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This is my detailed guide which includes 13 amazing things to do in Tulum, Mexico! I’ve also included lots of free or cheap things to do for those traveling Tulum on a budget in addition to general money-saving tips – so no matter your budget, you can enjoy the gorgeous Tulum!
Tulum, Mexico is the perfect place for backpackers to explore as it is affordable. Tulum is much cheaper than its neighbors Cancun or Playa del Carmen – and there are a ton of awesome things to do in Tulum!
Topics covered in this Tulum backpacking budget guide are:
- Tourism in Tulum
- Is Tulum cheap?
- Getting to and from Tulum on a budget
- Getting around Tulum and area
- Things to do in Tulum
- General budget-saving tips
Tourism in Tulum, Mexico
Tulum is a town in the Quintana Roo region of Mexico which attracts people from all over the world for its pristine beaches, Mayan ruins, as well as the unique cenotes.
The amazing landscape combined with friendly locals in a relatively safe area is undoubtedly the reason this area saw almost 10 million tourists in 2016 alone (as reported by the Yucatan Times.)
Large volumes of high-budget vacationers visiting have increased the price tag attached to traveling this area of Mexico.
Luckily, Tulum is a much cheaper hideaway with a central location to explore all nearby attractions while offering budget accommodation and food options everywhere!
Tulum is about 3 hours driving from Cancun or about 1 hour from Playa del Carmen. It is the least touristic of the three while still being in the thick of all of the “must-see” attractions of the Quintana Roo.
Is Tulum cheap?
The oh so common question on everybody’s mind…is Tulum cheap?
In short, no. Tulum isn’t “cheap” per say, but it is affordable for backpackers especially if you’re budget conscious.
For $5 USD you can get yourself a centrally located hostel with air conditioning and breakfast. Then for $2 USD, you can get a collective to basically anywhere you would want to go around the area. A huge street food meal of tacos can be found for less than $3 USD and a beer goes for about $1 USD.
Tulum is definitely the best choice for a place to stay while exploring the Quintana Roo or Yucatan Peninsula while staying on budget (read further for my “Tulum on a Budget Tips”).
Getting to Tulum, Mexico
From Caye Caulker, Belize
After taking the ferry back to Belize City there are tourist buses going straight to Tulum at 11 am and 1 pm but they are VERY expensive (about $40 USD.)
A cheaper option is to get the “expensive” bus to Chetumal, Mexico only. There, you can get the Mayab bus to Tulum for a fraction of the price.
Doing the journey this way will cost about $20 USD in total. It will take about 9 hours by bus to get from Belize City to Tulum including the border crossing.
From anywhere in Mexico
The most expensive bus is the ADO bus company which is also the quickest and most comfortable with a bathroom on board. Head to the ADO bus station and ask how much and how long to Tulum from wherever you are, these guys are helpful and many even speak English!
If you want to save a few dollars ask for the Mayab or Oriente buses (second-class buses.) These will typically be 1/3 of the ADO bus price and also leave from the ADO bus station.
Just be aware that sometimes the people selling the tickets only want to sell you the expensive ticket (because you’re a tourist) so be persistent or just ask a bus driver directly for information.
The second-class buses don’t have a bathroom on board and can sometimes fill up with more people than seats, but overall they are decent buses (some even have air conditioning!)
If you are flying into Cancun International Airport, consider saving time and just booking a private transfer. This transfer, in particular, is very affordable.
Getting Around Tulum and Area
In terms of things to do in the actual town of Tulum, it is pretty limited to eating and shopping. The point of Tulum is that it is a great central location to begin exploring the amazing attractions the area offers.
When I arrived the first question I had was “how do I get to all of these places?”
There are a couple of ways to get around depending on your preferences. Taxi’s or organized tours are two options but these are the most expensive so for the sake of this blog, I will focus on the budget-friendly options.
Option 1: Rent a car
Rent a car and drive anywhere your heart desires whenever you want!
