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