One of the beautiful beaches in Tulum

Tulum on a Budget: Mexico’s best beaches

If you read this blog regularly, you probably know that Mexico is one of my favorite countries. The beaches are a big reason why. And Tulum — best known for its Mayan ruins and eco-chic bungalows — may be the best of the best. As you might expect on such a gorgeous stretch of sand in such a touristy area, it’s easy to spend a fortune on a beach holiday in Tulum. But you don’t have to. In this post, I’ll cover how you can get the most out of Tulum on a budget.

 

Why Tulum?

 

The iconic Mayan castle overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
The iconic Mayan castle overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

 

If you’re backpacking around Mexico, you have endless choices of beaches. After all, the country has nearly 1,000 kilometers of coastline — bordering the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. You can surf in Puerto Escondido, whale-shark-watch in Baja California, and dive off the coast of Cozumel.

 

 

So what makes Tulum so special? Well, for one, the beach is absolutely perfect. Swaying palm trees, powdery sand, warm turquoise water. It’s quiet and low-key even in high season. You’ll never have to compete with others for towel space, and there’s no pressure to go to a beach club or rent a beach chair.

 

What’s more, Tulum is a great base for activities around the Yucatan Peninsula. When you get sick of the beach, you can visit the neighboring Mayan ruins — or go further afield to Chichen Itza or Coba. The town is surrounded by cenotes (sinkholes formed by underground rivers), and you can even go diving in the cenotes to get a taste of cavern diving. Or you can take a colectivo (informal public transportation) up the coast half an hour to snorkel with sea turtles in Akumal.

 

Finally, while Tulum is a major tourist destination — the ruins see more visitors than any other Mayan site in the country — it’s spread out enough that the town feels authentically Mexican. Locals eat at the same great seafood spots that tourists do. Folks come out to play music and dance in the streets on weekends. And if you’re visiting Tulum on a budget, you’re more likely to encounter the locals than if you stay on the beach in a luxury bungalow.

 

Tulum’s best public beaches

 

One of Tulum's utterly perfect public beaches
One of Tulum’s utterly perfect public beaches

 

The beach area of Tulum spreads out for roughly 10 kilometers — from the Mayan ruins at the north end to nearly the entrance of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere at the south end. All along the coast are beach clubs, resort hotels and restaurants.

 

If you’re trying to save money in Tulum, you’ll probably want to avoid the southern beaches. They’re technically accessible to the public, and if you’re traveling alone and sufficiently inconspicuous you may be able to snag a spot on the sand. But the hotels, restaurants and bungalows that dominate this stretch of beach strongly encourage the purchase of a meal or the renting of a beach chair in order to use the beach that borders their property. And these aren’t cheap restaurants and hotels — a single meal or drink at one of the southern restaurants could blow your budget.

 

The good news is, the northern beaches are perfect for independent travelers visiting Tulum on a budget.

 

The best public beach is just north of the restaurant Mezzanine. You’ll find a 350-meter stretch of sand with no beach clubs, no restaurants, and no bars. Just people setting up their towels and beach umbrellas to enjoy the sand and sea. It’s rarely overcrowded, but its popularity with Mexican families and backpackers means there will always be someone nearby to watch your stuff while you go for a swim.

 

For a more unique experience, head to the beach just below the Mayan ruins. For the admission fee of 70 pesos (~$3.50), you’ll not only get the beach, but you’ll also be free to explore the archaeological park. These are among the most beautiful Mayan ruins in Mexico, and well worth the admission, even if you’re in Tulum on a budget. But they also get extremely crowded with tour buses from Cancun. So it’s best to arrive either first thing in the morning (they open at 8 am), or around 3:30 pm. The beach here is small, but it’s hard to beat sunbathing in the wake of an ancient castle.

 

 

You can get to the ruins either by walking/cycling on the back road along the coast, or by taking a colectivo along the main road toward Playa del Carmen. The colectivo drivers overcharge rampantly on this route, and you’ll be lucky to pay less than 40 pesos.

 

Where to stay in Tulum on a budget

 

My beach bungalow at Rancho Tranquilo
My beach bungalow at Rancho Tranquilo

 

Note: This section contains affiliate links. If you decide to book through these links, I receive a percentage of the booking at no additional cost to you, which helps me keep this site up and running.

 

Which part of Tulum should you stay in?

