We took a family vacation to Tulum, Mexico over spring break. It was part of a larger trip that included visits to some famous Mayan ruins and would end in Cancun. To say Tulum wasn’t what I expected is an understatement.
While I was a little disappointed, it had a lot to do with the fact that I’d blown the budget. I’d built up this trip in my mind as our super fabulous family vacation. I was underwhelmed during the trip, but now that I’ve had time to ruminate on our experiences, I wouldn’t change anything. We saw many wonderful things and didn’t actually have any bad days. Only the normal bad moments from time to time.
I actually want to visit again already. Go figure!
Use the Table of Contents to find what you’re most interested in reading about!
How Far is Tulum From Cancun?
It is 148.6 km/81.2 miles and takes just under 2 hours during normal driving conditions. The distance from Cancun airport to Tulum is less, at 117.9km/73.2 miles and runs about 1.5 hours.
Family Vacation Tulum, Mexico
When I left off, we were heading toward Tulum, after cutting our time short in Valladolid. I was busy searching the internet for a hotel for the night when we’d pass small towns and I’d have some connection, but I was coming up short with affordable options. Once in Tulum, we did a little sightseeing by car. After driving along the beach road, which was PACKED, we turned around and headed back toward the downtown.
My younger child needed to use the restroom and we stopped at the grocery store in town. While I was inside, my husband found a $60 per night room at a hotel with a pool. Hotels with pools being the most important consideration for us, while traveling with our 4 and 5 year old children.
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Our First Hotel – Uolis Nah
The pool was chilly and a little deep, but it was still a pool. It tired out the kiddos and relaxed us. We slept well and woke up refreshed and ready for breakfast, which was provided by the hotel. Both the coffee and breakfast were good. This is an excellent budget option!
➜ The hotel was an incredible value, as it included coffee and breakfast, as well as having a pool. Our room was inexpensive at the time of our vacation, which was during the Mexican schools spring break. For a budget family vacation in Tulum, this is a nice option. It isn’t very close to anything, though. Check out these hotel options!
The Mayan Ruins at Midday
After breakfast and more pool time, we needed to figure out what to do between check out time at our hotel and check in time at our Airbnb. Since my carefully planned itinerary had been messed up by not staying near and then visiting the Ek Balam ruins, my husband suggested we go ahead and visit the Mayan Ruins at Tulum.
Of course, I said yes.
But, because there’s always a but, by the time we got there, it was midday. It was hot and busy. The line for the entrance was long enough to be daunting. Especially when you know your little people aren’t exactly happy to be at another archeological site.
How to Skip the Long Lines at Tulum Ruins
I’ve read in several places to head to the bathrooms outside the entrance because there aren’t any inside the ruins. While I was taking care of that stuff, my husband inquired about tours. He excitedly greets me outside the restroom and says, “if we purchase a tour, we skip the line!”
You can imagine my relief. We like the private tours anyway,because we can go at the pace of our family. We also learn so much more from our visits!
While incredibly beautiful, the Mayan Ruins at Tulum were my least favorite of the ruins we had the pleasure of visiting. Still, my husband and I enjoyed our tour and the beauty of the grounds. Be aware, there isn’t much shade, especially at midday. It was fairly busy, though not packed.
What to Bring
Make sure to bring mosquito repellent, sunscreen, hats, and water. I also suggest wearing sturdy shoes to archeological sites. This site is spread out and for the fabulous views, you’ll need to climb some steps.
Our Airbnb Condo
One of the highlights of our visit to Tulum was our Airbnb condo. It was located in a newer development that was still under construction. Our building was complete and the pool was absolutely awesome. Every single thing about the condo and the pool were better than I hoped. The price was under $130 per night, too (which was the highest price I’d consider during the planning of this trip and all accommodations were much closer to $100 US per night).
The advantage of renting a condo is that there is a kitchen. This cuts down considerably on food costs.
The Pricey Food in Tulum
Until I went to Cancun, I thought the food in Tulum was extremely expensive compared to where I live (Central Mexico). We did go to the same restaurant twice, as we liked the food and mariachi music. I have no idea what it was called. It was in the downtown area and there were several places that looked great. We also didn’t do a lot of exploring for cheaper restaurant options, since we also opted to cook in our condo.
There is a nice food and shopping area around the Mayan Ruins. Again, it’s fairly expensive and the mariachi band there made sure I was aware that they were disappointed with the tip I’d given them.
I’ve noticed in tourist areas, people will come right up to you in restaurants to sell you items, play music, even beg for food. You don’t have to purchase or tip anyone in those circumstances.
Tips for Celiacs
There was a small gluten free food section near the beginning of the produce section in the grocery store. I looked at it, but during the time of our visit, a half loaf of gluten free bread came out to about $8 USD (outrageous). Look in the regular bread section for Sanissmo brand. It’s made in Mexico and gluten free. A whole loaf was around $5 US (at the time) and priced the same as in my local grocery store in Central Mexico. Sanissmo also makes some awesome gluten free crackers.
Day 2 in Tulum: Coba Ruins
As I mentioned above, the Coba ruins were my favorite of the three. We rented two pedicabs and enjoyed the ride to the big pyramid and back. Our kids liked this one best, too.
Overall, our kids (ages 4 and 5 at the time of our visit) enjoyed these ruins the most. They loved riding on the pedicabs with us. Once we returned from our short tour of the grounds, we went climbing on the ruins near to the entrance.
