Are you looking for The Ultimate Budget Travel Guide to Tulum? Then look no further – I’ve got your back! From where to eat the most delicious 50c Tacos, drink $1 beers and cocktails to how to access Tulum’s beautiful public beaches for free.
Tulum is in Mexico, located along the tropical Caribbean Coastline in the Yucatan Peninsula. Just a few hours drive from Cancun and around an hour from popular Playa Del Carmen.
Why Visit Tulum?
If you have seen Tulum crop up on Instagram on many occasions (this happens to be where I heard about it) then you will surely know about its reputation for Boho vibes, stunning eco architecture, white sandy beaches and moonlight raves. But there is more to Tulum than drinking expensive matcha green tea lattes from Matcha Mama, swinging on rope swings in the beach clubs and snapping photos at every insta spot you can find. If you follow me on Instagram you will have seen my posts on my love/hate relationship with Tulum. This travel guide is designed to be honest and set expectations allowing you to have an awesome budget trip.
Tulum is home to some of Mexicos most beautiful natural phenomenon. All along the Yucatan Peninsula and Quintana Roo are Cenotes, these natural sink holes that create stunning caves exposing the clear ground water below. They are so unique and a sight to be seen in their own right. I don’t think I have ever experienced anything quite like them. These are an absolute must visit!
If you are coming to Mexico to visit the Mayan ruins then stop by Tulum for access to incredible cliff side ruins and the close by Coba ruins, one of the only ruins that you are allowed to climb.
Tulum is also close to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and Sian Ka’an means “gate of heaven”. Who doesn’t want to visit a place described like this!
Budget Activities in Tulum
If you want to come to Tulum to spend your days in the beach clubs, eating in the expensive restaurants or sleeping in the beach front luxury hotels – then this guide is not for you. But if you do want to experience Tulum and not break the piggy bank then let me tell you about all of the free and budget Tulum activities we experienced.
Tulum is known for the incredible natural Cenotes and one of the best and most popular ones to visit is Gran Cenote. Located around 15 minutes drive from Tulum or roughly an hours cycle ride on a main road you reach this really well looked after Cenote. The entrance fee is 180 Pesos per person (approx $10) and it’s best to get here when it opens if you want to experience it without hoards of tourists. There are two pools here connected through a cave (make sure to look up to the cave roof to see all of the bats!), walk past the first pool until you reach some stairs that take you to the second pool. It is usually a lot quieter here and you will be able to experience the Cenote in peace a lot longer than if you headed to the first pool. You can swim from this Cenote through the cave to the other one. Make sure you keep an eye out for the swimming turtles.
Pro Tips: Bring mosquito repellant- there are A LOT here (don’t let this photo convince you otherwise, I was getting bitten). It would also be a good idea to bring a mask and snorkel if you want to see what’s going on underneath the surface, you can rent these if you need to. Water shoes wouldn’t go amiss either for climbing on the rocks and up the wooden stairs. 2 Hours here would be sufficient to experience it.
Hire a Bike in Tulum:
Before we came to Tulum we didn’t really understand how far away everything is. On a map it doesn’t look that big but in reality it is a lot larger than you would think. One of the most fun and eco friendly ways to get around Tulum is to ride a bicycle. You can hire these from many of the rental shops in town for around $8-10 a day. We saw lots of people using Ola Bike rental (they seem to get great reviews and deliver to your hotel).
We sought out a property to stay in that has free bikes to use so we didn’t have to pay a daily rental price (always thinking about the budget!). Bear in mind that if you visit Tulum when it’s particularly hot you will get very tired, dehydrated and sweaty easily riding a bike everywhere, something we underestimated.
Here is an idea on how long it takes to cycle around Tulum:
From Tulum Town to Ahau Hotel Tulum 30 – 40 minutes
From Tulum Town to Gran Cenote 40 – 60 minutes
From Tulum Hotel Zone to Tulum Ruins 30 minutes (this all depends on how far down the hotel zone you are so it could be an extra 20 minutes)
From one end of the Hotel Zone to the other 20 – 30 minutes
Riding around Tulum town for dinner 5 – 10 minutes
Tulum Ruins (Tulum Archeological Site)
If you google image search Tulum, this location is what will fill your search results 95% of the time. These incredible Mayan ruins sit on the cliffs edge overlooking the most beautiful scenery. You can walk around the grounds surrounded by palm trees and turquoise sea admiring the ancient Mayan ruins. Keep an eye out for the local wildlife here – we saw giant iguanas and Coatimundi (I didn’t even know this animal existed until then). It costs just 75 Pesos ($4) to visit here so is definitely worth coming.
