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Last week I shared the travel tips to know before visiting Tulum, but as promised, I'm spilling the daily details on our 5 day Tulum itinerary.
Of course, I researched Tulum in-depth before and after booking our trip.
Thing is, we had Spirit Airline credit to exhaust from our canceled Costa Rica honeymoon. Unfortunately, they are limited on international fly routes right now.
Since neither of us had been to Mexico yet, and we'd heard so much about Tulum in the past couple years, we decided to put our credit toward round trip flights to Cancun.
The airport in Cancun is the cheapest and most convenient to travel through. However, there is an airport in Cozumel and by 2024 Tulum itself will have its own airstrip, too.
We hemmed and hawed over getting our own rental car. So many bloggers warn about renting a car in Mexico. But we are just too independent and like to have our own wheels. Thankfully, it turned out to be a good decision. Even if we could have won the Squeakiest Car Award.
From all I had read, 5 full days seemed to be enough time to really get a feel for Tulum. I'd say it was just right. Although, a full week would have allowed us to see just a few more places on my list.
As with any trip, it really depends on your preferences. So, in addition to our 5 day Tulum itinerary, I have included optional things to do, should you decide you want to spend some extra days along the Yucatan coastline.
5 Day Tulum Itinerary - Day 1
Technically, we drove into Tulum right before sunset on our first day of travel. We were famished and a little beat from the plane rides.
As soon as we got settled, we walked a few steps from our AirBnB in Aldea Zama to Safari Comedor for our first Tulum tacos. We were not disappointed.
Not only are the food prices in this area so much fairer than at the beach and hotel zone, the vibe is more relaxed.
If you stop in at Safari, order a Ginger Haze drink. I couldn't believe I'd never had a ginger lemonade before. Genius!
The Guacamole Ying Yang is a good starter with fresh jicama, carrots, celery sticks, and chips. Then, load up on tacos. The Pollo Al Limon was our favorite, but the Pork Pastor, Shrimp Mole Verde, and A La Plancha Fish tacos were satisfying as well.
Afterward, we picked up some snacks and water bottles at a convenience store around the block before tucking ourselves into bed.
Unashamedly, we slept in on our first fully day.
Being 2 hours behind, 10 AM in Tulum felt like a totally acceptable time to wake up. Most of Tulum seemed to feel the same way, even the construction workers still hammering away in our building.
Once we got going, we looked into renting bikes. If you read last week's blog, you'll know this was a mistake. Not that we didn't use them here and there for the two days we prepaid for, but in hindsight we wish we would have just rented a scooter for us both.
Once we realized how far and treacherous the road to the beach was going to be on too-small (for my husband) bikes, we decided to head into town for food instead.
Every post I had read about Tulum said we had to eat at Burrito Amor, especially if we were on a budget.
Like many brunch places, the food here is super simple. But it is, in fact, cheap.
We parked ourselves at the counter on teeny-tiny barstools so we could people watch out the window. A street musician just happened to be setting up outside as soon as we arrived.
Andrew ordered an horchata and I got myself a green detox juice.
His smoked pork and pineapple burrito came beautifully wrapped in a banana leaf (which you do not eat, by the way). I got the egg and pork breakfast bowl which came with homemade coconut tortillas.
But the sauces brought everything together! The green is mild, kind of like a tomatillo and avocado salsa. Red is basically a smoky chipotle mayo, with about medium spice. The white is habanero pepper sauce, which the waiter warned us was "muy caliente" but it wasn't too bad. If you like spice, you'll like it.
Just a heads up, parking is difficult to find in the main downtown strip if you're in a car.
A sign like Burrito Amor is rare, as well. Most vendors on the old strip either don't advertise well or have small, handwritten, or fading signs.
If you're looking for a particular spot, I recommend keeping your navigation app open. Unless what you're looking for isn't listed. At that point, ask some locals!
By the time we finished brunch and decided to just take the car down Hwy 15 toward the beach, it was early afternoon.
