Once a walled Mayan city and now a haven for yogis and party-goers alike, Tulum is Cancún’s bohemian sister coastline with a bustling central downtown that manages to maintain its Mexican charm. The town offers something for everyone, scoring the perfect balance between backpacker appeal and upscale glamor, but is Tulum expensive?
If you’re visiting Mexico on a shoestring, you might be disappointed to learn that Tulum is not cheap. It’s the Ibiza of Mexico and you can expect prices to match. Still, Tulum shouldn’t be off-limits to backpackers and we’re here to show you how you can still visit the Mayan mecca on a budget.
Our guide looks at the real costs of visiting Tulum in 2023 from the food and drink to getting around. It might have a notoriously poor layout, but if you know where to stay, it doesn’t have to be as expensive as you think. Let’s get into it.
The Average Cost of a Holiday to Tulum
Mexico can be a shoestring destination to visit, but Tulum is not one of its budget hotspots. The gritty city with its lusted shoreline is known for expensive vacations and if you’ve got your sites set on the beach, you should come with a big budget.
The average traveler spends around $1,891 in one week in Tulum, while couples are expected to spend closer to $3,396 across seven days and the costs for a family of four are around $6,367. Still, these amounts can be much higher or lower, with the average hotel ranging between $57 and $387 a night (quite a gap) and vacation rentals costing anywhere between $120 and $1,200 a night.
Beach clubs are part of Tulum’s allure but they are a surefire way to burn through your budget, with food, alcohol, and entry all coming out more expensive than in Western Europe. Tulum’s price points are not reflective of Mexico’s living costs at all and everything is catered toward tourists. However, you can find a budget if you know where to look and still experience the best of what Tulum has to offer by cutting a few corners.
Before we get into that, let’s take a look at a breakdown of some average daily expenses in Tulum:
|Price (MXN)||Price (USD)|
|Inexpensive Meal (restaurant)||$140||$7.00|
|Fast Food Combo Meal||$200||$10.00|
|Coke Bottle (supermarket)||$17||$0.80|
|Water Garrafon (five gallons)||$100||$5.00|
|Cenote Entry (half day)||$500||$25|
|Beach Club Entry (evening event)||$600-1,600||$30-80|
Is Tulum Expensive to visit? Getting There
One reason why Mexico, and the Yucatan Peninsula in particular, has become so trodden by foreign tourists is because of its close proximity to North America. You can reach Cancún, home to the nearest airport to Tulum, in just four hours from northeast cities like Toronto and New York, and less than two to three hours from Miami, New Orleans, Dallas, and Atlanta.
This makes Tulum an attractively cheap option in terms of flights for US citizens who can expect to pay more than twice as much to visit Europe and quadruple to make the trip to Southeast Asia. The average return flight costs just $450 from New York, $316 from Toronto, and as little as $230 from Miami, making Mexico’s Caribean coast an affordable tropical getaway for Americans.
That said, if you’re coming from further afield, your flights are certainly going to take a big chunk out of your budget. Cancún might be closer to Europe than most Mexican destinations like Mexico City, Los Cabos, and Oaxaca, but you can still expect flights of between 9-12 hours and an average price of $770 from London, $800 from Copenhagen, and $1,040 from Milan return, depending on the time of year you visit and the number of connections.
Options with more stop-overs can help keep the prices down, but visiting Tulum from Europe is never going to be cheap due to the distance. If you’re coming from even further east, expect prices in excess of $1,500 return from Southeast Asia and $2,750 from Sydney on Australia’s east coast.
Still, it’s not just the flights to consider. One of Tulum’s biggest pitfalls is its location far away from an international airport. The biggest transport hub of Cancún might be the closest, but it’s still two hours by car from the old town, which can easily amount to three hours with all the poorly managed traffic and regular accidents on highway 307.