Pro Tips: There are beaches here that you swim in, the first beach you come across, Playita Tortuga is often closed from June to October due to turtles nesting. The second beach, Playa Ruinas can be reached by walking down the stairs. At high tide it’s quite a small beach so can get pretty crowded.
Be careful when you arrive at the ruins because there are lots of vendors offering you tickets to enter but they are not the authorised ticket retailer. The tickets can only be purchased from the front entrance to the park.
Arrive here for opening time to avoid not only the hoards of tourists but also the midday sun. There is absolutely no shade here and it can get extremely hot. It is not located close to shade either so you if you want to leave you will either have to cycle away or grab a taxi.
How to access Tulum beaches with Free Public Access
This topic causes quite a lot of confusion online and we were not aware of how difficult it could be to access the beach in Tulum. Many who have travelled to Tulum before and stayed in the Hotel Zone will say it’s super simple, all of the restaurants or hotels will allow access to the beach, some are free and some you will have to buy something in order to be allowed through. There are lots of beach clubs that you can visit where you will pay a fee in order to be allowed on the beach, some will be minimum spends or just purchase lunch. This can cost up to $50.
So imagine when you turn up to the Hotel Zone – it’s very long with long distances between each restaurant or hotel. Most are gated and you have no idea where will give you access. For us, this was not why we came to Tulum, to spend ages in the soaring heat going from place to place just to find an entrance to the beach. Because you can’t find a single entrance to the beach. You know it’s there but there is not a single gap between the buildings allowing you access. This is because most of these properties are luxury and want to keep some sort of exclusivity for their guests so you can only access the beach by going through a property. If you are coming to Tulum to spend time on the beach where the beach clubs are but are not staying in the Hotel Zone, be prepared to stump up the cash to do this or spend hours scouring the internet to find a single recommendation for a club, hotel or restaurant that possibly might let you in for free.
BUT what I can give you information on is fuss free public access to white sandy beaches in Tulum that are not located in the Hotel Zone (because unless you are staying in the Hotel Zone is nigh on a nightmare if you are in Tulum on a budget). Some even prefer these beaches to the ones on the Hotel Zone for being more beautiful and less built up.They can be busier because they are public access but it’s free access and since this is a budget guide, it’s perfect.
The beaches are located near Tulum Ruins. You can cycle to these beaches and park your bike, get a taxi or drive your car and park up. If you are visiting the Ruins, as you exit from the Southern side you just walk along the dirt road parallel to the ocean until you find the entrances, although I would recommend cycling if you have a bike as it will be far quicker. These beaches are all pretty much connected along the coastline and offer wide stretches of sand to lie on. There are less facilities but you can catch boat trips from here and go snorkelling.
Tulum Public Beaches are:
There is a beach located inside Tulum Ruins itself – Playa Ruinas. Access is via some wooden steps. I wouldn’t expect to come here for the day as the tide comes up quite high here and it’s a very small stretch of sand to lie on but the views are INSANE!
A note on seaweed. Tulum is subject to huge amounts of seaweed on occasion. It is possible that you are visiting when the beaches are inundated with seaweed (and I mean inundated!!). There is no way of knowing really. If you want guaranteed white sandy beaches and clear tropical oceans to swim in then I wouldn’t recommend visiting Tulum. Further along the coast in Cancun it’s a lot clearer.
We had the most incredible day exploring with Mexico Kan Tours on their Mayan Inland Expedition. They run eco tours to the surrounding areas and this trip really made our Tulum holiday.
The tour sees you cycling around the ancient Coba ruins, climbing to the top of the ruins (one of the only ones where you can actually climb them), visiting Punta Laguna Mayan community where we saw wild Spider Monkeys, zip lined across an alligator inhabited lagoon, canoed across said lagoon, made tortillas with a local Mayan family to accompany our local family made lunch at their endangered animal sanctuary and then finished the day by visiting a Mayan family run Cenote which we had all to ourselves!
