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Unveiling Tulum, Mexico: The Essential Short Stay Guide

Updated: May 3



The allure of Tulum, with its distinctive architecture and the promise of a serene December getaway, was what drew me to this enchanting corner of the Caribbean. Tulum represented an ideal balance: a respite from the routine, a place where the budget aligned with the desire for adventure, and an escape from the extreme winter climates without venturing too far from home.

tulum short stay guide
Tulum Ruins overlooking carribean sea

December in Tulum presents a unique climate - cool yet manageable, offering a refreshing contrast to the typical Caribbean warmth. This peculiar weather added an unexpected layer to the trip, making it all the more memorable. The decision to choose Tulum over Cancun, a place I had previously explored, was driven by a desire for new experiences, to tread uncharted paths.


However, my journey in Tulum was a mix of excitement and a hint of frustration. Time was the luxury I lacked. With only five days at my disposal, I found myself racing against the clock, trying to soak in as much of Tulum's enigmatic atmosphere as possible. Those days were a whirlwind of activities – from exhilarating adventures, enriching sightseeing, to tantalizing food tasting. Each experience was a dive into the vibrant heart of Tulum, yet as I left, I felt a longing, a sense that there was so much more of Tulum left to discover.




This article is a reflection of my brief yet vibrant journey in Tulum. It's an amalgamation of experiences, tips, and insights for those who wish to explore this mesmerizing destination. Whether you're planning a short visit or a longer stay, I hope to guide you through the wonders of Tulum, as seen through my eyes.


What to Expect About Tulum:


Atmosphere and Culture: Tulum presents a fascinating blend of a laid-back countryside vibe that comes alive with the energy of tourists. My stay in Boca Paila, was strategic for its closeness to the beach. This area is a vibrant mosaic of commercial boutiques, restaurants, shops, pharmacies, ATMs, bars, and accommodations, all bustling to serve the needs of visitors. The architectural charm of Tulum is unmistakable; a harmonious blend of local materials and modern design, infused with local wooden craftsmanship and rustic artistry, all exuding a distinctive Mayan ambiance. This unique architectural style makes Tulum stand out as a destination with a strong sense of place.


tulum short stay guide
An establishment in Tulum showcasing its unique architecture

Landscape and Surroundings: My accommodation was set in a coastal town, bordered by a dense forest on one side and the ocean on the other. The experience of having raccoons and monkeys as occasional visitors added a touch of wild charm to our stay. The beach, with its fine sands, was a perfect retreat, easily accessible through public paths. A short bike ride away, we discovered a breathtaking open sea view, complete with an islet ideal for photo opportunities, all accessible through the popular local activity of biking.


tulum short stay guide
facing the dense jungle of Tulum



Local Cuisine: The culinary scene in Tulum was an adventure in itself, with an emphasis on tacos paired with a variety of meats. A notable first for me was a dish made from cactus, offering a unique taste of the local flora.


tulum short stay guide
That's cactus taco!


People and Interactions: Given its status as a tourist hotspot, many locals in the tourism industry were able to communicate in English, albeit with varying degrees of fluency. This linguistic diversity added to the richness of our interactions.


Travel Logistics: Navigating Tulum was an experience we chose to savor on foot, with an hour's walk from our accommodation to the downtown area. Taxis were readily available and cost around 20-25 USD for a trip from downtown back to Boca Paila. For exploring further, we rented bicycles for 10 USD a day, a popular and convenient mode of transport in Tulum. The town is well-equipped for cyclists, featuring dedicated bike lanes, especially towards Tulum Centro. With ample options for bike and scooter rentals, Tulum caters well to those who prefer to explore on two wheels.



Getting to Tulum from Cancun Airport: A Smooth and Convenient Journey


Choosing the Right Transport: After landing at Cancun Airport at 8:00 PM, we faced a 3-hour journey to Tulum. For this, we opted for a private van service recommended by our Airbnb host. This choice proved to be a perfect blend of comfort and convenience for the evening arrival.