Not only is this inconvenient, but it also makes Tulum even more expensive to reach. If you’re on a budget, your best option is to take the ADO airport bus for around $14 USD ($288 MXN) per way. The trip takes two hours and 45 minutes but the bus only makes one stop in Tulum Centro, so you’ll require further transport if you aren’t staying nearby. Taxis to the hotel zones from the town by can cost double that of the bus ticket itself.
If you’re staying in the busy hotel zone just east of Tulum Pueblo where most of the upscale and flashy resorts are located, your best bet is booking a shuttle. Head to Viator to find a selection of reliable companies to choose between, but the average cost is around $30 USD per person for the journey that can take more than three hours with the multiple drop-offs each shuttle has to make.
Bear in mind, not all airport transfer companies from Cancún will be willing to drive as far as Tulum so always check in advance. If you want to book a private taxi, we recommend doing so before traveling to avoid the chaos and potential scams at the airport but expect to pay between $80 and $120 USD each way.
Is Tulum Expensive to get around?
Following suit with Tulum’s inconvenience in terms of airport transport, this little Mayan mecca is also notoriously difficult to get around, especially for those used to the backpacking joys of Southeast Asia and other parts of Central and South America. One of the first criticisms you’ll hear about Tulum is its poor layout and your budget is sure to pay the price, no matter what it is you want to get up to.
For starters, Tulum is often associated with the powdery white sands and turquoise seas of paradisical Caribean beaches, and it’s true that the spectacularly well-preserved beauty of its shores is as good a reason as any visit. However, Tulum Pueblo, the center of the action, especially when it comes to transport and amenities, is more than five kilometers from the nearest beach—a distance that can take more than an hour to walk.
The drive to the beach from most spots in town and in the ex-pat popular neighborhoods of La Valeta and Aldea Zama takes 12-15 minutes but taxis come at a premium price and you’ll struggle to find a driver to take you to the beach for less than $300 MXN ($15 USD). With the isolation that the beach areas afford, you’ll pay even more to get back into town, around $400-600 MXN ($20-30 USD). That’s more than you’d pay for an Uber in London covering the same distance.
In the Hotel Zone, things only get more extreme. Expect to spend $400 MXN ($20 USD) to get there and more than $700 MXN ($35 USD) to get back, depending on the time of day. There is a local Collectivo bus that runs to the public beach from Tulum Centro and costs only $70 MXN ($3.50) each way, but our favorite option for budget travelers is a bicycle.
Where Tulum lacks in layout it makes up for in cycle paths. Unlike destinations like Bali with which Tulum is often compared, the city is very bike-friendly, and dedicated routes lead from the center and ex-pat neighborhoods straight to the beach. Many travelers choose to whip around on two wheels when they’re in Tulum and a bike could certainly give you a lot more freedom for less money. They’re not dirt cheap, averaging at $100 MXN ($5 USD) a day, but they’ll help you save on taxis.
However, a bike isn’t practical for getting around at night, especially if drinking is involved. Since most of the big beach clubs are located in the hotel zone and walking isn’t especially safe at night in Tulum, you’ll be limited to forking out fortunes on taxis.
Many travelers choose to rent a vehicle for their time in Tulum, which could really help you save on taxi fees coming to and from the airport as well. Prices start at around $170 for the week for a car and $75 for a moped. You’ll need a full international license for both of these options.
Accommodation prices in Tulum
Tulum’s reputation for luxury and extravagance doesn’t come from anywhere. It might often be compared to Bali, but accommodation prices are a far cry from what you’ll find in Southeast Asia and even European travelers could be shocked by the premiums you have to pay for a beach view and convenient location.
However, you can still stay in Tulum on a budget and this comes down to where you stay and when. The hotel zone and beach bungalows along the coast will always be expensive, but they’re much cheaper outside of December to May (the high season). Better yet, you could find that you can use many of these beach club facilities for a discounted price or even for free if you’re visiting off-peak, and save yourself a real fortune by staying in Tulum Pueblo and making the journey over when you fancy a beach day.
