Ancient ruins overlooking white sand beaches, the scent of freshly-made tacos, an unmistakably chic vibe… There are a million reasons why Tulum, Mexico, has become such a popular vacation destination in recent years!
While it’s definitely not the laidback coastal town it used to be when we first visited, there’s something very compelling about Tulum.
But, let’s roll back. Before you decide on a hotel, you have to decide where to stay in Tulum. Beach or town? That’s usually the decision.
There are actually three Tulum neighborhoods: Tulum Beach, Tulum Town and Aldea Zama.
That’s what this “Tulum Beach or Town” guide is all about – explaining the best areas of this Mexican beach town and the best hotels in each Tulum area.
Where to stay in Tulum: Beach or town?
Where is Tulum?
You’ll find Tulum on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo, in the southeast of the country.
Tulum is located about 45 miles south of the town of Playa del Carmen and around 75 miles from the Cancun International Airport.
The Cancun airport is the closest airport to Tulum, and you can fly to Tulum from many destinations in North and South America and Europe.
3 Main areas of Tulum
We mentioned there are 3 main areas to stay in Tulum:
- Tulum Beach
- Tulum Town
- Aldea Zama
When deciding on which area to stay in Tulum, we’d recommend taking a look at your priorities.
Do you have to be by the beach? Do you want a more authentic local experience? Do you want to save some money?
Tulum Beach is the “Zona Touristica” or Tulum Hotel Zone. It’s where you’ll find the most high-end hotels and have more of a “vacation” atmosphere.
It’s the best part of Tulum to stay if you’re looking for a classic beach trip and want to spend most of your time either at your resort or on the sand.
The town is the best location to stay in Tulum if you’re on a budget. It also has a lot more “local” feel than Tulum Beach and is close to some kicker Mexican restaurants and fantastic nightlife.
Tulum Beach and town are only a few miles apart.
But because the roads are narrow and traffic is heavy, they’re actually a 20- to 45-minute drive from each other. (And it’s important to note that taxi prices between the two can be extortionate – we’re talking $20 USD to even $40 USD in high season!)
Many visitors staying in town prefer to rent a bicycle to get to the beach. It takes between 20 to 35 minutes by bicycle from Tulum Town to the beach.
Then there’s Aldea Zama, which is a mix of the two.
This is a relatively new (and developing) neighborhood on the southern edge of Tulum Town, with condos and a few high-end hotels.
Aldea Zama is still a bit of a distance away from the beach (around 2 miles).
The closest beaches are Playa Las Palmas and Playa Paraiso (covered below under “Tulum Beaches”). It’s possible to walk there (though hot). It’s better to bicycle, ride a scooter or drive there.
Tulum Town vs. Tulum Beach: Which is cheaper?
When it comes to affordability, Tulum’s downtown area wins hands down.
With its modestly priced accommodations and local eats, Tulum Town is much more pocket-friendly. In fact, you can find some downright cheap hotels in Tulum Town.
Aldea Zama is also generally less expensive than staying in Tulum Beach.
On the flip side, the waves may be free on Tulum Beach, but luxury has its price. Hotel rooms here cost more – some go for as much as $1,000 a night in high season.
Before we go into the nuts and bolts of each area, let’s discuss the beaches, since they may influence your decision on which Tulum area you’ll stay in.
Here are the top ones to add to your list, with the recommended closest hotels.
The south end of Tulum Beach is long and wide. It’s the quintessential Mexican Caribbean white sand beach, lapped by turquoise water.
Moving north to the Middle Beach zone, you hit the Ahau Tulum Beach Club.
The entrance to the beach club has been blowing up the ‘gram in recent years. It’s a huge statue of a person opening their chest. Beachgoers pass through here to access an undercover leafy walkway leading to the sands.
The Middle Beach zone is ideal for watersports. Mexican Caribbean Kitesurf offers kitesurfing classes and tours.
Excellent restaurants can also be found in the Middle Beach zone.
