Tulum: paradise or tourist hell?
Disclaimer: this is not a fair review. I only visited Tulum on a daytrip from Valladolid. And yes, the ruins and the beaches are great. But boy, did this place tick all the boxes of a tourist trap.
The moment you exit the ADO bus terminal, on the main road, you see bars and restaurants exclusively catering for the hipster backpacker crowd. Overpriced coffee, happy hours, vegan pancakes, you name it. It’s of course great the options are there, but it has nothing to do with Mexican life.
For some strange reason Tulum has exploded in the last couple of years. It’s far enough away from Cancun and Playa de Carmen to avoid stereotypical American holidaygoers, but features the same paradisiac beaches in a more relaxed setting. Add to that the Mayan ruins and you get a sense why you see long-haired, bronzed wanna-be hipsters stirring their lattes and cocktails in the early afternoon already.
It has led to an influx of tourists, including inflated prices for accommodation. The entrance area to the old fortress is a case in point: there is a modern lookout tower for visitors, and a souvenir market. All catering for tourists, nothing authentic about it.
Which leaves you with a sole, but good, reason to go to Tulum. The fortress is already unique because of its seaside location. There are iguanas everywhere, and info columns explain you the history of the Tulum ruins.
But even here there is a ‘but’. Compared to other Mayan ruins such as Ek Balam, Uxmal or Chichen Itza, this one is not nearly as well-preserved. There is one impressive building, the El Castillo. But it doesn’t come close to the El Castillo / Templo de Kukulchan in Chichen Itza or the Pyramid of the Magician in Uxmal.
Yes, it’s a relaxed place to walk around. Definitely a must-see when you are already staying in Tulum anyway. A nice-to-have when your jumping point is Valladolid or Cancun. But if you have already seen bigger Mayan sites, you can skip this one without feeling too guilty about it.
Good to know:
– from Valladolid ask for a direct bus, they go every 1-2 hours from the ADO terminal
– from Cancun: around two hours from their main terminal
– once in Tulum at the small bus terminal, you can either walk (45-60 minutes) or take a collectivo or taxi to the ruins. Buy a return ticket in advance, the later buses fill up quickly sometimes
– me is not the only one with doubts about Tulum. Travel blogger Nomadic Matt has a piece on it as well: https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/tulum-sucks/