Too Much in Tulum

Tulum, Mexico beach

I sense a storm brewing

On paper it looked right up our alley – a somewhat isolated spot on the Mayan Rivera complete with beautiful beaches and ancient ruins overlooking the sea. And while Tulum, Mexico, does indeed have those things, what it also has is a major disconnect between the quality of services available and the prices charged for just about everything.

It’s no lie to say that Tulum is among the most expensive places we’ve ever visited; more costly than Hawaii and pricier in some respects than billionaire-playground Switzerland. At the same time, Tulum had many of the characteristics common to the least developed places we’ve stayed. 

Part of that disconnect is undoubtedly related to the fact that the actual town of Tulum is a good fifteen to thirty minute cab ride away from the coast, depending on traffic. So it’s in town where you’ll find all the local eateries and cheap-ish accommodations. But even there single rooms quoted on-line average more than $75 per night in January. If you want a room within walking distance to the beach, expect to pay several times that amount.

And even at those inflated prices your accommodations will almost certainly exclude air-conditioning and may not even have reliable power as the coastal area of Tulum isn’t connected to the mainland’s electricity grid. We’ve heard of $200 per night hotels in Tulum turning off their power overnight to conserve energy. So even after dropping a couple of Benjamins on a room, don’t count on even the comfort of a simple fan to help you sleep. On top of that expect spotty to nonexistent wifi, awful water pressure, and with regards to potable water, just consider the lack of it a friendly reminder that you’re still in Mexico regardless of what you’re asked to pay for everything. 

Now we’ve traveled to plenty of places with similar infrastructure, and we’ve never complained. What is gripe-worthy about Tulum, though, is that you’re expected to pay Côte d’Azur type prices in exchange for third-world quality amenities. We were perfectly happy to spend a week in similar accommodations on the Thai Island of Koh Lanta, but that was because we paid a fifth of the price.  

Tulum Ruins on the Coast

Mayan ruins on the coast are definitely cool and worth a day-trip to see.

To make matters worse, the entire beach area is dominated by low-rise resorts and their associated restaurants. There’s virtually no place near the water to get a quick or inexpensive bite to eat unless you make the $18, hour-long, round-trip cab ride into town. To give you an idea of what that means, here’s an actual Tripadvisor review I stumbled across while searching for a restaurant near our hotel.

For our meal we had guacamole, the suckling pig which was a big portion but delicious and the whole fish which was also phenomenal. . .  The food is typical NYC pricing of $160 for two people. We would definitely recommend going here for some good food and great ambiance.”

To be clear, he’s quoting U.S. dollar prices not pesos. We’d also quibble with the idea that $80 per person is typical NYC pricing. We eat really well in New York for far less than that. And to be fair, you don’t need to spend that much in Tulum, either. But it’s also fair to say that New York City style pricing isn’t uncommon at this little slice of sand on the eastern tip of Mexico, a country where it’s usually possible to eat well for just a couple of bucks.

Perhaps we’d feel better, literally, about all of this if we hadn’t each gotten our first case anywhere in the world of full-blown food poisoning at one such resort restaurant the night of our arrival. But we did.

Tulum Beach

We found a pot full of puke at the end of this rainbow (shot from the restaurant that poisoned us.)

On the bright side, at least the resulting nausea helped keep our restaurant bill under control for the remainder of our stay.

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34 Comments on “Too Much in Tulum”

  1. jayandtanya January 11, 2016 at 9:19 am #

    Wow, great insight and comments. I haven’t been to Tulum for several years, and from what you’ve mentioned I probably won’t be back anytime soon. Thanks for resuming your postings.

    Like

  2. By Land and Sea January 11, 2016 at 10:32 am #

    We feel your pain! Just had some similar experiences in Puerto Vallarta!

    Like

    • Brian January 11, 2016 at 11:13 am #

      It happens, I guess. Just sucks when it happens to you. LOL

      Like

  3. novelrambles January 11, 2016 at 10:36 am #

    Bummer about your Tulum (and tummy) troubles but so glad you are back doing travel reports. I missed reading about your adventures.

    Like

    • Brian January 11, 2016 at 11:13 am #

      Well, thanks for following along.

      Like

  4. Bulldog Travels January 11, 2016 at 11:00 am #

    I found the archaeological site to be a little disappointing too. I mean it is beautiful and it is located on gloriously blue and picturesque beach. But, there were too many people compared to some of the lesser traveled sites like Uxmal, Coba, etc. We stayed at Playa Del Carmen for the night and it was expensive but a fun little town. I more enjoyed the quieter part of the peninsula however. Thanks for your honest review.

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    • Brian January 11, 2016 at 11:24 am #

      It’s true if you’ve been to other ruins Tulum’s certainly won’t rank in any best of list. The location is kind of unique as you say, though.

