Travel Diary: Tulum, México

Six years or so ago when I first visited Tulum with my friend Zalika, it was still very much under the radar. Since then there has been a proliferation of instagrammable boutique hotels, restaurants and luxe hippie shops. Granted it's no longer quite off the beaten path nor is it the sleepy beach town it once was, but it's still a stark contrast to the showy tourist scenes of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Tulum, which straddles the sea and the jungle, remains much less attention seeking than its neighbours.  Maybe as refreshingly beautiful as Tulum is,  this outcome was inevitable. Its  laid back  beauty and the warm-heartedness of Mexican people continually entice me into returning. At the same time, I find myself slightly put off by the hordes of tourists doing the same. 

Even as I selfishly wish that this special place would remain a secret, I am eager to share it with you. My primary motive behind this is wanting to see more people of colour visiting Tulum. I previously posted on Instagram about the predominantly negative reactions from white tourists while there. The more I've spoken with other black/brown people who have had similar impressions, the more I  believe that we need to travel to places like Tulum frequently. It's beautiful, historic and inhabited by warm, welcoming  people. Alright, now for this gargantuan review!

To Tulum
Tulum is located approximately an 90 mins to 2 hours outside of Cancun. There are a few options for traveling from the airport in Cancun to Tulum. Here are the main ones:

Hotel Shuttle/Transfers- Hotels tend to arrange transportation for their guests from and to the airport. This service may be built in to the price of reservation or there may be an extra fee. Inquire with the hotel you're considering staying at regarding whether the offer this option.

Taxis- From what I understand taxis costs between $80 to $120 US. They are readily available at the airport.

Ado Bus- This is the option I usually resort to using. At  $12.15 US, it's the least expensive. The buses are large and quite comfortable. (Each has AC, lavatories and  designated storage for luggage.) Be mindful though that there is sometimes a television playing quite loudly on the bus. So if you're hoping to take a nap during the long ride, have some noise cancelling headsets at hand.

Within Tulum
Taxis-They are numerous and their fares are reasonable. The average rate from the Town to the Beach should fall between 70 and 90 pesos.

Colectivos- For my Trini readers think of these as maxi taxis, or to my American readers- dollar vans or mini vans that offer transportation to the public. As such, they tend to be crowded but if you're alright roughing it a bit, then they're a great cheap option for making it around the beach town.

Renting a Car- While I can't vouch for this option first hand, I have heard/read from others that renting a car in Tulum is an easy, cost effective and efficient way of covering a lot of distance and having more freedom of movement. 

Renting a Bike - Riding is a great way of moving around Tulum. Hotels/ hostels in the Town and on the Beach rent bikes. There are also several shops in town that do the same.

Where To Stay
There is no shortage of breathtaking accommodations in Tulum. However, if your idea of the perfect hotel is an all inclusive mega resort, the spaces in Tulum might not suit your fancy. The spaces there cater to the eco conscious bohemian set. 

The following are names that will likely come up repeatedly in your search for Tulum accommodations. They are on the higher end of the price range but from what I could tell it's totally justifiable because you will be in for bohemian luxury at its best. Check the hotels' websites (I have hyperlinked them. Just click the names). Look up reviews and decide if you want to live lavishly by staying in one of these exquisite spaces. The following are a few to consider:

*Be Tulum
*Coqui Coqui 
*Papaya Playa Project

I look forward to checking in to one of these well appointed Hotels in the future, maybe for a romantic couple's getaway. So far though, I've gone the more basic route. Here are the places that I have used and liked.

Posada del Sol (Beach Side)- My introduction to Tulum was at this charming minimalist hotel. Built partially using debris from a hurricane, Posada del Sol places emphasis on environmentally friendly lodging. The spare furnishing allows you to unwind easily. I liked that there was no television, wi-fi and that the water pressure and current were decreased after certain hours for conservation. I felt like I was participating in a more sustainable approach to tourism and I was replenished by the simplicity. However, if you believe you couldn't tolerate, much less enjoy such conditions while on vacation, you may want to look elsewhere. 

