard frequency is 60 Hz. The power sockets that are used are of type A and B. They are the same as in the United States.
Passport/Visa Requirements: U.S. Passport valid at time of entry. No visa for visits under 180 days required.
Weather: We visited Tulum at the end of December/early January and temperatures were in the 80’s during the day but cooled down at night. It rained each day we were there but it rolled through pretty quickly and didn’t typically last longer than an hour or two.