      We skipped Playa figuring that Tulum was a little father off the cruise ship circuit. And it’d have been mostly fine (food poisoning aside) if only it were a quarter of the price.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bulldog Travels January 11, 2016 at 11:29 am #

        Food poisoning. Oh no!

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      • allisonmohr January 12, 2016 at 2:29 pm #

        A friend of mine and her husband leased an apartment in Playa for a year, starting last August. They just bailed on the lease. The constant noise of jackhammers and construction of new condos drove them out, along with the techno music played at very loud levels at into the early morning hours. So, there’s a data point.

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        • Brian January 12, 2016 at 3:49 pm #

          Yikes. That’s too bad.

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  5. mytimetotravel January 11, 2016 at 11:37 am #

    Interesting. I haven’t been to Mexico since the 80s, and then I visited Tulum on a day trip from Cozumel. Sounds like a great deal of “development” has happened since, and you certainly don’t inspire me to go back.

    Sorry about the food poisoning! Price is no guarantee of staying healthy. My last visit to India the only time i got sick was after eating at the most expensive hotel of the whole trip.

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    • Brian January 11, 2016 at 12:05 pm #

      Heh, so true. We’ve eaten from some pretty dank places – carts, garages, and alleyways – the world over without any real troubles. The only times either of us got sick was in Tulum and Shannon had some issues with the breakfast served at one of the expensive hotels in Tikal NP in Guatemala (at the time paying up for a spendy lodge was the only way to stay overnight in the park without camping.) We try to avoid such places whenever we can.

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  6. dfolstad58 January 11, 2016 at 5:12 pm #

    I thought this was calmly and rationally written despite the food poisoning, frustration and costs experienced. This post adds in my opinion to your credibility when giving suggestions and reviews.

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  7. Kelly Guymon Photography January 11, 2016 at 8:22 pm #

    I love Tulum! It’s a beautiful place. I spent only an afternoon there several years ago while on a cruise. I wasn’t able to experience the local scene at all with the time schedule.

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    • Brian January 11, 2016 at 9:05 pm #

      Yeah, we’d have liked it a lot more too if we only stayed for a couple of hours. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. petitepaumee January 12, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

    I stumbled upon this post in my blog reader and I’m glad I did! My fiance and I were considering Tulum for our honeymoon but now I’m starting to have second thoughts… any suggestions on other places in Mexico where we could get history (Mayan ruins), a beach not too far away, and good food – without paying horrendous amounts?

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    • Brian January 12, 2016 at 3:46 pm #

      We only visited one beach in Mexico and that was Tulum, so I can’t comment firsthand on other parts of the coast. It does look to me that the whole area is more expensive than I think it should be. But remember, mine is just one opinion. You can find hundreds of people on Tripadvisor who were perfectly happy with their time in Tulum.

      And my criticisms were mostly about price (the food poisoning really could have happened anywhere.) If Tulum fits your budget, don’t let me put you off.

      If, on the other hand, you’re price sensitive, the irony is that you may actually find better bargains in the bigger resort areas of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. You’ll sacrifice some of Tulum’s wild and remote ambiance, but you should at least have A/C.

      Another option is Belize. We particularly liked the island of Caye Cauker and the beach town of Placencia. It definitely has more of a backpacker’s vibe than luxury resort feel, so there’s that to consider. The food in Belize also isn’t as good as in Mexico (although they do have one dish – stewed chicken with rice and beans – that I’d be happy to eat every day of my life.) On the other side of the ledger, they speak English, have ruins and monkeys and cenotes, and cost a fraction of what you’ll pay on the Mexican coast.

      – end 2 cents –

      Congrats on your pending nuptials and enjoy your honeymoon, wherever it takes you. I’m sure you’ll have a blast.

      Liked by 1 person

      • petitepaumee January 12, 2016 at 8:22 pm #

        Thanks, Brian! That was extremely helpful and kind of you. Funnily enough, we were actually considering Belize too and we don’t mind the backpackers’ ambiance. I think we’d actually prefer that to the atmosphere of an all-inclusive resort, as we’re going for something a little more undiscovered. Especially if we can get ruins and cenotes for a smaller price 🙂 Thanks again, looking forward to reading more about your travels!

        Like

  9. allisonmohr January 12, 2016 at 2:19 pm #

    Glad you’re back writing. We missed you. Very sorry that Tulum has turned out to be such a bummer. Were you able to leave early? There is just nothing worse than food poisoning, unless it’s a virus that lingers. We learned early on that Pepto Bismol is not universally available and to bring it with us.

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    • Brian January 12, 2016 at 3:48 pm #

      It’s nice to know we were missed. Thanks!

      We didn’t leave early but fortunately the worst of our illness only lasted a single night.

