What to Avoid in Tulum (and best places to stay)

There are some things you have to avoid in Tulum… Since tons of people visit the Yucatan Peninsula, it can be a spot where tourists unknowingly participate in tourist traps, environmental crises, and exploitation of locals.

I was drawn to Tulum not because of the Instagram-worthy hotels on the beach, but because of the unique ecological system as well as the fascinating history of the Mayans. Let’s get to what you should avoid and do instead.

I, alongside many of you who have found this post, probably saw the stunning photos of Tulum with white sandy beaches, eco-friendly options, and unique cenotes. Also, like me, you probably began to research this area and began to wonder… is it worth it?

Table of Contents

After my visit, I’ve got a few thoughts on whether Tulum is overrated and I wanted to share them. So let me try to answer this question about what to avoid in Tulum.

We decided on a road trip from Cancun to Tulum and it was a really great choice!

Okay, to preface this post… when I started researching and gathering info, I learned things that made me very upset about Tulum.

It’s confusing that I hadn’t read them before, and I think it could be just because I wasn’t researching the right things. There’s a lot of corruption in Tulum, and a lot of the places that claim to be eco-friendly are actually the opposite. You have to be very careful and research!

That’s why I am here. Hopefully, I can explain some important things you’ve got to know.

I want to break this post into two pieces. The things on Tulum beach and things around Tulum. I think the answer to this question really changes depending on where you stay and what you decide to do.

So first, what to avoid

Tulum Beach

When we were planning our trip to Tulum, we wanted to stay somewhere more budget-friendly for the majority of our trip. I looked at lots of hotels near the beach and could find nothing under $250 a night. There was one glamping spot for under $200 but included no AC/real beds. For me, that just wasn’t going to work at that high a price. We decided to spend the majority of the trip staying at a budget-friendly option in town instead and do one fancy night.

This was the start of planning our trip and it already made me a little bummed. Tulum seemed like a popular spot for so many, why was it so expensive?

During our trip, we obviously had to head to the beach and check it out sp on our second day, we headed down on bikes. The closer we got, the more traffic we saw. We were inundated with cars, vans, motorcycles and the like all along a tiny road. I also started to notice, there is zero parking anywhere. We parked our bikes and began to look for a cute spot for dinner.

We immediately realized that this was going to be an expensive evening. Drinks and food were above the normal price we’d pay back home. All clothing stores were selling things for hundreds of dollars and there were no locals selling things around town.

We did end up finding a great spot along the beach for happy hour. Happy hour is a great time to visit the bars along the beach since they offer daily specials and will not be as expensive! There are signs all along the road for you to find one to check out.

Then I looked at the beach. The beach was covered in so much red sea weed at the resorts that while we were there that first day, no one was even in the water. It smelled and while the view was still nice, I can’t imagine anyone was swimming there throughout the day. We road our bikes back before dark and ended up going into town later because of the high prices.

For our one fancy night, we chose a secluded and unique “wellness” resort spot along the beach. It’s called Ikal Tulum and right near the famous Azulik along the beach. It was $400 for the night and when we got there, I realized it was a mistake.

First, one of their main ideas is to help connect you to nature and the earth. They do daily yoga and use all natural materials to build the resort. This all sounded so wonderful and interesting to me! It definitely ended up looking super dreamy and beautiful. The problem was it rained and the rooms were not waterproof. Our room was soaking wet including the bed and we slept on a wet mattress that night.

Then, we realized something that I am still not over. We saw the power to our place and many others around it… Power there and at most resorts (mind you EVERYONE I SAW, but cannot speak for all of Tulum), was run on generators. That is right everyone, generators which are fueled by diesel. Really bad for the environment and just not eco-friendly. They are loud and hard to miss. I researched later and found out that the whole area does not have power. The entire area is run on generators and I felt so bad when I realized this after promoting it by staying in that area.

We saw signs everywhere advertising yoga, healthy food, women’s circles, and other spiritual practices. I took a yoga class along the beach and honestly, it was sooo nice to feel the ocean breeze that morning and go through a very good flow specialized for me. It was the same price as the yoga classes I go to in the US and definitely worth it. There are all kinds of restaurants and I think I saw more Italian food than anything in Tulum which is odd because tacos!

It all felt like a stark contrast to see wellness activities and talks of connecting to Mayan traditions when really there are so many things going against that. I couldn’t imagine coming to Tulum for a spiritual reason then getting there to find that it was incredibly expensive, crowded, and unconnected to the environment. So to me, this part of Tulum is overrated and overpriced.

To sum up the beach area:

  • hotels along the beach are using diesel generators for power
  • extremely crowded
  • lots of traffic
  • there are essentially no budget options for accommodations on the beach
  • drinks and food are much more expensive than the rest of Tulum
  • Instagram worthy spots, but not worth staying at

So… How do you avoid this? Is there a part of Tulum that isn’t like that and how do I find it?

At the beginning of our trip we did something completely different than the above and it’s what made me fall in love with the area. I honestly was so disappointed when we did a fancy night in Tulum because we had so much fun doing literally everything else.

