MEXICO

Getting Around in Tulum

getting-around-tulum.jpg

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. 

ADO.jpg

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. 

Cancun-airport-transportation.jpg

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

  1. 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. 
  2. Rent a car — same as above.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 
  5. 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. 

getting-around-tulum-1.jpg

Tips for Tulum

ALTO! Read these tips before you go.

ALTO! Read these tips before you go.

Planning a trip to Tulum but feeling like you’re forgetting something? Make sure you consider these factors.

ONE BAG IS FINE

Forget checking in a bag for this destination. You can definitely make it work with just a carry on! Osprey has created some fantastic bags that are designed to max out the allowable dimensions of a carry on bag. We packed them so well that we actually found we’d overpacked. If you’re going for 10 days, you can easily make it through without having to wash anything but if you’re going for longer there are inexpensive laundromats around town to keep you fresh. 

Ditch the stress of checked baggage and embrace the one bag lifestyle!

Tulum-travel-tips-2.jpg

DON'T DRINK THE TAP WATER

Unless you enjoy tempting fate, drink bottled water. They’re are crazy cheap at 7/11 so you can easily stop by throughout the day or stock up at the beginning of your trip. It’s a small price to pay to avoid spending your vacation in the washroom. 

That said, don’t stress about the ice — it’s made with purified water so you can enjoy those mojitos worry free. 

YOU DON'T NEED A SIM CARD

There is free WIFI everywhere in Tulum. Most restaurants or cafes that you visit will offer free access when you dine in or you can hang out at the ADO bus station and use theirs with no strings attached. 

By the end of our trip, we could almost walk from one end of the downtown strip to the other without losing signal because we were connected to so many places. 

TIPS ARE A THING

Most restaurants will include a footer on their receipt with examples of appropriate tips. But I find that they’re generally exaggerated. We found 10% to be a standard, appropriate tip and based on the service, you may want to give more. 

Much like other North American countries, tips are only necessary at bars and restaurants. 

Tulum-travel-tips-3.jpg

LEARN SOME SPANISH

Many residents in Tulum are familiar with English and you won’t have a difficult time getting what you need if you don’t know any Spanish. But not only do they appreciate when you try to speak their language, it does speed things up a little bit too. 

Although there will be times when they don’t speak any English and that’s when your broken Spanish will come in handy. Common phrases like hello, thank you and how much are good words to start with.

Other key words would be spicy, drink, bill, change or any other word you might use when ordering food. 

Our favourite phrase was “sin popote, por favor!” (no straw, please!)

Tulum-travel-tips-4.jpg

HAGGLING

Most commonly at souvenir stands and similar shops, items will be priced with haggling in mind. On average, we found you could get it down about 20% from the original offer but it really depends how comfortable you are with the concept. 

But keep in mind that Mexico is a third world country and if you’re on a vacation, chances are you have far more to give than they do. Try to remember that this is their income and what might be a fun game for you, is food on their table. 

Please haggle responsibly and respectfully.

WHAT ELSE TO PACK

Don’t get caught without these essential Tulum items:

  • Travel towel. There are so many opportunities to take a dip in this area but towels aren’t always available. You can buy lightweight microfibre towels on Amazon that pack up really nicely. 
  • Poncho or water proof jacket. The rain comes and goes in this tropical paradise and you don’t want it to ruin your day. It can come in any form: a light drizzle to a downpour. The week we were there happened to be very gloomy and there were so many times we wished we had something quick to throw on. 
  • Sunscreen. This is super important. The sun down here is strong and will burn your skin quickly if it has the opportunity. Apply often!
  • Good shoes. There is plenty of walking to be done here if you choose to skip the taxi. I’d recommend swapping your flip flops for a comfortable, breathable pair of running shoes. Save the sandals for the beach and your feet will thank you.
  • Bug spray. Even with some on hand, we came home with at least 15 bites each. The mosquitos here are vicious and will take any opportunity they can get to leave their mark. And when they get you, the bites are so itchy! This is especially important the further you venture into the jungle. Sian Ka’an was mosquito city.
  • Sweater or jacket. The nights can get a bit cold, despite the intense daytime heat. Nearly all of the bars and restaurants in Tulum are open-air so be prepared for a chilly night out. 

Just remember to only bring what you need and you can utilize the laundry services day to day as needed. The laundromat that we found offered bike rentals so we could drop off our laundry, rent a bike, and come back at the end of the day to do the opposite. 

Now you’re ready to take on Tulum!


Tulum: Beach or Town?

The picture was conveniently taken directly between the beach and the town.

The picture was conveniently taken directly between the beach and the town.

For some reason, Mexico has inadvertently earned itself a reputation as an unsafe place to visit. Don’t get me wrong — there are certainly places in the country that you’d be wise to explore with caution. But you could say the same thing for any country. Still, the rumours and fear among tourists considering Mexico as a vacation location are quite prevalent. It has become a common misconception that you should just avoid it altogether. 

But then again, you can’t deny the incredible beaches and paradisiacal weather that Mexico offers all year-round.

So it’s no coincidence that Mexico has also become synonymous with the term ‘all inclusive resort’. These convenient accommodations allow you to enjoy your pleasant vacation inside a gated fence; unscathed by the evil dangers that lurk outside those walls. 

