This past March, my best friend Candace invited me to crash her family trip to Tulum for her birthday. Tulum is one of those places I'd always seen on Insta and dreamed of going to, so I was super excited at the chance - and I'd NEVER been to Mexico before (somehow I've been literally around the world and never gone to Mexico wtf). Needless to say, it was so, so magical and everything I'd hoped it would be. I fell in love with Mexico's vibrant culture, nature, and people. This little town is such a hidden gem, and it's truly one of those places everyone needs to visit.
I booked my ticket through Delta - the flight was Portland to LA to Cancun. Simple enough, and it was only $495 round trip (actually it was free for me cause ya girl had some Delta credit stacked up, but even if I'd paid for it, that's a steal for an international flight that far). It took about a day to get to Cancun, and once I got there we spent the night at a cute little hotel in the center of the city before venturing to Tulum the next day.
To get to Tulum from Cancun, there's a 2 hour bus ride which you can take from the Cancun Bus Terminal (or, from the airport, as we later learned). It cost roughly $20 USD, and the bus was pretty nice, air conditioned, and was full of tourists just like us. The buses are scheduled the same time every day, so you can also buy advance tickets for your return back to Cancun.
Where To Stay:
There are two main options when booking accommodations in Tulum - the beach, of course, and a new development called Aldea Zama. While the beach is ideal for relaxing and taking instas, most of the beachfront hotels do not have wifi and cost an arm and a leg. Aldea Zama however, is right down the street from the beach (it was roughly a 10 min drive every day), and all of these hotels are fancy AF apartment-style hotel suites with wifi, A/C, and private pools and they're way cheaper than beachfront accommodations. We stayed in an awesome hotel slash apartment-building-for-traveling-artists called Arthouse Tulum and it was literally one of my favorite hotels of all time. Gorgeously decorated, spacious, full of quirky art, and there was a whole jungle behind the hotel with a secret path to a giant hot tub and a massage/spa area. All of the staff working in our hotel spoke great English as well, and were able to give us recommendations and directions to tons of places.
Some popular beach hotels to consider are Azulik Tulum, Be Tulum, Una Vida Tulum and Nest Tulum. Again, these are always a little more spendy, but if you're looking to have a luxurious beach vacay nothing beats Tulum beaches. These are also way closer to the popular food spots and little markets. Some of the great hotels in the Aldea Zama area are Prana, KASA, and of course my number one recommendation, Arthouse!
What To See:
Most people go to Tulum to take a relaxing beach vacay, but since we're photographers, Candace and I planned out a whole ass itinerary of everything we wanted to see/do/shoot every day. We planned one activity for each day, and spent the rest of the day chilling at the beach or the hot tub at our hotel! One day we went swimming in the Grand Cenote, the next day we visited Ruinas De Mayas, the next day we wandered down the beach street and took a peek into Casa Malca, and the next day we beach-bar-hopped between some of the hottest spots in Tulum. Definitely recommend the cenotes - they're basically semi-exposed caves filled with fresh water. Amazing for swimming, seeing wildlife (there were BATS) and taking photos. Pro tip: go early to beat the afternoon rush! The ruins were also amazing - it's the remains of a Mayan city on a cliff overlooking the beach. I'd never seen anything like it! Again, going early is key here too because it does get super packed.
Where To Eat:
There's so much amazing local cuisine in Tulum. Almost everything is traditional Mexican with a bit of tropical/seafood flair. I had the best fish burrito of literally my entire 23 year long life at Burrito Amor. We got breakfast at both Matcha Mama and Raw Love Tulum, which are both acai bowl joints that cater to the plant-based nature of the food in Tulum. Both places are great but I definitely liked Matcha Mama better and they have the cutest outdoor seating space for photo ops. Candace had her birthday dinner at Gitano, which is one of Tulum's most upscale restaurants actually owned by two New Yorkers. The atmosphere is amazing (come before sunset for those fire IG pics) and the food was to die for - we had fresh tuna tostadas, shrimp ceviche, grilled avocados, pulled pork and local vegetables, guava cheesecake, etc. Some other places we loved were Mateo's Mexican Grill (touristy, but their happy hour is LIT and the food is so good), El Pez Nativo (stumbled across this place on a day where everything else was closed, we had lobster tacos that changed us as people), and El Sudaca (empanada stand with the most wonderful staff and some fire empanadas).
Beach Club Hacks:
Beach areas in Tulum are kind of sectioned off by the hotels and restaurants that line the coast. At some hotels, only guests can access their portion of the beach, but there are several hotels that will just charge a small fee or ask you to buy a drink each hour you stay at their beach. A lot of the inland hotels also have deals with beach clubs though that let their guests go to a certain one for free, so be sure to ask about that at your hotel. Arthouse had a deal with a beachfront restaurant and juice bar called Posada Margherita, so we spent a lot of time lounging in the cabanas there since it was free! Our other fave was Coco Tulum - the drinks and food were bomb and it was such an instagrammable beach. See below for beach club photos :)
Hope these tips inspire some of you guys to travel to Tulum or the surrounding area in Quintana Roo! Seriously one of the best vacation spots. I also felt incredibly safe as an American woman, and we had literally no issues regarding language barriers or cultural situations. The locals in Tulum are so nice and really helpful to tourists, so don't be afraid to ask your cab driver or server for recommendations. :)