Hostel Amorcito Corazon (Town Side)- This hostel is so cute and it has a great location! I chose it because of it being located in the town centre and super close to the Ado bus station. It is literally right behind the bus station. Once I stayed at Hostel Amorcito,  I was even more thrilled with my decision. The staff is very pleasant and helpful, the rooms are clean and there is a little cafe on site serving delicious smoothies, juices and a few more refreshments. You can also rent bikes for 140 pesos each (24 hrs). The breakfast is not the most extensive I've had at a hostel but the positives of Amorcito Corazon more than compensate for this. Plus, you can easily grab breakfast at an eatery on the nearby Main Street. In addition to shared dormitories, they offer private rooms.

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AirBnB's are also a good choice for where to stay. I know a few persons who have used the home sharing resource during their time in Tulum and been pleased. They may be particularly beneficial if you are going with family or friends and want to share the same space. 

Eating & Drinking
Eating in Tulum costs more than I anticipated. My guess is that this is due to the influx of well to do visitors. With that said, it's less expensive to eat in the Pueblo (Town) than around the beach. The beach is the epicenter for the luxurious bohemian hotels and restaurants. The menu selections and prices reflect this. Inversely, most Mexicans live in the town so the cuisine there is more pared down and more pocket friendly. During my first visit, my friend and I stayed on the beach and mostly ate there. However, during my recent visits,  I stayed and primarily ate in Town. Occasionally, I did treat myself to dining at one of the more posh outposts. In the future, I will take this approach again. It allowed me to feel like I was experiencing authentic Tulum, with the infrequent splurge at the  curated, picture perfect venues.

*Don Karonte (In Town)- This spot was the first place I found in Tulum that satiated my longing for delicious fish tacos. They were sooo good, I dreamt of more before completing the batch in front of me! The laid back restaurant is located on a busy corner of a main road so quite easy to find. On most nights there are also roving musicians who serenade the diners. 

*Don Cafeto  (In Town)- Coincidentally, this other favourite of mine is right next door to Don Karonte. My friend had been looking forward to tasting their menu. Up until we ordered, I was plotting how to smuggle in fish tacos from Don Karonte. So imagine how thrilled I was upon realizing that Don Cafeto's food was equally delicious. I had a feast of rice, beans, grilled fish, plantains, guacamole, and some pickled vegetables that reminded me of Jamaican escovitch.  Everything was thoroughly yummy! My friend's meal was just as delectable (I couldn't resist sampling). You will also go crazy over their pepper sauces (both the chili and habanero) if you are a pepper sauce fiend. My belly was happy and I had some left for the next day. My mouth is watering as I recall that meal!

*Ojos Verde-  They have a nice selection of vegetarian and vegan bites at reasonable prices. I only tried their salads and juices but I want to explore their menu further next time. 

Tropical fruit lollies (popsicles) outside the Mayan Ruins- This was an unexpected treat after finishing the walk round the ruins. At the exit from the site, there were vendors selling fresh, unprocessed fruit lollies (popsicles) and water. I quickly chose two lollies, one mango and one coconut. The coconut was disappointing so I fed it to some ants. The mango one the other hand was absolutely yummy and refreshing in the Caribbean heat. I wish I had also the other flavors such as pineapple and banana. I don't know if the lolly vendors are always there but if you spot them when you go, you have to purchase one of the cold treats.  

*Señor Desayuno  (Beach Side)- This is a good spot for an inexpensive breakfast on the hotel beach strip. The setup is cute too. I enjoyed their veggie breakfast burrito while my friend had a veggie breakfast bowl. We both had fresh fruit juices and we were both thoroughly happy with our meals.

*Macondo at Nomade  (Beach Side)- Possibly one of the prettiest restaurants in Tulum, this hotel/ restaurant brings Morrocco to Mexico. A plethora of rugs, lanterns, low tables and poufs help achieve a  romantic free spirited ambience. The vegan and vegetarian selections are as tasty as they are instagrammable. Breakfast is open to guests only but you can stop by for an afternoon snack or dinner.  Keep in mind, that one must make a  reservations for dinner. 

