WEEKEND TRAVEL GUIDE: TULUM, MEXICO
So happy to finally share our weekend travel guide for Tulum, Mexico with you all. I've been wanting to visit Tulum for a while now. We decided to go to celebrate my birthday. I had the best time and honestly I want to move there and run a surf shop but I can settle for just visiting every 6 months. I'm sharing my recommendations for where to stay and eat and what to do when you visit Tulum, Mexico for a weekend getaway! Before I get into that, I've put some general tips below. I'm also sharing some tips throughout this post to make your trip seamless.
Best time to visit: October-February. We had always planned to visit Tulum for my birthday, which is in October. Luckily, October through December is considered low season and one of the best times to visit. Honestly, I love visiting cities during the low season because I hate waiting for anything, especially for a table at a restaurant. Also, the weather is actually bearable and it only rained one time. We spoke with the concierge and she mentioned January-February being the best time to visit as the weather is perfect.
Purchase shuttle to airport when you arrive: When we arrived at the Cancun airport, we pretty much had people trying to sell us things from the moment we walked out. One thing we purchased was a shuttle back to the airport on the last day. Our hotel, Papaya Playa Project, offered to provide us with a shuttle the pricing was ridiculous. We also didn't know the taxi situation and how readily available they were. I'm actually glad we purchased the shuttle when we arrived. (1) We didn't have to worry about figuring out transportation our last day and (2) the price was really affordable and would've cost the same if we grabbed a taxi.
Use your concierge: Our concierge was a life saver. They can tell you about any restaurant or attraction and give you general directions which really helps when communicating with your taxi drivers.
Bring pesos & dollars: Many restaurants, even the really popular ones, only accept cash. Some will accept your credit card but the conversion rate is crazy. It's always best to pay in pesos but sometimes dollars have their advantage, like when you tip your taxi driver. There are ATMs in Tulum but I read that they weren't reliable so we made sure to get plenty of pesos at the airport.
Bug spray: The bugs are INSANE in Tulum. I read this, packed bug spray and still got covered in bug bites. I was a bit afraid that I had bed bugs. That's how many bugs bit me. Luckily they weren't bed bugs but I would be more diligent in applying my bug spray on my next visit.
The hardest part about planning our trip to Tulum was finding the best place to stay. As Tulum has become such a popular tourist destination in the last few years, new hotels have popped up all over the place. Of course that also means prices have skyrocketed. Some of the most popular places can easily run you $1000+ a night. We wanted to find a place that was nice, reasonably priced and somewhat more on the natural side. I didn't want us to stay in an all-inclusive resort because I wanted to have a lot of our meals at restaurants and cafes I already researched. I also found a few places I loved but they were a little too "one with nature" (hello outdoor toilet!)
We decided on Papaya Playa Project. You could call it fate since I showed a bunch of people the resort a year earlier and always wanted to stay there. Even though we loved it, we wanted to stay in one of the private casitas which can run on the more expensive side. We ended up stumbling on a special price and booked our casita immediately. When we arrived and were shown our house, we were speechless. Our house was only a short walk from the beach and we had a rooftop pool which overlooked the ocean. Seriously it was gorgeous. Stay: private casita with ocean view pool.
One tip for staying at Papaya Playa Project and pretty much anywhere else in Tulum, wifi is very hard to find. We only had wifi access at the beach club and the beach. When we were on our roof we could get a little wifi too. Be sure that you are ready to stay unplugged and are ok with being a bit unreachable during your trip. I tried to log on a few times to check email and it was a bust.
One thing I always do before I go on a trip is check out restaurants on Instagram. I am constantly saving pictures from restaurants to save for later when I finally visit. I didn't realize until our trip how many of my pictures were from restaurants in Tulum. I would need to visit 4 more times to fit in all of the places I want to try. That isn't a bad thing.
Papaya Playa Project Restaurant & Beach Club: One of our favorite places to eat was actually our hotel. Order: Huevos Rancheros, Shrimp Tacos, Watermelon juice (actually any cold pressed juice).
Kitchen Table: One place on my list to visit while we were in Tulum was Hartwood Tulum. However, I read that you can pretty much expect a 3 hour wait. We didn't want to wait that long to eat. Someone told us to try Kitchen Table on our first night in Tulum. Once they told us it was similar to Hartwood without the wait, we were sold. Our food was delicious and fresh and we only waited about 20 minutes for a table. Order: crispy shrimp & aioli, pan roasted octopus, huitlacoche quesadilla and chocolate ginger ganache.
