Tulum Travel Guide: What to Do, Where to Eat, Where to Stay
Upon returning from photographing a wedding anniversary in Tulum, I had so many questions on my thoughts and recommendations so I thought this was the easiest way to tell everyone about it at once.
However, this is my first travel blog post so I’d like to start off by saying, these are just my opinions and by no means, do you need to follow this. You are more than welcome to disagree with these recommendations. That’s what makes the world so interesting is that we are all different so with that in mind, here is my very honest review of Tulum…
Tulum is like Cancun’s quirky little sister who does yoga on the beach and then eats an acai i bowl while talking about reiki healing. You can probably already see why I loved it so much. Over the years, Tulum has grown to be more than a hot spot for yoga retreats though. It has incredible restaurants, historical Mayan ruins, boutique shopping, and a nightlife scene to rival Cancun. Tulum pretty much has it all, which is probably why it has become such a hot spot in the last few years.
What To Do
- Boutique Shopping. The whole city of Tulum has a laid back feel to it so the small boutiques here have the cutest clothes for the free-spirit in all of us. While I love the boho look, it is not necessarily my personal style so I did not do much shopping here but I loved walking around and getting shoot inspiration from all the light weight clothes, hand made jewelry, and woven home decor pieces. Most of the shops are located on one main street so it makes it a bit easier to get around.
- Cenotes. No matter which cenotes you decide to visit, I would recommend getting to all of them pretty early as they get pretty packed with tourists fairly quickly. Since I was in Tulum for a wedding this time around, I did not have time to go to any of these on this trip, hence the lack of photos of them, but I have visited these in the past and can recommend some personal favorites:
- Suytun near Valladolid . This one is a bit of a drive out of Tulum but in my opinion the prettiest one. There is a platform that is partially submerged under water and a beam of light coming through the top that just shines down on this platform and it’s pretty much Instagram heaven.
- Cenote Ik Kil. About 2 hours away from Tulum but this place is epic, epic, epic!
- Gran Cenote. This cenote is way closer to town and the most popular one. While it is not as grand as the other two, it is much closer, and cheaper, but still very beautiful.
- Tulum Mayan Ruins
- Kaan Luum Lagoon. I know most people recommend going to the beaches in Mexico but personally we preferred the lagoon. Known as ‘the hidden treasure of Tulum,’ Kaan Luum Lagoon has bright turquoise water and way less people than the beaches. There is an entrance fee of 50 pesos but you can stay all day. We even arrived early with the couple to take some photos before the crowds got there and they’re some of my favorite photos.
What To Skip
- Playa Paraiso. Unfortunately I don’t think there is much to be done about this but there is seaweed everywhere (and in excessive amounts). When I looked this beach up online, it was gorgeous but when we were there in May of 2019, the seaweed was just unbearable. It is not just in the water or just on the shore line, but it is all over the sand, all over the water, all over everything. Hopefully something can be done to clean this up because everything else about Tulum is so beautiful and seeing the beach flooded with seaweed made me so sad.
Where To Eat
- Hartwood. Hartwood is my number one dinner recommendation in Tulum. When traveling, I usually don’t like to go to too many formal dinners but I do always try to find one highly reviewed, ‘fancy’ restaurant to try in each new city. Hartwood is that restaurant. Hartwood blew me away with the atmosphere , the food, and the dessert (ohhhh the dessert - so good!). The produce comes from local farms and the menu changes daily. Even my pastry chef mother, who we all know is not easily impressed, was VERY impressed. Hartwood is a must when visiting Tulum!
- Gitano. Gitano is beautiful. The food is delicious and the atmosphere is really fun. With a dance floor and a DJ, I suggest grabbing a late dinner here and then heading over to the bar after for one of their amazing drinks.
- Nomade. I fell in love with Nomade as soon as I walked in. With inspirational quotes about spirituality written on black boards, hammocks draped from palm trees, and a menu that is curated by holistic wellness experts, I knew this was the place for me. It’s a bohemian heaven and instantly makes you feel like you are in a place where all of your worries just float away. Also, the charred octopus is a must try.
- Burrito Amor. Burrito Amor is the best place for breakfast in Tulum. It’s a very casual spot in town where the locals eat in the morning. We ended up eating here every single morning and made friends with so many people that live in town. It has a fun environment and the food was great (and very affordable).
