Tulum was a D.R.E.A.M. Plain and simple. Being somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for years that has recently become very popular, I was afraid it might disappoint, but I knew I had to find out for myself. So when it came time for booking one last trip of 2017, I knew it would be just the place. Nothing better than ringing in a new year with beach days and endless sunshine.
Well friends, I am here to tell you: it. did. not. disappoint.
Breaking down what we did on our weekend in Tulum as well as a list of the restaurants we have on our list for next time (because Tulum is a foodie paradise and we bookmarked way more places than we could possibly visit in two days).
As an “end of the year” trip we really wanted this to be a relaxing and rejuvenating vacation; a kickstart to a great year ahead. Therefore, it was important that we chill and spend some uninterrupted time with a book on the beach. However, I also knew that if we didn’t make it to a cenote while in Tulum I would never forgive myself. If you don’t know, cenotes are natural sinkholes that expose fresh water and they are only found in the Yucatán peninsula. Since they are native to the area, this was our only chance to visit one!
Based on the research we did, Matt and I each had an idea of which cenote we wanted to visit (there are tons in the area). Unfortunately, they weren’t the same ones. So we decided to compromise and visit both!
Matt’s choice was one of the more popular in the area, very close to town and great reviews: Gran Cenote. My choice on the other hand was a bit of a drive and then a 15 minute walk on a gravel road: Cenote Nicte-Ha. But from what I had read, we could expect it to be more remote and much less crowded so I was sold.
In the end, both were fantastic. Gran Cenote was definitely more crowded (we got there soon after it opened and there were already around 20 people there and by the time we left that number had doubled), but had great caves you could swim through and was semi-covered which gave it an otherworldly feel.
However, IMHO the clear winner was definitely Cenote Nicte-Ha for a handful of reasons: we were the only people there so we had the entire place to ourselves for an hour (as we were leaving another group came in but that was it), it had a rock ledge 10 feet in the air that you could jump off right into the clear turquoise water, and the shape of the cenote was more open which allowed for easier swimming. Plus they provided free lifevests which was great since I’m pretty sure toddlers swim better than me (they were available for rent at Gran Cenote but I’m cheap).
Cenote hopping worked us up quite the appetite so we headed back into town for… tacos. Duh. Hashtag when in Mexico. The street tacos at Taquería Honorio right in the heart of downtown Tulum City were unreal. The pork was definitely the best and the fact that they were like 50 cents each made them even better.
As we walked off our tacos down the main drag, we passed a coffee shop advertising iced coffee. It’s always a pleasant surprise when a foreign country has iced coffee so we made a pitstop real fast. Coffee in hand, we continued to stroll through town, popping into shops along the way, before heading back to the hotel real fast to change before venturing to the beach.
Sidenote/soapbox: There are essentially two parts of Tulum – Tulum City and Tulum Beach. When people talk about going to “Tulum” they are almost always talking about Tulum Beach.
The beach is over five miles of white sand and clear turquoise waters. It is lined with boutique hotel after boutique hotel, each completely unique and a treasure trove for anyone interested in interior design.
On the other side of the hotels is one main road (it can get fairly clogged up because it’s the only way to and from the beach) and on the opposite side of the street is the jungle. This street is where you will find all the shops and restaurants; you will hear people refer to places as being “on the beach side” and “on the jungle side”.
Then you have the city. The city is a couple miles inland from the beach, just a ten minute cab ride (prices vary on the driver but cost us around $3-5) or a quick bike ride if you choose to rent (I wish we had but ran out of time). The city is more what you expect of Mexico – kind of gritty, cheap eats, un-fancy hotel options, and hostels. It’s definitely not everybody’s cup of tea, especially when on vacation, but I always love an authentic experience so I didn’t mind it one bit!
If you’re looking to go to Tulum and are finding the hotel prices to be a deterrent (yes they’re beautiful, but you pay for it – they are EXPENSIVE), you should definitely do what we did and look into staying in the city and just paying to cab to the beach each day. You will say hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars this way!
Most of the resorts on the beach will allow you to hang out on their daybeds and lay on their beach if you purchase something from their restaurant or beach-side service. Or you can do like we did: bring your own towels and walk straight on to the beach like you own the place, never buy anything and lay right by the water all day long without it ever being an issue!
We spent the afternoon soaking up the sun, reading books, and taking extended swim breaks. The water was the perfect temperature and crystal clear!
