Tulum Mexico, Top 10 Things to Do and Cost of Living

Tulum, Mexico: Top 10 things to do and money-saving tricks and the cost of living cheap in paradise.

I had never stayed in Tulum before.  I normally stay in nearby (50 km) Playa Del Carmen and take day trips to the Tulum Ruins.  Next time I come, I’ll spend more time in Tulum and less time in Playa Del Carmen.  Tulum is one of my favorite places because of a unique combination of White Sand Beaches, Hippy-Art Vibe, Scuba Adventures, Cozumel, Chichen Itza, Authentic Mexican Experience, Cenotes, and Excellent food.  

White Sand Beaches:  I will let the pictures in the video accompanying this, speak for themselves.   

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Authentic Mexican Experience:  Tulum is really at least two worlds, a Beach Scene and an Authentic Mexican Experience.  The Beach Scene is mostly high-end tourism ($200/night hotels) where people stay for a week and then go home.  The Beach Scene does have some lower cost choices like camping but the demand is high so you may need to book a year in advance.  Luckily, there is also Tulum downtown, which is just a 2 km bike ride away from the Beach Scene.  The bike ride is down a concrete bicycle path lined with palm trees.  Tulum downtown is an Authentic Mexican Experience because it feels like you are living in a small Mexican Village which is quite charming.  Rent a bicycle if it is not included with your accommodations because you will want to be able to pop over to the beach when desired and explore the quaint Mexican village also.  

Hippies and Digital Nomads like to stay in places for weeks or months, so the beach scene at $200/night is not really workable.  You will find a livable hippy-art vibe in Tulum downtown at prices that make sense.  Because you are staying longer, you will want to make friends and connections which is almost impossible when people are coming and going so fast at the Beach Scene (traditional vacationers).

Hippy-Art Vibe:  The Beach Scene does have a mini hippy-art vibe but the prices are not for hippies.  The real hippies and nomads are mostly living the Mexican Experience (downtown Tulum)  That is where you will find good quality food, live music, reasonable accommodations, and a walkable hippie-chic feel all at affordable prices.  Just walk or bike around at night and you will see what I mean.  The Mexican Experience combined with the Hippy-Art Vibe make for a good time, especially when you can pop over to the beach and kite surf, body surf, or join a full moon party as circumstances arise.

Scuba Adventures:  2 reef dives and 4 cave dives with equipment is less than $350.  2 reef dives plus two cenotes dives including equipment is about $220.  Prices vary based upon season, but walking into a few of the many dive centers may provide even lower rates.  It is getting harder every year in Mexico to dive without a showing certification.  It used to be called a resort dive.  

Tulum Ruins:  You can walk or ride your bike the few kilometers north (your left hand is north when you face the beach) from Tulum downtown to the Tulum Ruins.  You can also take a collectivo to the ruins for $1.00.  Just get out of the collectivo when you see the sign for the Tulum ruins. A collectivo is a white mini-van that says “Collectivo” on the front.  You can also take a Taxi to the Ruins for about $8 one way.  Go first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds or go in the hottest part of the day when tourists are hiding under umbrellas.  Bring your sun block.  

Tulum Beaches:  This is the Beach Scene.  You can make a full day of your trip to Tulum Ruins by walking south out to the Tulum Beaches.  Once you are done with the Tulum Ruins, exit the ruins on the south side (your right hand is south when you face the beach).  You will walk less than a kilometer after you exit the ruins gate.  You will see a dirt road on your left that goes to the beach.  That will take you to the most beautiful beach in the world.  You will be hungry and thirsty (if you forgot water and a granola bar) but don’t eat at the first restaurant on the right when you see the beach.  They are land pirates.  The food sucks, and they add insult to injury with a 20% mandatory tip.  Walk just another 200 meters south along the white sand beach and the real food and drink choices will unfold, one after another.  Bring your sunblock and your dreams.  When your battery is dead (from all the pictures of this beach (you will brag about for years)) and your pockets are empty from drinking $6 Margaritas or $3 Beers, catch a taxi back to Tulum for about $6.  

Cozumel:  Catch a ferry to Cozumel for the day.  Cozumel city used to be a dump, honestly.  I used to go over there just to rent a scooter and drive around looking at Mayan Ruins and swim naked on the deserted east side beaches on the island.  But downtown Cozumel (where the ferry drops you) now is now beautiful.  It was known just for diving and all inclusive resorts outside of town, but now the town itself is an attraction.  Cozumel has always been one of the best dive sites in the world.  But now Cozumel is a charming village.  From Tulum downtown, take the ADO bus to Playa Del Carmen, for $6 per person, and then walk from the ADO bus stop in Playa to the ferry.  Ask anyone.  Catch the ferry to Cozumel for about $20 per person round trip.    It is about 3 blocks south, and one block east from the ADO bus station.  Ask when the last ADO bus returns to Tulum and when the last ferry returns to Playa so you don’t miss your last ride home.  The bus to Playa is about 40 minutes each way, and the ferry to Cozumel is about 20 minutes each way.  Upon arrival in Cozumel, rent a scooter for about $20 for the day (includes insurance) and do the loop around the island stopping when you see anything interesting.  Just follow the road as it curves along the beach.  Clockwise or counterclockwise around the island, it is impossible to get lost.  The round trip is less than an hour but you are likely to find fun stuff along the way and take another gazillion Instagram pics.

Chichen Itza:  You will see many travel excursions to Chichen Itza.  Go.  Make sure to get one that includes a trip to a cenote and a colonial town (both worth your time).  The bus, lunch, and an english speaking guide will cost about $45 per person for everything.  Don’t buy any add-ons like a drink or a light breakfast for an extra $10 per person.  If you are a foodie, just eat breakfast before you leave and bring snacks (chips, nuts, water from the 7-11 or OXXO stores) and a bottle of wine for the bus ride home.  It is an extremely long day, but well worth seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  Would you skip the pyramids if you flew to Egypt?  Do you ever laugh when you read how Columbus discovered the new world, when millions of people lived here at the time?