Our Van Experience: The van service was more than just a ride; it was a welcoming introduction to Mexico. Our driver was amiable and accommodating, understanding the needs of weary travelers. She kindly stopped at a convenience store, allowing us to grab some much-needed food after our long flight. Adding to the convenience, she offered us access to her mobile hotspot for Wi-Fi, which was invaluable for contacting our Airbnb host upon arrival.



Cost and Duration: The journey from Cancun Airport to our accommodation in Boca Paila took approximately 3 hours and cost around $120 USD one way. The price was reasonable considering the distance, the comfort of a private vehicle, and the convenience of door-to-door service.


Booking and Planning Ahead: We booked our van service in advance for both our arrival and departure, which I highly recommend. Arriving late at night with luggage and being unfamiliar with the area, a pre-arranged private transport was the safest and most comfortable option. Our driver awaited us right outside the airport arrivals lobby, in front of Margaritaville, holding a sign with my name. For our early departure at 3:00 AM, the reliability of the service was crucial to ensure we reached the airport in time for check-in and security procedures.


Tips and Recommendations: For those considering private transportation, I highly recommend the company we used. Their service was not only cost-effective compared to online options but also punctual and accommodating. Feel free to contact me at info@archsael.com or just send me a message in https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100092392099629 if you need the contact details for this transportation service – I'm happy to share the WhatsApp number of our driver for your convenience.



Things to Do in Tulum:

Are you pondering over what to do when you visit Tulum? We found ourselves in a similar conundrum during the initial stages of our travel planning. However, after diving into some research and balancing our interests with our schedule, we crafted an itinerary filled with a diverse array of activities. Tulum is not just a destination; it's a canvas for adventure, culture, relaxation, and exploration.


tulum short stay guide
To Tulum Ruins


In this section, I'll share the experiences and activities we chose during our time in Tulum. My hope is that our journey will inspire and guide you as you curate your own unique experience in this mesmerizing part of the world.



Explore the Tulum Ruins: A visit to Tulum would be incomplete without exploring the iconic Tulum Ruins. Nestled on a cliff overlooking the sea, these ruins are a testament to the ancient Mayan civilization. On our third day, we joined the many tourists flocking to this historical site. The experience was both educational and awe-inspiring, although it required some patience due to the long queues. Tickets and guides are available at the site or can be booked online through platforms like Viator and Expedia. The guides offer valuable insights, making the visit more meaningful.



tulum short stay guide
Click here for Tulum Ruins tour


Adventure at Xcaret Park: Our first day was an adventure-packed experience at Xcaret Park in Playa del Carmen. This natural park offered an array of activities, from swimming in a winding river to snorkeling and sightseeing. Encountering exotic animals and engaging in adrenaline-pumping activities added to the thrill. The highlight was the mesmerizing cultural shows, which provided a fantastic end to an unforgettable day. Xcaret is a recommendation for anyone seeking a mix of adventure and cultural immersion wherever you are in Cancun,Playa del carmen or Tulum.


tulum short stay guide
Click here for xcaret tour


Cultural Journey to Chichen Itza and Beyond: Chichen Itza, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, was our destination on the second day. We booked a tour that also took us to the small Mayan village of Hubiku, where we enjoyed swimming in a cenote – a natural sinkhole with refreshing groundwater. The tour concluded in the quaint town of Valladolid, offering a glimpse into vibrant colonial history and culture.



Relaxation and Leisure: We spent our final day leisurely, renting bikes to explore the nearby attractions. One notable stop was the Ahau Tulum Resort, famous for its artsy statue which is a popular spot for photography enthusiasts. Be prepared for a small fee and a bit of a wait, but it's worth it for the unique photo opportunity. The streets of Boca Paila are a treasure trove of stunning architecture and Instagram-worthy spots, with Azulik Hotel being a standout. You can find a good glimpse of it from a nearby public beach just beside the property.The nearby public beach offers a serene spot to relax, complemented by an array of beachfront restaurants for a delightful dining experience with a view.