As the sun started to go down, we headed to Om for 2-for-1 happy hour and enjoyed mojitos as the sun set (though note to self: the sun rises on the beach side so the actual sunset was behind us – whoops, still beautiful as the sky changed colors though). We chatted about our favorite parts of the day and threw around dinner ideas. Ultimately, we settled on seafood. How could we not while right by the water?!
We popped across the street to the jungle side for dinner at Simple. With fresh fish galore, it was the perfect end to our first day in Mexico. Simple is infamous for it’s “Am I dreaming?” neon sign and it really seemed so fitting. The day had been a complete dream!
One thing I love about traveling on weekends is going to Mass in different cities and countries. Seeing how different parishes celebrate gives an authentic peek into the community life. So with that said, we started the morning at Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe right in the heart of Tulum city.
(PSA: For any fellow Catholic travelers, we always use the site Mass Times – it is a complete lifesaver!)
Afterwards, we walked around the main street in Tulum city again like we had the day and settled for some tacos and tortas from one of the many vendor carts set up along the road (sounds sketchy as I write it out haha) before heading back to our hotel to pack up for the day. Our big activity for day two was the Tulum ruins; we wanted to be there as soon as possible because we had heard it could get crazy busy.
Update: it DOES in fact get crazy busy. We didn’t end up being as early as we had hoped and the place was packed. If you are planning a visit, be sure to get there before it opens so you can get in right away.
Though crowded, the ruins were honestly way more impressive than I had expected. The site was much larger than I had anticipated, with more structures than I had seen in pictures. Not only that but the views were INCREDIBLE. Not gonna lie, we aren’t the best at museums/tour sites because we get antsy, so we didn’t spend near as much time here as we could have but I highly recommend it if you are ever in Tulum. It is crazy to think how long those buildings have been standing and to picture what life may have looked like at the time.
From there we headed back to the beach where we spent the rest of our day before we had to head back to the good ole U S of A. We started with lunch at Be Tulum which I had found through Brunch on Chestnut. I would highly recommend it, but with mixed reviews. Here’s the thing: the hotel itself is absolutely impeccably designed, it’s an interior lover’s heaven. On top of that, the ceviche was not just the best ceviche I’ve ever had, but quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my whole entire twenty six years of life. I would fly back to Tulum just to order that again!
So why “mixed reviews”? Because we ordered two other dishes and while the fish tacos were okay, they had a weird flavor with peanut stuff going on that we didn’t care for, and the beef sandwich was so bland and gross that we didn’t even eat it (which felt wasteful). So yeah, I don’t know if we just went on a bad day or what, but I would undoubtedly recommend heading there for a drink and some ceviche (which was way more filling than I was expecting).
Once we had our fill, we strolled along the main road window shopping and popping into various stores that piqued
our my interest. After dipping into some shops, we stopped for gelato and sorbet at Origami. The lemon basil flavor was to die for – could have done with 3 more scoops in the heat!
We ended the day with some more beach time, laying out and walking all up and down the beach soaking in the last of our vacation. It was truly the best way to bid farewell to 2017 and usher in the new year. I’m already trying to figure out when we can go back which I’m taking as a good sign!
Travel tips for a trip to Tulum
- Bring bug spray. The weather was very mild when we visited so there were hardly any mosquitos. However, we played it safe and sprayed ourselves every day. Since it is located in the jungle, I’ve heard it can become quite the problem in the warmer months. A lot of restaurants have extra spray at the bar if you forget.
- Food prices on Tulum beach are similar to the US. I had thought “it’s Mexico, food will be cheap!” and was sadly mistaken. Food anywhere on the beach is comparable to the US. If you’re looking for cheap eats, head in to the city – that’s where you’ll find the best prices!
- A lot of hotels both in the city and on the beach don’t have hot water. We had hot water the first morning but after that it was cold showers only. I’ve heard many stories of people who pay to stay at the pricey hotels on the beach that have the same experience.
- In fact, a lot of hotels on the beach don’t have what we are used to as “common amenities”. Think air conditioning, wifi, regular water (quite a few have salt water showers). Tulum is meant to be a retreat from the world, a true get-away. That means that a lot of hotels are more “natural” which is delightful unless you aren’t expecting it. So be sure to do your research before making any final bookings.
Restaurants on our list for next time
Hartwood – everyone’s #1 recommendation – make reservations well in advance!
El Rincon Chiapaneco
El Camello Junior
Antojitos La Chiapaneca