Xcaret:  If you go to a few Cenotes, and the Tulum Ruins, you should skip this.  Why do I say that?  It is a water park with beautiful landscaping and a beautiful cenote river which you can find in many cenotes for much cheaper around Tulum.  There are also some animals in Xcaret forced to live in captivity, a zoo.  A nice zoo, but why pay someone to imprison animals?  Just go see a few cenotes and see a few wild animals that are in a cenote you are visiting.  There are a few cool shows at night in Xcaret about Mexican history, and I love Mexico, so I only sadly recommend not going to Xcaret.  

Cenotes: A cenote is a natural sink hole or underground river that has developed naturally over millions of years.  You can take amazing pictures, swim in many of them, and scuba dive in some of them.  Do this.  Just google and read about the various cenotes near you and go for it.  I mentioned cenotes in my suggestion for a trip to Chichen Itza, so you get to see one for sure.  You can also see the “Gran Cenote” which is a $5 taxi from Tulum downtown, plus an entry fee to Gran Cenote is $10 per person.

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Excellent Food:  We ate many meals while in Tulum, but I will only mention places where I came away impressed.  

  1.     Ki’bok Cafe Gourmet:  Great coffee and breakfast place.  
  2.     Antojito La Chiapaneca, High Quality, Low Priced, Authentic Mexican Food.  They have vegetarian tacos and tostadas for $0.50.  They also have pork, beef, and chicken tacos and tostadas for $0.60.  3 or 4 of these and you are full for $2.00
  3.     La Hoja Verde, Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurant.  
  4.     Roraima Burgers,  They have gourmet vegan burgers, beef burgers, chicken burgers, and french fries.  Burgers are about $6 and fries are about $2.   
  5.     Batey Mojito Bar: Great place to try local special drinks and listen to live music in the evenings.  They also have some great Veggie and Non-Veggie Snacks and some interesting characters circulating in and out of there.  The drinks are top notch, but not cheap $4 to $8.  You can settle for a beer for about $2 though.   
  6.   Hotel Flor Juice Bar:  Some really yummy juices if you are feeling a juice fast after too much booze, or you need to drop a few pounds.  
  7.    Taqueria La Eufemia: This is a beach side relatively cheap and funky fun hang out where you can listen to great funk and R&B music while you drink $2 beers and eat cheap decent food.
  8.     La Zebra: A beach side bar in along Tulum Beach that has some cool beds and grounded boats you can relax in while you have a $3 beer and eat some amazing Nachos.

Airport Transfers to Tulum:  A taxi will cost you in the range of $60 to $120 for the 100 minute ride to your accommodations.  An an airconditioned ADO bus will cost $12 per person.  Just look for the the “ADO” sign in red in the baggage claim area.  After buying your tickets, ask where to board your bus.  Buses leave a few times per hour.  The taxi from the ADO bus station in Tulum to your accommodations will be about $5.00

Accommodations: While in Tulum, we stayed in a charming small apartment that I found on Airbnb.  It cost about $40 per night utilities with AC included.  Very nice people and reasonable these days for Tulum.  It included a swimming pool.  Normally I would suggest the place I stayed, but the kitchen here was not well equipped, the Internet was marginal, and it was a bit far from the Tulum downtown Hippie-Art Vibe.  Try to stay within 500 meters of any of the restaurants listed above.

Exercise:  I was only here for a week but did enjoy running around the Tulum and taking pictures of interesting street art.  There is a Jungle Gym right on the beach if you feel like pumping some iron.

Alcohol:  The below cost of living prices do not include alcohol.  Beer is $0.75 in stores, $2 in local restaurants, and $3 to $4 in tourist places.  A drinkable bottle of wine is about $10 in stores but you can pay much more in restaurants.  Drinks are about $6 in restaurants.  

Walkability:  Downtown Tulum is walkable in the interesting areas.  But you will need a bicycle to go to and from the beach or explore more widely.  You will also need a bike to explore the Beach Scene since it is so long and spread out.  I suppose you could rent a car or flag a taxi multiple times a day, but half the fun is exploring every bit of the beach area and it is hard to do in a taxi.  

Conclusions:  Next time I return to this area of Mexico, I will spend more time in Tulum, Puerto Morelos or Cozumel and less time in Playa Del Carmen.  Playa Del Carmen has become a little too much like Cancun.  Look for my post on Playa Del Carmen.  If you are curious what a traditional Mexican fishing village looks like, take to ADO bus from Tulum to Puertos Morelos for about $10.  The taxi to the beach from where the bus drops you in Puerto Morelos is about $6.00.   

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Have an amazing day!  Below are example costs of living in Tulum, Mexico:

Cost of Living, Tulum, Mexico: Monthly Multiplier
Expense Cost Low Medium High
Airbnb (1 Bedroom Apt) $45.00 0 14 30
Moderate Hotel $40.00 0 12 0
Backpacker Hostel $10.00 30 4 0
High End Restaurant $15.00 1 4 8
Local Restaurant $3.00 30 44 48
Food Cart $2.00 30 12 4
Subway/Train/Metro $1.00 20 26 8
Bus $1.00 20 10 0
Taxi $4.00 6 10 20
Total Per Month $526 $812 $1710
Total Per Day $18 $27 $57

I am not offering you any of the above prices.  These are just my notes and estimates from the time of my visit and this post.  Your costs will likely be drastically different if significant inflation or deflation occurs or the market changes after this post.  I will not update these numbers until I am on the ground again here, if ever.

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