The Real Coconut: I put The Real Coconut on my list and then forgot once we got to Tulum. Our concierge jogged my memory when we asked him where we could grab a healthy breakfast. The restaurant proved to be hard to find and our taxi driver missed it a couple of times. We almost gave up but I'm glad we didn't. If you plan to visit, just let your taxi driver know that it's located inside of the Sanara Tulum hotel. The restaurant was started by Danielle Hunter and is focused on wellness and health. Majority of our meal was vegan. Order: macho pancakes, eggs benedict with house cured snook (my bf said they were the best he's ever had) citrus electrolyte and the charcoal lemonade.
La Estancia Jujeña Parrilla Argentina: This Argentinian steakhouse is tucked away in the middle of town. We actually hadn't planned to eat here but we walked past it when we went to shop for souvenirs. We were the only people there and it felt like we were transported to Argentina. Seriously it was like a secret garden in the middle of town. We both ordered the pancakes and they were delicious. If we had time, we would've returned for dinner. Order: the chocolate chip pancakes
Posada Margherita: I read so many times that Posada Margherita was a must-visit in Tulum. I wanted to go but I wondered how good it could be. An Italian restaurant in Mexico? Can't be that good, right? Legit this was the best Italian meal I've ever had (and gelato too). I have been telling everyone to come. It doesn't hurt that you pass by the cutest boutiques in an alley way to the restaurant. Here's a tip: They only take cash! Order: al pomodoro fresco, gamberoni in guazzetto and gelato (we chose vanilla bean and chocolate).
Gitano Tulum: We both agree our best meal of the trip was at Gitano Tulum. Gitano is the chicest restaurant in the middle of the jungle. We had no wait and walked right in. They have a mezcal bar and are known for their drinks. I don't drink alcohol but got the most delicious non-alcoholic drink. The dishes are LARGE. We honestly could've shared one of our dishes and would have been satisfied. Our waiter was awesome and the music was amazing. This is definitely a must-try if you visit Tulum. Order: smoked sweet potato, whole roasted fish, grilled ribeye, taco add-ons, jungle fever and pink flamingo (non-alcoholic).
When we first planned our trip to Tulum, my first instinct was to spend every day eating and sleeping on the beach. But, once I started researching activities for us to do, there ended up being a ton of things I wanted to do. On a beach trip last year, we tried stand up paddle boarding and I think we both immediately became obsessed with it! I thought of partaking in some water sports but we didn't get the chance to. We definitely have it on our to do list for our next visit.
Go into town: One of our mornings, we decided to go into town. I read that there were a bunch of shops and I wanted to grab some things to bring back for my family. There were some areas to purchase souvenirs along the road where we stayed but they were far pricier and geared more towards tourists. We visited a few shops and stopped at one that had a great selection of bracelets, leather bags, hand sewn dolls and pom pom charms. I was able to get some things. We even stumbled on a delicious restaurant while we were in town.
Papaya Playa Project Full Moon Party: Full Moon parties are held monthly at Papaya Playa Project. There was actually one scheduled the Saturday we stayed. We went for a few minutes because we were so tired from a day full of activities. It's a very popular event in Tulum and there were over 1000 people there!
Yoga Yoga YOGA: As I mentioned earlier, Tulum is big on wellness. We encountered a ton of yoga studios. Whether you want yoga on the beach, in the jungle or in a swanky yoga studio, there's a yoga class for you!
Visit the Ruins: Two of the most popular places to visit in Tulum are the Ruins and the Cenotes (more on that below). Once we landed at the airport, we were directed to shuttle services and to a section of the airport where all they do is basically try and sell you overpriced excursions. Although they attempted to haggle us, we turned the offer down. I figured there were so many Ruins near where we were staying and we didn't really want to have too much set on our schedule. We asked the concierge at our hotel and they recommended the Tulum Ruins which were probably 10 minutes from our hotel. Definitely a great idea if you like to learn a bit of history and see some amazing views of the ocean. Word of advice, our concierge let us know that on Sundays, the Ruins are free to all locals. So, if you are looking to go when it is less crowded, don't go on Sunday!
Swim in the Cenotes: We approached our visit to the Cenotes the same way as the Ruins. We asked our concierge and she pointed us to the nearest Cenotes, Grand Cenotes. I heard of some closer to Cabo that were considered the most beautiful but we didn't want to spend that much time in the car. Our plan was to visit early before most visitors got there. Luckily, there was one group there when we arrived so we had nearly the whole place to ourselves for about an hour. We brought our GoPro and wanted to get some underwater shots. A lovely couple let us borrow their goggles. Just a tip: bring your own goggles, the cost to rent them is far more expensive than just grabbing a pair or throwing a pair in your suitcase. Also, if you plan to bring any bags or belongings, bring money to rent a locker. There's really no place to sit your stuff and literally every place is wet anyways.