Shopping at Selecto Chedraui: While on our way to the Super Aki pickup point for our next day's activity, we stumbled upon an unexpected shopping haven. Just a short distance from Super Aki, we found Selecto Chedraui, a sprawling complex that seemed to offer everything under one roof. This place was a treasure trove for shoppers looking for affordable clothing options and essential items to gear up for adventures. Whether you're in need of last-minute tour essentials or searching for souvenirs to take home, Selecto Chedraui is the go-to destination. What made it even more appealing was the price point – significantly lower than what you might find in more tourist-centric areas like Xcaret Park. For budget-conscious travelers, a visit to Selecto Chedraui is a smart move to save on expenses without compromising on quality or choice.




When it comes to choosing a place to stay during your travels, several key considerations come into play. As a seasoned traveler, I always prioritize factors such as affordability, the purpose of the stay, and location for convenience. Tulum, with its diverse range of accommodations, offers something for every type of traveler, depending on what you're looking to achieve from your visit.For those drawn to the allure of the sea, the oceanfront hotels in Zona Hotelera are an ideal choice, providing doorstep access to Tulum’s stunning beaches and azure waters. Here, you can wake up to the sound of the waves and enjoy the luxury of beachside living.

tulum short stay guide
Azulik-an eco-luxury resort in Zona Hotelera

On the other hand, if you're seeking affordability without compromising too much on the proximity to the beach, consider the array of Airbnb options along QR0015 street or in Boca Paila, where we stayed. These accommodations offer a balance between cost-effectiveness and convenient access to Tulum's famous sandy shores.


For travelers whose primary aim isn’t beach lounging but rather a convenient base for exploring the area's tours and attractions, Tulum Centro is a practical choice. Here, you'll find a variety of lodgings that are more budget-friendly and provide easy access to local transportation, restaurants, and shops.


To assist you in making the best choice for your needs, check our "Recommendation" section for the list of recommended places to stay in Tulum on the later part of this blog.



Our stay in Tulum was a delightful embrace of nature, thanks to our unique Airbnb accommodation, the Fuego Cabana. Nestled amidst what felt like a jungle, it offered a serene and authentic experience. The room, adorned with an old-style hanging mosquito net over the bed, was a simple yet comfortable retreat after our action-packed days. The simplicity and affordability of this place were its main draws, making it an excellent choice for travelers who need a cozy spot to rest. The property featured a restaurant, Puro Corazon, on the ground floor and a rooftop bar overlooking the dense jungle, where we even spotted raccoons one night.


Its location was outstanding for exploring the coastline of Tulum. Essential amenities like a restaurant, 7/11, bike rental, pharmacy, and a uniquely designed ATM were all within arm's reach. The seafront and public beach were just a 200-meter stroll away, offering easy access to Tulum's pristine beaches. However, travelers should note that some tour operators may not pick up from narrower streets, so it's wise to check in advance if your accommodation is accessible for tour pickups.


Tulum caters to a wide range of budgets and preferences. Budget-conscious travelers can find great deals on Airbnb, while those who delve deeper into research might discover hotels offering competitive rates. Proximity to the beach often dictates price, so expect to pay more for seaside luxury. Tulum, being a popular tourist destination, does have its share of tourist pricing, so be prepared for higher costs in dining, taxis, and other services. However, with careful planning and clear travel goals, you can fully enjoy what Tulum has to offer. For us, the primary aim was to witness the magnificent Chichen Itza, but we soon realized there was much more to Tulum than we initially thought. Ultimately, the choice of accommodation is secondary to the rich experiences and memories you will create in this vibrant destination.



Recommendations:

Things to do in Tulum


  • Tulum is famous for its cenotes, natural sinkholes filled with crystal-clear water. Cenote Dos Ojos, Gran Cenote, and Cenote Calavera are among the most popular for swimming, snorkeling, and even diving. Each cenote offers a unique experience, from underwater caves to lush open-air pools.


tulum short stay guide
Cenote in Hubiku
  • Tulum's beaches are nothing short of spectacular. Spend a day beach hopping to experience the different atmospheres each beach offers. Paradise Beach, Las Palmas Public Beach, and Playa Ruinas, with its iconic view of the ruins, are must-visits.


tulum short stay guide
at Playa de Lucas with Azulik Resort in the background

  • A UNESCO World Heritage site, Sian Ka'an is a natural reserve that boasts a diverse ecosystem. Join a guided tour to explore mangroves, wetlands, and a pristine marine environment. It's a fantastic spot for bird watching and spotting other wildlife.

