Tulum, the not-so-hidden gem of Quintana Roo, is now actually one of the top destinations in Mexico. It’s no surprise this tiny beach town grew so much in popularity – it’s home to white sand beaches, turquoise waters, Mayan ruins, freshwater cenotes, art and yoga studios, all just 2 hours south from Cancún International Airport.
I loved my time in Tulum; we got to explore cenotes and Mayan Ruins, ate amazing food, and lounged on the beach for hours while being served cocktails and endless chips and guacamole. While I highly recommend Tulum to anyone looking for a beach vacation with a mix of adventure, there are a few things to be aware of and plan for before making your own visit.
Make sure to check out my complete travel guide to Tulum if you’re looking for a more comprehensive guide. It covers where to stay, when to go, and the best things to do while in Tulum! Looking for more of an adventurous getaway? Make sure to check out my other posts: like the time we climbed the Via Ferrata in Colorado Springs or backpacking in Patagonia.
Unfortunately the white sand beaches of Tulum can be covered in seaweed depending on the time of year. The seaweed in Tulum is actually called sargassum and can get so bad that it’s almost impossible to swim in the ocean. The worst time of year for seaweed is late spring into summer, specifically April to July. Otherwise, most beach clubs are pretty good about cleaning up any seaweed that washes up on the shore. When we visited in December, there was barely any.
Some may think traveling to Mexico means budget friendly accommodations and cheap eats but that’s not the case in Tulum, at least along the beach road. Tulum town definitely has more of a local feel along with cheaper hotels, hostels, and restaurants but expect to pay a premium if you want beachfront views. This includes the beach clubs which typically require a minimum spend ranging from $25 to over $100. The menu prices are closer to what you’d see at a midrange restaurant in the states – $10 to $15 appetizers and drinks – so it’s not hard to hit that minimum spend requirement. Make sure to check out my ultimate guide to the best beach clubs in Tulum so you’re best prepared!
A negative impact of the increase in tourism in Tulum is the strain it has put on the town’s infrastructure. Some of the establishments along the beach road do not have proper sewage systems which causes a foul smell. This is also important to be aware of if picking a hotel along the beach – some places will use buzzwords like “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” but not actually have sustainable practices in place. Sanitation is a larger issue in Quintana Roo especially with the constant new construction of hotels and resorts.
Although a mostly seasonal problem, mosquitos can be quite bad in Tulum especially near the jungle side of the beach road. Mosquitos are prevalent in the summer season and can carry different diseases like dengue fever. Luckily, I did not notice many mosquitos while visiting in December but I would still make sure to pack repellant no matter the time of year.
If you don’t know what a cenote is, it’s essentially a sinkhole or cave with freshwater. The Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico has thousands of cenotes where you can jump in, swim, and even scuba dive in some. These cenotes look magical, with vines and greenery and the beautiful color of the water.
Something I was not expecting at all when preparing to swim in the cenotes around Tulum were the large black fish. I don’t like fish and already felt uneasy swimming in a cave so the catfish really threw me off. I had to give myself a pep talk before jumping in! The fish are harmless and don’t bother you while swimming but it’s still something to be aware of.
Something else I wasn’t expecting while exploring the cenotes around Tulum was how developed they were. Most have an entrance fee ranging from a few dollars up to $15. Most cenotes also have showers and bathrooms and some even have restaurants. It’s very important to rinse off before entering the cenote and make sure you’re wearing reef-safe sunscreen to protect the ecosystem. I’d also suggest showering after swimming in the cenote; I’ve seen some articles sharing studies regarding the water quality and sanitation…
Expecting lazy beach town vibes in Tulum? Not so fast… traffic is definitely something to be aware of and plan around especially if visiting in peak season. The main beach road is the only road going in and out and it’s very narrow. With tourists and taxis and bike riders, it can get pretty hectic and turn into bumper-to-bumper traffic. We experienced the worst traffic right around dinner time, so about 5-7pm. Try to plan around these times if you want to avoid getting stuck in the car.
This may not be surprising to some, but it’s important to note that the beach road does not have a sidewalk so if you plan to bike or walk, you’ll be sharing the road with cars. This isn’t really an issue except during peak season and during busy times when you may have to weave past people, bikes, and cars. Also the road can get pretty dirty and unfortunately have leftover trash from the night before. I still wore sandals while in Tulum with no issues but wished I had worn some with thicker soles just in case.
Tulum is a relatively small beach town with relaxed vibes and a nightlife that is anything but relaxed. Some beach clubs stay open until morning hours with live DJs and many bars in town stay open late as well. If you’re not a night owl, make sure to read reviews of the hotel you plan to stay at for noise complaints. Especially along the beach, the hotels can be placed close together so even if you’re not staying at a hotel with an all night beach club, you may hear the DJ’s throughout the night. Another option? Ear plugs, just in case (which is already a staple on my packing list and seem to always come in handy).
Getting ready to go to the beach for dinner on our first night in Tulum, we had planned to get a taxi to the restaurant when we realized we never hailed a taxi before. Luckily, taxis are not hard to come by in Tulum. We walked out to the main road and were able to get a taxi within 5 minutes. We also found that the hotel can easily call a taxi if we were willing to wait 15-20 minutes. A great rule for hailing taxis in Mexico is to discuss the cost before getting in the cab. It’s very common for cab drivers to overcharge once you arrive at the destination so agreeing on a price beforehand best prevents that from happening.