During these pandemic days where travel is restricted and tourism industries have suffered, one destination has seemed to experience an unlikely boom in the opposite direction. Mexico’s jewel of Tulum has exploded in popularity. It seems like everyone and their mothers are making their way to Tulum. This destination on the shores of the turquoise waters of the Caribbean has attracted all types of travelers. From remote workers to tourists looking for a quick getaway, Tulum has been at the top of everyone’s radar.
As a digital nomad, it seemed like the sensible place to wait out the pandemic. I had a work opportunity open up, and being without work for nearly the entirety of the pandemic, I moved to a hippie commune in the jungle outside of Tulum. Believe me when I say I never know where my job is going to take me. But yeah, like many digital nomads before me, I answered Tulum’s call. It made sense, but as a budget backpacker? Not so much.
At first, anyway. While Tulum is known for its luxurious resorts, fancy restaurants, and well-dressed clientele, it is possible to travel Tulum on a budget. After a month in Tulum spent pinching pennies while still having the time of my life, let me gift upon you all that I know.
Where To Stay in Tulum on a Budget
We can split Tulum up into three parts. There’s the Zona Hotelera. If you’ve got money to blow and don’t have much time in Tulum, you’ll likely find yourself here. Next is the Playa Paraiso area. This is the public beach, and where I’d live if I could. There are fewer accommodation options here, but you’re on the beach and it’s far cheaper than the Zona Hotelera. Finally, you’ve got Tulum town, or el pueblo. If you want somewhere cheap to stay, your best bet is in Tulum town, and where I’d personally recommend staying.
There are an obscene amount of options to choose from in Tulum pueblo. You can even go further and split it up into different neighborhoods. The center is the liveliest and most convenient, but also the busiest and most touristy. La Veleta is a bit further out, but my personal favorite neighborhood in Tulum. Aldea Zama is a fancier neighborhood that caters to a party crowd.
This was my go-to hostel in town, although it’s a bit further away from the center. It is one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever been to, and the curtained dorm beds gave you plenty of privacy and comfort. With free breakfast, a beautiful pool, a common kitchen, and some stunning common areas, Mayan Monkey is hard to beat. They’ve currently got some great deals on longer stays as well, including free laundry and bikes for stays of two weeks or longer.
Holistika | The Beehive Experience
Closer to the outskirts of town is one of the most impressive properties in all of Tulum. Holistika is seriously one of the coolest spots in Tulum. It’s worth coming here just to roam around. While it looks like a place that’d be out of most people’s price range, it does offer a dorm-style accommodation known as The Beehive Experience. If you want to zen out in the jungle, take a ton of yoga classes, and surround yourself with art, this is the place to stay. It’s a bit pricier, but absolutely worth it for the value that you get. You might never want to leave the property.
This is one of the most popular hostels in Tulum. It’s got a great central location and is one of the liveliest nightlife spots in town. This is where the party’s at if that’s what you’re looking for. With dorm rooms and apartment-style options, Hostel Che’s got some great options for whatever your style of travel.
I didn’t hear about this hostel until one of my friends told me she was staying there. Unfortunately, it was my last night in Tulum and I was only able to stay one night. Otherwise, I would’ve spent most of my nights here. With great Wi-Fi, two pools, and big dorm beds with privacy curtains, this was a great hostel for working and relaxing. It also gets pretty lively at night, so don’t think that this “smart” hostel doesn’t know how to party.
Playa Paraiso (Public Beach)
I never actually stayed in this part of Tulum, although I would have loved to. There aren’t many budget options here, although you might be able to get last minute deals on hotels if you look on apps like Booking or HotelTonight. My friend said she got a great deal at Diamante K for a last-minute room. Another option that two of my friends went with is Casa Nawal, a glamping experience right on the beach that puts you in a fancy little air-conditioned tent.
Zona Hotelera (Fancy Beach)
It’s hard to say anywhere on this side of Tulum is particularly budget-friendly. However, there are a couple of hostels that aren’t as bank-breaking as the other accommodation options out here.
Selina is taking over the hostel game, and Tulum is quickly and undeniably becoming one of its flagship properties. You’re looking at around $60 a night for a dorm room at Selina, but damn. If you don’t mind sharing a room with other people, then it’s hard to beat Selina as a property. Located right on the beach with a pool, restaurant, massage beds, and plenty of parties and events throughout the week, Selina honestly bangs with the best of Tulum’s boujee beach area.