      Like

  10. twoplusthreetravellers January 13, 2016 at 9:22 pm #

    Sad to hear Tulum has become another Cancun.. was there over 25 years ago and remember how beautiful and deserted the beach was with the ruins as a back drop. I see you are heading for Merida and Oaxaca… they are fantastic.. as I remember… the real Mexico!

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    • Brian January 13, 2016 at 9:41 pm #

      I wouldn’t say Tulum has become another Cancun, it has actually become something worse. In Cancun you pay up to experience western culture and comforts on the edge of Mexico. In Tulum you pay more to experience western culture without the comforts on the edge of Mexico. 😛

      Heading to Merida next. Looking forward to it. We just finished visiting Chichen Itza, which we enjoyed.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Julie Cao January 16, 2016 at 11:33 pm #

    Sorry about your Tulum adventures. Contrary to your experience, I found Tulum is one of my favorite places in Yucatan,maybe because I did not experience what you did. There is a hostel or B&B I can say right across the Mayan ruins that serves really delicious breakfast, but no AC. I forgot how much I paid but it is definitely under $65.I I tolerated the lack of AC because i went there in December and the heat was not too crazy at night. For transport, I took the collective van just right outside my hostel, it is 2.5 pesos per ride for you to travel to downtown area. Just 10 minutes walk from my hostel the restaurant Urge Taquito has the best fish tacos ever, and each only costs 25 pesos. I had three and that is enough for me to go.

    Anyway hope your experience does not stand in your way to further explore Mexico, it is really a great country to travel.

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    • Brian January 17, 2016 at 8:27 am #

      Hi Julie
      I assumed we were missing some good budget options in Tulum. So if you remember, please share the name of the place you stayed.

      The only place I can find on line that matches your description is Zazil Kin Tulum Hotel & Cabana. It is near the ruins and beach. They currently have private en-suite rooms for $64 per night and ones with shared bath for $46. But, here’s the thing, according to guest reviews it also has . . . “No hot water. The light is only on between 7pm and 7am, no electricity during daytime. Wifi at the little bar works fine if there are not too many users connect. The floor was very dirty, it hadn’t been swept in months, full of sand.”

      Our main complaint about Tulum is that it’s a terrible value. Everything is way too expensive for what you get. I’d say Zazil’s, which sounds like little more than basic camping facilities for $50-$60 per night, falls in that category as well. I’d love to hear about good budget options in the beach area of Tulum, but I’m still not finding them.

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      • Julie Cao January 17, 2016 at 10:08 pm #

        Hi Brian, I stayed at Posada los Mapaches in Tulum that I paid MXN1,300 for two nights. It is a family-owned B&B. My room is built in bungalow style so it is spacious and ensuite comes with private room. There I did not have any issues with the running water and the electricity as guests in Zazil Kin Tulum Hotel & Cabana had.

        I think the most expensive meal I had in Tulum is a bow of soup that I paid MXN 65 near the Ado bus station with merely average taste. Other than that everything was nice. I think this is partly because my B&B owners did an excellent job on passing budget-travel information to every guests, and it is there I know of the collective van and another beautiful beach 30 minutes from my B&B for scuba-diving.

        Hope you have fun in your coming trip in Mexico.Mexico City is really worth visiting and I plan to return there at the end of this year on my way to South America.

        Like

        • Brian January 17, 2016 at 10:45 pm #

          Hi Julie, thanks for the info. I did mention in the article that there were less expensive options for both lodging and food in town. Posada los Mapaches may be a good budget hotel for people who don’t mind being 2-3 km away from both the beach and the town center, but that really wasn’t our focus. I guess we were just spoiled by South East Asia where you find similarly priced places much more conveniently located.

          We’re heading to Mexico City in a week or so. It looks amazing.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. Justin @ Root of Good January 18, 2016 at 11:02 pm #

    We had a similar disappointing experience in Tulum. Prices were very un-Mexican (though not quite NYC!). Ridiculous rip off taxi fares (courtesy of the Tiburones del Caribe – at least their name is truthful advertising). It was also hot as balls while we were there in July.

    After sweltering for a day in the heat at Tulum then getting ripped off on the return trip to our in-town (Tulum Pueblo) airbnb villa, we decided to just spend the last couple days in Tulum at the villa swimming and relaxing with our kids. I’d walk the few blocks to town, grab some groceries from the gas station and sometimes some street tacos.

    Not a bad place, just disappointing after spending six weeks in Mexico City, Oaxaca, and San Miguel de Allende and growing accustomed to the low low prices, excellent moderate weather and non-touristy lovely parts of Mexico. Tulum just felt like a tourist trap. We ended our 7.5 week trip in Cancun, which was touristy, but we expected that going into the experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pierce & Biersadorf January 20, 2016 at 12:43 am #

    Reblogged this on Pierce And Biersadorf.

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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