When I started this blog to focus on emerging destinations, I would tell anyone who would listen that Tulum beach was a seriously underrated hidden gem.
Well, it’s 2021 and Tulum definitely ain’t a secret anymore.
In fact, Tulum has gone from undiscovered to over-touristed in record time. These days the crowds are so packed at the Tulum ruins that it can be hard to even take a nice photo. Not a great experience, especially during the era of covid 19.
Thankfully, it is still possible to enjoy the best of Tulum without the crowds. You just have to know where to look – and I’ll tell you in this “Insider’s Guide” to Tulum beach. We’ll cover the best beaches, the best best clubs, the best Tulum hotels, and lots of insider secrets the other tourists won’t know about. I’ve spent months traveling in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula – in fact I’m based just up the road in Playa del Carmen. I love writing epic guides like this to help others experience the secrets of the Mayan Riviera.
This guide is long, so click this table of contents to jump around:
- ✈️ Is Tulum (still) worth visiting?
- 🏖️ Best beaches
- 🌴 Best beach clubs
- 🛏️ Top Hotels
- 🤸 Things to do
- ❓ FAQs
⚠ IMPORTANT TIP FOR USA TRAVELERS TO MEXICO IN 2021 ⚠
Covid tests are now mandatory to fly back to the USA. Even vaccinated travelers can test positive, and if you do you’ll put into expensive mandated quarantine instead of flying home (just read the horror stories in this USA Today article). My top Mexico travel tip is to always make a backup plan for quarantine and consider travel insurance. While not legally required yet, I feel like I’d be tempting fate without it during a pandemic. Plus, it’s actually pretty cheap! World Nomads is my personal go-to during covid times. But do your own research and stay safe out there!
Is Tulum Beach Still Worth Visiting?
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I’m going to be honest with you: Tulum isn’t what it used to be. A few years ago, I made this short one-minute video to explain why Tulum beach is one of the top things to do in Mexico. A lot has changed since then:
Unfortunately, Tulum has sort of “jumped the shark” in recent years, with so many tourists coming in and development taking over the town. That’s why these days I tend to encourage travelers to the Yucatan to go to more authentic destinations like Bacalar or Valladolid instead.
But that doesn’t mean you have to scrap your trip to Tulum. Tulum beach is gorgeous and still a world class destination, and it’s not always crowded if you know where to look. So, to help you plan your trip, let’s dive into my best travel tips for how to maximize your time in Tulum beach:
The Best Beaches in Tulum
Although there are a few sub-beaches within the north one, Tulum town itself really only has two large beaches: the north playas (or “beaches,” in Spanish) and the south playa. They are distinguished when the single road to the beaches from Tulum town splits at a roundabout.
Getting to either beach is straightforward: head right for the south beach, and left for the north beaches.
But what’s the best beach in Tulum?
Well, the answer is going to depend on what kind of beach bum you are. So break down the pros and cons of the north and south beaches to help you choose:
North Beaches (Playa Ruinas, Playa Paraiso, & Las Palmas)
The north beach in Tulum is probably one of the nicest public beaches I’ve been to in the world.
Technically speaking, there three different beaches (although they all sort of blend together):
- Las Palmas beach at the southern end,
- Playa Paraiso (Paradise Beach) in the middle, and
- Playa Ruinas at the north near the Tulum ruins.
The latter has stunningly beautiful blue water and Mayan ruins on a cliff overlooking the beach at the far north end! All three have gorgeous white sand.
Note that the far north end under the ruins is roped off from tourists as a turtle nesting ground.
Unlike the south beach, Tulum’s north beaches have been shielded from too much development, plus the beachfront is wider, meaning there is a lot more open sand for laying out a towel and chilling away from the beach club crowd.
Pros of Tulum’s North Beaches:
- Easy public beach access & parking
- Cheaper bars
- Mayan ruins
- Snorkeling and boat rides on offer
- Open space for laying out a towel
Cons of Tulum’s North Beaches:
- Can be more crowded, especially in high season
- Fewer beach chairs and cabanas
South Tulum Beach (“South Playa”)
Tulum’s south beach is home to phalanx of luxury Riviera Maya hotels and beach clubs. It’s hard to access the beach unless you go through one of the hotels in Tulum, as the resorts attempt to preserve some sense of exclusivity for their guests.
