Oh Tulum! I’ll be back again someday, I hope that’s soon. Tulum is one of the top beach destinations in the world because of its pristine beach crystal clear water and white powder sand shoreline. What also makes Tulum special is the Mayan culture comprising its area. It is a win-win destination for a beach lover and history/culture enthusiasts like me. I enjoyed Tulum because for me it offers more of an organic coastal town experience than Cancun or Playa del Carmen, which are more commercialized. Most importantly. I enjoyed Tulum because I felt at home, for obvious reasons of being near the sea and for the tropical weather that reminds me of where I came from. That was what my entire Tulum trip all about, “beaching and learning”.
Tulum is located towards the south end of the Riviera Maya coastline district of Quintana Roo state of Mexico. To go here, it is either by flying to Cancun or to the island of Cozumel. I flew to Cancun than flying to Cozumel, as it is more accessible and easier to organize your travel logistic on your own and if you’re travelling alone.
Since Tulum is about 2 hours away from Cancun & an hour from Playa del Carmen, most available information around the web are mostly catered for all-inclusive vacations or party lounging by the beach. I must admit that there was a moment I thought that I won’t be able to wander around the town of Tulum like a local, but, good intentions won! Saying that, I made this blog to share my experience for someone like me who wants to experience Tulum in a different way, learning, loving, and understanding Tulum like a local but with some comfort for a tourist, after all you’re in a vacation .
Public transportation from and to the airport..(sort of).
From Cancun airport, it is possible and yes you can take a pullman bus going to Tulum safely via ADO bus. You can buy your ticket in advance online but make sure to check your flight schedule with their bus schedule. If you buy your ticket online, the price is in Mexican pesos but with a $ sign, so don’t be confused and panic. The website is easy to follow even if you don’t speak Spanish or if you want use any free translation tool available online for extra help. If you choose to buy your ticket upon arrival in Cancun, on your way out of the airport, just look for the red ADO booth to get your ticket. The booth is located in the middle along the line of rental car and tour booths, you can easily find it. Or, if you can’t find it you can still get the ticket in the designated ADO bus stop in the airport. That stop is located towards the end when you turn right upon exiting the the airport. There will be ADO staff in uniform that can assist you right outside the arrival area.
Now the bus, ADO has 2 types of trips going to Tulum or even going to Playa del Carmen. You can take the direct first class bus going Tulum, this bus is similar to the greyhound bus in the US, or Canada. WI-FI is also available on board. Now, if the direct trip to Tulum is already gone or full, you can take or even the ticket vendor will suggest this to you, take the trip that will stop at Playa del Carmen and from there you’ll change bus going to Tulum. This is a connecting bus trip provided by ADO that they arrange with their bus partner company. They will give you 2 tickets for this trip and make sure to keep them as you’ll need to present it to the next bus driver. For this trip, no worries as the bus transfer still happens at ADO bus terminal and both schedules are organized by them.
I experienced both trips and I’ll say the differences were, 1. the trip using a transfer with an ADO bus partner, the driver will pick up passengers along the way to Tulum while the first class trip is non-stop until you reach an ADO terminal on your way to your destination. 2. The bus of the ADO partner is smaller and a bit of an old model. Both trips will stop by at ADO Playa del Carmen station to drop off and pick-up passengers.
*Tip: Make sure not to crumple your connecting tickets as the driver might not accept your ticket if there’s a tear on it.
*Tip: If you are really on a tight budget, once you get out of the airport, there are colectivos that you can take to go to Tulum or Cancun. These colectivos are shuttle vans commonly used by locals, so don’t expect much comfort with your trip in colectivos. Also, before you reach the colectivos stop, be ready to be swarmed by tour operators offering you transportation service to go to Tulum, however, if you’ve decided to take the colectivo you can simply tell them and they’ll stop and will even lead you the way.
Place to stay in Tulum.
There are many luxury hotels & hostels with beachfront access located in Tulum beach. But, if you’re like me who wants to feel like being from Tulum, I’ll say book your hotel in Tulum town proper. Just bear in mind that from Tulum town center, the beach is about 15-20 minutes commute depending on your type of transportation. I chose being in the town proper not only because I don’t want to be treated as a full blown tourist but also I wanted to be near the ADO bus terminal for trips I’ll do while in Tulum and to see local events by the park during my stay.
*Tip: I booked a room in an apartment-hotel called Loto Tulum located in a residential area being developed with modern and upscale housing. My stay was awesome in Loto Tulum, it is like a cross between being a tourist and an expat resident. Nearby, there are small tiendas to buy some items to cook for yourself a meal and get freshly baked sweet bread in the morning through a guy in a bicycle honking selling pan dulce.
Bicycles, Colectivos and taxis in Tulum town.
I opted to stay in Tulum town proper, so I was able to take colectivos every time I wanted to spend my day in the beach. Meaning, I’m getting around like a local and go to Mayan ruins like a local. I enjoyed those time as I’m not being swarmed to get in to a tourist transportation and pay extra. Bicycles for rent are also available in town and even near my apartment, but since I’m not good at it, it was a no for me and even I’m good at it, it is still a no, simply because in my opinion it was so touristy to do it in Tulum.
*Tip: For colectivos to go to the beach, go to Parque Rotario (Rotary Park) right across the city hall, it is where the colectivos pick-up passengers and the last drop off point on your way back. The fare is just $12 (Mexican pesos) during my visit or ask other passengers for the fare not the driver directly. The driver tends to double the price once the learn you’re a tourist. To go to Tulum Ruins, take the colectivos right across ADO terminal, the fare is just $12 too. Taxi is an option too to get around the town proper for $30 and about $70-100 to go the beach or Tulum ruins depending on your negotiation skills in Spanish. If you wish to go to Chichen Itza, to some Cenotes or other Mayan sites, ADO also offer bus trip there and the bus ticket is way cheaper than a shuttle tour offered by tour agencies with the same level of comfort.
*Tip: If you choose to rent a car and will stay in a hotel in Tulum private beach club, make sure that your hotel has a parking space. The road going to the private beach club is narrow and not all hotels has parking, so it might be a challenge.
Accessing private beach clubs (winging it).
Of course there are public and private beaches in Tulum. Public beach is fine but you’ll prefer to be in the private beach because it has a is nicer vibe. Since it is a “private beach club” it is for those luxury beachfront hotels and restaurants. Well, you can still swim and spend time in the beach in this private beach club, by entering in any beachfront restaurants or coffee shops, it will be your own style on winging it to get in. Once you pass the restaurants or coffee shop to head towards the beach, you can start strolling the beautiful white sand shoreline of Tulum. I did this and enjoyed my winging it private beach pass. That’s when my Spanish became handy.
*Tip: Try to get in via Restaurante La Luna, Ohm Tulum, or thru bars like Eufemia. If you’re shy just to pass by well dine and grab some drinks then proceed to the beach. From there, you can walk a little further away from the restos and hotels towards the the private cabanas and you can enjoy your drinks under a coconut tree with maybe 2 or 3 tourists around.
The main thing that I realized about my trip to Tulum is that, I felt really safe the entire time I was there. And, I genuinely felt the warmth of its people that matches the beauty of its beaches and culture.
That’s it for now and I I hope I was able to give you more or less a 2 cents of idea of getting in and around Tulum.
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Con mucho amor,