Many travelers decide to stay in Downtown Tulum to avoid spending thousands of dollars on accommodation.
Is this a good idea? What are the advantages and disadvantages of staying in a neighborhood several miles from the beach?
I stayed more than ten days in this area, and here is a list of practical information to know before deciding.
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Downtown Tulum Map
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All you need to know about Downtown Tulum
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12# The cheapest way to enjoy Tulum
Staying in downtown Tulum over the Tulum beach area will be the first step towards enjoying this city on a budget. For example, you might find hotels for 100 or 150 dollars a night in the Tulum town neighborhood. In the beach area, most hotels go for around 400 to 500 a night on the low end.
Transportation is also much cheaper downtown. You can rent a bike for 10 dollars a day to ride around the area. A scooter can set you back around 25 dollars a day. You may quickly realize that the streets in any part of Tulum are usually not in excellent condition. Even if you take a cab downtown, the ride is much cheaper than what you’ll get charged in the beach area.
Limiting the number of cabs you take can be a good strategy to save money. You can ride one of the “colectivos“ or buses instead. The fee to get on a local bus is about two dollars or 40 pesos. Make sure to check for your destination on the bus’ windshield. That’s how you can tell what direction that particular bus is headed.
Food is another key expense in any vacation. Downtown, you’ll have more options to choose from. The problem with the beach area is that many hotels are isolated. That means you’ll likely choose to eat at the hotel or a nearby spot. Simply put, the most expensive restaurants in Tulum are in the beach zone.
If you stay downtown, you’ll likely find food trucks or street food spots that sell tacos for one or two dollars apiece. For people who want to eat healthily, buying fresh food from local markets is the best choice. Then prepare your food at your hotel or vacation rental.
11# Stay in excellent hotels for a fair price
Here are a few hotels you can stay at without breaking the bank. All of them are in the Tulum Centro or downtown area.
Layla Tulum: For rooftop bar pool lovers
This hotel is made with an Arab architecture design in mind. That’s evident in the pool area and the bathrooms. The rooms are relatively small, but you come here for the pool area and the rooftop view. It’s one of the best spots in Tulum to catch a sunset while sipping on some good wine.
You’ll only have some of the amenities of a top resort in Tulum Beach—no spa facility. It still features some beautiful outdoor areas. You get access to all of this for about 170 USD a night.
Una Vida: Family-friendly
There are a couple of things that make this a family-friendly hotel. The first thing you’ll notice is that Una Vida offers much bigger rooms. If you need to add an extra bed, you can do so without too much trouble. The staff is also known to be super friendly and exceptionally accommodating to kids.
The entire resort is well-themed —Tulum jungle vibe. Remember to put on insect repellent while staying here. It’s about 15 minutes away from the main Tulum town area. That can be a good thing because it’s typically less noisy or chaotic.
Vida Tulum Boho: Affordable apartments
These small apartments are a bit like a suite at a hotel. Especially these particular ones because they grant you a day pass to the Bardo Hotel, which is down the road. So you can treat them as a vacation home when you like, but you can also get the boutique hotel experience.
The bathrooms and the kitchen area are small in some of them. The highlight, though, are the rooftops with mini pools. That’s a great spot to sunbathe and take in the view. Again the downside or upside depending on how you look at it is that these apartments are about 15 minutes from the main downtown area.
Bardo: Adult-only wellness resort
The best thing about Bardo is the Temazcal treatments and their focus on wellness. That’s why the apartments offer a day pass to the resort. You can book different types of wellness treatments. Many of them are inspired by the Mayan rituals of old.
When it comes to the rooms, they may not be as spacious as some of the other options out there. You can choose to have your room overlook the jungle or garden area. There are also rooms overlooking the pool. It’s an adults-only resort away from the Tulum town area. Perfect for people who want to relax.
Tiki Tiki: A secret and affordable oasis
Since this is a 15-room boutique hotel, it’s “ok” that the pool and some of the facilities are a little on the small side—the rooms are spacious, though. The blue tile floors in and around the pool and the bar area give it a bit of a groovy old-school look.
Many rooms have similar aqua floors with a hammock hanging literally across the room. Tiki Tiki may not look like a modern boutique hotel, but more like a beach town hotel of old. In any case, you can find a room for around 150 dollars. That’s by far one of the best deals in Tulum.
Casa Abanico Tulum: stay downtown for cheap
Casa Abanico is an old house near the main spots in downtown Tulum. Don’t expect overly spacious or luxury-filled rooms. The rate for a room per night can go for as low as 34 dollars. This makes it an excellent spot for extended Tulum stays. In fact, if you spend more than 1000 dollars on lodging, they’ll pay for your airport cab.