Nonetheless, Tulum’s south beach is very much worth a visit in its own right. The sand is still excellent and the water beautiful, although in my opinion not quite as beautiful as the north Tulum beaches.
You can stay in a botique Tulum hotel or beach resort here or rent a day bed at a beach club (see the section below for some suggestions on that front).
Pros of Tulum’s South Beaches:
- Gorgeous white sand
- Less crowded
- Lots of great beach clubs
Cons of Tulum’s South Beaches:
- Little to no public access
- Poor public parking
- Cabana and beach club fees are pricey
Beaches Near Tulum
There are some additional beaches just outside of Tulum that are also worth checking out if you have the time.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Probably the most exciting beaches, there are many secluded spots in this huge reserve south of Tulum. The entrance to this protected area is just beyond the southern tip of Tulum’s south beach.
Home to thousands of species of flora and fauna (I saw dolphins and turtles on my visit!), the biosphere also has some wild and secluded beaches -with some of the most stunningly clear water I’ve seen anywhere outside of Southeast Asia! .
Though not cheap, the easiest way to visit Sian Ka’an from Tulum is as a part of a tour (I went through Yucatan Travel and loved my experience with them). If on a budget, this is one of the more affordable tour options.
You can also visit the reserve independently, but you’ll need a Jeep or a 4×4 to clear the road. If renting, be careful of scams offering $1 rentals (they later try to tack on tons of ‘mandatory’ fees and insurance). That’s why we suggest using Discover Car Hire to pre-book your Jeep.
Another option if you have extra time in Tulum and want to venture out further is to visit Akamal, another popular beach destination just 30 minutes north of Tulum.
You’ll find stunningly clear water and the opportunity to swim with sea turtles (best done early in the morning).
If you prefer, you can even opt to stay in Akumal for a more quiet beach vacation. If you can afford it and like all-inclusives, there’s a wonderful luxury resort there called Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya All-Inclusive.
Xpu Ha Beach
Or, alternatively, it’s a great quiet spot to stay overnight if you’re a family looking to escape the craziness (and the prices) of Tulum beach.
One really unique option is to stay at the Serenity Eco Luxury Tented Camp.
READ NEXT: 16 Best Playa del Carmen Day Trips
The Best Tulum Beach Clubs
When visiting the beaches of Tulum, you basically have a few choices (in ascending order of cost):
- Option 1: Bring a towel, some drinks, and go it alone on the sand,
- Option 2: Hire out a daybed or cabana (usually in the form of meeting a minimum spend for food and drinks), or
- Option 3: Book your stay in a hotel with a beach club.
The first option is best done on the north beach, while the latter two are almost the only way to really visit south beach (otherwise it can be hard to even get beach access).
After trying out nearly all of them, here are my four absolute favorite Tulum beach clubs (click to book your stay and see photos on Booking):
- Papaya Playa Project – Located at the far north end the south beach, this is the least pretentious and most relaxed of the beach clubs I’ve seen. It’s also one of the most popular due to its location. I also like that the daybeds are mere meters from the water. They supposedly had a 500 pesos minimum spend per person to access a daybed, but both times I went they agreed to waive that fee for my group.
- La Zebra – If money is no object, I’d suggested La Zebra as the best Tulum beach club for you. Sure, prices here are a bit higher at this club on the southern end of the beaches than the other options listed, but the beds are also more comfortable and stylish – and you’ll have to compete with fewer people.
- Villa Pescadores – One of the few options on the north beach, this hotel has a nice little area with some loungers out front. They didn’t have a minimum spend when I went and only required us to buy lunch.
- El Paraiso – Located on the north beach just south of Villa Pescadores, this is another solid candidate for the best beach club in Tulum. Beach beds are available for a minimum spend (varies), and unlike some other clubs the beds are very close to the shoreline!
FAQs About Tulum Beach
Here’s some quick practical information for making the most of your beach vacation in Tulum (be sure to also check out my 17 best tips for traveling Mexico too!):
How to Get from Tulum Town to the Beach
There is a single road that connects Tulum town to Tulum beach. Here’s your four options for getting to the beach:
- Option 1: Take a Taxi – It’s generally quite easy to find taxis both in town and on the beach. The one exception might be during the rush back to town after sunsets, when it helps to have a taxi driver’s phone number lined up in advance. Taxis one way from town to the beach should run 50-100 pesos (3-5 USD) depending on where you are going.