 

Visiting Tulum on a budget requires one major trade-off — you probably won’t be able to afford staying on the beach.

 

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Instead of being in a tourist bubble, you’ll be exposed to the town’s daily life. Staying in town is more convenient for taking day-trips to nearby historical sites, cenotes and other beaches. The food is better. Plus, it’s more environmentally responsible (many of the beach hotels are run on generators and have questionable sanitation systems).

 

The downside is the town is a full 6 km from the beach. But for about $4, you can rent a bicycle and ride to the beach on a (safe, separated from traffic) cycle path.

 

And the town is full of budget accommodation. Location doesn’t matter much — you can walk from one end of town to the other in less than 15 minutes. It’s more about what kind of atmosphere you’re looking for. Standards are uniformly pretty high; most places have ample outdoor space and hot-water showers.

 

The key to finding a place to stay in Tulum on a budget is to book in advance, especially in high season. The good places book up weeks, or even months, ahead.

 

Best places to stay

 

If you’re after a dorm bed, the best option is Mama’s Home. It’s nothing fancy, but the free breakfasts are great, they arrange new activities every night to help guests interact, and the management is incredibly helpful, warm and friendly.

 

The next step up is a private room in a hostel. These get very expensive very quickly, especially in high season, but you can find bargains. I had a great experience at Rancho Tranquilo. $35.00 a night bought me my own (tiny) bungalow in a pretty garden, with shared but very clean bathrooms and free breakfast.

 

If you’re traveling in a group, it’s worth looking at Tulum’s small guesthouses. These are typically family-run and the facilities are a little nicer than hostels. I recommend Villa Matisse.

 

Where to eat in Tulum on a budget

 

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First, the bad news: finding cheap food on Tulum’s beaches is all but impossible.

 

Then, the good news: in town, you can get incredible value for money on food.

 

If you want to eat along the beach, budget $10-$25+ for each meal. A handful of slightly cheaper spots exist (like the restaurant at Pac-an Campground), but even there, you’ll pay $6 for three small and unspectacular fish tacos. If you don’t want to bike back to town for lunch, take a picnic to the beach to keep costs down. You can pick up supplies at Waldo’s (a mid-sized supermarket) in town.

 

The cheapest places to eat in town are the taco and antojito stands that come to life after dark. Antojitos la Chiapaneca is a favorite for spit-roasted tacos, but you’ll probably have to wait for a table. I’m also a big fan of Taqueria El Carboncito. You can get an “order” of tacos — enough for two people — for $3.

 

 

Tulum also has a handful of great and affordable restaurants. The standout among them is El Camello Jr., at the far southern end of town. The seafood is among the best I’ve ever had. A meal with a drink cost me $5, but large ceviche plates are even cheaper. You’ll have to wait for a table, often 30+ minutes.

 

Don Cafeto is a local favorite that often has live music at night. The chaya juices are super-refreshing. I’ve eaten there three times and never been blown away by the food, but it’s good enough for the price ($3-4 for a large meal).

 

The best breakfast spot is German-owned Azafran. Great bottomless Veracruz coffee, tasty omelettes, and every variation on bagels you could possibly be craving, all for $3-4.

 

Tulum is a gelato-lover’s paradise. Campanella Cremerie is the top pick, and it serves decent coffee too. Panna e Cioccolato is also delicious and a little cheaper.

 

For your coffee fix, head to Ki’bok Coffee Tulum. The iced Americano is the perfect antidote to a hot, tropical afternoon.

 

Start your Tulum adventure now!

 

Tulum is just two hours south of Cancun and three hours east of Merida. You can take a bus directly from Cancun’s airport or a colectivo from anywhere along the Riviera Maya.

 

Don’t let the images of swanky beach bungalows discourage you. It’s totally possible to have an amazing time in Tulum on a budget!

 

Have you been to Tulum? Do you have any other money-saving tips? Leave a comment!

 

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Visit Tulum on a budget and experience Mexico's best beaches

 

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36 Comments on "Tulum on a Budget: Mexico’s best beaches"

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Lieselot
Guest

Oh my – I’d love some warm weather and beaches right now. Tulum looks like a great place to visit if you’re in need of that 😀 Thanks for sharing and making me want to go!

Michelle Joy (@harborsnhavens)
Guest

Thanks for all the tips! We might be going this year so this will come in handy!