- Raw Love. This place is delicious. Everything is all natural, vegan, and gluten free. The different toasts and desserts they have here are amazing. The only thing I would personally say to skip is the acai bowls. I love acai bowls, and make them at home all the time, but I felt like here they were incredibly overpriced for just an acai bowl. Personally, I would rather spend my money on the other dishes that are a bit more creative. Other than the fact that it was very expensive for an acai bowl, I would say the actual quality of the food was great.
What To Skip
This one is hard for me to write because these are all the places that all the bloggers raved about and if I was to be honest, I would say all of these are good places for photo ops but not for food/drinks.
- Matcha Mama. Don’t get me wrong - Matcha Mama is SO cute. I can see why thousands of people come here to take photos. It’s bright and colorful, and I feel like matcha is somehow trendy now? Maybe. I’m not sure. All I know is that I love matcha so we got 3 different matcha drinks and honestly they all tasted like 90% water. Matcha Mama is adorable but I personally didn’t think the drinks were worth it.
- The restaurants at Azulik. I am sad to say this because this was one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing but Azulik was the most disappointing thing on this trip. I do not want to turn this into a negative rant but if anyone is interested in visiting Azulik and wants to hear about my personal experience, feel free to reach out anytime. On here I am just going to say that while the design of Azulik is beyond gorgeous, that is all it has to offer. The service was some of the worst I have experienced and, for the price, I thought that the food would be much better but it was nowhere near as good as even the most casual places that we ate at. Overall, I hope that everyone else’s experience here is much better because I wish I had loved Azulik but it was definitely the biggest let down of the trip.
Where To Stay
- By the Beach. Most of the exclusive hotels on the beach are pretty pricey and they are eco friendly which usually means that there is no TV, no wifi, and no air conditioning (not all - but most - so definitely look into those things if booking a hotel by the beach). This is where all the boutique hotels are located. Most of the hotels are SUPER cute and pretty pricey. This is the area to stay if you want to be ‘on the strip’ where all the new restaurants, the trendy shops, and the nightlife is. This is definitely where all the parties are and where it comes more alive at night than during the day. If you haven’t already figured out by my personality, I did not stay in this part, but I did love coming here during the day.
- In Town. The town of Tulum is where all of the AirBnB’s and smaller hotels are. It is getting built up pretty quick with modern architecture and has a lot of good, local restaurants. Staying in town is much cheaper and much quieter (though there may be construction during the day depending where you stay). To put it into perspective, we ended up eating a 3 course dinner in town for 4 people with drinks included for half the price of 3 acai bowls for breakfast by the beach - and the food was seriously awesome! The people at the restaurants are so warm and welcoming and all the food taste so fresh and homemade. Personally I like to stay in more quiet places when I travel so I enjoyed staying at an Airbnb in town and lounging by the pool while eating fresh fruit popsicles from Flor De Michoacan.
If you’ve never used Airbnb, and want to try it out for your trip to Tulum, you can use this code to get $40 off on your first home booking or $15 towards an Airbnb experience worth of $50 or more (maybe to visit the cenotes or Mayan ruins).
- An all-inclusive resort outside of the city. Before heading into the town of Tulum to photograph this wedding anniversary session, my mom and I stayed at UNICO 20°87 for three days and I was so impressed that I wrote a whole separate blog post about it, which I will post in a few days so look out for that!
- Rent a car (to drive to the Tulum ruins, the cenotes, Kaan Luum Lagoon, or just to explore in general).
- Bring extra bug spray. I think I went through 3 cans of bug spray when I was there for 5 days. Tulum is a jungle so trust me when I say you need more bug spray than you think.
- Bring sunscreen. I might just be really pale with sensitive skin but I got burnt sitting under an umbrella so I recommend sunscreen at all times.
- Best time to visit: October - December
- Rainy season: Between June-October
- Busy tourism season: December - March
- Don’t listen to anyone else’s tips and do what you want to do. Seriously! I did so much research and as I was looking at other people’s blogs, I knew I wouldn’t agree with everything they said because everyone is different. These are just my personal preferences and how I choose to vacation. Everyone looks for different things on their vacations so don’t let someone else’s opinions deter what you do or don’t do.
Hope you all enjoyed my first Travel Guide. Let me know if you’d like to see more of these from the different destinations I travel to for weddings. Also, if you have any questions about anything Tulum related (/travel related), feel free to reach out any time! Thanks again!