*The Bar at Casa Malca (Beach Side)-  Famous for being the former home of Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar, the property is now a gorgeous, art filled hotel. Like most of the posh hotels in Tulum, Casa Malca sits on the beach. There is a restaurant but my friend and I settled in at the bar instead. You might want to dine at the restaurant but you definitely should enjoy some margaritas created by one of Mexico's most esteemed bartenders. After, stroll around to take in the impressive art collection and interior decor. Top it all off, with a sunset walk on the beach. Unless you're a guest, admittance is very exclusive. Your best chance of being let in is by making a reservation at the restaurant.

*Smoothie Shack at Playa Maya (Beach Side)- After you walk past the cars parked near the entrance of the beach, look for this smoothies shack to the left, slightly tucked into a corner. You will notice the brightly colored wooden cart with umbrellas and mounts of fruit. In addition to smoothies, they sell eye catching fruit bowls. I didn't have any of the latter but my smoothies, which included mango, banana, pineapple, coconut cream were so yummy. After you've taken a dip in the sea, the light, nourishing  refreshment is perfect for lounging in the sun.

Here are some more places to consider for where to eat in Tulum. They seem to be the fancier places to dine. I haven't visited any of them but I'm  interested in doing so to see if any live up to the hype. 

*The Real Coconut
*Posada Margherita

*The Mayan Ruins- One of Tulum's best known attractions, the Ruins are a vestige of the Mayan Civilization. Arrive early so that you can absorb (jostle free) the wonder of standing where ancient American people created one of the most beautiful cities of their time. I recommend going  around 8 am when it  opens and not at all on Sundays. Admission is free to Mexican citizens and residents on Sundays so crowds are quite immense. Look out for the iguanas and coatis who call the site home and take plenty photos. The cost is 70 pesos. Try to have the exact amount because the admissions booth doesn't always have change. 

*The Cenotes - These are natural pits or sinkholes, which result from the collapse of limestone bedrock, exposing groundwater beneath. Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is famous for them. In fact, the word cenote comes from the Yucatec Maya word ts'onot, used in reference to places with accessible groundwater. In addition to being a precious source of potable water, the ancient Maya viewed  ts'onotes or cenotes as passages to the afterlife and used them for carrying out sacred rites. They are such a wonder of nature (and history)! 

 *The Sian Ka'an Wildlife Reserve - the Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site skirts the southern part of Tulum. The ecosystem is home to monkeys, birds, crocodiles and the famous coatis among other species. Additionally, the reserve contains archaeological sites including Mayan ruins. It's at the top of my list of things to experience during my next escapade in the Yucatan. 

*A Temazcal Spa - Benefit from the healing goodness of a traditional Mayan spa treatment. A shaman  creates the steam bath in a dark dug-out. the aroma of copal incense, rosemary, peppermint and basil. While continually throwing water or a mount of hot rocks, the holy man or woman chants, guiding the guest to release mental and physical burdens. I haven't experienced a Temazcal spa as yet but it's at the top of my list to experience when next in the Yucatan. It's supposed to be extremely rejuvenating.

*Shopping- As with the food, the boutiques near the beach, are quite pricey. Apart from buying some copal incense, I didn't do any shopping at these establishments. Frankly, I found their selections quite overpriced. For the most part, they sell similar crafts to those found in town at steep mark ups. Even those locations with in house designs did not impress me. Gorgeous visual merchandising and all, I could not justify giving the often gringo/expat-owned shops my money. In my opinion, you're better off doling out your pesos in el pueblo. You'll score some pretty souvenirs for reasonable (albeit still  touristy) prices. What's even better is that your patronage will go directly into Mexican hands. 

*Street Art - From murals of Mayan people to images of jaguars, Tulum has some eye-catching street art, particularly in the town. Jump on a bike or walk around for a free creative excursion! 

Currency & Spending Money
At the time of publishing this post, the currency conversion rate was 1 USD to 19.89 Mexican Pesos.

*Notify your bank/debit & credit card companies that you will be traveling to Mexico so that they will not be alarmed by the out of country transactions and consequently, place security holds on your cards.