What we loved about Mexico Kan Tours were their small group sizes (there were only 12 of us on the tour), delicious home made snacks in reusable containers including metal water bottles they lend you for the day filled with water from their thermal water dispenser and their absolutely incredible tour guides!
We take every chance when travelling to try and have the smallest impact on the environment, whilst also supporting the local businesses and these guys really go above and beyond to make that happen. To read more about this trip, take a look at the dedicated blog post I wrote on our experience here. We 100% recommend these guys and you will absolutely love it.
Where to Eat on a Budget in Tulum
For all of the budget food options you will find they are located in Tulum Town. Budget on around $5-$15 for dinner and a few extra dollars for drinks (more if you want cocktails). These restaurants below are the cheapest places we could find that offered really good food.
Bonita Burgers – On our first night in Tulum we hopped on our bikes following google maps on our phone to Bonita Burgers. We had read great reviews and seen it mentioned on a youtube video so thought we would try it out. It’s located down a side alley with beautiful alfresco seating, just the vibe we were looking for. We had heard they did $5 burgers but the prices had increased a few dollars since the reviews had been published. The burgers were delicious served with little individual pots of sauces, the cocktails were arty and tasty and the staff were super friendly. This is not the cheapest place we visited but it was totally worth it.
Antojitos La Chiapaneca – Now you may have heard about this place if you have done your research, but if you haven’t then be prepared to be wowed! This street side taco joint sells 50c tacos! Yep 50c tacos, and they are so delicious! This is where the locals eat and you know if it’s filled with locals then it’s going to be good. The portions are fantastic and you can drink cheap beer here too. Try the Al Pastor Tacos, they were superb. We ate here several times because it was so good and so cheap! The food is delivered quickly and so the turn around on the tables is super fast, if you find you have to wait for a table – trust me it’s worth the wait. It’s not the type of place to spend hours sitting eating dinner, but serves the best authentic Mexican food.
Pro Tip – Bring mosquito repellant, there are many.
Pizzeria Manglar -We really felt like eating pizza one night and found this place had great reviews on Trip Advisor. It also happened to be just 5 minutes cycle ride from our hotel. Set in a beautiful alfresco garden, Pizzeria Manglar is a diamond find! Run by Italians they serve the most delicious pizza and they are HUGE! What made this experience even better were the incredible staff. They are so friendly and genuine. We loved eating there. We were able to take our pizza home in a takeaway box as we couldn’t finish it all which made a great lunch for the next day. They even gave us free tequila shots when we finished! I would 100% recommend visiting here!
Burrito Amor– We cycled past this place many times in Tulum town and had heard about it on reviews online. We decided to try it out for a change of scene for lunch one day. They serve burritos and delicious smoothies. More expensive than the other places we had visited but the vibe is quite chilled. Service is fast and you can pop in just for a drink if you want. It’s located on the main road so super easy to spot.
7 Eleven – There are a few 7 Elevens and they are perfect places to pick up snacks and drinks. There is one located on the Hotel Zone main road. We popped in just to use the air con! A welcome escape from the humidity.
Where to Drink on a Budget in Tulum
La Chapu – Located in Tulum Town on the main strip, La Chapu serves $1 drinks and food. Portions of food are small and I wouldn’t recommend it for that. But if you are looking for some super cheap pre drinks you can drink 21 Pesos ($1) Mojitos, Beers and spirits.The bar is a little tacky and they aren’t the best mixed drinks but for that price who can complain.
I recommend purchasing your own drinks from the local shops and kicking back a few at your hotel. Relax by the pool, soak in the rays and just chill out.
Where to Stay on a Budget in Tulum
Tulum town is where you are going to find all of the budget accommodation. When I am talking budget accommodation I mean around $50 and under a night for 2 people. The Hotel Zone is where all of the high end hotels are located and is thus represented in the prices. There are cheap places to stay in the Hotel Zone but you will sacrifice quality for location. Besides, if you are coming to Tulum on a budget then you will most likely be wanting to eat in Tulum town for the best prices and that’s a 30 – 40 minute cycle ride away.