  • To understand the local culture and history, visit nearby Maya villages. Experience their traditional way of life, learn about Maya customs, and enjoy authentic local cuisine. This is a great way to support the indigenous communities and gain insight into the area's rich cultural heritage.

  • Tulum is known for its wellness culture. Participate in a yoga class on the beach or join a wellness retreat for a holistic experience that includes meditation, healthy eating, and spa treatments.

  • Beyond traditional Mexican cuisine, Tulum offers a diverse culinary scene. From beachfront seafood restaurants to cozy jungle cafes, there’s an abundance of fresh, locally-sourced, and innovative dishes to try.

  • Tulum's town center and beach area are dotted with shops selling handmade crafts, art, and souvenirs. It's a great place to pick up unique items like handwoven textiles, pottery, and traditional Mayan crafts.

  • As the sun sets, Tulum transforms. Explore the vibrant nightlife, from beach bars to chic nightclubs. Many places offer live music and DJ sets, perfect for experiencing the energetic side of Tulum after dark.


Best Hotels to Stay in Tulum

Tulum offers a diverse range of accommodations, each with its unique charm and appeal. Here are some recommendations, categorized to help you find the perfect fit for your stay:


  • Beachfront Boutique Hotels: If you're looking for luxury combined with exclusivity, opt for one of Tulum's beachfront boutique hotels. These hotels often feature private beach access, exquisite dining options, and spa services. They offer a perfect blend of comfort, elegance, and intimacy.

  • Why Choose Them: For their unparalleled views, exceptional services, and serene beach experience.


eg:

  1. Casa Malca: A luxurious hotel known for its art collection and sophisticated design.

  2. Be Tulum Hotel: Offers a serene beachfront experience with elegantly designed suites.

  3. Nomade Tulum: A chic, boutique hotel with a focus on wellness and high-end amenities.


  • Eco-Resorts and Sustainable Lodgings: Tulum is known for its eco-friendly accommodations. These places prioritize sustainability, often powered by renewable energy and constructed with natural materials. They offer a unique experience close to nature.

  • Why Choose Them: To reduce your environmental footprint while enjoying a stay that's harmonious with nature.


eg:

  1. Azulik Tulum: An eco-luxury resort combining sustainability with exclusive comfort.

  2. Habitas Tulum: A sustainable sanctuary with eco-friendly design and community-focused experiences.

  3. Papaya Playa Project: A resort dedicated to eco-friendly practices and offers a rustic, bohemian vibe.



  • Affordable Hostels and Guesthouses: There are several budget-friendly options in Tulum, from hostels with communal vibes to cozy guesthouses. They provide basic amenities without compromising on the experience.

  • Why Choose Them: For an affordable stay that still offers the essence of Tulum’s culture and hospitality.

eg:

  1. Tulum Backpacker's Hostel: A friendly, budget-friendly option with a great social atmosphere.

  2. El Punto Hotel Tulum: Offers affordable, clean, and comfortable rooms.

  3. Casa Abanico Tulum: A budget-friendly guesthouse with a homely feel and great location.



  • Family-Friendly Resorts: These resorts cater to families, offering spacious accommodations, kid-friendly activities, and services like babysitting. They often have pools and are located in more tranquil areas.

  • Why Choose Them: For their amenities tailored to family needs, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable stay for all ages.

eg:

  1. La Familia Resort and Spa: Tailored for families with kid-friendly activities and spacious accommodations.

  2. Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa: A family-friendly resort with a variety of activities for all ages.

  3. Kore Tulum Retreat and Spa Resort: Offers a blend of relaxation and family-oriented fun.



  • Wellness Retreats: Tulum is a haven for wellness enthusiasts, with several retreats offering yoga classes, meditation sessions, and health-focused dining.