I snagged a great deal online for this place that was hard to refuse. While it’s usually around $50 per night, I managed to get a bed in the dorm for $25 a night. Honestly, the hostel isn’t all that. It’s dark, damp, small, and offers hardly any amenities. But I didn’t come to the Zona Hotelera to sit in my hostel. It’s right in the heart of the Zona Hotelera. Pretty much everything is within a 20-minute walk, although the beach is just a minute away if you hop through Delek. If you’re just here for the beaches, the parties, and don’t plan on sleeping, this hostel should do just fine.
How To Get Around Tulum on a Budget
Taxis are obscenely expensive in Tulum. I spent over a month in Tulum, and probably only used taxis about ten times. The most I ever paid was 300 pesos to get from town to the beach, but even that isn’t bad by Tulum standards. For drunk gringo tourists, you can expect to pay three times that on a busy weekend. I try to avoid taxis, and instead use other transportation options in Tulum.
To get from town to the beach and vice versa, there is no better option than to catch a colectivo or combi. It costs 10 pesos, or about $.50 USD to get from town to the Zona Hotelera. It cost 15 pesos to get from Zona Hotelera back to town. You can try and catch the colectivos from the side of the road, and that usually works. However, if you find that they’re all full, you might have to go to the designated colectivo spot in town about two blocks from Tulum’s mercado.
Rent a bicycle
Bicycles are the way to go in Tulum. Almost everyone owns or rents a bike in Tulum. It’s just part of the aesthetic, too, you feel? Renting a bike usually goes for around $5 a day. However, if you plan on renting one long-term, it’s usually a lot cheaper. Some Airbnbs and hotels include bike rentals in their prices, as well, so make sure to take advantage of that. If you plan on staying in Tulum for the long haul, buying a decent bike usually costs around $80.
Buy a scooter
Tulum is similar to Bali in many ways. Scooter prices are not one of those similarities. Whereas you can rent a scooter in Bali for as little as $1 a day long-term, you’re looking at closer to $300 a month for a scooter in Tulum. Most places will charge around $25-30 per day for a scooter. Even with a long-term monthly discount, there’s almost no point to rent a scooter over buying one. Buying a scooter can cost you around $500. Once your time in Tulum is up, you can sell it for around the same price or slightly less, and you’ve already saved loads of money compared to renting a scooter.
Traveling With A Group? Rent A Car
A rental car can comfortably fit four people, although we’ve pushed the limit and have squeezed seven of us in a single car before. Rental cars in Mexico usually go for around $20-30 a day, depending on whether you’re in high or low season. Sometimes, they go for as little as $9 a day through companies like Alamo. If you’ve got a group of three or four people, it’s far cheaper to split a rental car than it would be to constantly take taxis everywhere. If you plan on hitting the many cenotes and ruins around Tulum, a rental car is the way to go.
This is my personal favorite way of getting around on a budget. Money’s a silly little thing, isn’t it? Why pay a taxi driver $20 when my thumb can get me where I need to go for free? Hitchhiking in Tulum is pretty easy, especially to and from the beach. There’s only one main road going to and from town, so posting up there and sticking your thumb out will get you where you need to go pretty easily.
Haggle with your taxis
Sometimes, taxis are unavoidable. Taxi drivers know they’re ripping people off. Always ask how much the taxi costs beforehand, and negotiate a fair price. When I know a price is fair, I’ll tell the taxi right away how much I’m going to pay. State it with conviction and usually, they’ll agree. As a rule of thumb, getting anywhere within town should cost no more than 100 pesos max. It’s usually only 40-60 pesos for shorter rides. Getting to the beach from town during quieter hours can be as low as 180 pesos from my experience. However, they’ll usually start with 400 pesos before quickly going down to the 250-300 range, which is fair most of the time.
Best Budget Restaurants in Tulum
Honestly, my favorite thing about Tulum is the food. I just love eating. Tulum has no shortage of incredible restaurants with gorgeous aesthetics and delicious food to follow up. I’m a budget backpacker, so I wouldn’t know about those. Here are my spots to eat in Tulum on a budget.
Antojitos del Chiapaneca
10 peso tacos, empanadas, tostadas, and more. 25 peso tortas. For eating on a budget, this place can’t be beat. Avoid going during peak meal hours, though. This place has exploded in popularity. From a local joint, it’s kind of turned into a gringo hotspot.
Centrally located in town, this taco joint has some fat tacos for about 20 pesos a pop. It’s definitely more meat-eater friendly, and I’ll admit that I was seduced by the lechon tacos during a moment of weakness.
