You won’t need to look very far to find someone who’s been to Tulum, or thinking about visiting. It’s a hotspot for travellers wanting to enjoy the relaxed bohemian vibes of Mexico.
But Tulum isn’t all it seems on social media – I found out the hard way when I visited this up-and-coming destination for myself. Here’s a few things people don’t tell you about Tulum, so you can be prepared before you go.
There’s a big divide between Tulum’s town and beach
Tulum is separated into two main areas – the pueblo, or township where the majority of locals live, and the playa, the built-up strip along the beach. The pueblo and playa are connected by a big main road, and it’s possible to drive or bike between the two.
While the geographical divide between the two areas isn’t that big, there’s definitely a metaphorical divide that’s only getting larger as more and more people flock to Tulum to live out their influencer fantasies.
Even though it’s a huge tourist destination, Tulum’s pueblo has largely maintained the atmosphere of a small Mexican town. There’s essentially one main road with touristy restaurants and shops. Once you step off this road it’s like any other small town in Mexico, with locals going about their daily life. There’s a few glitzy accomodation options tucked away in the jungle, but the majority of hotels have modest Mexican hospitality.
Tulum’s playa however is almost the complete opposite of this. The beach is lined with wellness retreats, exclusive beach sanctuaries and reservation-only restaurants. Most of these venues aren’t particularly Mexican, but instead have been manufactured to have that rustic tropical vibe that tourists enjoy. The playa is the side of Tulum that you’ll generally see on social media, and is definitely full of places to see and be seen.
The weather in Tulum is pretty unpleasant
Tulum is situated in the jungle, and during the day the weather in is extremely hot and humid. And I’m talking unpleasantly humid, to the point where you’ll be lucky to stand outside for 5 minutes without wanting to jump into an ice bath. The sun is absolutely relentless, and there’s minimal breeze, so you’re left to basically boil. Some of my days in Tulum were truly worse than being stuck Southeast Asia or Delhi in the middle of summer.
Aside from a refreshing dip in one of the nearby cenotes, the only place where you can get a little bit of relief from this heat is along the beach where there’s an ocean breeze, but keep reading to see why this isn’t exactly practical.
Anything beachfront in Tulum is going to be expensive
Beachfront accommodation in Tulum is eye-wateringly expensive. You’ll be spending at least a few hundred dollars per person each night for even the modest hotels along the beach. For those dreamy luxury options you see all over social media, you could easily be spending over $1000USD per night in peak season due to their popularity.
It’s totally possible to skip the expensive beach hotels – instead, you could just visit a few insta-worthy restaurants and hotels and take a few snaps while you’re there. If you plan on doing this though, be aware that you’ll be paying for the pleasure, and you’ll most likely need a reservation to do so.
Almost all venues along the beach have a minimum spend per person, and it’s usually pretty substantial. To make matters worse, most of these establishment prefer to charge in US dollars if they can, which adds a bit more to the bill once the currency conversion is done. You’re also expected to tip and pay for things like valet parking, so a quick bite to eat can really start to add up! And after all that, you might not even have the chance to take that perfect photo you were chasing, especially if it’s busy.
Most of the beach in Tulum is privately owned
If you’re not willing to pay for beach access, you might have a tough time enjoying the sun and sand in Tulum.
There are a few spots along the Tulum shoreline which have public access, so technically if you enter through these areas you’ll be able to walk along the beach. But most resorts won’t let you use their facilities or walk through their premises to get back to the road unless you’re staying there, so you’ll be stuck in limbo if you stray too far from the overcrowded public beaches.
The seaweed on the beach in Tulum is out of control
Another thing to consider if you’re heading to the beach in Tulum is the infamous seaweed problem.
Despite government efforts to keep algae offshore, it’s still washing up on the beaches of Tulum by the tonne-load. The only stretches of the beach where this isn’t a problem is in front of luxury hotels, where groundskeepers are constantly sweeping the beach.
The result is giant piles of decaying seaweed along the beach, with pretty pungent smells and swarms of bugs. Not exactly what you’d plan for when going on a beach holiday!
So there you have it, a few things to keep in mind about Tulum, so you don’t have an unexpected reality check when you arrive! Don’t let these things stop you from visiting this awesome beach town though – there are plenty of awesome things to do around Tulum that makes visiting totally worthwhile.
Want to read more about Tulum? Check out my solo travel guide.