We found an open parking area for 200 MXN, just past Azulik. This popular restaurant and resort also owns the art installment next door called Sfer Ik.
The entrance to this extravagant phenomenon is unexpected. I felt silly once I realized the giant window was actually a round glass door that swung out. That is, until I saw other visitors approach hesitantly, too.
Couple things to note, Sfer Ik only accepts cash (about $10 per person) and shoes must be removed. There isn't a time limit, though. Once you pay, you're free to stay.
Some come and go quickly while others pose for hours trying to get just the right shot for the 'gram. Needless to say, Sfer Ik fulfilled my people watching addiction.
As cool as this place was, I found it odd there were no pamphlets or posters explaining the building.
I kept wondering about Sfer Ik's design. Like, how many single sticks were included in the floor, or how much concrete was poured? Or, why was it even built in the first place? I expected it to be like a museum, you know?
I left with questions and still don't have answers, but I do have quite a few cool pictures.
That, I realize, really has become Sfer Ik's whole purpose. It's the cool, Instagrammable thing to do in Tulum, but I'm glad we visited nonetheless!
Smoothies on the Public Beach and Dinner at La Taqueria
Once we'd had our fill of burning sage haze, we left Sfer Ik and walked south.
We stopped at the first smoothie sign we spotted to get refreshing drinks. Then, we turned to realize we were only steps away from a public beach access. Finally!
Maybe it was just my own imagination and Oregon upbringing, but I guess I assumed we'd be literally walking and driving with visible and physical access to the beach in this area of Tulum.
However, probably because of how flat it is in this region, and how built up it is, you need to find a public access strip or enter a resort's beach club in order to get a glimpse of the ocean.
We sat on this small sandy plot to listen to the waves and watch the kite surfers while we finished our drinks.
Although the sun was on its way down and the breeze felt heavenly, a dip in the ocean to rinse off our sweat sounded like a good idea. But alas, there wasn't any public restroom to change into swimwear.
Instead, we headed back to our AirBnB to freshen up.
Always up for more tacos, and interested in exploring another part of Tulum, we headed to the neighborhood of La Valeta. There we found street parking and outdoor dining at La Taqueria.
Again, this restaurant had a super chill atmosphere. Even with the national guard, local police, and some other sort of military personnel walking together along the street.
Kittens played under our feet, a firepit and lounge was surrounded in laughter, and for about $25 we got to feast on a taco smorgasbord, including "pulpo" AKA octopus! Definitely chewy, but also pretty tasty.
Afterwards, we stepped over to the gelato shop just next door where I ordered a lemon basil sorbet (such a great palette cleanser) and Andrew got the chocolate hazelnut.
5 Day Tulum Itinerary - Day 2
We started our day early with Kibok Coffee. I got an iced chai for me and a mocha for Andrew. The breakfast is supposed to be great but since we were in a hurry only grabbed a pastry to share.
We WERE going to enjoy the Gran Cenote, which opens at 8 AM. We got there around 9:30, excited to beat the crowds.
Then we realized only when we spoke to the greeter out front we didn’t have enough pesos. They recently raised their prices to 500 MXN per person (about $25 USD). Which was fine, but we were still short.
Like I said last week, some places only accept cash, and still others only pesos.
We decided that by the time we withdrew more pesos it would be too crowded at the cenotes.
So, we changed course for the day and tried to roll with it. Instead, we drove down Hwy 15 again, but this time toward the Parque Nacional.
On our way, we picked up two Argentinian chicas hitchhiking to the beach. Why not? When in Tulum!
Tulum Archeological Zone
Timing is everything in Tulum.
With road construction and heavy traffic, it really does take longer to get across town in a car. Add parking onto that, and it can get tricky.
If you arrive early enough, there is a huge parking lot right at the Tulum Archeological Zone entrance. Apparently, 11 AM is not early enough.
Parking attendants all along the narrow road had already put up a blockade when we arrived, so we snagged the closest spot on the road and parallel parked our car for 200 MXN.
We walked less than a quarter mile into the Parque Nacional de Tulum to stand in line. The first line checked our temperatures. The second line was for general admission.
