It’s simple, really.
Getting to Tulum isn’t the problem — there are more than enough options available to get you where you need to be. But it’s choosing your mode of transportation from those options that you might find intimidating. So let’s break it down.
GETTING FROM CANCUN AIRPORT TO TULUM:
- ADO Bus
- Rental car
- Hotel or Airport Transfer
1. ADO Bus
In our opinion, there is no better way to get to Tulum than with an ADO (pronounced ah-day-oh). These buses are the only version of public transit you’ll find from the airport but what more could you want! It’s also the cheapest option, by far.
The buses are air-conditioned, super clean and comfy! When we first committed to taking ADO, we were honestly expecting a well-worn bus with squeaky old parts, but we were so pleasantly surprised with the quality ADO delivered.
In order to get to Tulum, you will have to take two buses. Since there is no direct route to Tulum, you will first purchase a ticket to Playa Del Carmen, and then get an additional ticket from Playa Del Carmen to Tulum when you arrive.
So when you exit the customs area of the Cancun Airport, seek out the ADO ticket booth and purchase your ticket to Playa Del Carmen. You will be surrounded by drivers trying to get you to hop in their vans for an allegedly good price but just ignore them and keep your focus on the ADO booth.
It takes one hour to get from Cancun to Playa Del Carmen (178 pesos or so) and just short of an additional hour from Playa Del Carmen to Tulum (62 pesos or so).
The Playa Del Carmen bus station is located right in the heart of the hustle and bustle of downtown so I would suggest taking a later bus to Tulum. Get some lunch and stroll 5th Avenue for a few hours or a couple nights and then return for your next hour trip to Tulum. It’s a great way to break up the travel time and there are many great places to eat in Playa Del Carmen. Definitely worth the stop.
Every ADO station provides free wifi so you won’t have to worry about finding your way around when you get there. But you do have to pay for the bathrooms.
The bus has room underneath for all of your luggage or enough room to keep your backpack on your lap/at your feet.
En route, you can watch an American movie dubbed in Spanish while you enjoy the relaxing ride!
2. Rental Car
There is a lot of confusion and controversy around this topic. It comes down to two concerns: negative folks saying the highways are treacherous with scams and dangerous drivers OR the $1/day rental car price tag seems too good to be true and as it turns out, it is.
So first of all, despite the naysayers, these highways are not difficult to drive. If you maintain the speed limit and respect the road as you should anywhere, you won’t have any issues. Just be careful of the large speed bumps, called topes. You don’t want to be going over those full speed. Follow the flow of traffic and you’ll get to Tulum in no time.
Secondly, if you try to book a rental car online, you’ll see prices as low as a dollar a day. Great, right?! Well, don’t get your hopes up. As soon as you arrive, you’ll be hit with mandatory insurance and other hidden fees. I personally avoided renting a car for this reason (as I generally always do), so I can’t speak to a true cost but expect it to be similar to what you’d pay back home.
If you do rent a car, make sure you have parking available where you’re staying. It can be a bit cumbersome dealing with storing your car in Tulum as the roads aren’t very wide and there aren’t really parking lots anywhere.
I would opt instead to take the bus to Tulum and rent a car as needed. It’ll save you a handful of money and avoid the annoyance of parking.
3. Hotel or Airport Transfer
Speak with your hotel or trip organizer to determine if this option is available. Sometimes you can get a deal through them and you’ll have a direct pickup from the airport to your hotel lobby, hassle free.
Alternatively, you can hire a private van to do the same thing right outside the airport (but I’d highly encourage you to book ahead of time so you’re not stuck bargaining for a better price). If you’ve got a plethora of children plus their luggage, this might be the best bet.
If you’re traveling solo or as a couple, you can also reserve a seat and hang out until a van fills up on it’s own. This will get you a price-per-seat rather than paying for the whole vehicle. The only problem with this is that your trip length becomes WAY longer than any other option because you’re stopping at a different destination for every passenger in the van. In this scenario, I don’t see a single reason to choose this over the ADO.
ONCE YOU’RE IN TULUM
- Taxis — They are everywhere, readily available to take you wherever you need to go. Make sure you negotiate a price before you get into the vehicle.
- Rent a car — same as above.
- Collectivo — these are similar to the airport transfers where you wait for a full load to continue to your destination. You wait at a designated stop in order to get to another town or place of interest. A favourite amongst the locals but you should do your research before you attempt it.
- Rent a bicycle — This is by far the best option. Tulum is one of the most bike-friendly neighbourhoods I’ve ever seen and drivers are well-versed in navigating around those on bikes. Unless you’re going on a big excursion, there aren’t a lot of places you can’t get to by bike.
- Walk — Tulum isn’t that big. If you’ve got healthy legs, get out there and enjoy the walk! Just remember that it gets pretty hot out there, depending on the time of year. So travel safely!
So if you didn't catch it, the long story short suggestion is to take the ADO to Tulum and rent a bike when you're there.