Pro Tips – Try and find properties with these services to make your stay more comfortable and your money go further:
A fridge – so you can keep all of your 7 Eleven beers nice and cold before you head out for the evening.
A Pool – Tulum can get pretty darn hot and when you are staying in Tulum Town you are far away from the beach and will inevitably want to cool down. This was a godsend!
Air Con – Because fans just don’t cut it.
Free Bikes – Believe it or not, you can get free bike rental at your hotel and thus can save on the daily bike rental fees. Since everyone seems to get around on a bike in Tulum as it’s quite spread out this is a no brainer. Just keep an eye out for a property that can do this. (That can save approx $20 per day for 2 people)
Free Breakfast – Sometimes choosing a hotel with breakfast included will cost more than a hotel without breakfast but the difference in cost is almost always worth it. One less meal to worry about and finding food in the morning is always a pain, especially when you are hungry.
Turquoise Petit Tulum – This is where we stayed and the reason is because it not only ticked all of the above boxes, but got fantastic reviews. The property is surrounded by super high walls, and inside is like a literal oasis. The boutique properties rooms are designed in a lovely modern way and is the perfect place to rest after a busy day sightseeing. We spent many hours relaxing by the pool and taking photos in the garden. The buffet breakfast is delicious, fresh fruit salad, yoghurt, granola, scrambled eggs, toast, jams, juices, hot drinks. The staff are lovely and it’s super quiet. This place cost us £33 per night for two of us including breakfast.
How to get Around Tulum
Bikes – This is the common mode of transport in Tulum. See above for info on hiring bikes in Tulum.
Taxis – These are readily available literally when ever you need them. They are constantly roaming the streets and you can just stand in the side streets and guarantee that one will drive past every few minutes. Taxis are fairly cheap and you arrange the prices prior to getting in the taxi. Negotiate as there are no set fees. We used them to get to some of the furthest sights because the idea of riding our bikes was unbearable in the humidity. Below are the prices that we paid:
From Tulum town to Gran Cenote – 150 Pesos. Approx $8
Gran Cenote to Tulum Ruins 200 Pesos. Approx $12.50
Tulum Ruins to Tulum Town 200 Pesos. Approx $12.50
You may be able to get these cheaper if you negotiate, we just couldn’t be bothered lol. Especially with the last two destinations, they have a monopoly on the market because there is no other way to leave unless you have your own transport. (ie car, walk or ride your bike).
Walking– Tulum is walkable if you like walking. If you are located in the Hotel Zone you can walk to all of the beaches in around an hour. But if you want to go from the Hotel Zone to Tulum Town it’s pretty far. Everyone hires bikes to avoid this.
Eco tours – If you are planning on doing some sightseeing I recommend using an Eco Tour company. This way when you travel you are minimising your impact on the environment. Eco Tours will take fewer guests on tour using smaller vehicles so your environmental footprint is smaller. We recommend Mexico Kan Tours. See above for the trip we went on.
Driving in Tulum– You can hire a car and drive around Tulum, the best idea is to pick one up from the airport and drive to Tulum. Be careful with car hire as parking in the Hotel Zone is very expensive. You can also hire a car very cheaply online prior to travelling but be careful, the car rental companies will add on mandatory insurances when you go to pick it up and it could end up costing you several hundred dollars extra.
How to get to Tulum
We travelled to Tulum from Cancun centre as we were staying in Cancun beforehand. The cheapest way to get to Tulum is to travel on the ADO bus. This is the public bus service that runs throughout this whole coast line. You can purchase your tickets online or at the bus depot. (busbud.com is a good website to check out the schedule) We bought ours when we arrived at the depot. The buses will stop in Playa Del Carmen where you might have to change. We got the bus departure time that was direct to Tulum Town so you didn’t need to change bus in Playa Del Carmen. Just check the schedule before you depart to see if it is direct or not. Once you arrive in Tulum Town it is super easy to get a taxi. The buses run from Cancun airport and from Cancun centre.
ADO Bus Fares:
ADO bus – Cancun centre to Tulum town 181 pesos per person.
ADO bus – Tulum town to Cancun airport 266 Pesos per person.
So there you have it – our Budget Tulum Travel Guide. If you are heading to Tulum soon let me know in the comments below. If you have been to Tulum and want to add any other tips for everyone post them in the comments below too.