However, while we were standing there, already starting to sweat, a local guide announced that for only a couple bucks more (about $20 for the two of us), we would skip the line and have a 45 minute walking tour through the ruins. There was no argument on our part.
I highly recommend following a guide into the ruins. Without knowing the history or the Mayan culture, the ruins would really just be decomposing buildings covered in iguanas to most people.
Once the tour concluded, we had free time to roam and take pictures. Like any popular place, we had to time our photos and crop out as many people as possible.
The sun was pretty much right overhead, too, which usually makes for bad lighting. But some clouds blew in, along with some refreshing raindrops, just as we were taking the nature trail to the coast near the exit.
Playa Santa Fe
Unknowingly, we'd parked just a few steps from the public access road to Playa Santa Fe.
At this point we were SO ready to get in the ocean! We decided to keep our amazing parking spot and enjoy lunch on the beach.
The steak and shrimp tacos weren't anything too special. The rice and beans were pretty flavorless. But it was sustenance!
We'd already dressed in our swimwear that morning, thinking we were going to the cenote. We didn't want to spend our dwindling pesos on an unsanitary bathroom visit.
The beach filled up quickly right after we ate. People laid out blankets and towels everywhere.
However, even though influencers claim Playa Pescadores and Playa Paraiso are must-sees, we could see how packed they were right next door. The music was thumping, getting the party started early.
In contrast, Playa Santa Fe was busy, like a California beach, but we had space to spread out.
Looking back, I would have opted to leave our belongings in the rental car's trunk. That way, we could swim together and not worry about theft.
Instead, we took turns jumping the warm waves while the other sunbathed.
Afterwards, we decided to pay a visit to the Chedraui supermarket for a cash withdrawal, snacks, and water to restock our AirBnB.
If you've been scouring Pinterest about Tulum, I guarantee Matcha Mama has come up. The original setup is located along Hwy 15 along the hotel zone.
When I booked our AirBnB, I was thrilled to learn there was another location in Aldea Zama, within biking distance.
After showering, we decided to brave biking on the main road toward Avenue Coba. But first, we made a pit stop at Matcha Mama.
Their vegan menu has everything plant-based you can imagine. I went with the Mango Tango.
I assumed Andrew would help me devour it, but he is just not a big fan of super fruity flavors. Long story short, I was not ready for dinner any time soon.
We wandered and browsed the many restaurants along Av. Coba. While the curb appeal and outdoor seating at each place looked inviting, most cuisines were heavy.
Also, the town was starting to get loud. No issue with that, but we didn't want to have trouble getting back in the dark on our bikes without any streetlights.
Back in Aldea Zama, we parked ourselves at Nikkori Sushi. Out on the patio there was a lovely breeze and a musician playing cover songs.
To us, sushi always sounds good, especially after a day in the sun.
Their menu is quite Americanized, as you'd expect. But there are so many options!
We went with the Salmon Samba, Nikkori Dynamite (my husband is a sucker for eel sauce), and the Sama roll. The fish was incredibly fresh and tender.
The only complaint we had is the service was a bit pokey. If it wasn't for mosquitoes and ants eating away at my legs, I wouldn't have minded sitting outside that much, though.
Halfway through our trip!
We woke up ready for a big breakfast. Fit-a-Licious was another restaurant within walking distance along the cobblestone pavers in Aldea Zama.
Like so many other places in Tulum, their drink menu (bebidas) offered fresh juices, detox drinks, smoothies, shots, as well as coffee, tea, and bottled beverages.
Andrew enjoyed the Tropical Vibes power juice while I sipped my macchiato and nibbled on a piece of coconut sponge cake they served with it.
While Fit-a-Licious does cater to vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free folks, they do have some meat options available.
My Croque Monsieur sandwich squished thick layers of turkey, ham, and mozzarella between keto bread slices, garnished with fresh beet and carrot shavings that I also devoured.