The average price for a hotel in Tulum ranges between $57 and $387 a night but this can be much more if you’re headed for the beach. However, if you’re willing to stay in a hostel in Centro, a bed in a dorm room can start from as low as $10 a night, averaging a $30 a night in the high season.
As a middle ground, Tulum also has an up-and-coming ex-pat community and the downtown neighborhoods of La Veleta and Aldea Zama, located in between the center and the beach, are a great alternative to hostel or hotel zone life. You’ll find homestays but mostly Airbnb apartments and condos up for rent, both long-term and short-stay, in these areas.
The price to stay in a vacation rental varies between $30 and $500 a night in La Veleta and Aldea Zama but with an average of $215 a night. With kitchen facilities and rooms for other guests depending on how big your party is, you could save a fortune. The average dips down to around $150 a night in the low season.
For an idea of some of the places you could stay in Tulum, whatever your budget, check out the options below:
Ché Hostel, Tulum Pueblo ($) – Ché is a much-loved party hostel that’s part of the furniture in downtown Tulum. With clean airconditioned dorms, a communal working space, a large outdoor pool, and a central location, it has become a hub for backpackers and dorms starting from just $20 a night.
UJO Condo Boutique, Aldea Zama ($) – These stylish private units come complete with a kitchenette, double bed, secure safe, private parking, and access to an elegant communal rooftop pool. The standard studio starts at $90 a night.
Coco Hacienda Tulum, La Veleta ($$) – This boutique hotel is nestled in the ex-pat neighborhood of La Veleta in downtown Tulum. You’ll find two outdoor pools, spa facilities, and an on-site restaurant, with rooms starting from $120 including breakfast.
Irie Tulum Boutique Hotel, Aldea Zama ($$) – Irie boasts a fitness center, communal pool, terrace rooms, and sleek decor with a handy location between downtown and the beach. Doubles start at $125 a night.
Dune Boutique Hotel, Zona Hotelera ($$$) – Located in Tulum’s elusive Zona Hotelera, this four-star hotel has its own private beach, on-site restaurant, and stylishly decorated rooms. Suites start at $564 a night with a fabulous breakfast included in the price.
Is Tulum expensive for food and drink?
Food and drink are other things that can really add up in Tulum, and again, it’s the hotel zone and its beach clubs that will break the bank. Although the average meal for two in a mid-range restaurant in town could cost you just $700 MXN ($35), you’re looking closer to $4,000 MXN ($200 USD) on the beach, and don’t get us started on drinks.
For a bowl of pasta at a beach club like Bagatelle or a restaurant like Mia, expect prices in the region of $600-800 MXN ($30-40 USD) per dish. Even Mexican food doesn’t come cheap in the hotel zone with tacos and guacamole costing in excess of $400 MXN ($20) at places like Gitano and Papaya Playa. You’ll struggle to find a cocktail for less than $350 MXN ($17.50 USD) at any of the beach clubs, and a bottle of nice wine or liquor ordered to your table could easily come to $2,000 MXN ($100) or more.
These prices are hard to avoid if you’re hoping to party on the beach. Your best bet is to welcome the free drink on arrival that often comes with your entry fee and stick to water thereon (even so, a bottle will cost you $5 USD). You’ll also notice that they treat tipping as a nonnegotiable, especially on the beach in Tulum. It’s not uncommon for servers to offer three gratuity options on your bill, either 10, 15, or 20 percent, and circle the 20 percent or add it to your bill without asking before you’ve chosen how you want to pay.
Remember that the tip usually is optional, even if it may not look like it on the bill. The bill might imply that 10 percent reflects sub-standard service, but this isn’t the case and you shouldn’t feel bad for tipping what you can afford.
Still, all is not lost. Tulum doesn’t have to be off the cards just because of the precedent set by these Ibiza-style joints.
The contrast between the hotel zone and the town is never more obvious than when it comes to food, and drink. Partying in Pueblo will start to become much more appealing when you compare the difference in price. A nice meal in town will set you back around $300-500 MXN ($15-25 USD) per head but go local, and you can enjoy regional food at any of the humble diners and taquerias for $80 MXN ($4 USD) a dish.