- Option 2: Bike it! – There are bikes available for rent all around Tulum (many hotels and hostels offer them too). And there’s a nicely cared for bike path most of the way to the beach. Depending on where you are going, a bike ride should take about 15 minutes from Tulum town to the beach.
- Option 3: Drive – If you have your own wheels, this is an easy option. But be sure to read below for parking info.
- Option 4: Walk – This might take 45 minutes or more, but the route is perfectly walkable.
How do You Park on the Beaches in Tulum?
Parking in Tulum’s north beaches is relatively simple, as there is a public parking lot near the public access point (just south of Villa Pescadores), as well as a fair amount of space on the side of the dirt road.
On the south beach, it is possible to park for free in certain spots by the side of the road (especially further north), but the narrow strip of road has been so developed that most of the parking is now controlled by the resorts and restaurants.
If you plan to rent a daybed, they will likely let you park for free.
Is it safe to travel to Tulum?
In a word, yes.
Look, no destination is totally safe. But Tulum is filled with tourists and the Mexican government has a strong incentive to keep the area as safe for travel as possible. Mexico’s reputation as a dangerous spot for travel is mostly undeserved in my opinion, and I think even less adventurous travelers are likely to feel perfectly safe in Tulum.
The biggest risk you have to worry about is probably a car accident or sudden medical bill.
Still, you definitely will want to check out travel insurance for Mexico before your trip. You can go here if you want to instantly get comparison quotes from dozens of companies for the cheapest insurance.
What Should I Pack for Tulum?
Actually, we have a whole article on that!
Check out our complete packing list for Mexico.
It will walk you through exactly what to pack for your beach vacation in Tulum or anywhere else in Mexico!
Most importantly, since getting drinking water in Tulum often requires disposable plastic bottles that ruin Tulum beach, consider packing a LifeStraw filtration system – it’s a simple bottle that filters your drinking water as you go and is one way to do your part to save the environment in Tulum from overtourism.
Is the Seaweed Situation Bad in Tulum?
You may have hear that Tulum, like Cancun and all beaches on the Riviera Maya, has been struggling lately with an influx of massive amounts of seaweed (sargassum).
Unfortunately, this is a continuing problem that I have seen firsthand and it’s a reality of travel to Tulum beach these days.
With that said, the resorts mentioned in this guide all spend a great deal of time and effort to clean the beaches each morning, and the problem tends to ebb and flow depending on the time of the year.
As of December, 2019, latest reports on various sites were that the seaweed problem had abated. But it can always spring up again.
How to Get to Tulum?
You can go to Tulum via ADO bus, private transfer, or rental car. Check out our guide on how to go from Cancun airport to Tulum for more details.
A wrote a whole guide on where to stay in Tulum, but here’s the quick summary. First you have to decide whether you want to stay in one of the Tulum oceanfront hotels, or if you’d rather stay in Tulum town.
Let’s start with your best options on the beach:
Best Hotels on Tulum Beach
If you want to stay on Tulum beach, you’ll have to be prepared to pony up. But the digs are sure to be sweet, and you’ll be near the beaches.
- El Paraiso – One of the few hotels in Tulum on the public north beach (voted the #1 beach in Mexico by Tripadvisor users), you’ll be walking distance to the beautiful beach ruins from this wonderful but not too pricey hotel.
- The Beach Tulum – If you’re looking for high-end, luxurious stay, this south beach spot is the place to be and be seen.
- Zamas Hotel – The best mix of luxury and price, located on the south beach.
- Lucky Traveler Hostel All Inclusive – An all-inclusive hostel? What? Believe it. And it’s set on north beach along beautiful Caribbean waters to boot!
Pros of staying on Tulum beach:
- There are many stunning Tulum oceanfront hotels
- You’re right next to the beaches of Tulum!
