Visiting popular beach destinations while on a tight budget can be challenging at times and we found this to be especially true in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. The coastal town of Tulum may have been a tropical hippie getaway at one point but it’s beautiful blue beaches are a secret no more. The tourists have arrived. After a beautiful week in this former Mayan port, we’re sharing money-saving tips in our budget guide to Tulum for the beach lovers that ought to add this hotspot to the list.
Tulum – Before You Go
Given that this is a budget guide to Tulum, most of this post focuses on ways to save money. In Tulum, there are plenty of ways to spend money and, after travelling through Mexico for 6 months, we found this to be a pricey destination compared to our other favourites like Guanajuato and La Paz.
Although Tulum is a popular beach favourite, it’s important to know that the main town is surprisingly not on the beach. This confused us a bit in the beginning but Tulum is divided into 3 different sections making it hard to decide where to seek out accommodation.
TULUM TOWN: The main town (or the ‘pueblo‘) of Tulum is not on the beach and actually runs along Highway 307. This is where you’ll find the majority of amenities like grocery stores, banks, the ADO bus terminal along with several shops, restaurants and hotels. If you’re looking to save money on groceries, transport and accommodations, this is where you’d want to base your stay.
TULUM BEACH: The picturesque cabanas, restaurants and roadside shops that probably come to mind when you think of Tulum are scattered along the coast somewhere between the Tulum ruins and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. This area of 20+ kilometres of pristine beaches is not to be missed. If you’re on a budget and decide to stay in this part of Tulum, be prepared to make frequent visits to the main town for meals and groceries
TULUM RUINS: The Maya ruins are the most visited attraction in all of Tulum and with good reason. This archaeological site is located east of the main town with it’s main entrance south of the 307 highway. There are several shops and restaurants near the parking lot of the ruins but you’d be hard pressed to find any bargains in this part of Tulum. The ruins are definitely worth a visit though (more tips on that under Things To Do).
If you’re landing at the Cancun International Airport, bus transfers to Tulum are pretty easy and affordable. We booked our bus with ADO but there is no direct route from Cancun Airport straight to Tulum yet. Fear not! You can take a bus to Playa del Carmen and there you would transfer to catch a bus to Tulum. Another option from the airport is to backtrack a bit and take a bus from Cancun Airport to Downtown Cancun and at the main ADO terminal catch a direct bus to Tulum.
Colectivos are more affordable than ADO buses but smaller and schedules are harder to rely on if you’re looking to plan ahead. They can be taken in downtown Cancun from Tulum Ave near the Commercial Mexicana.
Oh, there are also airport transfers from Cancun to Tulum available with roundtrip flights start at only $145 USD! [Insert eye roll]
BIKE: Bikes are a very budget-friendly way to explore Tulum, especially if your accommodation includes free rentals (many do). Because Tulum is relatively small, bikes make it easy to get to the ruins, cenotes and other beaches nearby. There’s plenty of parking available for bikes all throughout town and, in my opinion, it’s the most fun way to get around!
COLECTIVO: Colectivos are a form of shared transportation in Mexico where frequent stops are made along one fixed route. They are sometimes called ‘combis’ or ‘pasajeros’ and can be taxis, vans and even pickup trucks! In the Tulum area, colectivos are comfortable mini-vans and some even have air conditioning. From Tulum you can take colectivos all the way to Playa del Carmen and even continue to Cancun from there. Rates range from $20 to $50 pesos (depending on your travel distance) and payment is usually made once you’ve reached your destination. You’ll see colectivos all along the main highway with drivers often calling out their destinations eager to fill their vans so they can head off.
When To Go
If you’re eager to escape and hit the beaches of Tulum then the best time to go would be right now, don’t you think? Kidding aside, weather does fluctuate throughout the year and October to March are the most enjoyable months. January to April would be most crowded with tourists. May and June are the hottest months of the year and, believe me when I say, it gets HOT. If you’re visiting after March, be sure to look for a place with air conditioning which is sometimes hard to find in Tulum since most budget accommodations are limited to fans. Hurricane season generally runs from July to September and, while most would avoid the rain, hotel rates definitely see a drop during this time of year so you’re likely to find a good bargain.
Sleeping on a Budget
The only reason we opted out of a hostel in Tulum was because we knew it was going to be a hot week and didn’t want to risk being extra cranky in a dorm with no air conditioning. I mean, it was over 30 degrees everyday! Because we like to be close to the action, we made sure to get a place in town versus by the beach. We decided on a small budget hotel called CAsaiA and ended up having a pretty enjoyable stay. The hotel lacks quite a few things but the price was right and the room had everything we needed: air conditioning, great internet, comfortable beds and hot water. CAsaiA is also right by the large Super San Francisco grocery store in town and has a really good sandwich shop right across the street.
Even though the hotel worked for us, it might not work for everyone and luckily Tulum has accommodations to suit every budget. There are some great hostels in town (Mama’s Home), furnished apartment rentals and Airbnb rentals. If you’re new to AirBnb, use our link here to get a discount off of your first qualifying stay 🙂
It was a struggle in the beginning (especially since we were dealing with the yuckiest of stomach bugs) but we did find some great budget eats in the main town of Tulum.
MEXICAN: Just around the corner from the ADO bus station is a really inexpensive local restaurant called El Rincon Chiapaneco with great sopes and many authentic dishes at a great price.
PIZZA: Pizzeria Manglar has pizzas for only $100 pesos AND free delivery. We also enjoyed the takeout from Sal e Pepe, an Italian restaurant near our hotel.
EMPANADAS: Theres a really, really cute place in Tulum called El Sudaca with delicious, authentic Argentinian empanadas at only $35 pesos each.
CHICKEN: Another great budget option in Tulum (that also delivers) is Pollo Bronco and the rotisserie chicken in Mexico is definitely worth trying at least once!
Things To Do in Tulum
CENOTES: These natural sinkholes are so fun to explore and probably one of my favourite things to do in all of Mexico. Our first cenote experience in Tulum was at the Gran Cenote and it wasn’t the most budget-friendly but definitely worthwhile. Check out our cenote video to see how unbelievably blue the waters were in the caves. There are several other cenotes in the area and most are close enough to access by bike.
THE BLUEST BEACHES: I just…I mean, look at how blue the water is. Tulum definitely has some of the most picture perfect beaches I’ve seen. The sand is white and fine and the water more blue than the sky itself. The best part about the beaches? They’re free!
TULUM RUINS: If you’re planning a visit to the ruins, do yourself a favour and GO EARLY. I was surprised to see tourist buses unloading there as early as 9 am. Admission is $64 pesos (May 2016) and the site can be accessed by bike. Ride past the parking lot, all the way up to the front entrance where you’ll see plenty of bike racks. Be weary of the many ‘free information’ stands set up around the site parking lot and buy your ticket straight from the official ticket booth at the main entrance of the ruins.
BIKE RIDING: Everyone and their cat seems to ride a bike in Tulum. It’s such a fun way to get around especially if you’re travelling from the beach to the main town. Many hostels and hotels in town will either have free bikes or get you a discounted rate at a rental shop in town so it might be a good idea to ask before booking your accommodation.
SIAN KA’AN BIOSPHERE RESERVE: This reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and regrettably one of the places we didn’t get to visit during our stay. With diverse marine life, mangroves and lagoon boat tours, we’ve got a reason to go back and explore some more.
If you’re planning a visit to this tropical destination, we hope our budget guide to Tulum helps you save a few pesos and enjoy everything the town has to offer!