Suculenta’s all-vegan menu is one that I can survive off of forever. They’ve got the best tamales in town, and perhaps the best vegan tacos I’ve had. The oyster mushroom tacos with blue corn tortillas are to die for. The chilaquiles are great, as well. The garden in the back is quite the vibe. Basically, I love everything about this place.
El Bajon Vegan Tacos
One of the saddest things about El Bajon is that it’s right across from Suculenta. Every time I plan on going to El Bajon, I just end up at Suculenta instead. El Bajon’s 25 peso vegan tacos are absolutely amazing, though.
Tulum’s local market has a few eateries where you can get some cheap meals. It won’t be as fancy or Insta-worthy like everything else in Tulum, but it’s local, delicious and great for budget travelers.
20 peso taco stand (tacos al canasta)
There’s a spot a little bit past Ahau that sells 20 peso tacos. Ever had a mashed potato taco? Me neither. Now I can’t stop eating them. I don’t know the actual name of this place, but they’re located in a little nook on the side of the road next to a shop and a money exchange. The only signs I saw said “tacos al canasta” and “only cash”. Just walk past Ahau and you’ll eventually find it.
This was my last meal in Tulum and I only wish that I had discovered it sooner. The breakfast prices were very fair and the food was absolutely delicious. As usual, I got the chilaquiles because I have a serious addiction.
Parque Dos Aguas Street Food Street
On the main street, Avenida Tulum, you’ll eventually see the colorful letters saying Tulum. Turn left and walk through the park and you’ll stumble into a street food street, reminiscent of South East Asia’s night markets. For cheap tacos, burritos, marquesitas, elotes, and more, this is the street to be at. It’s very lively and the food is always amazing. Some of them even have vegetarian and vegan options, including my go-to, the burrito spot.
Mercado Palma Central
This is arguably my favorite spot in all of Tulum. I wouldn’t necessarily call it budget compared to some of the other places on here, but it’s definitely where you’ll get the most value on a Friday night. It gets lively here, usually with music and dancing, and of course, good food. Most meals hover around the 150 peso mark, depending on what you’re getting. My personal go-to are the vegan arepas, which go for 110 pesos.
Of course, Tulum also has plenty of restaurants worth splurging for. Life’s about balance, ya feel? Personally, I could eat 10 peso tacos all day. Don’t restrict yourself to just eating on a budget, though. I ate out at some nice places, and you definitely sometimes have to pay for an amazing view or a unique dinner experience.
Other Budget Travel Tips for Tulum
Visit Tulum During The Low Season
Like many other beach destinations in Mexico, prices can vary wildly between seasons. During low seasons, prices in Tulum are much more on par with what you’ll find throughout Mexico. During high seasons, hotels, hostels, and even bars and restaurants will jack up their prices. Sometimes, the price hike can be up to 400%. Seriously, I got a dorm room on the beach for $23 a night. I saw their price chart, and during high season, the same crappy dorm bed would cost $70. It’s insane. If you want to experience Tulum without spending crazy amounts of money, you’ll want to go outside of peak seasons.
Take Advantage of Weekly and Monthly Discounts on Airbnb
Weekly discounts on Airbnb usually can net you about 10-15% off the usual price. Monthly discounts? I’ve seen it take as much as 60% off the usual price. Put it this way. A $30 per night Airbnb with a 50% monthly discount will total to about $500 a month after all the fees.
Check Facebook Marketplace For Cheaper Monthly Rentals in Tulum
Airbnb’s are great and convenient, but if you plan on sticking around Tulum long-term, you’ll want something cheaper. The apartments on Facebook marketplace tend to be much cheaper than Airbnb, and often of great quality if you start your search a few months in advance.
Don’t Be Tempted By All The Cute Boutiques. Shop Elsewhere.
I can’t deny that Tulum has some amazing stores. However, most of those places are massively overpriced and offer products that can be purchased elsewhere for much cheaper. I just arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas after over a month in Tulum. I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am that I didn’t shell out $100 for a hat that goes for $20 here and goes straight to the pockets of local artisans.
Tulum is a fantastic destination for all travelers. It’s really no surprise that it’s taken off in popularity in recent years. Whether you crave the jungle, the beach, historical sites, or just laid-back vibes, Tulum is a wonderful place to be. On the surface, Tulum seems like a destination only for the wealthy. However, if you dig a little deeper, Tulum can still be a great destination for those on a budget.