How NOT To See Tulum

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An easy day trip from Playa Del Carmen and just 15 minutes from Cancun, Tulum is currently one of the trendiest spots on the planet. The only Mayan city built on a coast; the ruins are an incredible mix of jungle, stone walls, and beautiful beaches. It’s a place to get a spot of culture when you need a break from lazing around the resorts and are itching to walk off the frozen cocktails. But getting there is not as straightforward as it may seem. There are actually two separate areas: the national park, which includes the ruins, and the town of Tulum, which are not especially close to each other.

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Your first plan of attack is to figure out which area you want to see – the historical park or the town. Since we were based at an all-inclusive resort without access to our own transportation, we simply said we wanted to go to Tulum, not realizing that could mean a number of things. We were at their mercy a bit for planning and getting around so we ended up at the ruins, which were cool to see but we would’ve preferred some more local culture and shopping opportunities (there were a few vendors and stalls in a small craft village there so not all was lost).

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Here are a few other things we wish we would have done differently: 

We booked a guided tour with the in-house agency at our resort, which they made seem like the only option (had I actually researched this on my own, we would’ve realized there are many ways to skin a cat). This required us to be on their schedule. We also ended up paying about $65 USD to drive us 15 minutes away, which really ended up being 30+ with all the stops to pickup passengers at other hotels. We could’ve gotten there much cheaper and quicker by simply hailing a cab or booking a colectivo (a shared passenger van).

I’m not a fan of group tours as you have to go at a pace suitable to the majority. The brief history lesson from our guide was interesting, but took twice as long for the group to meander through than we would have spent exploring on our own. To see the ruins on your own, an hour is more than enough time to allocate.

We also were not informed that there were free bikes we could use to get around (it is a bit of a hike) or that we could wear bathing suits as the beaches are open to the public (there are no facilities or towels, but it’s still a good way to cool off from the hot, hot heat).

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Things I Wish I Knew Beforehand:

  • The national park’s entrance fee is only 65 pesos (about $3 USD) so it’s much cheaper to see on your own. If you really want a guide, you can hire one right from the ticket window in a variety of languages.
  • There is an ATM there, but no vendors take credit cards so bring cash.
  • There are amazing photo opps everywhere, but the “Mayan people” charge about $20 to take a photo with them and a snake (a total rip-off when you see the quality of pictures).
  • It’s pretty touristy — there’s a Subway and a Starbucks on-site.
  • It is acceptable to negotiate with vendors.
  • It gets very hot – dress accordingly and bring plenty of water.

If you’re looking for other things to do in Tulum, check out this post.

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3 Comments

    1. I think the area is worth spending a weekend in, but you probably don’t need more than a day to see the ruins and the town. I wish I had more than one day to go to that pink lake that’s a three hour drive from there because Insta 🙂

    2. After staying in Playa del Carmen, after visiting Tulum and getting lost on highway 15 (it was a good thing) we ended renting a bungalow on highway 15..next time im only staying in this area..beaches were empty and cleaner than Playa.

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