Your hosts are very nice people who love to tend to their guests. The main Tulum road is just a five-minute walk away from the house. You can walk to restaurants and any spot that you want to get to in the Tulum town area.
Grand Balam Plaza: or stay in an upscale villa with your friends
This is a nine-room villa you can rent out for your group. Officially the house can sleep up to 18 people. You can contact them, though, if you need extra accommodations. The highlight of this villa is the breakfast. You have a personal chef that cooks breakfast for all the guests on the spot.
The villa is pretty much right next to the main downtown area. However, it’s technically on one of the back roads. So the neighborhood around the house is low-end. Still, it’s one of the best spots to rent out for large groups.
10# Eat local foods in delicious restaurants
Downtown Tulum is home to fabulous restaurants where you can taste authentic Mexican food. You may not find Taqueria Honorio or Taqueria La Chiapaneca on a list of the best restaurants in Tulum because they are spots frequented more by locals. Taqueria Honorio serves some of the best cochinita pibil tacos, specializing in southern Mexico cuisine. That’s going to include different types of pork dishes.
At La Chiapaneca, you can try the al pastor tacos. If you want something more down to earth, stick to the beef or chicken gringas or tortas.
Burrito Mi Amor may be the best option for those not into trying new things. Burritos are traditionally a northern Mexico dish. What you get at Burrito Mi Amor is based more on American burritos than those you can find in the north of Mexico. They even have a vegan option and delicious fruit smoothies to wash your burrito down with.
Tacos and burritos are not the only things you can find in the Tulum Pueblo area. Botanica is a cafe in the heart of the Tulum centro. You can enjoy a healthy breakfast of bagels and fruit bowls in a well-themed garden-type environment. For dessert, don’t miss out on the ice cream and waffles at Campanella Cremerie.
If you’re looking for a spot to settle in and have some drinks, not just a quick taco run, Tu is the spot you need to go to. The two most popular dishes are beef ribs and octopus tacos. They dim the lights at night, and the decor of these places makes them perfect for a romantic date night.
Most of the “best restaurants” you’ll find on the cover of magazines are in Tulum Beach. Yet, you can still craft an excellent dining experience downtown if you know where to go. Plus, you’ll pay a fraction of the price.
9# Better to explore the area
Downtown Tulum offers much, from restaurants, bars, and occasional street parties to places like the Mayan ruins. You can explore this area in a couple of different ways. If you want to exercise on your vacation, renting a bike can be the perfect way to get around. There’s a bike lane that runs parallel to the main street in Tulum.
Olabike rents out decent bikes. Some hotels will lend you a bike, but they’re typically old and worn down. If you want to make things easier on yourself, go with an electric bike. Now, if you want to get around fast, you can rent a scooter. The problem with scooters is that not all roads are great for their use.
You want to be careful when riding a bike or a scooter in Tulum late at night. Don’t think that the cops won’t stop you from speeding on a scooter!
If you don’t want to rent your own ride, you can use the colectivo. As I said, it’s much less expensive than taking cabs everywhere. You do have to get a sense of the routes that these buses take. The fact that downtown Tulum and the Mayan ruins have an ADO bus stop makes going to other parts of the Riviera Maya from here much easier than the beach zone.
You’ll be able to book tours to many of the nearby cenotes or even the Tulum ruins. There are certain cenotes like Cenote Calavera and Cenote Cristal to which you can ride with your bike—if you don’t want to ride out to the cenotes on your own, you can book this bike tour that includes entrance to some of the different cenotes that I’ve mentioned. The tour guide will lead you through some jungle trails that will be more interesting than cycling along just a long straight road.
When you go out exploring the area, make sure to carry cash. You can find ATMs at Super AKi or the Chedraui. There’s also one at a local park. You want to make sure to withdraw pesos. Many businesses will gladly take your dollars but at ridiculous exchange rates. When you go to the ATM, make sure to say you don’t accept the exchange rate that the machine offers.
8# Fun nightlife with locals
Yes, the beach bars in other parts of Tulum are more popular among tourists, but there’s a local party vibe in the Tulum Pueblo section that you don’t get anywhere else. If you want an authentic mojito or mezcal-infused drink the traditional way, with the flavor being the priority, head to El Grifo.
Batey Mojito is another spot two blocks from downtown Tulum’s main road. In both sites, you can experience that chill Tulum vibe without the pretentious requirements that some beach spots now put in place.
All of these spots feature live music. As the night rolls, you’ll notice that shift from chill vibes to more electro/house music, particularly in some of these spots that turn into more hardcore clubs than your typical quiet beach town bar.
If you want to step your party game up truly, Santino is where you want to be. This spot is known for cheap drinks, and the live DJ sets into the early hours of the next day. Expect it to get more and more crowded as the night rolls on.
