The Wanderluster's Guide to Tulum, Mexico
"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all” - Helen Keller
Where to Stay
This was the first place we stayed when we arrived in Tulum. It’s a cute little boutique hotel with only 9 rooms and a private cove beach for guests. It’s budget friendly but in no way felt “cheap.” The staff was fabulous! They offered free breakfast for the guests and there was also an incredible restaurant named Molcajete that I cover below in the “where to eat” section. The restaurant is open to the public, not just hotel guests.
Every room has an ocean view that walks out to the beach but I recommend booking an upstairs king-size room to enjoy their vaulted ceilings and canopy beds.
Favorite details - Budget friendly, not crowded, walk out ocean view.
This was the second place we stayed on this trip and it was definitely an elevated, luxury experience. The resort is breathtaking, like, straight off of Pinterest gorgeous. Their design is very “eco chic.” I felt like I was vacationing in the literal jungle but without the fear of creatures snacking on me in my sleep.
Groups are assigned a concierge, called an “angel,” that is available to show you around the resort and also responsible for bringing you to the apothecary upon arrival for a “spiritual cleansing.”
After the cleansing, you’re invited to the angels’ lounge where you can ask your “angel” any questions while relaxing and snacking on a beautiful fruit plate. Truly a welcoming experience.
The hotel itself was designed by a famous architect and they do an excellent job at keeping the hotel very exclusive and upscale. You aren’t even permitted to be in the lobby without either a room or a restaurant invitation.
Nighttime around the resort is very romantic and a bit old fashioned as there are no electric lights, just hundreds and hundreds of candles, even in the rooms.
Every room has a beautiful mosaic bathtub only, no showers, with locally drawn fresh water from the cenotes. Our room also had a gorgeous, huge round bed with a canopy and a private lanai with a hot tub and a partial ocean view.
If you’re a sunset lover like me, be sure to do their “Sunset Experience.” You’ll be able to watch the sunset from a beautiful rooftop nest in the treetops. Breakfast is free for guests and there are several restaurants there open to both the guests and for public reservations. Cenote was not open while we stayed there but we ate at both Kin Toh and Tseen Ja during our visit and I’ll share all of those delicious details with you below!
Favorite details: Instagram worthy everything. It’s all just absolutely gorgeous and the whole place is a photo op gold mine. The exclusive feel felt very VIP.
We didn’t have time to stay here on this visit, but it came so highly recommended that I couldn’t leave it out. This hotel is inside of a mansion that once belonged to Pablo Escobar and it is absolutely on my list of places to stay on my next trip to Tulum.
Where to EAT
This restaurant was a really fun experience. You’re greeted at the door with sparklers and shots and every Wednesday through Sunday there is a fire show at 10pm. You’ll need reservations and this restaurant has a higher price point but it is definitely worth the splurge.
Order the grilled octopus, just trust me. It is literally the top 1% best octopus in the entire world. If you like mezcal, and you like a little kick in your cocktail, order the Hot Apricot. It’s a little spicy and so delicious!
Located inside of Piedra Escondida, this restaurant is super convenient if you’re a guest of the hotel but hotel reservations aren’t required to dine here; it’s open to the public. You’ll enjoy a gorgeous view with your meal as it’s situated right on the beach.
If you’re having breakfast do yourself a favor and order a fresh squeezed juice. My favorites were the pineapple juice and the cantaloupe juice. At breakfast we loved the huevos a la Veracruzana, chilaquiles, and the huevos motuleños. If you’re dining later in the day I highly suggest the open faced tuna tacos. They were amazing.
ANTOJITOS LA CHIAPANECA
Grab a cab or the public bus into downtown Tulum for these super cheap but delicious eats. They have 50 cent tacos and a wide variety of other traditional foods like sopes, tostadas, tortes, salbutes, and more. There are a variety of meats available. I got chicken and it was really nicely prepared but my dinner mates swore by al pastor. And with beers only a couple bucks each, this is the best budget dinner you’ll have in Tulum.
Supposedly the home of the “best fish tacos in the world,” I’d have to say that they are definitely extremely close to the top of my list now as far as fish tacos go. I’d venture to say they also make one of the best Mezcal spicy margaritas that I’ve ever had too! If you’ve forgotten to make meal reservations this is a great option as they don’t require them at this time. In addition to the fish tacos, I recommend trying the shrimp tacos and starting your meal with guacamole. It was fantastic. Be sure to get there early and catch the sunset while having a drink on the rooftop bar, then make your way down for some dinner.
EL PEZ HOTEL AND RESTAURANT
Lunch on the beach? This spot has you covered. The views are amazing and the inside lobby was stunning! Their cocktails were fantastic and they serve a really delicious fruit infused water as well.
Sin Yolanda Maricarmen
Another fabulous spot that doesn’t require reservations! Easily recognizable with a very large luchador statue out front, you won’t be able to miss it. Be sure to give their shrimp tacos a try and order a Tulum Lager. It’s a local brew that dedicates a portion of its proceeds to protecting the waters of the Yucatan Peninsula.
This restaurant is an incredible Asian-fusion spot in the Azulik resort. If you’re a sushi fan, it doesn’t get much better than this. It’s a pricey dinner, but the sushi melts in your mouth. Dinner service begins at 6pm and reservations are highly encouraged. They are easier to get as a guest, but if you aren’t a guest, make reservations days or weeks in advance!
Everything we ate was so incredible but the truffle edamame was truly the best I’ve ever had. Their vegetable tempura was delightful and had a really diverse mix of veggies. Tuna fans are in luck as they had so many kinds of tuna nigiri and sashimi available. If you are looking for something not from the sea, order the venison. You’ll receive local deer loin delivered to the table with a hot rock so that you can sear it to your liking yourself!
Probably one of the most unique restaurants you’ll ever visit. Nestled in the treetops in the Azulik resort, it has a stunning spiral staircase entrance and a huge net that you can lounge on that looks down into the lobby.
Where to SHOP
This fashion boutique is located within Azulik and carries absolutely beautiful pieces. Even the store itself is stunning. You don’t have to be a guest at the hotel to enjoy the multiple boutiques, so it’s worth going in to take a look at their unique offerings.
Street shops in the Hotel Zone
All along the road on the beach are tons of small shops. Look for the ones that are selling unique items, because those items are worth the higher price points. Avoid buying the typical souvenir items that you see in all the shops at these shops as they tend to be priced higher here. You can get the same things downtown for cheaper.
However, there is a small market across from the Maria del Mar hotel and they’ve got some of the best prices on the beach. The prices here are definitely negotiable as they tend to try and raise the prices for tourists. With a little haggling I was able to get a really cute hat and purse for under $50 total.
Across the street from the Piedra Escondida hotel is a beautiful little shopping plaza (with an Aldo’s gelato) that has numerous nice shops for swimsuits, sunglasses, etc.
If you’re looking for better prices on souvenir type items, check out the shops along Avenida Tulum in downtown. You will find much better deals there!
Where to get pampered
BOHÉME ORGANIC NAIL BAR
If you need a mani or pedi during your stay, pop into this adorable nail salon and boutique that is tucked away near the Maria De Mar hotel.
Gelato = Self Love so it definitely counts as pampering. I don’t make the rules. (Okay okay, I tend to make my own rules, ha!) Aldo’s is delicious and offers a ton of flavors, so there’s sure to be something for everyone.
Azulik’s Spa & Spiritual Cleansing
If you’re staying at Azulik be sure to say yes to their spiritual cleansing ritual. It’s free for guests and is offered as your Angel concierge shows you around the resort. It’s a great way to de-stress and prepare yourself for a relaxing stay. And their spa, yoga, and sound sessions are all top notch.
Where to take photos
You don’t have to be a travel vlogger or an IG model to love the vibe. Tulum is the perfect setting to capture quick, gorgeous photos in a lot of places and create beautiful memories of your trip. But, let’s be honest, getting a cool new profile picture out of it doesn’t hurt... am I right? Here are some of my favorite suggestions...
Located in Azulik, this incredible art and architecture museum is open to the public with a ticket purchase. The museum is free for guests but I would have paid if I needed to, it's worth every penny.
It’s not only peaceful to walk around, but the photos are incredible and you can take as many as you’d like as long as you are respectful of the space and other guests.
Your hotel’s beach
If you’re staying at Piedra Escondida, Azulik, or really any hotel directly on the beach, be sure to snap some photos, especially during “golden hour.” The 30 minutes before and after sunset create a stunning backdrop on the cliffs or beach of your own hotel.
Ruins and Cenotes
If you want some photos with gorgeous natural backdrops, numerous cenotes and the Coba and Tulum ruins are all nearby and provide for beautiful photos.
Ven a la Luz
This towering sculpture of a woman opening her heart, by South African artist Daniel Popper, stands in front of Raw Love at AHUA hotel. I’ve heard there can be long lines in front of the sculpture just to take a photo, but we went by at night and no one was there.
SAFETY TIP: The sculpture is RIGHT off the road, so be careful trying to snap a photo when cars are coming.
Across from Mexi-DiversThere is a small strip of public beach there that is pretty secluded. It makes for a great spot to snap a few water-front photos.
Swings and HammocksThese are sprinkled around everywhere! Keep an eye out at your hotel, at bars as you’re walking down the road, and at beach clubs. Wear a flowy dress or skirt or let your hair down and snap a few photos while the swing is in motion to play with different shapes in your frame.
Where to Explore
Instead of driving all the way out to Chichen Itza, Coba has some incredible ruins that are only about 30-45 min away from Tulum.
We hired a private taxi for $100 USD to take us to Coba, wait an hour for us to explore, then bring us home. Make sure to have 80 pesos to get in, as they don’t take foreign money and their credit card machine is often non-functioning.