  • Why Choose Them: To rejuvenate and engage in wellness activities in a tranquil setting.

eg:

  1. Nirvana Wellness Retreat: Focuses on yoga, meditation, and holistic health.

  2. Sanará Tulum: A wellness resort offering yoga classes, a wellness center, and organic cuisine.

  3. Maya Tulum Resort: Renowned for its wellness retreats, spa services, and tranquil environment.


  • Jungle Lodges and Adventure Resorts: Located either within or close to the jungle, these lodgings offer easy access to outdoor activities like cenote diving, zip-lining, and jungle tours.

  • Why Choose Them: For a thrilling experience close to Tulum's natural adventures.

eg:


  1. Jungle Explorer Lodge: Close to nature and perfect for outdoor adventurers.

  2. Selina Tulum: Offers a unique blend of community, culture, and adventurous activities.

  3. Nativus Glamping & Cenote Tulum: Combines comfort with adventure, located near cenotes and natural attractions.


  • Secluded Romantic Hotels: Ideal for couples seeking privacy and romance. These hotels often feature private plunge pools, romantic dining settings, and couples’ spa treatments.

  • Why Choose Them: For an intimate and memorable experience with your partner.

eg:

  1. Amor Eterno Resort: A secluded and romantic destination perfect for couples.

  2. Mi Amor Colibri Boutique Hotel: A romantic boutique hotel with stunning views and intimate settings.

  3. El Pez Colibri Boutique Hotel: Offers a romantic and peaceful beachfront experience.



Where to Eat in Tulum for Authentic Mexican Food


When in Tulum, immersing yourself in the local cuisine is a must. The town offers an array of dining experiences, from street food stalls to upscale restaurants, each serving up authentic and delicious Mexican flavors. Here are some of top recommendations for places to eat in Tulum:


tulum short stay guide
Mexican Food you gonna love!!


  • El Asadero:Known for its traditional Mexican grill, El Asadero is a paradise for meat lovers. Their grilled steaks and tacos al pastor are not only flavorful but also represent the culinary art of Mexico. The ambiance is casual yet intimate, perfect for a relaxed dinner.


  • Antojitos La Chiapaneca:This is the go-to place for budget-friendly yet delectable Mexican street food. Their tacos are a crowd favorite, offering a genuine taste of local cuisine. Don't miss their famous al pastor tacos, which are both delicious and incredibly affordable.


  • Cetli:If you’re looking for a more refined dining experience, Cetli is a must-visit. It offers a gourmet approach to traditional Mexican dishes. The chef's use of local ingredients to create exquisite flavors makes it a culinary journey worth experiencing.

  • Taqueria Honorio:For a breakfast or brunch filled with local flavors, Taqueria Honorio is unbeatable. Their cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork) is legendary and will give you a taste of the Yucatan Peninsula's traditional cooking.

  • Posada Margherita:Although not strictly Mexican cuisine, Posada Margherita offers a fusion that food enthusiasts should try. They blend Italian and Mexican flavors, resulting in unique and delicious dishes. Their fresh seafood and handmade pasta are highly recommended.

Remember, Tulum's culinary scene is as vibrant and diverse as its landscapes. These recommendations only scratch the surface of what Tulum has to offer. Be adventurous with your food choices – sometimes the best meals are found in the most unexpected places.



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Final Thoughts: Your Journey Awaits


So there you have it - a tapestry of our adventures and discoveries in the vibrant heart of Tulum. We sincerely hope that our stories and insights inspire you to embark on your own journey to this enchanting destination. Imagine yourself wandering through the ancient ruins, basking in the sun-kissed beaches, and indulging in the rich local culture, just as we did. Should you find yourself curious or in need of guidance about any aspect of Tulum, please feel free to reach out to us. We're more than happy to share our personal insights and help tailor your experience to be as memorable and joyful as ours. Here's to your upcoming adventures in Tulum – may they be filled with wonder, discovery, and joy. Happy travels!




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I'm Archsael, i am an architect and a passionate traveler who finds joy in exploring the world's wonders. This site is a tapestry of my adventures, offering unique insights and inspirations from my journeys.

 

I'm excited to share these experiences with you, providing guidance and inspiration for your future travels.

 

Join me in exploring the globe's beauty, one journey at a time."

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