For the college kids and the crowd looking for a frat party type of atmosphere, there’s the Straw Hat Hostel & Rooftop Bar. Usually, this is a bar frequented by a much younger crowd. You can expect all sorts of drinking games to occur all night long. These spots are just a few blocks on either side of the main road. If you want to go bar hopping, make sure to plan out your route beforehand.
7# No smelly seaweed nearby
Most of Tulum Beach will be filled with the smelly seaweed known as sargasso during the “peak season,” which runs from the end of March to October. It’s true that many beachfront hotels do a fine job of clearing their beaches of the stuff. The stench tends to remain because they still store their garbage nearby.
You may be farther away from the beach in the downtown area than you would’ve liked at first. You can take it as a major blessing, though. Since you don’t have to deal with the smell that hovers over the area.
6# Shop like a bohemian
You must dress the part if you want to get in the downtown Tulum groove. It would be best to have loose clothes mainly made of linen. If you can add some jewelry to the mix, you’re going to be ready to go. Pick an outfit out at Caravana, a tent you can shop at. In the Middle is more of a traditional store that still sells these clothes.
You can find similar outfits at the main “Mercado Tulum.” Shops in the market will be much cheaper than the spots I mentioned but provide lower-quality items. Pura Vida is another store that can hook you up with the entire boho-style outfit plus the jewelry.
The outfit is obviously optional, but you’d be surprised how much it can help you deal with the heat! What you won’t want to miss out on in downtown Tulum is buying cool souvenirs. Mexicarte Tulum and Mixik are two other boutique shops where you can look through handcrafted design elements. These items can be a perfect souvenir from your Tulum trip.
5# A bit boring during the day
Not everything in the Tulum Pueblo area is sunshine and rainbows. If there’s one thing that you have to be ready for, it’s the dull mornings that may last until lunch. There’s not much going on in Tulum town until later in the afternoon when the bars get going. The best way to combat this is to book different day trips.
There are plenty of cenotes and even water parks like Xel-Ha nearby. Playa del Carmen is about an hour away. An excursion to the Tulum ruins is also a great way to be active during the day as well.
For those who are more active and are early risers, bike riding through the area is a great way to pass the time and make the morning less dull. Since there’s not much to do during the day, you may want to factor that into your decision of where to stay.
Some hotels will have beautiful large windows that overlook the jungle area. If that means that you can’t sleep in because of the light that gets in, and you’ll be awake early with nothing to do, then you may need a darker room. Also, picking the right resort can provide different types of daily activities. Sometimes people go on a “relaxing vacation” but never set foot in the wellness center at their resort.
This sense of calm you can get during the day in Tulum allows you to take full advantage of what the resort offers. If all else fails, bring a good book or two.
4# Be more cautious in Downtown Tulum
Some parts of downtown Tulum are not ideal for late-night walks at all. Even if you’re on the main street, you don’t want to be flashing any valuables. Speaking of the main roads, you want to stick to parts of the road near the restaurants and bars that tourists frequent. The last thing you want to do is walk down a dirt road late at night without knowing where you are. Be cautious, and you’ll be able to have a great time.
3# Should I stay in Tulum Pueblo or beach Tulum?
You’re probably going to find more to do in Tulum Beach. Most of the big-time festivals and events that come to the region happen on the beach. If you’re coming to Tulum for a special occasion, staying near the beach area may make sense, especially since it’s not easy to go from the Tulum Pueblo area to Tulum Beach.
If you plan to stay in the area longer, the Tulum Pueblo section is a better spot for several reasons. As I’ve been saying, downtown is considerably cheaper.
The type of vacation that you’re hoping to have is also something that you want to consider. If you’re coming to Tulum expecting a luxury boutique hotel with many amenities, then there’s no question that the beach area is where you want to be.
2# Should I stay in Tulum city center or Aldea Zama?
Aldea Zama is an excellent spot for longer-term stays, and you’ll feel part of an international community more than a small town in Mexico. You’re halfway between the beach and downtown. If you need a way to get to and from these two spots, you may spend a lot on cabs and transport.
In the city center, you may lose some of the sense of security that Aldea Zama provides. What I would say in favor of downtown is that you may be able to find more affordable lodging options here.
1# Should I stay in Tulum Downtown or La Veleta
La Veleta is one of the newer neighborhoods in Tulum, located east of the downtown area. You’re still closer to the Tulum Pueblo area than the Tulum beach. Yet you get better value on a luxury stay in La Veleta, whether at a resort or apartment, than you would with most of the resorts at the beach. It’s a neighborhood ideally suited for a quiet family vacation—except during the day because of the construction noises. If you’re looking for a spot closer to the active nightlife, stick to Tulum Pueblo.
My secrets to enjoying Tulum
Here are a few more activities to spend a good time in Tulum and around: