Ultimate First Timer’s Travel Guide to Tulum

Tulum coastline with rocks and palms leading up to a white beach

By now you’ve almost certainly heard of Tulum for its amazing beaches, access to nearby cenotes, party scene, and seaside Mayan ruins. But what else do you need to know before you visit that beautiful beach town in Mexico? I’m going to help break down everything you need to know as a first timer to Tulum with all of these travel tips. There are lots of amazing things to do in Tulum, it can be overwhelming when starting to plan. So, I’ve put together this ultimate first timer’s travel guide to Tulum to help you get started!

What we’ll cover in this first timer’s travel guide to Tulum:

First Timer’s Travel Guide to Tulum

You’re likely asking yourself a lot of questions right now like “where do I even stay in Tulum?” or “how do I get around in Tulum?” and I’ll cover all of that and more for you in this guide full of Tulum travel tips!

Where to Stay

The first thing you need to know as a first timer to Tulum is how it’s laid out. Tulum is broken into, what I consider, three distinct areas:

Tulum Town (Pueblo)

  • Tulum Town feels much more authentically Mexican; significantly less touristy feeling, though it is still a tourist town so… grains of salt and whatnot
  • It’s where you’re going to get the best authentic food
  • Not walkable to the beach

Stay here if you want more of an authentic feel with good, cheap food. There are a good amount of Tulum town hotels, but there are also some incredible rentals on VRBO.

Hotel Zone (Zona Hotelera Tulum)

  • This is where all the Instagram-famous spots are; a very “aesthetic” appearance
  • Tons of hotels, restaurants, and beach clubs
    • As a note, I found beach clubs to be very expensive as they typically have a minimum spend, some of over $100
  • Only one road in and out, so often takes some time to get to/from

Stay here if you want to be near the beach clubs and Instagram vibes.

Beach Zone (National Park/Parque Nacional)

  • Still has hotels and beaches, but is just quieter than what I consider the real hotel zone
  • Located within Tulum National Park
  • Is down the road from the hotel zone, just farther north and on the road that leads you to the Mayan ruins

Stay here if you want the beach but not necessarily the party.

I stayed at both the Mi Amor Boutique Hotel and the Dreams Spa & Resort (for a wedding) and thoroughly enjoyed both but there are tons of options for your first time trip to Tulum.


How to Get to Tulum

There are plans for an airport to open in Tulum in the near future, but as of now you have to fly into Cancun then take a transfer to get to Tulum.

We booked a transfer via our hotel, which was super helpful. If you’re staying in a short term rental and cannot order transfer via a hotel or simply want to price shop, you can always get a taxi at the airport. However, if you’re like me and need to feel confident you’re booked and safe, I’d recommend booking a transfer beforehand.

How to Get Around Tulum

There are a few ways to navigate around Tulum, though some prove easier than others. Here are the four main ways to navigate around Tulum:

Type of TransitProsCons
Rent a car– Freedom to drive however far, where, and when you want

– Cheaper option for transit to/from popular Tulum-area destinations if you don’t like to take organized tours

– Storage
– Parking is a bit of a nightmare no matter where you go in Tulum

– I’ve heard enough stories from people I talk to about cops pulling over cars that are clearly rentals and pulling them over to demand money, and while this is probably decently rare, it is something to take note of
Taxis– You don’t have to worry about knowing your way around

– Readily available most places
– Surprisingly expensive

– No storage
Rent a scooter– Freedom to explore Tulum where and when you want

– Inexpensive

– Tons of parking options

– Objectively, super fun
– Realistically limited to the Tulum area vs. being able to drive hours away for excursions

– Learning curve with driving a scooter

– Minimal storage

– No fun in the rain
Rent a bicycle– Freedom to explore Tulum where and when you want

– Inexpensive

– Tons of parking options
– No storage

– Limited by how far you want to bike

– No fun in the rain

When I was visiting Tulum for the first time, I did a combination of scooter rental and taxis. And my top Tulum travel tip is… rent a scooter! They’re a blast, they’re inexpensive (24 hours of scooter was the same cost as 2 cab rides), and you can zip around town super quickly and efficiently.

When to Visit Tulum

This first timer’s guide to Tulum is going to tell you to avoid hurricane and sargassum seasons, which combined are from the months of April to October.

The best time to visit Tulum is going to be between November and March. But honestly, that makes it a perfect winter getaway in my opinion!


How Long Should I Stay in Tulum?

For your first trip to Tulum, I’m going to go with 4 days. That way you can spend a day exploring each of the Tulum zones, plus a day or two extra for excursions!

Best Things to Do in Tulum

So aside from hitting up the beach zone, hotel zone, and Tulum Town, what else is there to do in/around Tulum? That answer is… a lot! The question is less about what to do in Tulum but what can you make time for on your first timer’s Tulum trip! Tulum is pretty well situated so that any first timer will be able to experience many of the fun and unique things to do in Tulum with relative ease.

Mayan Ruins

The Tulum area has its own very easily accessible set of Mayan ruins, in the Archeological Zone. These are likely the famous ones you’ve seen photos of during research, and they do wow in person as well. I believe these ruins are a must for any first timer’s guide to Tulum!

