Touristy places always make me hesitate. I think I’m just going to be fighting through crowds and join in the herd, heckled by street vendors, and upcharged unless I stay on my toes. But I always have to remember that places are touristy for a reason. They are beautiful, historic, exciting, and have lots to do, and Tulum is no exception.
Tulum is run with tourist, from Chinese Tour groups to hippie backpackers, to yogis in search of some zen living. It attracts a wide variety of people because it’s awesome. Simple as that. From it’s idyllic white sand beaches, turquoise water, rich history and ruins to show for it, magical cenotes, and not to mention the tacos, Tulum is the perfect place to visit for some R&R.
For us, 6 days was a good amount of time to spend in the Yucatan Peninsula and around Tulum. Here’s a good way to see the local life, beat the crowds, stay safe and healthy, and best see the beauty and fun that Tulum has to offer.
1. Learn some Spanish
You don't need to buy the entire Rosetta Stone subscription, but similar to any place you travel, it's nice to communicate in the native language for your basic needs. It shows that you respect the people and the culture, and separates you from the obnoxious tourists that can only say, "una mas cerveza" in a cringeworthy accent. It's also a great way to keep your baby safe and healthy. If you learn nothing else, at least remember "agua purificada". As you probably know, the water quality in Mexico is less than ideal and not safe to drink, so you do not want your child to fall victim to Montezuma's Revenge. Ensuring that the water or ice cubes you were given is purified, or the "agua" is "purificada", is a good way to avoid it.
Tulum has to mean "chill" in some language or dialect. The town exudes relaxation and good vibes only. However, it's easy to get wrapped up in everything there is to do around there, from ruins to cenotes to tours. Promise me that you'll take time to walk around the town, drink some naturally squeezed juices, hang at a coffee shop, listen to live music, hang at the beach, and just cherish being away from buses of tourists.
You can always find friends at the beach
Nothing says "relax" like a sleeping baby on the beach
Dance it out while you wait for a coffee
Who says you can't drink a mojito and listen to live music with a baby. (Batey Mojito and Guarapo Bar)
3. Be the first in line when places open
This one is important, and luckily for parents, easy to accomplish with our natural alarm clocks (our babies). On a Sunday morning at home, it kind of sucks, but for beating crowds when you do want to see the sites of Tulum and the Yucatan Peninsula, it's ideal for your baby's early wake up call. We were able to have the Grand Cenote, Chichén Itzá, and the Tulum ruins almost to ourselves because this sweet little trick.
We got to the Grand Cenote in Tulum right as the doors opened. This allowed us to explore it alone and it made for a more magical experience rather than a cluster you-know-what. When we were leaving at about 9:30, it was packed with more people flowing in.
Within Tulum, the Ruins of Tulum are also a must see spot. Get there at 8am by bike or car to beat the crowds. And don't forget to bring your bathing suit to take a post ruin dip in the ocean afterwards.
After the Ruins of Tulum, head to Pancho Villa on the beach to enjoy some huevos rancheros, a cappucino, and a stellar view. This place had great vibes and it was easy to let Zay run around and play while we ate.
Zay also conveniently fell asleep on the way to Pancho Villa, which made for a perfect breakfast date.
Getting to Chichén Itzá from Tulum for it's opening takes more effort, considering it's a 2 hour drive and the doors open at 8am. We enjoyed seeing these ancient Mayan ruins, but it would have been hell on earth if we casually strolled in at 10am. Not only is the heat brutal, but the long line of tour buses that make their way to Chichén Itzá at that time is enough to make you hate people forever. Pack up some road snacks the night before, get yourselves ready for an early wake-up, and head out by 5:30am at the latest to make it on time. Hopefully your baby will sleep most of the ride like Zay did, making it for an easy ride. Once your there, you can explore this amazing and historical place in peace (for the most part) and then once you're finished, the only fighting through crowds you'll be doing is getting out while everyone else is flowing in.
After Chichén Itzá, drive 30 minutes to Valladolid to re-coup, get some food, enjoy the town, and recharge with a cold drink from LA VILLE Bistro. This place was dreamy and the frozen mint lemonade was everything we needed to continue the day. Valladolid is also a good jumping off point for exploring other cenotes as there are many surrounding the town. Because Cenote Zaci is only a few blocks from town center and about a dollar to get in, it's worth a visit. It's accessibility and beauty make it the perfect recipe for a tourist stampede however, so just don't expect tranquility while you're there.
Cathedral of San Gervasio in Valladolid
Believe me. This was delicious.
Just biking around the town and to the beach was our favorite part of the trip. It gets quite hot, so instead of walking in the cut-with-a-knife-humidity, get that wind in your hair by cruising around on a bike. You are able to see more of the town and get out of the tourist areas and into the neighborhoods on two wheels which is a huge plus when you want to see local life and understand the town better. There are also cheaper and better taco stands on the outskirts of the downtown (huge plus!)
The bike ride to the beach is also something that shouldn't be missed if you're comfortable riding and used to being on a bike. It's a gorgeous, chill ride and you're rewarded by the most beautiful beach I've ever seen. Load up your towel and a few pesos to buy a coconut, and you're good to go!
There is a great bike path to the beach from Tulum town. It's a perfect ride with a perfect destination.
If you do plan on biking, bring your little one's helmet. While we did see a lot of bikes with bike seats, I didn't see any toddler helmets. We were psyched that we packed ours. Another tip would be to AirBnB a place with bikes included. At about 100-150 pesos a day ($4-$7), renting bikes for a week for a family can add up.
5. Rent a car
Freedom! Ok, the lack of chicken buses we ride on now a days has lowered our status in the backpacking world, but my goodness it's great. We booked a car using credit card points and it was 900 points or $14 total for 6 days. Let me say that again. $14 FOR SIX WHOLE DAYS. Amazing! Our transportation to and from the airport on a bus would have been more than that and a lot more hassle. Additionally, there are so many things to see outside of Tulum, and a car allows you to get there early and without a crowd. The roads in the peninsula were well maintained and super easy to navigate too.
6. Watch the sunrise
The sunsets are beautiful and the sky turns warm pink in the town, but if watching the sunrise over the ocean is your think, the beaches in Tulum are a perfect place to watch it. I would recommend heading as far in on the road to the beach as possible (before you hit the ruins of Tulum) to catch the best views. It's another early wake-up, but like most things, it's worth it.
Watching the sun rise with Baby Boo
7. Get an AirBNB a little outside the town
We prefer to stay outside of the downtown in any city or town we're visiting. Not only is it significantly cheaper, but staying outside of the tourist hub allows you to get a glimpse of local life. Walking, biking, driving, or taking public transportation into the downtown brings you through the neighborhoods, keeps you away from the crowds of tourists for a little, let's you find tucked away hole-in-th-wall restaurants, and allows more interaction with the people who actually live there on a human level rather than a transactional level. For Tulum, it's small enough to get around on bikes and it's easy enough to get to the restaurants and bars no matter where you're staying. We stayed in a cute little one bedroom with a little courtyard. Nothing fancy, no AC, and a weak shower stream, but we only paid $35 a night and we had free access to bikes and free drinking water. Nothing beats a bargain for us!
If you've never tried AirBNB, you should. We swear by it when we travel. And you can use this link to get $40 off your first stay!
So that is Tulum in a nutshell from people that hung out there for 6 days. I highly recommend a visit, so long as you bring chill vibes only.