Mona Corona
Guest

I love Tulum! This post was super informative as Tulum can be quite expensive! You’ve given some great options on ways to save.

marybethcharles
Guest

Thanks for the tip about northern beaches being more budget-friendly! And that bungalow is everything. Love it!

Cassie
Guest

I love tulum. I spent a month there last year before moving inland. Can’t wait to get back there. Good tips on where to find the right beaches!

Amanda Blizzard
Guest

These are great suggestions!! I’m a foodie living in Playa del Carmen, so I’ll definitely be heading down to check out some of your recommendations!

Jenn and Ed Coleman
Guest

Tulum has been on my bucket list for years. I am both a caver and a diver and floating through the cavers of Tulum seem incredible. Our budgeting for Tulum revolved around combining it with a Cancun trip. That gives us two stunning destinations for only one plane ticket.

Kat
Guest

I really wish I had made time to visit Tulum when I was in the Cancun area. Hopefully I can go there soon and try out your food recommendations!

Faith Coates
Guest

Excellent post – having been to Tulum many times and living on the Yucatan Peninsula it’s nice to see a budget guide as Tulum is getting a bit out of hand with all those damn celebrities hanging out there these days.

SkyeClass
Guest

You had me at diving in the cenotes. This is a place I would really like to visit, and knowing how to go on a budget is really important. Mama’s Home sounds like a great place to stay, and I would say Yes, Please to those $3 tacos! I’m guessing I would need at least a few days to explore all those Mayan ruins and other activities. I can’t wait to return to Mexico and onward to South America.

vanessa workman
Guest

I’m so happy to see that Tulum has not been over developed. I visited years ago (1980s) and of course you can imagine how pristine it was back in the day.. But those beaches still look as amazing now as they did then.

Elaine Masters
Guest

Fantastic! I’m a big Mexico fan as well and learned to dive in Cozumel. Tulum is usually a pass-through for me but you’ve got me thinking it’s time to return and explore more Cenotes. Thanks.

janineintheworld
Guest

Hey! This post is awesome! I live in Playa del Carmen, and while I love Tulum, my major qualm with it is that (unlike Playa) the town isn’t along the beach, which can sometimes feel like a hassle when you don’t want to rent a car :O But I definitely love the authentic vibe, and the beautiful beaches there! I’m definitely going to check out some of your restaurant and accommodation recommendations — Rancho Tranquilo sounds wonderful! Now I can’t wait for my next weekend trip to Tulum 🙂

Sara
Guest

Mexico is a country I am yet to have the opportunity to discover. I must admit I never really thought about it for its beaches, but wow, 1,000Km of coast line, that is a lot of beaches to explore and enjoy.

Talum sounds like pure paradise, I can understand why you love it so much.

xtralush
Guest

This post is SUPER helpful! I always thought Tulum was too expensive for my blood. But your post makes it sound totally affordable! Thanks for sharing!

Indrani
Guest

Tulum with its beaches seems like a must visit place of Mexico. Budget options are so helpful especially after I spend the huge amount on travel till there from Bangalore.

Paige
Guest

I’ve not been to Tulum but it sounds really cool! It’s good to know you can do it on a budget. I think Ranchero Tranquilo would be the perfect spot to stay for my husband and me. Good to know that we’d have to dip into town to eat cheaply! Great guide!

Meg Jerrard
Guest
Mexico is one of my favorite countries too! I think that people expect you have to pay a lot for big touristy centric areas like Tulum, so I appreciate this post on how to travel on a budget. Totally agree that the beach is perfect! We rented a car, and this was probably our best budget move – it was pretty cheap, and allowed us to go and see sites like Chichen Itza, Coba etc at our own pace, and way cheaper than bus tours were charging. Good tip on exploring the northern beaches to not feel pressured into buying… Read more »
Jessica
Guest

This post brought back great memories of Tulum! I was there 3 years ago and I also recall the food not being so cheap. We had a car so we ended up going into the town for cheaper meals. I remember a place called Asador… it was amazing!

Christopher
Guest

The only place in Mexico I’ve been to was Cozumel as part of a Disney cruise stop over, in my pre-travel blogger days. I been itching to go back ever since. I am fascinated my the Mayan Ruins then add a castle over looking a beach!!! Sweet. I think I’m gonna have to add this play to my to go to list!!!