Many come for the beach, others for the Mayan ruins, some even come for yoga. Tulum has a great deal to offer, so depending what you’re into, you’re bound to get something out of this beach town that you’ll love.
As the nearby centres of Playa del Carmen and Cancun rake in the numbers, little old Tulum seems to still be on the radar, but minus those package tourist droves.
There are two parts to Tulum – the Playa (beach) and the Pueblo (town). Many choose to stay in one of the resorts or swish hotels that are strung along the coast – a beautiful mix of jungle and white sandy beaches. Plenty of shopping, restaurants and more than enough beach clubs to keep anyone occupied.
Then there’s the town, Tulum’s commercial precinct along the main highway that stretches to Playa del Carmen and Cancun in the north. Here you’ll find shops and services, hotels, hostels, handicraft markets and many bars and eateries.
This is where we stayed: a much more budget friendly part of Tulum, yet still an easy bike, cab or bus ride away from the beach strip, nearby cenotes and Tulum ruins.
Seeing we spent most of our days in the pueblo, that’s what you’ll be seeing more of.
It doesn’t take long before you’ve stumbled upon Calle Centauro Sur, or as I dubbed it – Gringo Alley. This road that leads off the main highway has all of the drinking, eating and handicraft shopping needs for the gringo.
There’s happy hour at restaurant-bars like La Querida where the people-watching is en pointe, or if you prefer things a little more rowdy, seek out the floral-painted VW and take a seat at Batey Bar. These guys specialise in mojitos that are made using sugarcane juice that’s pressed in that converted VW in front of the bar. There’s food, there’s live music, what more do you need?
Breakfast offerings are sparsely scattered along the main drag and off-streets, either at well-seasoned local eateries or something a little less latino.
You can get the best of both worlds at Ki’bok. The espresso is pretty good, you can tuck into some French toast (90), hotcakes or an omelette, or huevos rancheros, enchiladas or molletes (90).
For an excellent choice of breakfast, panini, tartines and drinks, you need to head to De Cielo. Great coffee, avocado toast (90) and bircher muesli (110) loaded with tropical fruits. The breads and pastries on the counter look amazing, too.
Others that deserve a mention are Tulum At Club with its excellent expresso and breakfast choices, and Paquino, a deli-style café worthy of its coffees, juices and sandwiches. Don’t miss their charcuterie, cheese and fresh breads.
Molletes (refried beans, queso, tomato & avo on garlic-rubbed toast) at Ki Bok Café
Tulum Art Club
This part of the world gets awfully hot and steamy, so cooling down during the day is mandatory, especially if you’re wandering along the main strip. Panna e Cioccolato can sort you out with its 24 flavours of ice cream, or if you head towards Harmony Glamping and Boutique Hotel (this is where we stayed), you’ll find Flow Café.
Shade yourself beneath the trees, order a breakfast bowl, shakshuka, falafel tacos, smoothie or one of their reviving fresh juices. If you prefer to toxify than cleanse, settle into Kahlúa and get stuck into the local tequila, cerveza or mojitos. Go for the local food offerings if you really want to settle in.
Panna e Cioccolato for ice cream, cakes and coffee
Kahlua Bar Restaurant
Speaking of local food, there are some very popular taquerías in town worth noting. To name a few of the curbside hotspots, Taquería Honorio, Antojitos La Chiapaneca, Riviera Costeña, Tacoqueto and Taquería el Carboncito are all known for their delicious wares. Though most are only open at night.
We chose another popular taquería called El Ñero, where you can fill up on 5 tacos for 60 pesos. Try the cabeze de res, or beef head, if you’re game.
Taquerías El Nero
For contemporary Mexican salads, burritos and a good breakfast fix, the guys at Burrito Amor are there to look after your appetite. They even take care of gluten free, vegan and vegetarian diets. We sampled a burrito and the al pastor-style grilled pork salad (89), and while the lemon dressing on the salad consumed the dish, the achiote-marinated pork, corn and fresh queso made very nice touches.
If a break from Mexican food is required and the flavours of Italy are tugging at your cravings, then La Nave needs some serious consideration. A wood-fired oven takes care of all your thin-crust pizza needs, they do breakfast, a bunch of starters and all of their pasta is homemade.
We both swooned over our pasta choices. Alla gricia (115) – bacon, onion, garlic, chilli and parmesan echoed the makings of a divine carbonara, sans the egg. Then there’s the mari e monti (155), a mouth watering tangle of tagliatelle, octopus, shrimp, squid, tomato and mushrooms. Wowsers.
If drinking and eating is all too much, Tulum has some fab things in and around it. The entire Yucatán Peninsula, a land mass made up of porous limestone, is riddled with cenotes. These natural holes are created when limestone caves collapse and fill with fresh water; locations once used by Mayans as a water source and spiritual means to communicate with the gods.
Today many of these cenotes are places to cool off, swim or dive in impossibly clear water teeming with fish.
Tulum has several cenotes close to town and two of them, Cenote Cristal and Cenote Escondido, can be easily visited by taxi or bike. Both cenotes sit on opposite sides of the main highway about 4 km out of town, and for 120 pesos, you can visit and swim in both.
They’re open from 8am to 4pm each day. Check the map for location.
Beach at Tulum ruins
Tulum’s biggest draw would have to be the Mayan ruins. The jungle-covered Yucatán has many ruins, but what makes these special is their waterfront address; a fortified seaport from which they traded precious stones like turquoise and jade.
Once you enter one of five doors in the wall, you find a site made up of grassy areas that are dotted with stone outcrops that were once structures. Many are unearthed and preserved, such as the Temple of the Wind, House of the Cenote, The Palace and El Castillo.
The best time to visit is first thing in the morning, say 8am when it opens, to beat the bus loads. It gets very crowded in there! Sunscreen and sunglasses are highly recommended, and if you’re up for a swim at the beach below the ruins, don’t forget your swimmers. Just look at that water!
From Caye Caulker we got the boat to Chetumal. Cost is Q$110 per person. The first stop is in San Pedro at the Water Taxi Terminal & International Departures. This is the border control area.
Simply step off the boat, walk through the arrivals building and line up at the window on the right on the other side of the building. Hand over your passport and your Chetumal boat ticket. Then head inside to have your passport checked and pay B$40 exit fee. Walk to the next guy for another stamp.
Pick up a Mexican declaration form and wait outside to get back onto the boat. There’s a guy onboard that can change any Belizean or US cash for Mexican pesos.
Once in Chetumal, at Customs & Immigration, pay 500 pesos entry. Here you have the option of walking into town to the bus station to travel to Tulum, or pay US$25 per person for a shuttle. Shuttle takes 3 hrs. A bit pricy but it’s convenient.