So, you want to do Tulum on a budget? We can see why – this beach-fringed town at the southern end of the Riviera Maya has been blasted into the travel stratosphere courtesy of Insta shots by the Mayan ruins. These days, you have to fork out oodles for a stay and even more for activities, right? Wrong.
There are still plenty of ways to explore Tulum on a budget. Chasing the low season months is probably the most reliable, though that might mean dealing with seaweed on the beaches and some pretty hot weather. You could also look to the more affordable hotels in the Centro part of the town, and, simply, choose to do the free things that are on the menu.
This guide can help you piece that cheap trip to Tulum together. It’s got tips on five ways to cut costs in the salt-washed city by the shore, including a detailed guide to the times of the year with the best bargains overall. Let’s begin…
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Book your flights as early as possible
One sure fire way to get a bargain on the travel stage of your journey pretty much anywhere on the planet, Tulum included, is to search for flights nice and early. When you do go a-hunting for your ticket, remember, you’re looking for connections into the Cancun International Airport. That’s the second-largest airport in the whole of Mexico, so there should be plenty of choice – these days, it hosts arrivals from Europe and the USA in abundance, plus flights from Asian hubs like Istanbul.
It’s generally accepted that the cost of the average airfare to Cancun is at its lowest some 60-90 days prior to the flight, but there’s really no harm in booking before that time either. The risks come when you leave it too late, when the cost of flight tickets to the home of Mexicana partying on the Caribbean can skyrocket five fold overnight!
Today, there are some fantastic tools out there for helping you chase the cheapest flights going. They include Hopper, a big-data flight collator that’s driven by millions of searches right across the internet, Google Flights, a simple Google calendar and flight search that lets you see results in real time, and Momondo, an online flight seller that has eye-opening stats about every route.
There are a few other things to bear in mind when you get on the hunt for cheap airfare. First, stats show that the cheapest departure day for connections from the US to Cancun is usually a Tuesday. Second, the cheapest times of the year pop up in September and in January (we’ll talk a lot more in detail about those later). Third, the cheapest airlines to travel with are generally Volaris or Spirit.
Travel in the low season
Tulum, Cancun, and the whole of the surrounding Riviera Maya are quite seasonal destinations. Most people come down for their bout of Mexican sun and sand when it’s too cold to get any further north, in the US and Europe in particular. That means the months between December to March tend to be the most popular of the lot, with another peak inside the peak when the college spring breaks swing around in the stars and stripes (typically February to March).
That leaves the summer here as the low season. Let’s get the bad news out of the way on this one first. Low season is low because it can be unbearably hot from May to July. You’re looking at soaring humidity counters and temperatures well in excess of 100 F at midday. On top of that, the infamous seaweed season runs from May to October, bringing huge blooms of sargassum to the shores around Tulum and its neighbouring resorts. That can all but put a stop to your dreams of kicking it back on the sand.
Perhaps most pertinently, the hurricane season here starts in June and lasts until November. That can usher strong tropical storm systems across from the heart of the Caribbean, causing shutdowns of hotels and infrastructure, cancelled flights, and downright horrid weather. They are rare in the Yucatan, but it can happen.
On the plus side, travel to Tulum in the low season is a lot, lot cheaper. Many hotels offer deals of 50% off or more on all-inclusive packages. Flights into the CUN airport to the north might be something in the region of 20% less. And there are fewer people around to crowd the history sites and the sands.
Look out for the hidden low seasons
Remember when we said we’d speak in more detail about the specific months when you can score a bargain in Tulum. Well…here goes. There are one or two months wedged into the middle of the peak season that offer the same great weather and vibes but also the potential for great deals. Let’s take them in turn…
First, December. Prior to Christmas and New Year tends to be a whole load less busy than the opposite peak of spring break. Not too many people are keen on packing their bags before the festive season, although the wet season and the hurricane season in Cancun is usually 100% wound up by the start of the month. Hotels will start to raise prices like clockwork on December 1st, but they should still be relatively easy on the wallet.
The second hidden peak season is January, specifically later January after the NYE party crowd has dispersed. This is the immediate run up to the start of the US spring break, which ushers in a sort of strange and eerie dip in the energy up and down the Riviera Maya. Tulum gets a welcome whiff of low-season quietude starting on about January 15th, and the occasional bargain and drop in airfare to match.
Stay in Tulum Pueblo
There are three clear sides to Tulum. There are the ruins, which perch in the archaeological zone on the side of the Caribbean. There’s the beach (or, more accurately, the beaches) which skirt the coast south of that. And there’s the pueblo, known as Tulum Pueblo, which hosts the bulk of the workaday residential buildings, the shopping streets, and the nightlife.
The pueblo part of town is almost certainly going to offer the very best bargains of the lot when it comes to accommodation in these parts, which is likely to be the biggest burden on the travel budget overall. It’s the stomping ground of most of the cheap hostel dorms and the midrange B&Bs aimed at backpackers wanting to spend less. But they aren’t low quality across the board. There are some real standouts, like…
- Posada Malix Pek ($-$$) – A charming local homestay with a proper Mexican welcome, the Posada Malix Pek has simple rooms with ensuites and they offer motorbike rental on site.
- Indajani Hostel Tulum with Pool ($) – A hostel but with style, the Indajani has its own pool that sprouts a large palm tree in the center, plus a lovely shared kitchen with its own cooking island.
- Harmony Glamping Boutique Hotel and Yoga ($-$$) – There are a series of quirky bell-tent camping options here, along with an outdoor pool.
If you’re determined to score yourself one of those classic Yucatan resort hotels with a big pool by the side of the sea, then expect to pay more than in places like the ones listed above. As we’ve already mentioned, though, there might just be bargains in the low season months of May to November.
Do free (or nearly free) things
There’s great news for budget-wary travelers on the Tulum warpath: Plenty of the main things to do here are 100% free. The most obvious POI to think about are the beaches. Accessing those glorious runs of white sand won’t usually cost you a single peso. And they are fantastic, too, from the shimmering widths of Playa Santa Fe in the north to the reef-ringed lagoons of Playa Las Palmas in the south, plus many more in between.
You can also see the legendary Tulum Ruinas without breaking the bank. An adult pass to the complex costs something like 70 MXN (that’s $3.60 at the current exchange rate). What you get is arguably the most-photographed collection of Mayan temples and buildings in the whole of the Yucatan, Chichen Itza included.
Getting around from beach to town and back again can also be super cheap for those willing to rent a bike. Tulum is flat enough to be just about perfect for exploring on two wheels. The cost of a bike for a whole day is usually just over $10 – nothing when you factor in what the cost of taxis or a car hire would be.
Tulum on a budget – our conclusion
There are plenty of ways to do Tulum on a budget, even after the town has risen to become Instagram famous thanks to its picture-perfect Mayan ruins on the Caribbean coast. The most tried-and-tested method of cutting costs here has to be traveling in the low season months that run between May and November. They bring the risk of less-clement weather but can mean 50% or more less in the hotels and on flights. You could also stray to cheaper areas like Tulum Pueblo, choose to do free things, and travel around by bike rather than taxi.