- Quick (potentially walkable) access to the Tulum ruins
- Some of the best high-end restaurants are near Tulum beach
Best Hotels in Tulum Town
Tulum is not a cheap destination, so if you’re looking to see the beaches of Tulum on a budget, I suggest staying in town and planning to make the short taxi ride or slightly longer bicycle ride to the beach each day. Plus, you’ll be close to the popular Batey Mojito bar (not to mention most of the other nightlife options). Here’s some good hotel options in Tulum town:
- Hotel Casa Santiago – With a small pool, a nice breakfast, and clean rooms, this is an excellent choice for a hotel in Tulum town.
- Casa Abanico – Sure, the amenities are basic, but the hotel gets quality reviews and the price is right.
- Azura Botique Hotel – Modern without being too pricey, if you care about style on a budget, stay here.
Pros of staying in Tulum town:
- Hotels tend to be much cheaper
- House rentals, like Airbnbs are available
- It’s closer to nightlife and amenities
- There are more restaurants in town
- It’s still not that hard to get to the beaches by bike or taxi
Things to Do in Tulum (Besides the Beach)
Tulum is famous for its gorgeous beaches, but there are a ton of other awesome things to do in Tulum and the surrounding state of Quintana Roo Mexico.
#1 – Explore a Cenote
What’s a cenote, you ask?
Well, it’s basically an underground swimming hole. There are thousands of them in the Yucatan peninsula, and they come in all shapes and sizes. You can even go diving in many of them!
My favorite is Cenote Caracol, which has two incredible underground caves attached to it – one of which you can swim through! Just check out the above photo and tell me that it doesn’t look awesome.
You can also visit a huge underground cave and cenote network at Rio Secreto, which lies about 45 minutes north of Tulum.
For a more complete rundown of the cenotes near Tulum, check out this guide by Anna Everywhere.
#2 – Check Out Tulum’s “High-end Hippie” Dining & Nightlife Scene
Sure, Tulum doesn’t have the pumping clubs or the endless sea of restaurants when you compare Tulum vs Playa del Carmen — but maybe that’s exactly why we love it, right?
On the food front, Tulum towns offers a wide variety of eats, from classy joints like Unico to numerous budget taco cantinas lining the main strip. Or head down to the southern beach for a higher-end meal at Casa Jaguar.
For a truly unique culinary experience, though, be sure to check out The Dining Experience Tulum.
Being hosted by this awesome “adult dinner party” was my favorite evening in Tulum. Be prepared to make your own salsa and drinks (lots of them!), enjoy seemingly endless courses of Mayan fare, and — most importantly — leave with a slew of new friends.
READ NEXT: 10 Epic Playa del Carmen Beaches
Oh, don’t forget about the town’s small but vibrant nightlife scene!
The most popular joint in town is Batey, which serves up specialty mojitos made with sugarcane pressed right in front of your face!
And if you’re in the mood for some dancing afterwards, head across the street to party the night away at Santino.
#3 – Go to Chichen Izta or Coba
Two hours north of Tulum, the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza are a popular attraction. They’ve even been named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
A little closer to Tulum lies the ruins of Coba, which you can only reach by walking or biking through a stretch of jungle. Unlike Chichen Itza, it’s still possible to climb the Coba ruins. You might even feel a bit like Indiana Jones.
Many travelers choose to visit the ruins via group tours, which takes all the logistics out of it. If headed to Coba, this tour is highly-rated and also goes to a cenote and the Tulum ruins.
You can also drive or take an ADO bus to visit either site independently.
#4 – Visit the Lagoon
Just south of Tulum town lies the Kaan Luum lagoon. Previously an undiscovered gem, the word about this place seems to have gotten out. Here you can relax in the cool waters of the lagoon or bath in the mud, whose minerals supposedly have healing properties.
Best of all, there is a giant cenote in the middle of the lagoon, which looks pretty cool from the air right?
#5 – Check Out a Riviera Maya Theme Park
Just far from Tulum you’ll find Xcaret, a pretty spectacular and totally massive eco-adventure park that showcases animals, underground rivers, pools, lagoons, and a rotating scenic tower. The kids are sure to love it!
That’s it for this Ultimate Guide to Tulum Beach! If you have any questions, just scroll to the bottom and let me know in the comments!
And if you’re heading north in the Yucatan, be sure to check out my guide to Celestun.
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