Tulum RuinsTulum means “wall” in Maya. It was one of the few enclosed cities of that time and region. Designed with walls on 3 sides and protected by the Caribbean Sea on the 4th side, the city was literally built to be a fortress. The pyramids and structures here are unique to the region and a must see in my opinion.
Even if you don’t care that much for the ruins themselves, the beachside views near the ruins here are worth the trip themselves. We rented and rode bikes there from our hotel. I highly recommend bringing bottled water and a hat, because it's hot and there isn't much shade in a lot of areas. Only costs a few dollars to get in on your own or you can pay a bit more to be shown around by a tour guide.
Cenotes are underground caverns, usually in limestone, that have collapsed and filled with groundwater and rainwater to create gorgeous underwater caves that attract lots of tourists. I highly recommend getting a snorkel guide to take you to at least a few cenotes. You can also easily access some of the cenotes close to Tulum by bike or moped.
Two of the cenotes that I recommend the most are Dos Ojos and Casa Cenote. For Dos Ojos you’ll want a tour guide as there are certain areas, like a cool bat cave, that you can only access with a guide. Again, I recommend Mexi-Divers. There are tons of cool overhead stalactites as you swim through the cave. A really unique experience!
Be sure to plan some time to go downtown while staying in Tulum! There are a variety of great restaurants, cool shopping destinations, and just a really fun energy. We stumbled upon a street fair with vendors, street tacos, a fire juggler, and tons of other cool things to see.
Where to DRINk
AZULIK’S SUNSET EXPERIENCE
For guests of Azulik, this experience is included for one night of your stay and comes with a welcome drink. If you’re not a guest, you’ll need reservations but having drinks and watching the sun go down from the treetops over Tulum is a can’t miss experience.
ENCANTO CANTINAIf you need a sexy little spot to grab a drink while downtown, Encanto is your place. The huge red heart hanging overhead and the gorgeous foliage surrounding the courtyard make it feel beautifully intimate. If you’re planning to try mezcal, this is an excellent place to do so too.
Sunset Bar at Ciel Rose
This is another great spot for sunsets. The front bar has BOGO drinks during happy hour. So grab drinks there first, then walk through the restaurant, and past the jungle cabanas where you’ll find an old military tower that was converted into the rooftop bar! The top floor has the best sunset views, but there’s another bar just below it in case you need a refill.
What to wear
Think boho-chic with neutral colors, natural fibers, and flowy fabrics. This goes for all genders. Lightweight skirts and dresses, linen pants, and button downs are all appropriate attire. Focus on light colors during the daytime. Keep the warm, humid climate in mind.
I always love to suggest Rent the Runway, because this way you can rent some beautiful tropical or boho pieces that you may not otherwise wear again.
So many of my outfits for our trip came from those two stores. Not only is it a sustainable source, but cost effective too. The outfit I'm wearing here includes a swimsuit from Revolve, a caftan from LabelSwap, and my gorgeous bag from Sew Much Hope Project.
What to pack
PesosDON’T count on ATM’s or exchange machines in Tulum, often they are broken or will only give you American dollars. Make your currency exchange prior to your trip. There are many places you’ll want to visit or patronize that only accept pesos and you don’t want to miss out or be left without access to your cash. Taxis, small shops, bike rentals, etc. all prefer or require pesos.
Nighttime in Tulum is a mosquito’s world, so if you want to live in it without becoming dinner come prepared for battle! I recommend Anuket’s signature scent, papyrus oil, because it smells WAY better than bug spray and, believe it or not, is a natural mosquito repellent. During our sunset experience at Azulik, another couple in our nest was getting eaten alive by mosquitos. I offered them some of my papyrus oil, and thankful doesn’t even begin to describe their mood! Trust me on this one.
Underwater cameraIf you plan on going to the cenotes and snorkeling, you’ll absolutely want to have an underwater camera. There are gorgeous views and beautiful wildlife that you won’t want to miss. And how often do you get to take a photo of yourself in an underground bat cave?
- Refillable water bottle
- Sneakers, Flats, and Wedges (skip the stilettos, trust me, most roads are unpaved and walking in heels will not be easy or fun)
Final tips and tricks
- To get to Tulum, fly into Cancun and book a private car or collective van to your Tulum hotel.
- Taxis along the beach should cost no more than 300 pesos to go anywhere along the beach. If they ask for more, you’re being overcharged.
- Restaurants along the beach charge tourist prices, restaurants downtown charge local prices.
- There are “public buses” that are like passenger vans that are very inexpensive that go from beachside to downtown.
- This is the cheapest way to get downtown. Taxis will take you there too, but they will charge you a little more.
- Rent bikes one day so you can explore all of the beachside at your leisure.
Late night view of the cove at Piedra Escondida Hotel
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed creating it (and experiencing it!). If you have any other tips or suggestions, please leave them for other readers in the comments! It also helps SO much if you pin this blog on Pinterest or share with friends. If you decide to use this guide for your Tulum trip be sure to let me know what you’re planning to try. I can definitely say that I plan to return and I can’t wait!
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