How wonderful! You can fly in, hop in a van and exit straight to your beach lounger; having only viewed the streets of Mexico through the window of your hotel-provided van.

Whenever I mention my time in Mexico, one of the first questions I get is “which resort did you stay at?” It’s as if they don’t recognize Mexico as anything more than Pina Coladas and sunshine. 

But I’m here to tell you that there is another way! A better way — one that will correct this skewed perception of what Mexico really has to offer.  

Break free of the resorts and stay in the humble town of Tulum. Here’s why.

It’s a tourist town.

Not to worry. I’m not sending you out into the wild with a few pesos and some swimming shorts. Tulum is very tourist-friendly. This is a great way to dip your toes into a local Mexican experience without having to sweat any missteps.

If you stick to the main streets, you’ll find various souvenir shops mingled between restaurants and bars of all sorts. A lot of the folks working here speak some level of English (most are well-versed) so you’ll have no trouble getting what you need. 

tulum-1.jpg

Observe the locals.

But if you walk a few streets away from the main area you will start to get a glimpse of the local environment in Tulum. As the happy hour bars fade out, the tiny shops and restaurants begin to fade in. You’ll be greeted with friendly smiles and feel a sense of warmth when you see how community-oriented everyone is. Families huddled together in their shops watching TV; groups of people relaxing at the town square; children all over the place playing games and running around. 

In my experience, there is no shortage of love floating around in Tulum. Take a moment to just sit on a bench and people-watch for a while. Maybe it was the laid back bohemian vibe of Tulum that got to me but I’m grateful that I got to experience and observe the kindness amongst the local community here. 

The locals seemed less interested in observing me.

The locals seemed less interested in observing me.

Everything is cheaper.

It should come as no surprise that restaurants and shops surrounding the fancy beach resorts have inflated prices. Unless you enjoy getting ripped off, you have to get away from the hotel zone if you want to buy anything. 

But if you stay in Tulum, you have everything you need within steps of your room — at a fraction of the price.

Want souvenirs? There are plenty of shops on the main street and no sticker price is final. They are expecting you to haggle with them. You can get your hand painted sugar skull at about a third of the price.

Want to drink? The happy hours here are ridiculous! Two Coronas for 35 pesos (roughly $2 or so). Two mojitos for 80 pesos. If you’re looking to drink on a budget, look no further. Alternatively, you’re looking at 120+ pesos for a single drink by the beach.  

Want adventures? In the hotel zone, they assume you’ve got money to blow so the tours and attractions cost more out there as well. Take a quick ride into town and you’ll see a reduction in these prices as well.

Need a place to stay? Hotels on the beach are no less than $150/night for an standard room. If you want a nice hotel, you’re looking at more than $200 per night. But if you look at Tulum, particularly through Airbnb, you can find really nice places as low as $40/night. The nicer places ranging around $120/night.  

But most importantly?

Better food at a better price.

There are so many incredible options in Tulum. We had a hard time choosing on most days. The flavours are exceptional and don’t seem to be catered to anyone but locals. This is important!

Story time! Everything we read told us that the food by the beach is great and worth the extra cost. So we saved a special evening to dine at a restaurant by the beach. We rented a scooter and decided on a lovely beachside restaurant. The vibe was incredible. We fell in love with the chill music, the open air concept and the nearly-off-the-grid setup they had created. The menu sounded great too. 

But after having spent previous days eating to our hearts desire at restaurants in town, we found everything here to be so bland! It was all just lacking flavour and did not live up to how beautiful the restaurant itself was. And it certainly missed the mark compared to the hype.

We begrudgingly paid the inflated bill and went back to town looking for food to satisfy our cravings.

We won't name any names.

We won't name any names.

Now, I recognize that all taste buds will vary from person to person so these restaurants might be your thing. But just know that your food budget could potentially double or triple if you choose to dine in the hotel zone exclusively. 

Do yourself a favour and dine in town! You’ll get a true taste for local fare and avoid eating meals that are so obviously catered to the people that are staying at the hotels nearby. 

Go on a beach adventures.

I’m sure that by now your only remaining thought is the beach. The convenience of having the beach right outside your hotel room is pretty awesome. Honestly, you can’t beat that. But you have to ask yourself if it’s worth the cost. 

Here’s the alternative, which we actually ended up enjoying far more. If you stay in Tulum, you can rent a bike for 80 pesos/day. You can get one with a cute little basket on the front to stow away your beach goodies

By bike, Tulum is about 20 minutes to the public beach, via a beautiful bike path that runs alongside the highway. It’s such a beautiful and easy ride that takes you right past the Tulum Ruins (so you could knock out both in one day if you wish). 

tulum-5.jpg

Or you could take a taxi. But that's just silly.

Seek only what you find valuable.

If you value sleeping five steps from the ocean then by all means take advantage of that option! But for us, we found far more value in immersing ourselves into the life of the locals in town, saving money and taking the scenic route everyday. Having a beachside hotel would have been lovely but we wouldn’t have enjoyed Tulum nearly as much had we settled in elsewhere.

I encourage you to step outside the walls of the resorts and see the irony in how little ‘all inclusive’ really gets you.