A car rental for 24 hours will cost about 40 USD. Keep in mind that you will pay for fuel on top of that and even a couple of dollars here and there for parking.
This is a great budget option if you have a group of people splitting the costs!
You can browse rental car prices online.
Option 2: Collectivos
Catch the local “collectivos” which are essentially just minivans that run on direct routes and will stop for anybody anywhere along the route. They run regularly and the price depends on how far you go, but it is usually just a couple of dollars.
There are collectivos that run along the main highway from Tulum all the way to Cancun. Most of the attractions I will mention below will be accessible by this collectivo.
Simply wave down the collectivo on the correct side of the road (the direction in which you want to travel.) Jump on and tell the driver where you want to go. He will tell you when you are there and tell you the price (they have a set pricing chart so don’t worry about getting ripped off.)
Of course, a very basic level of Spanish will come in handy for this.
Book an awesome tour in Tulum…
13 Amazing Things to Do in Tulum on any Budget
You don’t have to be rich to enjoy Tulum, Mexico. If you carefully select what you want to see and do you will be able to experience a lot without breaking the bank!
Here are the 13 best things to do in Tulum (for travellers on any type of budget!)
1. Go to the Beach
The town of Tulum isn’t right on the beach, the closest beach it is about one hour by walking or 20 minutes by bike (expect to pay about $4 USD for a bike for the day.)
However, if you are looking to explore more iconic beaches there are two great options I would highly recommend.
The first is Akumal Beach which is famous for the turtles there which you can snorkel with! This beach is only about 20 minutes drive from Tulum and accessible by collectivo. Akumal Beach can be busy at peak season times but is well worth a visit especially if you haven’t snorkeled with massive wild turtles before.
Want to go on a guided tour? This tour will take you snorkeling at Akumal Beach with turtles as well as exploring cenotes!
Xcacel is another beautiful beach and when we went there it was empty – we literally had the turquoise ocean all to ourselves!
It is also accessible by collectivo and has a $3 USD entrance fee. The cool thing about this beach is that there is also a cenote only one-minute walk from the ocean which you can explore for free! We spent half a day here and it was gorgeous and cheap.
I would highly recommend this as a great day trip.
2. Explore the BEST Cenotes near Tulum
One of the most famous things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula is exploring the cenotes which are literally everywhere! There are just too many to see them all – so you must choose wisely which ones to check out.
Definitely ask around for other peoples’ recommendations but I will tell you about the ones we chose to visit (based on what we heard are the absolute best!
This cenote is a complex underwater cave system. From land, it actually seems like two different cenotes as they connect underwater.
Dos Ojos’ entrance gates are easy to get to by collectivo (only 20 minutes from Tulum.) Once at the entrance gate, it is another 2 km walk to the actual cenotes. It is also possible to hitchhike this 2 km.
Dos Ojos Cenotes cost 350 pesos entrance fee which is one of the pricier cenote fees. However, if you have never seen a cave with bright blue water before then definitely check this one out regardless of the price.
This cenote is very different than Dos Ojos as it is less of a cave and has much more greenery. Imagine mangroves and a massive freshwater swimming pool.
Gran Cenote is popular for snorkeling, and the best part is that it is accessible by a short bike ride from Tulum (or a couple of dollar taxi ride.)
The entrance fee for Gran Cenote is 100 pesos per person.
This cenote would be my favorite! It is even on the way from Tulum to Gran Cenote.
Cenote Calavera is also 100 pesos entrance fee per person but is typically much less busy. It is more of what people typically imagine when they think of cenotes – a big hole in the earth with a swimming pool.
If you are in Tulum on a budget and can only afford to explore one cenote, I would recommend Cenote Calavera!
There are dozens of more cenotes to explore. For more details on the Cenote around Tulum check out our friend’s article from Best Cenote Dives here.
Consider booking a cenote tour…
3. Scuba Dive in Cenotes
If you are visiting Tulum on a budget then scuba diving is the one things you might have to skip – but if you can afford it and you like to scuba dive then you MUST do it! To us, this is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Mexico overall!
Diving in a couple of cenotes is a once in a lifetime experience. This was something I had been looking forward to for weeks! We’ve done a few ocean dives in the Caribbean already on this trip, but I was excited about something different – and it sure was different!
We first dove the Casa Cenote which was really neat because you literally dive underneath mangroves. When I looked up I could see all of the roots of the trees. This was a good dive to start with because although there were some covered areas, there were many openings allowing lots of light in and easy access to the surface if needed.
The next cenote we dove was Calavera which was completely opposite of Casa Cenote. Calavera Cenote was all cave diving around the large opening of the cenote. We saw lots of white rock formations. There was also a false surface effect that is created where the freshwater meets the saltwater.
This dive was a little bit more intimidating at first as we needed our flashlights the entire time and involved swimming in between some smaller spaces, but it made for a very exciting dive.
We went diving with the company called Best Cenote Dives and they were great! Our instructor, Dominic (also the owner), was friendly, spoke English as a first language, and was lots of fun. Not to mention the gear was in great shape and the day went smoothly from beginning to end.
Book your Cenote Scuba experience with a Professional Company:
We like to support these smaller companies who truly take pride in their work and have a passion for scuba diving which is very apparent. But we also know the importance of safety when it comes to scuba diving (especially in cenotes!)
Check out these tour which come highly rated for their fun, yet safe and professional, cenote diving experiences:
If you’re a certified diver, check out this awesome cenote dive experience!
If you’re new to scuba, you can still dive in a cenote. Check out this Discovery Dive in Casa Cenote!
For those of you who want to get your PADI certification, you can also do that here!
4. Visit the Coba Ruins
I have been to the Coba Ruins a couple of years ago on a previous visit to Tulum, so this time around it was a miss for me. However, many backpackers are making the trip to check out these ruins especially since they are closer and cheaper than visiting the famous Chichen Itza.
The Coba Ruins are about 40 minutes away from Tulum by car or bus (ADO or collectivos go there regularly.) The entry fee is only 65 pesos making it a very good choice for activity in Tulum on a budget.
Book a tour to Coba…
5. Eat Street Food
Eating in Tulum on a budget is easy as there are so many affordable options!
We found lots of great tasting, yet cheap, street food in Tulum. One of our favorites was also a local favorite called Al Pastor, which is essentially pork-filled soft tacos.
Usually, you get about 5 small tacos for 3 USD and it is more than enough for one person. Street food is the best way to eat in Tulum on a budget.
6. Go on a Food Tour
Mexican Food is amazing! So, it’s no wonder joining a Tulum food tour would make this list. Of course, this will cost you a lot more than just wandering around and trying the street food, but you’ll also visit the best restaurants in Tulum (and go to the local secrets!)
From the humble taco to other delicious Mexican foods such as mole (mole is so good!) you’ll eat your way around the streets of Tulum and the best part is you’re going to leave with a full belly!
A great tour to do is this walking food tour through Tulum. Juan is an amazing guide and you’re sure to have an awesome time!
7. Learn to Cook Mexican Food
Let’s be honest, do you really want to go back to eating Tex Mex after your Mexico Trip is over? Yeah, neither do I!
The best way to avoid this is to join a Mexican cooking class. Now, I didn’t do a cooking class in Tulum, instead, I actually did mine in Mexico City.
But it was honestly one of the best things I did in Mexico so I highly recommend doing one during your trip regardlesso of whether you do it in Tulum or another city around Mexico!
Most cooking classes go for around 3 hours but there are different styles to choose from depending on the experience you’re after. A few great ones in Tulum are:
Private cooking class with Chef – If you’re after a very professional cooking class so you can impress your friends at home then this is a good option. Antonio cooks more traditional Mayan foods and you’ll make 3 dishes on this tour.