Andrew hardly wanted to share his Eggs Benedict meal, featuring smoked salmon, poached eggs, and asparagus, all smothered in hollandaise sauce.
As I've mentioned before, my husband and I have very different travel styles. I'm go, go, go, and he wants relaxation. I'm learning to compromise!
We had discussed getting massages at some point during our trip. Since we didn't have a ton of time to kill before our afternoon plans, we stopped in at Lotus Spa just a few paces away to check prices and make an appointment.
To be fair, we really didn't know what a holistic massage entailed. I assumed it meant full body, and it did.
But the experience reminded me of the time my mom and I got Thai massages. I'm pretty flexible, but even I was surprised at the way they stretched me.
Likewise, while the the holistic massages at Lotus Spa weren't exactly relaxing, they did stretch some little-known muscle groups and reduce the tension knots.
Beware, though, if you bruise easily you might walk away with blue and green fingerprints on your skin!
Of course, their menu offers many other massage treatments, as well as nail and wax specialties.
The night before, we booked a snorkeling tour through AirBnB experiences. This was our first time trying it out, and I have only good things to say about the process!
We met our group at the beach after snagging a parking spot with their discount. While we waited for the boat to come in, Andrew and I swam in the ocean together.
Our 2 hour tour included water bottles, snorkeling gear and life jackets, and a stop near Tankah Bay to experience the fresh water current pouring into the ocean from a local cenote.
On our snorkel tour in the 2nd largest reef in the world, we spotted tropical fish, sting rays, and sea turtles! There were definitely other tours in the area at the same time, but it can't be helped.
Since we booked the last tour that day, we got a great view of the Tulum Ruins just before sunset. Which isn't quite the same since Tulum faces east and everything, but it was still pretty.
In all, totally worth the $43 per person!
By the time we got back and showered off the sea, we had worked up quite the appetite.
We invited some Canadian friends we'd made at the Tulum Ruins the day before to meet us for dinner. They just so happened to be our age, engaged, and so much fun to talk to! If you're ever in Ottawa, check out their Thai restaurant, or order one of her handmade, breakable chocolate hearts for a fun celebration!
Anyway, an old friend of mine had just recently visited Tulum and insisted we try Palma Central.
Food trucks of every flavor gather here each night while attendants indulge and enjoy the live music. There wasn't any salsa dancing the night we went, but the ambiance was really nice. I was only sorry I couldn't try every cuisine!
I do, however, highly suggest Carusa's Argentinian baked empanadas. The Mediterranean truck had my attention when I saw they had Moroccan kabobs.
And don't forget dessert at the El TukTuk vegan ice cream stand. I ordered matcha and strawberry together and was impressed with the creaminess and authenticity of the flavors.
There were a few Tulum bucket list items I would not leave town without experiencing. Chichen Itza was in the top five!
To make things easier for ourselves, and not fret about our squeaky rental car, we decided to book another AirBnB experience for a full day tour.
The van picked us up at 8 AM to join nine others. Surprisingly, the highway was smooth all the way there.
Cesar, our guide and an archeology student, was super informative the entire trip.
Our group decided on the full walking tour, cutting out souvenir shopping completely, for which I was grateful.
This archeological site is immaculately preserved! Seeing the main pyramid temple really was surreal, and bigger than I expected.
No wonder it has been named a World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
Throughout Chichen Itza, we learned so much about Mayan culture. We even heard the Mayan language spoken here, rather than Spanish.
I personally enjoyed when a Mayan woman demonstrated how her ancestors used plants and flowers found in the area to paint and make dyes (see below).
Some of these fades hues are still found on stones within the park today, which gives archeologists a clue into how these great structures once looked.
For lunch, we drove about 30 minutes or so to Valladolid. Besides being an old city with a cute square and church, there didn't seem to be much else to see here.
However, we were very grateful for the drinks, tapas, large portioned main course, and dessert after walking in the sun all morning. El Meson del Marques definitely hit the spot.
And they had clean bathrooms.
Xux Ha Cenote
For our last stop on the 8 hour tour, we finally got to experience a fresh water cenote!
