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Tulum cheatsheet

Unexpected delights /  the cave we discovered while swimming / the lizard in the patch of prickly pear / the ruins of millennia ago. 

– Lynn D. Troldahl Hershberger

$1 - 15.77MXN
01:41
73 °

Getting In/Getting Out

Tulum is about 90 minutes south of Cancun Airport (CUN). If you would rather not pay the exorbitant resort shuttle fees, rent a car: It'll come in handy when you're roaming Tulum, and the roads are relatively easy to navigate. Rental car services at the Cancun Airport include Hertz, Thrifty, Budget, and Dollar.

Happy Shuttle Cancun is another option: Prices per private van cost about $195 round trip from the airport to your resort.

If you're looking for a budget-friendly option, the ADO bus at the airport will take you to Playa del Carmen, where you can transfer to a second bus to Tulum. The ADO reps only speak some English, so be ready for adventure.

Getting Around

A rental car is convenient. While the roads are generally good and hotel parking is readily available, be careful about speed limits: Mexican cops love to issue tickets to tourists.

Other options for local transport include biking and taxis, both common along the beach.

Lay of the Land

Tulum is a gorgeous Mexican beach town on the east side of the Yucatán Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo. The area is comprised of the town, the hotel zone, and the archeological zone, and includes three national parks: Quintana Roo National Park, Tulum National Park (the archeological ruins), and Sian-Ka'an Biosphere. Near the famous Mayan ruins to the north, the beach tends to be rockier, while the southern beaches near Sian Ka'an are pure white-sand Caribbean splendor.

Best Time to Visit

Tulum is most crowded January through March, when the temperature is real nice. As the heat creeps in from April to June, room prices fluctuate wildly. Beware of cheap prices from July through September, as hurricane season is in full swing. The best months are October, November, and December, when room rates are lower, temperatures are in the 80s, and crowds are sparse.

Know Before You Go

Tulum is #trending. Though it's only 130 km (80 miles) from Cancun, the two resort towns could not be more different. In Tulum, it's all about yoga retreats, bohemian eco-chic hotels, and beachgoers seeking a low-key experience. You'll bump into fashionable types from LA and NYC, but there's still plenty of rusticity.

As we said before, yoga is big here, and many teachers from the Unites States live and work in the area. Maya Tulum and the unfortunately named but excellent Bikini Bootcamp at Amansala are the most well known, but take a walk down the beach, and you'll see makeshift signs indicating lots of ways to get your dose of beach Zen. Check out Fathom's Tulum wellness guide to get a jumpstart.

Visiting the Tulum ruins, an ancient Mayan walled city built in the 13th century, is a must during your stay. Mornings (8 a.m.) yield the smallest crowds. If you crave more Mayan archeology, check out Cobá ruins as well. And please, don't be like Justin Bieber — keep your clothes on.

The Sian Ka'an biosphere, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is also worth a visit. Options include boat tours through natural mangrove canals, birdwatching (there are 379 species here!), and snorkeling the Great Mayan Reef.

Those with a penchant for water sports shouldn’t miss the cenotes, the natural swimming holes (often sacred Mayan sites) connected to subterranean caverns and rivers that feature marine life, stalactites, and stalagmites. We like Gran Cenote, Cenote Ik Kil, and Cenote Dos Ojos. Xel-Há and Xcaret are commercialized nature resorts where you can swim with dolphins and manatees. They’re especially good for the kids.

Local Language

You're in Mexico. The locals speak Spanish with varying degrees of English fluency. Brush up on your español.

Local Delicacies

Food in Tulum is simple, fresh, and flavorful: fresh fish and exotic fruit everywhere, grilled octopus tacos and sea salt lavender steamed shrimp at El Tábano, guacamole at La Zebra. Dinner at Hartwood is practically a bucket list item in this part of town. When it's 5 o'clock somewhere, head to Que Fresco! for the live music. Order a michelada, a Mexican drink made from beer, lemon juice, tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, and pepper.

Souvenirs

The touristy stands in Tulum are chock-full of serapes, pottery, and leather bags. Buy your blankets and skull tchotchkes in downtown Tulum, rather than by the ruins, where vendors hike up the prices. Find local handmade goods and signature perfumes at chic Coqui Coqui. Channel your inner Tulum vibes at La Troupe, through its selection of boho chic caftans, gold rings, and homewares. For artesenía, handcrafted antiques and textiles, visit La Llorona.

Time

Tulum is GMT-05:00.

Money Matters

Credit cards are accepted at upscale hotels with varying degrees of success. Bring your ATM card to get pesos for a more favorable exchange rate. Smaller denominations are better.

Tipping

Tipping is similar to the U.S. At restaurants, 15 percent is the standard. You do not necessarily need to tip taxi drivers, although if they are thoughtful or particularly helpful, a few extra pesos can go a long way.

Medical

Hospital de Tulum is open 24/7.

Electricity

Two or three prongs.

Reading List and Netflix Queue

For stories of Mexico's great ancient civilizations, pick up Aztec or A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya. Discover Old Mexico with The Hummingbird's Daughter or Mornings in Mexico. To learn more about the Yucatán Peninsula's colonial history, flip the pages of Xuxub Must Die: The Lost Histories of a Murder on the Yucatán.

To recreate Tulum flavors, copy the recipes from Hartwood: Bright, Wild Flavors from the Edge of the Yucatán and Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition.

To reflect, stream Like Water For Chocolate, Frida, or Spanish-language films Amores Perros and Los Olvidados.

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