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Why Go to Tulum

In the past decade, Tulum has grown into a coveted vacation for luxury travelers; however, it still tempts bargain hunters who remember when this tucked-away jewel of Mexico's east coast was more of a secluded getaway. Here, you'll find some of the best-preserved Mayan ruins in the Western Hemisphere, ruins that have the cerulean waters of the Caribbean Sea as a backdrop. And there are other out-of-this-world wonders, including several cenotes (or underground water-filled caverns) and bioreserves. As an added plus: Tulum continues to be the tiny, quiet alternative to the other Riviera Maya resort areas during the spring break season.

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What You Need to Know

  • The term "Pueblo" is a bit of a stretch The town center of Tulum Pueblo is quite a bit smaller than you might think it would be. Once you've adjusted your expectations, you can appreciate that area's discounted lodging and food.
  • The term "ruins" only applies to the temples Tulum's bread and butter was and is the archaeological zones, and they're surrounded by commercial-palooza. Don't be surprised by the fast-food joints, museums and bookshops that are just next door. 

How to Save Money in Tulum

  • Skip the luxe resort treatments As nice as the "Aloe Vera Wrap" or "Mayan Chocolate Massage" sound, they aren't going to come cheap. Instead, consider how relaxing the (free) soft sugary sand and lapping waves can be.
  • Pack a beach bag Visiting the Playa Paraíso beach is free, but enjoying the water sports, the hammocks and ordering any food there is not. You'll cut costs significantly by bringing a snack, a beach towel and your own Frisbee.
  • Enjoy the freebies Tulum is small, so instead of choosing a hotel by location, weigh their incentives. Some of the ritziest spots offer complimentary bottles of wine, a free room upgrade and up to $100 off of spa services. 

Culture & Customs

The Riviera Maya is better known as a North American getaway spot than a bastion of traditional Mexican culture. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. For a taste of local flair, try dining at a local Mexican eatery or exploring Tulum's small downtown. It will be both helpful and respectful to know some basic Spanish vocabulary, and at the very least to say please (por favor) and thank you (gracias).

There are a few things to be aware of before you go, though.

Mexico is typically more conservative than some other beach destinations. Nude bathing is not allowed, but some female sunbathers (predominantly European) are known to go topless in the area. In general, the dress code remains similar to most beaches in the United States.

Many Tulum locals keep an afternoon siesta, typically starting around noon or 1 p.m., to relax during the hottest part of the day. It's typical for local stores to close during the siesta and reopen in the mid-afternoon.

Tulum can get very crowded with international tourists and local vendors. It is common for vendors to approach tourists on the street or beach with several wares in tow. This can annoy many travelers, but politely say "no, gracias" and they will move on.

What to Eat

Many new restaurants have opened their doors in Tulum's downtown area in the past few years, including several excellent kitchens that serve traditional Mexican food. So be sure to taste the local fare, whether at an expensive Mexican restaurant or a local taqueria. For a memorable meal, recent visitors highly recommend dining at Kitchen Table, and for casual beachside fare, Ziggy's is not to be missed. Popular Mexican food in Tulum includes chicken, beef and fish tacos, fajitas and even hamburgers. Several restaurants serve ceviche, a popular dish in the area that contains an assortment of finfish and shellfish. Other popular dishes include lobster and shrimp, cooked with spicy Mexican seasoning.

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Safety

While Mexico has experienced a surge in drug-related violence, Tulum has remained a relatively safe travel destination. Travelers should exercise common sense when traveling in the downtown area:  for example, don't walk around alone at night. If you're staying in a beachside cabana, be sure to lock your doors. Don't walk on isolated areas of the beach at night. Driving during the daytime is relatively safe, but take caution when driving at night, as some foreign travelers have experienced robbery.

You should also not drink the tap water in Tulum.  To avoid unnecessary illness, always make sure your bottled water is sealed, your ice has been tested for purity and your food has been prepared with bottled water.

Getting Around Tulum

The best way to get around Tulum is by taxi. You can walk or bike to the beaches, to the ruins and to Tulum Pueblo, but there's a chance of overexerting yourself. You can rent a car in Cancún or Playa del Carmen, but it is not recommended because of reported auto crimes. Buses aren't a viable option either – the only ones available are the shuttles that take vacationers to and from the other Riviera Maya areas, and to and from the airport in Cancún.

Privately owned buses travel the difference between Tulum and the rest of Riviera Maya, as do colectivos, or chauffeured white vans. To visit the island of Cozumel, you can take the bus to Playa del Carmen, followed by a ferry ride.

Keep in mind, there is no airport in Tulum, so you'll need to fly to a neighboring airport and travel from there. The closest airports to Tulum are the Cancún International Airport (CUN), which is about 73 miles north, and Cozumel International Airport (CZM), which is about 51 miles northeast. However because Cozumel is an island, you'll have to take a ferry from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen and arrange for transportation from there to Tulum.

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Entry & Exit Requirements

Bring an up-to-date passport with you to Mexico, and expect to be issued a Mexican Tourist Permit when you arrive. Its cost is absorbed into your plane ticket, but you'll need to hold onto that card and present it upon departure. For more information on entry and exit requirements, visit the U.S. State Department's website .

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