When is the last time you had a vacation so perfect that you considered burning your passport and staying forever? If you’ve been to Tulum, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If not, get ready to start plotting your passport’s demise.
Tulum is located about two hours south of Cancún, at the southern edge of the Riviera Maya on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. Ten years ago it was a sleepy vacation spot for hippies and backpackers. Now, Tulum’s eco-chic boutique hotels, hip beach bars and trendy restaurants are frequented by stars.
You won’t find all-inclusive resorts in Tulum, but it’s still possible to spend a relaxing long weekend there in A-list luxury on a D-list budget. Be warned though, that part of Tulum’s charm is its chilled out eco-vibe. Many hotel options don’t have air conditioning due to the lack of power grid (solar or generators only). Other hotels have electricity limited to only evening hours, or showers that are a bit salty!
Also, for an affordable Tulum getaway, you should book as far in advance as possible (3 months for some dates). You’re likely to find the best deals in September – November. Once you zero in on hotel options, try checking their websites: they sometimes offer low-season deals directly. I’ve got some great options for you below, with their links on Booking.com. I’ve also included a link to the hotels’ Instagram account so you can start planning your selfies. 🙂
Tulum Haphazard Rating: 1 of 5. The only worry you have in Tulum is getting here and then not wanting to leave!
To Instagram: Mayan ruins overlooking the sea, cenotes, white sand beaches with blue waters
To Eat: Tacos on the beach, local fish and ceviche, specialty local cocktails and meals at upscale restaurants and bars
When to Go: For the best flight and hotel deals, try September – November; avoid holidays like Christmas, New Year’s, Day of the Dead, Semana Santa, spring break
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Step 1: Snag a Cheap Flight
Set alerts on the usual search sites: Kayak, Google, TripAdvisor. Also sign up for the free Scott’s Cheap Flights mailing list.
Check routes from your area and see which airlines generally have the lowest prices and direct flights. Consider other nearby cities that are hubs (like Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Baltimore, etc.) Sign up for direct alerts from airlines like JetBlue and Southwest which also fly to the Caribbean, but might not be part of the search site alerts.
I’ve seen Tulum flight prices from D.C. drop in the fall and again in the late spring. I flew roundtrip one April for $300 thanks to a TripAdvisor alert, and booked a flight last November for $210 thanks to Scott’s Cheap Flights!
Step 2: Plan On Just 1-2 Activities And A Lot Of Relaxing
I once spent five days in Tulum moving from beach lounger to onsite restaurant to hotel room, then starting the circuit again the next day. A nice man brought me drinks and tacos whenever I wanted, and it was the most blissed-out five days of my life.
But, if you rent a car or are willing to take taxis, I recommend at least one activity. Perhaps visiting the Mayan ruins on a cliff overlooking the sea (the only ruins by the sea in Mesoamerica), or swimming in a cenote.
Tulum Ruins: I’ve toured with and without a guide. If you’ve never seen Mayan ruins before, consider springing for one. They can be hired at the entrance for around $30. Or tour at your own pace reading the signs at each ruin, which are in Spanish and English. Warning: there’s no shade. I recommend going early in the day and bringing a bathing suit. You can take stairs down to the beach for a swim. Expect to pay in pesos for your visit, around $4 per person plus $7 if you park. Pay a little more to take the train from the parking lot to the ruins rather than walk.
Cenotes: these are sinkholes found throughout the Yucatán. They were created by collapsing limestone, then filled by underground springs. Some are open to the sky, while others are more like swimming in a cave. I recommend Zacil Ha, or nearby Aktun Ha, also known as “Cenote Carwash” (although you will see more scuba divers there). You won’t need a wetsuit since both are open cenotea, plus at Zacil Ha there are loungers, a snack bar, etc. It’s refreshing on a hot day, and a totally unique Yucatán experience!
Step 3: Stay Part or All of Your Trip in Tulum Pueblo (Town)
In Tulum, you have a few options of what area to stay in: Tulum pueblo, the beach road south, and the beach road north. You can even stay inside Sian Ka’an, the biosphere reserve past the hotel zone. Since it’s so remote, though, it’s not an affordable Tulum option.
Check out the maps below to get an idea of where Tulum is in relation to Cancun, and where the town and beach are. IMPORTANT: in your hotel search, watch for tricky hotels from neighboring towns that have added “Tulum” to their hotel name. Be sure you check the hotel’s city name and location on a map before you book!
Tulum Town (Pueblo) Hotel Suggestions
My first trip to Tulum, I stayed in town for 3 of my 6 nights. This way I could have easy access to the ruins and cenotes for snorkeling. Plus I saved a little money to splurge on the beach part of the trip.
I TOTALLY recommend this method for a more affordable Tulum trip. We enjoyed a few days of cenotes and ruins and then retired to a beachfront cabana for 3 nights. Tulum town has many boutique hotel options if you still want to feel a little posh.
Based on my trips there and research, I suggest scoping out these abudget Tulum options around $100/night or less:
Itour Mexico Tulum This is a super-budget option with great reviews at less than $40/night! AC, free Wifi, and breakfast included! Also located right by one of the town’s supermarkets.
If you stay in Tulum Pueblo for your entire trip and want to hang out at the beach, find a hotel or restaurant that advertises as a “beach club.” This usually means that they rent daily lounge chairs for a fee, or allow non-guests to use their beach by agreeing to a minimum food and drink spend. On the north beach road, try Villa Pescadores. Or south, try Papaya Playa Project, Ziggy Beach Club, Villa Las Estrellas, La Zebra or Taqueria La Eufemia.
Step 3 Continued: …Or Find A Deal On the Tulum Playa (Beach)
To find hotels here, select “beach” as an amenity, or use a map to search only the beachfront hotels. If you book early or during the low season, it’s possible to find some great deals.
Keep in mind that if you don’t book a beachfront hotel, you might need to pay a daily fee for a lounger or order a minimum amount of food and drinks. This includes the few hotels located on the jungle side of the road without their own beach access. Read the fine print of the hotel description to know what your amenities are – especially if breakfast is included. Also be sure your selection has a private bath: some cabanas have shared bathrooms.
The beach road – named Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila -is numbered according to distance from the ruins. Look for the kilometer markers to find addresses.
Beach Road South
Driving from Tulum town toward the beach, you’ll have an option to go left or right along the beach road. Turning right, the Tulum Beach Road South is where most of the hotels, restaurants and bars are located. It’s easier to walk and bike to get to things here, and parking is limited.
Check out my best bets under $200/night for an affordable Tulum getaway on the beach road south. Try different dates since they can vary widely based on bookings and season. Some have AC overnight and all have private baths:
Rosa Del Viento One of the last hotels on the beach road, but this hotel has a nice private beach and included breakfast. AC, and free Wifi in public areas.
Las Palmas Maya Located on the jungle side of the road, but with free beach access across the street (or check with management for tips on nearby beach clubs). Great central location to restaurants. No AC, but WiFi and community kitchen included. Breakfast available.
Posada del Sol Tulum This hotel spans both sides of the beach road. The budget rooms are on the jungle side. No AC, but free Wifi in public areas and included continental breakfast.
Beach Road North
The beach road north is quieter, and people who really want to “get away” will like this area because it feels so much more secluded. I imagine it’s what Tulum used to be like before its popularity exploded in recent years. To stay here, you should have a car or be ready to take taxis, since there are fewer restaurants close by.
I’ve got two affordable luxury options here for you under $200, and one budget option.
If you want to simply chill for several days while pretending you’re a movie star, I recommend staying at Villa Pescadores. This is the place that made me consider burning my passport! You can kick off your shoes and never put them on again until you leave. It has 18 cabanas all with a private bath and AC overnight, and electricity all hours. Wifi is available in the rooms and at the beach. Check out their Instagram!
Rooms have either a super-comfy king (1) or double beds (2), your own front porch, and hammocks in the sandy front yard of each cabana. For me, Villa Pescadores has the perfect balance of affordable eco-chic luxury.
Breakfast is not included in your room rate, but I found the restaurant prices to be OK – check out their menu online here. You can charge meals to your room from the restaurant, the loungers at the beach, or the beach bar. I got hooked on avocado toast for breakfast here!
You’ll find the boats of local fishermen on the private beach, Playa Pescadores, which makes for some great photos. You can also book boat excursions from the tourist stand there.
Other Beach Road North options
Poc Na Tulum Great reviews and affordable Tulum room options, but no AC. Beachfront, Wifi in lobby, breakfast included.
Hotel and Cabanas Zazil Kin This is one of the most affordable Tulum beachfront options at under $100/night! If you’re OK with very basic accommodations as a trade off for an amazing secluded beach, this could be your spot. No AC, but electricity overnight, and a restaurant on-site. Check out their Instagram – they’ve got a good vibe going!
Step 4: Eat at Smaller Local Spots
If you’re looking for restaurants outside your hotel, I recommend a few low-key and affordable Tulum options along the beach road:
- Taqueria Eufemia – located around km 10, a spot popular with locals because of their $2 tacos. Also cheap beach access if you want to eat and drink all day! Park on the street and look for a sign between Hotel Amoirera and Camping Chavez. Check out their Instagram – it’s fun!
- Restaurant Tunich – at km 5.5, a cute and friendly cafe with great reviews.
- Ziggy Beach Bar – at km 7, cocktails, live music and legendary tuna nachos. Check out their Instagram
- Restaurare – at km 6, if you have a vegan in your group, this restaurant will make them very happy.
Step 5: Get Creative on Getting Around
The most affordable Tulum ground transportation option from the Cancún airport is taking a bus to the Tulum Pueblo. Even if you’ve never been there before, many tourists do this each day. For this option, be sure to get cash at the airport (there are ATMs right after exiting customs, in the alcove by the public restrooms) for the buses and for a taxi from the bus station to your hotel. Click here for a guide to different transportation options, including a video of how to take the bus.
You can also pre-book a private transfer like Paradise Transfers, so that a car is waiting for you upon exiting the airport, but this is usually over $100 each way.
When I visit Tulum, I typically rent a car. I find it to be about the same price as airport transfers and taxis, and as long as you’re comfortable driving, it gives you much more flexibility. You can save money by waiving the required Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) insurance and instead booking with a credit card that includes it. Check your card benefit guide before you book, and pay with the same card at the time of reservation and rental. Third-party liability insurance, on the other hand, CANNOT be waived. Be sure your reservation includes it or plan to pay extra for this coverage. Including CDW insurance at the time of your booking, or shopping around for a reputable local agency may save you money. I usually rent with Hertz or Alamo, but have also used Easy Way with no problems.
If you waive CDW, the rental agency will place a deposit hold on your card of several thousand dollars, which will be released when you return. The only issue I’ve had with renting a car to get to Tulum is watching for the omnipresent speed bumps (keep an eye out for signs declaring “TOPES”).
Check out my article on Driving in Mexico for more info on renting a car in Cancún!
Step 6: Adjust Your Expectations
Tulum is a truly unique destination, with spectacular beaches, ruins with a view, and a laid-back vibe. Does it matter if you track sand into your beachfront cabana? Who cares if your hotel shower is a little salty? Relax and embrace the beach bliss! And start plotting how you might lose your passport and have to stay…