Cooking class and mezcal tasting – Nothing is more Mexican than tacos and Mezcal, and on this top-rated tour that’s just what you’ll get! You’ll cook a 3-course meal as well as homemade salsa and tortillas. Then its time to try some authentic mezcal!
8. Rent a bike and explore
Walking around Tulum in the heat can sometimes be a little hard, especially since the beach isn’t exactly close to town.
So instead, rent a bike and explore. Bike rentals in Tulum are super cheap and you can get a bike for the whole day for around $5 a day – that’s if your hostel or hotel doesn’t rent them free already!
If they don’t, then don’t stress, there’s plenty of bike rental places in town. They will most likely rent scooters too, so if you really need a break that could be a great option!
9. Visit the Tulum Ruins
Tulum was once a huge trading hub for the Mayan people and its steep limestone cliffs provided the perfect fortress to protect its port. The Tulum ruins are what’s left of this old fortress and they make for an awesome place to visit!
For one, these ruins are located right on the coast some 12 meters high above the pearly white sand beach below – which you can swim at! And two, it’s a very interesting archaeological site in the region.
There’s lots to learn about the Tulum ruins including how they used a pyramid as a lighthouse, but you’re sure to learn all about that on your visit!
It only costs 70 pesos (at the time of writing this) to visit the ruins and another and another 45 pesos if you want to use your camera there. You can visit the ruins on your own which makes it very cheap. Just get the ADO bus from Tulum to Playe del Carmen and get off at the ruins. This bus costs 80 pesos.
If you want to know more about the ruins you can join this early access private tour with an archeologist. Its a great tour for those wanting to know more about the history of the Mayan culture and the ruins. Plus, it is early access meaning you get to visit before the place gets CRAZY busy!
10. Visit Chichen Itza
In my opinion, I couldn’t think of anything worse than spending so many hours on a bus to visit Chichen Itza. However, for most this is a reality as they don’t have the time to spend a night near Chichen Itza as I did.
So if you’re in that boat and don’t have the time to spare, then a tour from Tulum is a great option. The tours are 12 hours long and despite the long bus journey, Chichen Itza is spectacular to see.
On this tour, you’ll get a well informed English speaking guide, entrance to Chichen Itza, a guided visit to Ik-Kil Cenote (the best cenote in Mexico) and there’s an option to participate in a Temazcal ritual by a real Sharman!
11. Rio Secreto Underground River
Rio Secreto is one of the most breathtaking underground rivers in Mexico. This cenote can only be visited on a guided tour in which you swim and climb your way through the cenote exploring the beautiful stalagmites and stalactites while enjoying the crystal clear water.
Tours of the river cost $79 USD per person and this specific tour has over 198 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor! The tour lasts about 1.5 hours and includes all the equipment and guide.
Unfortunately, my photo really doesn’t do this place justice (my apologies) so head over to this blog if you want some visual inspiration!
12. Visit Isla Holbox
The coastline of mainland Mexico is becoming more and more built up. Hotels are popping up everywhere using their beachfront land to try to claim entire beaches and coral reefs. For this reason, it can be nice to get far away from the huge hotels and restaurants and head to a place visited only for its beauty.
Isla Holbox is the perfect getaway from it all. Imagine, a small beach town located on the most beautiful pearly white sand with minimal traffic and the most amazing sunsets!
Getting to Isla Holbox from Tulum is a bit of a mission as you need to get yourself to Chiquila first. To do so, get the bus from Tulum and from there you’ll need to catch a ferry from Chiquila to Isla Holbox for 150 pesos. The trip takes 15 minutes and the ferry runs every 30 minutes. You can check ferry times and prices here.
Because of the long journey, it’s best to stay a night or two. There are lots of accommodation options on the island you can browse them all here.