Xux Ha Cenote is about halfway between Chichen Itza and Tulum, and is run by the local community. The grounds were well-manicured, the changing rooms were cleaner than I expected, and they had lockers and life jackets available if anyone needed them.
Keep in mind, this cenote's cavern is deep! You definitely need to watch your step as you descend several flights of stairs into the pit.
I do recommend packing water shoes for the stairwell. These worked really well for Andrew on all our water adventures.
We also consolidated our valuables into his bag sometimes since it is completely waterproof and a little more secure than my Rice Love Bag. Just being honest!
There is a diving platform if you're gutsy. But if you are not a strong swimmer, it might be best to bring a life jacket just in case you get tired. Depending on the season, the water is also quite deep.
The gorgeous blue water was unbelievably, breathtakingly cold. Think Pacific Ocean along the Oregon Coast cold. But once we adjusted, it felt so good to swim.
Once we got back to our apartment and showered, it was about 8 PM when we went out for dinner and definitely didn't feel like venturing far.
I have to admit, our meal at Boca Nariz was just okay. Everything was fresh and tasted fine, but there wasn't any wow factor.
This also happened to be one of our most expensive meals (about $80 total). I half wished we would have picked up groceries and cooked in our AirBnB this night!
For our last full day on our 5 day Tulum itinerary, we originally planned to get up early and finally fit the Gran Cenote and Cenote Calavera in on this day.
But alas, Montezuma’s Revenge came early for my hubby. Whether it was something he ate or drank, we may never know. This little parasite/bacteria didn't mess around, that's for sure.
Instead, we drove down to the beach strip around 10 AM to lock in a parking spot. Then, we found the nearest beach club, glanced at the menu, and planted ourselves on the beach near a shady swing.
We were the only guests at first. The waiter, Carlos, explained they'd had about 23 checkouts that Monday morning.
From the brunch menu, we ordered fresh detox juices. Andrew's main ingredient was activated charcoal (indigestion's nemesis) while mine consisted of fresh beet, carrot, and ginger.
We also gave an exuberant yes to the guy selling cocos frescos (fresh coconuts). I'd been wanting one ever since we got to Tulum, and today was the day!
Hoping all the good liquids would help settle his stomach, we ordered a tuna steak burger (I discarded the bun), french fries, guac, and chicken fajitas to pick at.
I wanted to swim one last time, but per the warning sign the riptide was ruthless. We left just as more day guests were starting to arrive.
Admittedly, seeing all the popular Instagram sites, signs, and sculptures wasn't super high on my list.
But since we needed a low-key activity that would give my husband a quick exit, it's inevitably what we ended up doing.
These Tulum tourist hot spots include:
- Escultura Ven a la Luz
- Follow That Dream sign at Lolita Lolita Tulum gift shop
- Kapen-Ha wing sculpture
- Selina Tulum entrance
- Bad Decisions Make Better Stories sign
- Giant Rabbit Head at an entrance to some other hotel and restaurant (lol)
What to Pack
Although a cell phone is more than enough to take your basic Insta-worthy shot at these locations, my husband loved the excuse to put his new GoPro to work.
He did catch some amazing video on our snorkel tour, while riding our bikes, all throughout Chichen Itza, and some sunny shots along the coastal hotel zone road.
Here's what my tech-savvy, design-student hubby packed:
GoPro Hero7 Black with micro SD card (this 256GB card is half off, too!)
GoPro Hero7 Waterproof Housing
I also recommend having a day bag. In the least, a crossbody bag to keep a good hold on your cash and cards is smart.
Just to reiterate, I never felt unsafe or targeted in any way in Tulum. But you should never let your guard down while traveling.
I'm not sure how prevalent it is anymore, but there are ways for thieves to steal identities with digital scanners. To be on the safe side, it's best to get a passport holder with RFID blocking capabilities.
Where to Stay
We were the first visitors to this Sunset Studio apartment in Aldea Zama. That meant it was much more affordable at the time :)
I can't express how much we loved this area. Quiet, despite the construction, new, close enough to popular spots but far enough away to enjoy privacy.
