Discover Tulum: A Travel Guide

We’re taking a break from the highlights of our recent trip through Laos, Thailand and Cambodia to share the latest post in our Discover series! My friend Corey recently returned from a trip to Tulum, Mexico which has been on my list of destinations forever. I was excited when he offered to give me the rundown on what to do and see in town!

As a quick reminder, in the “Discover” series we’ll be offering travel tips on things to do, what to eat and where to stay in cities throughout the world! If you’re interested in contributing to the series, send us an email at contact@doseofdiscovery.com. Enjoy!

Discover Tulum: A Travel Guide

tulum mayan ruins architecture mexico

Hola, Dose of Discovery readers!  My name is Corey, and I’m a college friend of Ben’s.  He saw some photos I posted to Instagram of my incredible long weekend in Tulum and asked if I could share some of my knowledge about Mexico’s Brooklyn-on-the-Beach. Living in DC, I did NOT want to be in town for all of the road closures and protests of inauguration so I skipped town with my boyfriend to head down to Mexico.

Tulum is definitely NOT Cancun, so if you’re looking for an all-inclusive weekend at a resort, it may not be the best place to go.  It’s definitely very laid-back and runs a bit slower than what you may be used to.  Tulum is a 2-hour drive from the Cancun airport, so you definitely will want to rent a car or plan a shuttle.  We opted for a shuttle from our hotel, which didn’t stop anywhere except a 7-11 so we could buy some snacks and drinks for the ride.

Do & Explore

The first thing to know about Tulum is that it is separated into two different areas, town and beach.  While we generally stayed around our hotel, Papaya Playa Project (QROO 15) and other beach clubs like Le Zebra (Km 8.2, Carr. Cancún – Tulum), we were able to find a lot of things that we could access with a cheap cab ride.  

If you’re tired of direct sun exposure, you can get plenty of shaded swimming and snorkeling done in the local cenotes.  A cenote is a sinkhole that exposes the groundwater. They were also the locations of Mayan sacrifices.  They are most common in the Yucatan, so it’s definitely something you’ll want to do while you’re there.  

We opted for Grand Cenote which is just a few miles outside the town of Tulum.  The water is around 30 feet deep and crystal clear.  It’s a must-see for snorkelers and scuba divers.  Another cenote that is very popular for divers is Cenote Dos Ojos, which is one of the largest underwater cave systems in the world.  

grand cenote tulum cenote dos ojos

If you’re after Mayan history, it’s definitely worth the time to take a guided tour of the Tulum Ruins. Tulum was an ancient Mayan port town, known for its jade and honey. Take the tour and try to figure out what happened when the Mayans disappeared. Afterwards, you can walk down to the beach that is just a couple hundred feet away from the park.  This is a very touristy area of Tulum, so I’d recommend going early. You’ll want to do the tour before all of the tourists and cruise ships from Playa del Carmen and Cozumel arrive.

mayan ruins tulum mexico

Tulum is also a great shopping destination.  In the town, you can find traditional Mexican blankets and trinkets to bring home as souvenirs.  If you’re looking for some bohemian summer wear, there are all kinds of shops on the jungle side of the highway near the beach area. My favorite is Boutique Mexico which showcases Mexican designers.

Eat & Drink

Tulum has a great food scene both for authentic Mexican food and high quality restaurants that are entirely outdoors.  Most of the restaurants that I went to were in the beach area of town, however, some of the best food I had was in Tulum town.

tulum mur mur restaurant hartwood

The most famous restaurant is Hartwood (Carretera Tulum Boca Paila 7.6Km), which requires a reservation well in advance.  We were unable to secure one so we opted for Mur Mur (next to Hartwood), which is an open air restaurant nestled into a pop-up shopping area.  They have a relatively small menu since all items are procured locally.

If you’re looking for a great cocktail, Casa Jaguar is the place to go.  They have the best stocked bar I saw in Tulum and had very inventive cocktails featuring local ingredients.  You’ll definitely want to grab a cocktail made with Mezcal.  

tulum mexico casa jaguar bar mezcal

In Tulum town, there are two places that can’t be missed.  The first is a small taco bar that is frequented by the locals. Taqueria Honorio  is on a side-street off of the main drag that you might miss if you’re not paying attention. Upon sitting a waiter will inform you what tacos they have. You’ll then be treated to the best tacos of your life.  Just up the street you’ll also find a cafe with healthier options. Del Ciento has a variety of sandwiches, smoothies and great coffee to fuel you up.

Relax & Sleep

As mentioned earlier, there are two areas to stay in Tulum.  Both areas have their pros and cons.  If you’re looking for a beach vacation, it probably makes sense to book a hotel that’s on the beach road.  We stayed at Papaya Playa Project, which you can book using SPG points.  The accommodations are rustic. If you’re expecting a Westin, you may want to opt for a nice hotel down the road.  If you’re looking to do a lot of diving and exploring, I’d recommend renting an Airbnb in town.  That gives you a good base to get to places that are away from the beach.  

papaya playa project resort tulum mexico

One Thing Not To Do

Do not rely on the ATMs to get cash.  We had issues with ATMs being out of cash all over the city.  Also don’t pay with American dollars, you will get a poor exchange rate at most vendors.

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