13. Eat Tacos at El Camello Jr.
One of my favorite types of taco is seafood tacos and El Camello Jr. is a local favorite in Tulum. In fact, it was a friend of mine who grew up in Tulum who took me to this amazing place!
It’s walking distance from almost anywhere in town and they serve amazing tacos, ceviche, and whole fish. Basically anything you order is amazing..and fresh!
Where to Stay in Tulum, Mexico
No matter what you’re looking for in a hotel, Tulum has it! Offering everything from hostels to 5-star luxury hotels there is accommodation for any budget!
Here are some of the best places to stay in Tulum (categorized by budget!)
Hostels in Tulum
Hostel Che Tulum – This hostel prides itself in having a social vibe. They have a beautiful pool and a central location. For only $15 USD a night you can get a dorm bed in an air-conditioned room with breakfast included.
Weary Traveler Hostel – These guys offer FREE cocktails every day for happy hour – what more could you ask for from a hostel really?! But besides that, they also have a good location and offer comfortable dorm beds for $13 USD per night including breakfast. You can also get budget private rooms here.
Hostel Bambu Gran Palas – This hostel offers a unique experience, it is built around a cenote! While it may not be the most luxurious hostel, the novelty of it is worth it. The location is also great for those who want to spend time at the beach (which is literally right across the road!)
Budget-friendly Hotels in Tulum
Sol-Ha Tulum Boutique Hotel – If hostels aren’t your thing, this small hotel offers beautiful private rooms and incredible service. For less than $30 USD ou can get a king suite with air conditioning, a king bed, and an ensuite right in the heart of Tulum!
May Paya – This hotel is the perfect combination of budget and luxury. For only $27 USD a night for a double room, you will get access to the pool as well as the modern amenities in the hotel. The grounds are gorgeous and they even have an outdoor bar onsite!
Joy Tulum Adults Hotel – For those looking for some peace and quiet in Tulum this is the place. No kids allowed and a location slightly out of town makes for a quiet getaway. The outdoor pool is located among the trees. $30 USD will get you a double bungalow with a fan and included breakfast.
Luxury Hotels in Tulum
Hotel Blanco Tulum – This hotel is luxury without the ridiculous price tag. For less than 2,000 MXN a night you can get a deluxe double room with air conditioning and a balcony. The hotel is centrally located and offers an outdoor pool as well as a hot tub!
Hotel Boutique TerraNova – This hotel is one of the top rated in all of Tultum. They haven;t cut any corners when it comes to comfort and the staff are wonderful. All rooms have air conditioning and a garden patio. There is an outdoor pool and the hotel in located right in town.
Casa KanKin – If you are travelling in a group or with a family then this hotel is perfect. It offers self-contained apartments with kitchens that sleep up to 5 people! It is smack in the middle of town and has an outdoor pool. Rooms are air conditioned and spacious.
Check out all accommodation available in Tulum!
Tulum on a Budget Tips
-Stay in a hostel with a kitchen. Although street food is cheap, cooking for yourself is always cheaper.
-Carry your own snorkel gear. Snorkel gear can be rented at most beaches or cenotes. However, the rental fee will cost about the same as just buying your own set in the town of Tulum.
-Pack bagged lunches for your day trips as the restaurants near the attractions are expensive.
-Book a hostel that offers free water. With the humidity of Mexico, you could easily drink $5 USD worth of water per day.
-Travel in low season. Prices can double (sometimes triple) in high season. High season usually is the months of November to February. Although the weather tends to be best in these months a strict budget is better suited to wet season travel.
Hopefully, this guide to Tulum on a budget is useful and inspires you to check out one of Mexico’s most beautiful regions! We had some really great times in and around Tulum.
We would encourage anyone to visit Tulum on a budget – and when you do, let us know if you have any other tips to add below!
Traveling more in Mexico? Maybe you’ll find some of our other travel guides helpful too!
For more check out our Mexico Landing page, it has all our blogs about Mexico laid out to make planning your trip easy!