*Budget how much you intend to spend and convert a large portion of that amount. You can do so either in a US airport or the Tulum airport. You will need some to pay for your transportation from the airport. There are a few international banks in Tulum Town such as HSBC and ScotiaBank but it's good to have some local currency on hand. Many establishments accept US dollars but you will likely pay more than if you're paying in pesos. There are atm's scattered along the beach strip but they charge an arm and a leg. As far as using debit/credit cards, major stores and big restaurants accept the usual ones. It's a different story at many small businesses including stores, food shacks, taxis etc. You will need cash and Mexican cash specifically. Also note that you can only pay in Mexican pesos for entrance at the Mayan Ruins. There is an atm machine near the cashiers' desk but depending on the day you will not be able to receive change from the cashiers. Wherever you go, be careful when handing over payment and when counting your change. 

What To Pack 
*Flowy dresses and blouses
*Swimsuits (a few because you will be spending considerable time on the beach)
*Shorts & t-shirts
*Flip Flops
*Sandals, sneakers or other walking appropriate shoes
*Organic, non toxic insect repellant 
*Travel toiletries
*Refillable water bottles
*Umbrella or rain poncho
*Travel Insurance
*Necessary travel documents
*Your adventurous spirit

Other Things To Note
*Learn some Spanish, at least basic phrases that would be useful for common interactions. Mexicans in general are sweet, welcoming and accommodating people but please don't expect them to speak English. It is not their first language. Yes, there will be some Mexicans happy to practice English or help you out by speaking your language. However, it's good travel etiquette to try to speak the language of the place you're visiting, even if you just know a few words. At least don't take the attitude that they should speak yours. With that said, Tulum and Mexico in general, are perfect for practising Spanish. 

*Tulum sits on the Yucatan Peninsula of the Caribbean Sea. It is also home to a thick jungle. As such, it is hot!  The tourism culture here leans on the eco conscious side. Subsequently, many places do not have air conditioning. Instead of complaining about it, embrace it.

*Mexican cuisine is not TexMex cuisine! You might be disappointed if you come excepting TexMex. 

By no means, is this an exhaustive break down but I hope it gives you some insight as far as what  a trip to Tulum may entail. I am excited to hear about your adventures there! 

Now that you've made it through this extensive post, I am doing a giveaway to express gratitude for those who have supported my blog by reading here or leaving encouraging remarks on Instagram. Here are the details. One reader  will receive a package containing mementos inspired by one of Mexico's most famous artists, Frida Kahlo - a woman who was a passionate ambassador for her country. The package will include the shopping bag that I'm photographed wearing in the travel post above as well as a couple other items. To enter for a chance to win, simply leave a comment below explaining how Frida has inspired you or what you have enjoyed in past trips to Mexico. Be sure to include your full name and email address in the comment section.The giveaway is open to those living within and outside the U.S.. The winner will be selected randomly and announced on the 6th of July.

 Look out for more giveaways on the Ancestral Memory Blog in the future!


  1. My husband (my boyfriend at the time) and I visited Cabo San Lucas in 2010. Although we stayed in a resort we opted to take the local transportation. We were able to witness normal day to day life and how friendly the locals are. A small family ran restaurant is where we frequently dined and by day 2 the staff recognized us and treated us like family. The length of our stay was 7 days and we visited local beaches to enjoy the relaxation and take in the beauty of the Gulf. We are planning our 6th anniversary to Tulum in September and your blog was very informative. Thank you for sharing and I hope I get picked for the giveaway. �� Desiree Williams

    1. Hi Desiree! Thanks for your comment. I enjoyed reading about the time you and your husband spent in Mexico in 2010. It sounds like we've had similar impressions as far as the friendliness and warmth of the Mexicans. I'm happy that you were able to experience both the beauty of the natural environment and the beauty of warm, welcoming interactions with the people. I am excited for you as you plan your anniversary trip. You created lovely memories together 8 years ago. May you create many more this time around! I will be contacting you to obtain your mailing address to send the gift to you. I hope that you will like it!

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