Better yet, you haven’t been to Tulum if you’ve not devoured your fair share of street tacos. Starting at 10 pesos a pop stands churning out piles of al pastor tacos are waiting for hungry drunk revelers every night of the week.
The alcohol downtown is also dangerously cheap. You can enjoy a nice cocktail in a local spot like Batey’s Mojito Bar for $150 MXN ($7.50 USD), while the rooftop clubs serve most mixed drinks for $120 MXN ($6) each. What’s more, head to the hostels to pre-game and you’ll find happy hour deals like 2 for $100 MXN ($5) and even free drinking hours for women that men can usually get in on if they humor the staff and dress up.
Tulum truly has two extremes and you can pick your budget based on your holiday style.
When is the best time to visit Tulum?
Mexico benefits from a tropical climate and its Caribean coast has some of the best weather. There are two distinct seasons in Tulum, the wet and the dry. The wet season is actually known as the hurricane season here and it last from June to October with the most rainfall coming down in August and September.
For this reason, the middle of summer offers some of the best hotel and flight rates, and many beach clubs will even drop their entry fees at this time (if they’re open), but the chances of a tropical storm ruining your break are high. Wild weather also brings choppier seas and much more debris to the beaches.
The most popular time to visit Tulum is the high season which runs from December through to May. Blue skies, warm days, and less humidity create the perfect conditions for a Mexican break. Downpours can still happen but they’re less often. Highs hover in the 80s but the nights are cool and less balmy than in the rainy season.
That said, this is the most expensive time to visit Tulum with hotels, beach clubs, and even restaurants hiking up their prices. To snag a deal, without getting caught in a hurricane, we recommend the shoulder seasons in May and June, or late October to November, when you can expect plenty of sunshine, fewer crowds, and cheaper hotels.
Tulum on a Budget: Our Top 7 Money-Saving Tips
- Stay downtown – From travel to food, and most importantly, accommodation, everything is cheaper in downtown. Avoid the hotel zone if you can and head to the beach when you want to sunbathe or party.
- Rent a car – If you’ve got an international license, renting a vehicle will save you hundreds of dollars on taxis, especially those airport transfers.
- Pay in pesos – With all the tourists that visit Tulum, you’ll often get the option to pay in dollars in restaurants and shops, but you’ll find better exchange rates by withdrawing pesos from the HSBC ATMs around town.
- Party in the hostels – The beach clubs are overrated and overpriced. Try to attend one party in the hotel zone if good music and vibes are your things, but don’t underestimate downtown for raucous (and cheap) nights out.
- Visit in the shoulder season – As soon as it strikes December 1, prices soar from accommodation to entrance fees, but with similar weather, this makes November, and the spring shoulder season, a great time to visit
- Take the ADO bus or shuttle from the airport – If you aren’t renting a car, don’t fall into the trap of an airport taxi. Book a shuttle to your hotel, or if you’re staying in downtown, hop on the ADO bus for a tenth of the price of a taxi.
- Eat street tacos – Local food is always the way to go when you want to save money, but street tacos take this to the extreme at 10 pesos a pop from some stalls. Plus, they’re delicious.
Is Tulum Expensive? Our Verdict
Tulum has a reputation for being one of the most expensive destinations in Mexico, and it certainly lives up to its name. This small bohemian Mayan town has attracted a steady flow of holistic partygoers for the last few decades and is now home to a thriving beach club scene to rival Ibiza in DJs and price.
Tulum’s hotel zone is expensive even by Western European standards, but isolating yourself from the beach will be your first mistake in Tulum. The truth is, Tulum downtown is still accessible for savvy spenders and you can find cheap food and drink that’s characteristic of any backpacker haven. It’s more expensive than other Central American destinations, but Tulum isn’t off-limits to budget travelers and it doesn’t have to break the bank—as long as you don’t stay on the beach.