Stay in town. Avoid areas that are kicking other people out and research before you choose a place to stay. I found out later that the other spot we stayed was an illegal build and that the jungle is being destroyed. It’s an important habitat for jaguars and sea turtles. I added to the problem and didn’t even realize it.

Avoid making the same mistake I did and look up the place you are staying. I really didn’t think of doing this before going and I didn’t know about the issues facing Tulum. I wish I had known!

As you search for the perfect spot, here’s what to look for:

  • Sewage: With 80% of resorts lacking proper sewage treatment, if they can’t talk about it, they are dumping.
  • Electricity: Traditionally, resorts and beach residents used candles at night, and some still do. The beach breeze is great — take advantage.
  • Water: Do they have a special purification system and what kind is it, or do they buy potable water from trucks that haul it in? The former is preferred.
  • Physical footprint: Are the buildings on stilts above the sand? Or do they plunk heavy buildings down on top of sea turtle nesting grounds?
  • Food and sourcing: Where do they source materials, furniture, decor, toiletries, and food from? It should be locally, from organic farms and artisans.
  • Noise: During high season, December 16 to January 15, electronic music parties are the norm. So if you don’t plan on dancing all night, make sure to avoid resorts that throw parties, and get a room at a resort or hotel that is far away from any beach or town clubs.

Eco Cult has a great list of resorts and hotels that are researched to be eco-friendly in Tulum. You can find that list right here. I wish I had seen it before going!

We spent our time in Tulum town at the beginning of our trip. We wanted to experience both and be able to save a bit of money on the trip. The town has a bunch of funky bars and restaurants that aren’t as “instagram” worthy… but are delicious, cheap, and fun. We went to town on our first night in Tulum and were able to relax and just have a nice evening.

There are a few restaurants to choose from and we sat down for a pina coladas and ceviche along with tacos at Amore Mezcaleria. We each paid $12 after all that and were very happy.

After finishing dinner, we headed to a rooftop for a drink and watched as street performers danced down below. There were spots that had been around for years, and brand new ones popping up. It was eclectic and vibrant while still feeling relaxed with families as well as backpackers embracing the evening.

On our second night we went to eat Italian at Bacaro and it was delicious. We agian paid less than $12 each for a meal with dessert and drinks. Then headed to a spot that had been recommended by a friend called Batey.

Batey was my favorite spot in town. We enjoyed live music and their signature mojitos in all different flavors. The watermelon mojitos with crushed watermelon, which I enjoyed eating once I finished my drink, were the best! There are tons of delicious taco and seafood spots that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. We ended up spending two of our evenings there and wish we had spent more.

There are a ton of budget-friendly things to do in Tulum and I created a whole separate list for cheap things to do, but essentially the entire area is full of natural wonders. This is what originally drew me to Tulum and is honestly the whole reason I think it is worth it to visit.

We chose to visit Gran Cenote early in the morning one day and were there as it opened at 8:30 am. I was so nervous it would be overcrowded and no fun because of all the people. However, we were in line with about 20 other people and when we got inside, it was incredibly beautiful and worth it!

Swimming through a cave while watching the fish and turtles pass by is truly breathtaking. The blue color on the water isn’t a filer it’s just naturally that color! In Dos Ojos (my favorite cenote we visited) we walked around the west eye alone, enjoying the cave as we listened to the bats. I have never experienced anything like it!

At Akumal Bay, we got there right when it opened too. Again, I was so worried about crowds, but to my surprise, we were the only two who snorkeled the area we were in. I literally screamed as we swam alongside a sea turtle completely on our own as most people paid for a guide and headed out in groups.

I saw sting rays which I’ve never seen in the wild before and watched them swim around for a very long time without another soul nearby. By the time we left at 1 pm, the place was packed with tour groups. I was very happy we had arrived at 9 am.

We walked the ruins of Muyil completely alone listening to the sound of the birds and jungle around us. We walked through the jungle on the pathway that led to a big watch tour and overlooked the Sian Ka’an reserve while the breeze blew my hair. It was beautiful and truly wonderful.

Oh and each one of the things I just named above? They are all under $10 each. So have I convinced you Tulum is worth visiting yet.

Considerations for Tulum Town:

  • research where you are staying in Tulum – avoid anywhere that is on protected land
  • eat in town at delicious and cheap spots
  • get places early to avoid crowds
  • don’t over pay by spending money on tours that aren’t needed to enjoy this paradise

Want to make sure where you are staying is actually eco-friendly and not contributing to this mess? Here’s a list of places I researched that seem to be doing it right.

Ethical Places to Stay

There are some things you have to avoid in Tulum… Find out what not to do in Tulum on your trip and what to do instead.
There are some things you have to avoid in Tulum… Find out what not to do in Tulum on your trip and what to do instead.

Now you know the overrated and not so overrated parts of Tulum. I fell in love with it even with these overrated parts. Hopefully, you can avoid the parts you know aren’t great and enjoy the parts that are. Whether you spend a day, 3 days in Tulum, or take a road trip, I know you will enjoy your time in Tulum just like I did.

Meghan

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