Some other ruins to consider visiting nearby include:

  • Muyil (~30 minutes away)
  • Coba (~50 minutes away)
  • Ek-Balaam (2 hours fraway)
  • Chichen Itza (2.5 hours away)

Organized tours for Mayan ruins near Tulum:

Visit the Cenotes

No “what to do in Tulum” list is complete without recommending some cenotes. As a first timer to Tulum, this was absolutely an highlight of my trip. I wrote a whole blog about the secret cenotes I visited, but whether you go to some of the most popular ones or the least popular ones, visiting the cenotes is a must do and is imperative for any Tulum first timer’s guide.

Tulum cenote tours to check out:

Explore Tulum Town

Another of my top Tulum travel tips is to spend a day exploring Tulum Town. My husband and I took a scooter and went on a taco tour, eating at some incredible taco joints recommended by our tour guides and some stellar reviews on Google, as well as checking out the cute streets and local shopping.

Some of the Tulum town restaurants I’d recommend are:

  • Tropi Taco
  • TacoBish
  • Taqueria La Chiapeneca
  • Taqueria Honorio
  • Burrito Amor

Party in the Hotel Zone

The hotel zone is home to some of the most famous beach clubs in the world, and also has additional restaurants and bars galore. If you want to get your drink on, you have tons of options from a beachfront cabana (expensive) to beers on the other side of the street. Whether you spend a day at a beach club or simply just explore the area, seeing this part of town is definitely something you should do on your first trip to Tulum.

We bar hopped quite a bit with a group and we had a great time exploring all the different bars and restaurants. Want a Tulum travel tip? We spent a good amount of time at Funky Geisha, a restaurant/bar in the hotel zone, and I’d highly recommend it. It was just as fun as a bar but not as crazy packed or busy, and still had great food.

Additional Tulum Tours/Activities to Consider

Still asking yourself “what to do in Tulum” and looking to maybe pack some additional activities into your Tulum first timer’s travel guide? Check out some of these:

What Kind of Travel is Tulum Good For?

All kinds! Your first time to Tulum can be any trip you’re comfortable with. Looking to travel to Tulum solo? Incredible, there are so many things to do! Wanting to travel with a group, great! With your partner, amazing, you’ll have a phenomenal time!

When it comes to solo travel, I would definitely consider Tulum to be a safe option. Once you understand the lay of the land, it’s super easy to navigate. There are lots of ways to get around as mentioned above, and there are so many things to do in Tulum someone can enjoy on their own. I felt very safe walking around all 3 zones of Tulum. I would say if you’re a solo traveler going by yourself to one of the beach clubs to be smart regarding what drinks/etc. you take from people you don’t know (as always). But overall, yes I’d say if you’re a first timer to Tulum and planning to do it solo, you’ll feel good about your choice in visiting Tulum.

Tulum is pretty famous for group and couples trips (which I can confirm it is good for both), so I will put my stamp of approval on really any type of travel for this Tulum first timer’s travel guide.


Random Tulum Travel Tips You Should Know

  • Very little water is drinkable, so I’d recommend bringing a water bottle with a filter if you want to avoid buying plastic water bottles everywhere; I love this LARQ self-cleaning bottle and this Sawyer filtered bottle
  • You’ll want to switch over to pesos and will predominantly use those for spending, especially in Tulum town
  • There aren’t many functioning ATMs outside of Tulum town, so I would recommend making your cash exchange before arriving to Tulum
  • It’s very humid; I had a server talking about how she was from Mexico City and the hardest thing to get used to in Tulum was the fact that she’s always sweating so… take note of that when packing for your first timer’s trip to Tulum
  • There are multiple different types of police patrolling the streets and they’re heavily armed, so don’t be alarmed when you see what looks like the military rolling through town (for reference I only saw them in Tulum Town)
  • You will spend more money in the beach and hotel zones than in Tulum Town
  • Most places will not allow you to flush toilet paper/products, so you’ll need to get used to throwing any sanitary items (including toilet paper) into the trash next to the toilet

Is Tulum Too Touristy?

Tulum is definitely touristy if you stick to the beach and hotel zones, there’s no doubt about that. But for me, the best things to do in Tulum were those that got you out of that area. So my ultimate Tulum travel tip would be to explore beyond the hotel and beach zones, get out of the super touristy areas, and see more of what beautiful Mexico has to offer. I genuinely loved Tulum though, and would love to go back. I feel very content and satisfied with everything I did as a Tulum first timer, and it made me want to come back and visit again. I’ll have to make a Tulum travel guide for your second trip when that happens!

So all in all, yes, it’s touristy. Yes, parts of Tulum seem like they are being developed for Instagram. But that isn’t all of Tulum, and there’s so much more to explore beyond that.

Is Tulum Worth It?

I’d definitely say yes. The entire Yucatán Peninsula is stunning, and Tulum is a gorgeous little slice of that paradise. Whether you’re looking for adventurous and unique things to do or just to relax for a long weekend, Tulum has a little bit of everything for you to enjoy!


So there you have it, my ultimate first timer’s travel guide to Tulum! As always, please reach out with any questions, and definitely check out my Tulum Instagram highlights to get a more boots-on-the-ground view of my trip.

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