This town in the Riviera Maya has become a very popular tourist destination, so plan your itinerary wisely.
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Below, we chat with Caroline Bologna, senior travel and culture reporter at HuffPost, about why you’ll want to put Tulum on your bucket list.
What drew you to Tulum as a place to visit or explore?
Tulum has become an extremely popular tourist destination over the past 10 or so years, so I was familiar with the lush green landscape and beautiful beaches from social media and travel publications.
When a friend decided to celebrate his 30th birthday in Mexico and ultimately selected Tulum, I jumped at the opportunity to visit the Yucatán Peninsula’s famous Riviera Maya. I even flew down a couple of days early so that I could explore a bit on my own.
What are the best times of year to visit?
I went in early December, and it felt like the perfect time to visit. The weather was perfectly warm, not too hot, and other than one rainy afternoon, there was pure sunshine.
I’ve read that late October through mid-December is an ideal time for visiting Tulum, as it’s less crowded just before peak season ― which runs from late December through March. Hurricane season runs from mid-summer until early fall, so you might want to avoid those months.
What’s your best tip for getting there? How can you make the travel as stress-free as possible?
Probably the most common way to reach Tulum from the United States is to fly to Cancun International Airport and then take a shuttle, taxi or rental car for a roughly one hour and 40-minute drive. Make sure you arrive with pesos to make the payment process simpler and avoid high exchange rates or ATM fees.
I found the arrival process simple enough, though flying back out of the airport was a bit more chaotic. I recommend arriving with plenty of time before your departing flight so that you can navigate each step without any added stress.
Where do you recommend staying when you go?
My trip was split between a rental property on the beach and Aloft Tulum near the city center. As much as I enjoyed the easy access to the water, the hotel portion was particularly nice because it was an easy walk or bike ride into town, and I loved exploring the local shops and eateries. Aloft also had its own rooftop bar, which was a nice way to close out the evenings.
If you’re looking to stay by the beach, however, you’ve got ample options. In addition to rental properties, there are a number of hotels, including The Beach Tulum, Las Palmas Maya, Sanara Tulum, Mezzanine and Olas Tulum.
What are your go-to restaurants or foods to eat while you’re there?
Everything I ate in Tulum was delicious. The dining options range from casual roadside stands to more upscale restaurants like Hartwood and Arca.
I tried delicious tacos at Taqueria Honorio, ceviche at El Camello Jr., burritos at Burrito Amor, smoothie bowls at Raw Love and pastries at Italdo Pasteleria.
I’ve also heard great things about Antojitos La Chiapaneca, El Tabano, Cenzontle, Ziggy’s, Rincon de Jade, Encanto Cantina, Casa Banana, Kitchen Table, and Tacos de Guisado “Doña Paty.”
What bars or entertainment spots do you make sure to hit? What’s good to drink there or what else should people know?
Tulum has a vibrant bar and club scene. I love trying new cocktails, so I went to Batey to try their famous mojitos.
Other drink stops included El Grifo and Casa Jaguar. Gitano is another popular Tulum nightlife spot, and although I’d been to the one in New York, it was still nice to check out the original location.
What are your favorite shops and what do you look for when you’re there?
I found wonderful souvenirs at Mixik, World by Hand, La Tiendita and Auras. People love Josa for dresses. Even if you aren’t looking to buy anything, it’s nice to explore all the shops along the jungle-shaded road in the hotel zone. There are lots of wonderful handcrafted wares, apparel and more.
What’s your single favorite spot to go for photos and why?
My favorite spot to take photos was the Tulum archaeological zone. The Mayan ruins were tremendously impressive and interesting to walk around. And it’s hard to beat the beautiful coastal views there.
What tourist attraction should people skip and what should they do instead?
I’m always in favor of taking advantage of what is unique about a destination, so I try to avoid places that exist elsewhere. With that in mind, I’d recommend passing on chain clubs and restaurants like Bagatelle in favor of more local fare.
Where do you feel the most relaxed, calm or happy?
Maybe it’s cliché, but there’s nothing more relaxing than sitting on a scenic beach, especially around sunrise or sunset. Tulum is a popular destination for beach yoga, so you can even amplify the relaxation factor during your beach time.
What scenic spots do you recommend checking out?
Tulum’s cenotes are world-famous for good reason. With their crystal clear water and limestone formations, these natural sinkholes are stunning places to swim, snorkel, dive or even just admire from dry footing.
Additionally, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere is a UNESCO World Heritage Site nature park just south of Tulum, which makes for a beautiful boating excursion one day during your visit.
What’s one thing you make sure to pack if you’re going and why?
I recommend packing reef-friendly sunscreen. Tulum is part of the Mesoamerican Reef System, and traditional chemical sunscreens have been shown to cause severe damage to coral reefs, so best to steer clear.
Make sure to bring pesos so you’re prepared to pay in the local currency without being charged premium exchange rates. ATMs are not in abundant supply either.
What are some specific planning tips to know before you go so you’re not stressed?
It’s understandable if you want to visit Tulum during the summer for better hotel rates, fewer crowds, and better restaurant availability. But understand that you’ll be there during hurricane season. Try to make refundable bookings and be prepared for potential disruptions in plans.
What surprised you about Tulum when you went the first time?
I was surprised by the prices compared to other parts of Mexico. Tulum is not necessarily inexpensive. Taxis and certain restaurants and activities can be pricy. Consider renting a bike to get around for cheaper.
Anything else visitors should know?
Tulum has become a popular tourist destination, but don’t forget you’re on sacred and historic lands. Be considerate of the local community and environment by recycling, avoiding single-use plastics, respecting the wildlife and following all rules in place to preserve and protect the beauty of Tulum.
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