We spent our time at the public beach in Tulum. We were there in early April. It was covered with a thick layer of brown seaweed. There was also quite a bit in the water. At first, I was disappointed. It was not what I expected, given what you see on Instagram or blog posts about Tulum. But I soon learned that the seaweed was the bubble wrap of the ocean, as the seed pods were really satisfying to pop! But you did have to watch out for the little sea louse that live on them (though it was neat to see them crawling on my hands, too).
The public beach at Tulum does not have any changing or bathroom facilities that I could see (it’s possible there’s another entrance further down that we did not see, but obviously, there’s no guarantee). Additionally, there aren’t any parking lots for the beach. We parked along the road and walked to the public access.
If we return to Tulum in the future, I would like to stay in one of the hotels on the beach. I’d consider an all-inclusive, too.
An Overview of Things to Do In Tulum with kids
Of course, Tulum is famous for its beautiful beaches. However, there are also many awesome things to do in the area. Since we spent several days in a row focused on visiting Mayan ruins (including seeing Chichen Itza with kids), everyone was worn out from sightseeing. We missed out on most of the other cool things Tulum with kiddos in tow.
For a more in-depth look at activities, check out Mexico Cassie’s post about alternative things to do in Tulum!
The ruins are about 45 minutes from Tulum. Get there early and explore! During the wet season, remember the mosquito repellent!
Gran Cenote (Or Any Cenotes)
Gran Cenote is one of the most famous cenotes in the area. It is more expensive due to its popularity. However, it is really easy to get to from Tulum. It isn’t the only cenote, though! There are many you can stop into and enjoy. We did not visit any cenotes while in Tulum, so a return visit is needed.
Akumal means “the place of the turtle” in the Mayan language. If you want to volunteer with or learn more sea turtle conservation in the area, check out the Centro Ecológico Akumal. This town is famous for being able to snorkel with the sea turtles, as well. We didn’t visit, so I can’t vouch for its awesomeness or not awesomeness.
Si’an Kaan Biosphere Reserve
The Si’an Kaan biosphere reserve was established in 1986 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. It is one of the things I wanted to do while in Tulum, but again, I ended up having to pass it up due to our money constraints.
Mayan Ruins in Tulum
We did head to the Mayan Ruins in Tulum on our first full day there. Between the three we saw on our trip, these were my least favorite even while being the most picturesque (read about Coba vs Chichen Itza vs Tulum Ruins to see the pros and cons of each).
See all that brown seaweed? 2018 was a bad year for the coastline, as there was so much seaweed! Check out the seaweed tracker for your trip’s seaweed forecast.
Which is a better vacation location; Tulum or Cancun, Mexico?
Of the two, I preferred Tulum. Of course, it depends what kind of family vacation you want. Tulum is smaller (even though it is growing fast) and still a little less expensive than Cancun for most things. It’s a good idea to rent a car for Tulum. If you aren’t staying on the beach, you’ll need a way to get to the beach. With a car, it’s also an easy 45 minute (approximately) drive to the Coba Ruins, which are fantastic.
If you are looking for moderately priced all-inclusive options, start by looking at Playa del Carmen, Cancun, and Puerto Morelos. Tulum does have a few, but they are often more expensive than the other towns.
Things We Did Well
Renting A Car
We rented a car to drive around the Yucatan. This way, we knew there would be seatbelts for the kids’ carseats (we used the ride safer travel vests for this trip). In Tulum, I still believe having your own car is the best option (and safest option) for family travel.
Things We Could’ve Done Better
Bring a Baby Carrier
For this trip, especially with all the trips to ruins, I wished I’d brought my toddler sized baby carrier along. See some great toddler carrier options here! My children were worn out from walking around ruins.
While Tulum wasn’t what I expected and it’s currently a far cry from the laid back, inexpensive destination it used to be, it’s still fun with kids. Though many people recommend biking around Tulum, I do NOT recommend biking with children. There is a lot of traffic and not all of the areas have bike lanes to make it safer. It’s much smaller than Cancun and it still has a small town feel.
Should we return, we would like to stay much nearer to or on the beach. One of the main reasons we did not on our trip was due to the fact that we prefer to have a pool available when we are traveling with kids. Additionally, we are far more likely to look into all-inclusive hotels because we believe they will be a better value than adding up our accommodation and food prices together for doing it on our own. This was a huge surprise, as I expected to be able to feed our family of four for under $50 USD per day. Food was priced as though we were dining in the US. Our meals in Tulum for a family of four averaged around $60 USD. Even the grocery store prices were higher.
Our accommodations were reasonably priced, of course, they weren’t on the beach. Both places we stayed had pools. This has long been a requirement for us when traveling with kids. We know our kids love to swim in a pool and don’t always appreciate the ocean. Side note: Our children much preferred the public beach in Tulum to the one we had access to in Cancun. My husband and I agree!
Will We Visit Again?
We were underwhelmed by Tulum during the visit. However, it does have a cute and vibrant downtown with a nice beach town vibe. In retrospect, I was only underwhelmed because I was unprepared for the price of food and the inconvenience of getting to the beach (no parking lot or facilities). I really enjoyed the beautiful beach (even with the seaweed). Knowing what I know now, I’d plan accordingly in order to make the perfect Tulum trip for my family!
Have you been to Tulum? Did you take the kids? What’s your favorite part? What’s your least favorite part?