Unlike a lot of reviews of Tulum accommodations, there were no bugs, the AC and WIFI worked great, and the trees around our terrace made us feel secluded. The hot water didn't last long, but I'm sure that is something they will fix soon.
Our kitchen was fully-equipped, but we hardly used it. There are just too many restaurants to try in Tulum.
We never did get to use the rooftop pool, either. It's pretty at sunset though, eh?
Alternative Things to Do in Tulum
If you have extra days, are a morning person, or your digestive system is miraculously unaffected, there is plenty to do in and around the Tulum region.
Many of these were on my list and marked on my Maps but due to time or money, they were cut from our 5 Day Tulum Itinerary.
Signs at the Tulum Ruins warned visitors that the Coba Archeological Zone was actually closed until further notice.
As this is one of few places visitors can actually climb on the preserved pyramid, we were bummed.
Come to find out, even though the government doesn't want to keep it open, the local community does and still accepts visitors if you arrive.
Ek Balam Archeological Zone
A smaller Mayan city still preserved and close to Valladolid, if you want to skip crowds at Chichen Itza.
Not far from Tulum, these Mayan ruins are in front of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere preserve.
These are also not near as busy as Chichen Itza and apparently very well preserved.
Sian Ka'an Biosphere
I have a feeling this place is one of those "pictures don't do it justice" scenarios. Every review I've read say this place is just amazing.
However, it is only accessible with a tour guide. Apparently you can hire someone at the Muyil Ruins, though.
Akumal Monkey Sanctuary or The Jungle Place
Meet, feed, and even play with monkeys at either of these exhibits.
Neither one like to be referred to as a zoo. The owners seem to truly care for their monkeys.
Visitors must pre-purchase tickets online, as walk-ins are not accepted. Prices are a bit steep, too.
Is "swim with dolphins' on your personal bucket list? Mine, too.
Unfortunately, I didn't realize that the prices changes significantly if you book 6 days in advance. It's about a $30 difference per person.
Since we missed the window, we decided to forego this experience and try again somewhere else.
But I've heard great things about this habitat and the organization's pledge to protect and nurture these amazing creatures in the facility.
Holistika Art Walk
Looking for a completely free activity in Tulum?
Take a walk around the outdoor art gallery called Holistika, just outside of town.
Xcaret or Xplor Parks
If you're into extreme activities and want to experience the cenotes in a new way, check out one of these adventure parks.
Ziplines, ATV rides, and rafting tours can be enjoyed here.
For more of an upscale experience, make a reservation at Casa Malca.
A famous artist designed this restaurant and hotel with some of the craziest installations.
Laguna de Kaan Luum
For nature buffs who just can't get enough of Tulum's turquoise waters, Laguna de Kaan Luum is an option.
Visitors only pay 100 MXN to enjoy the hammocks, swimming pier, and warm water. But keep in mind, there is very little shade.
If you're up for a really big day trip, or you're staying closer to Cancun, check out The Coloradas.
Due to a specific kind of algae and plankton, these lakes really are pink! And, ironically, pink flamingoes are often found in this area as well.
Apparently, due to an onslaught of tourism, this place now charges an entrance fee and no one is allowed in the water to swim.
- Gran Cenote
- Cenote Calavera
- Cenote Caracol
- Cenote Cristal & Escondido
- Corazon del Paraiso
- Nic Te Ha
- Dos Ojos Cenote
- Sac Actun
- Aktun Chen
- Hacienda Cenote Oxman near Valladolid
- Cenote Suytun
Conclusion: 5 Day Tulum Itinerary
Whew! Mexico was definitely an adventure.
We had a lot more plans and expectations, but we definitely don't regret the activities we did participate in!
Vacation is vacation. New sights make for great learning experiences and cultural understanding, and that's always worth it in my book.
While we thoroughly enjoyed our time, I do recommend anyone interested in visiting Tulum to check out my Tulum Travel Tips post before planning a trip.