Papaya Playa Project Beach
Located north of Tulum’s Middle Beach zone, the Papaya Playa Project Beach is one of Quintana Roo’s most exclusive.
The catch? It’s a private beach area. (But it’s very relaxed.) To visit, you need to be a beach club customer or guest of the Papaya Playa Project Hotel.
With an extensive cocktail list, beach parties, traditional Shaman therapy treatments and jungle hut rooms with private pools, there aren’t too many better places to stay in Tulum than Papaya Playa!
Playa Las Palmas
In the North Beach zone, this public beach has fine white sand and clear water. It’s a little quieter than Playa Paraiso, covered next.
In the heart of the Tulum beach district, Playa Paraiso (Paradise Beach) is bordered by swaying palm trees and covered in soft golden sand.
This is the kind of beach you’re likely dreaming of when planning your Tulum break!
It’s home to the renowned Playa Paraiso Beach Club.
If you want to stay within striking distance, we recommend Mi Amor a Colibri Tulum.
Probably at the top of any list of the best places in Tulum, Playa Ruinas is a must-visit.
Playa Ruinas (or “Ruin Beach”) is named after – you guessed it – the Tulum Ruins. It’s found at the north end of Tulum.
Around 800 years old, this archaeological site consists of elaborate Mayan pyramids and temples.
What makes the Tulum ruins so special is their location, overlooking a golden beach (Playa Ruinas) and the perfectly blue Caribbean Sea. There’s nothing quite like a refreshing dip after exploring this ancient site!
The ruins are also on the right side of town to see Gran Cenote, another famous attraction Tulum.
Want to be as close to the ruins as possible (and be the first there every morning)? Stay at Mezzanine, which is located inside Tulum National Park itself.
Where to stay in Tulum Beach area
If you want to pair luxury Tulum accommodation with a hint of local flavor, Tulum Beach is the best area to stay in Tulum.
Also called the Hotel Zone, the Tulum Beach area is a long strip of beach (over 6 miles long), running alongside a beachfront road, sprinkled with hotels and resorts.
The town of Tulum is a 20- to 45-minute drive away, depending on traffic. (That narrow beach road can get clogged with taxis, bicycles and delivery vans, and when busy, traffic inches along at a crawl!)
The Tulum National Park and Mayan ruins are found at the north end. The south end of the beach is bordered by Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Most of the beach in the South and Middle zones is effectively “private.” You can’t just walk anywhere to shake out your towel on the beach and lie down – you have to go through one of the beach clubs or hotels to access the beach.
The luxury Tulum hotels along this beach strip are mostly small boutique hotels.
These boho-chic design gems (typically built from natural materials) transport you away completely from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life.
Snuggled against a backdrop of jungle, they’re just a coconut’s throw from the glimmering Caribbean Sea.
They pride themselves on their eco-friendly design. Cooled by natural sea breezes, they may or may not have air-conditioning. Candlelight at night adds to their charm.
Not surprisingly, Tulum Beach hotels are a top choice for honeymooners and those seeking a couples’ getaway.
Just be aware they’re pricey. You’re paying Maui hotel rates for the privilege of staying on the beach.
South Beach Zone Tulum
Generally, the southernmost parts of Tulum Beach are the most upscale.
If you’re a romantic at heart, passionate about sinking into Egyptian cotton sheets at night, you should stick to the South Beach zone along Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila (beachfront Route 15).
Middle Beach Zone Tulum
Tulum’s Middle Beach zone starts at about Arca restaurant on Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila. It has decidedly more buzz than South Beach, as it’s packed with open-air restaurants and nightclubs.
However, it’s still a fabulous area that’s more than worthy of love and attention – and your booking dollars.
North Beach Zone Tulum
The North Beach area stretches from beyond the intersection of the beachfront road (La Costera) with Avenida Coba to the Tulum archaeological site.
It’s anchored by the public beach of Playa Paraiso, backed by rugged cliffs and swaying palms. Many travelers find this wide expanse of soft white sand to be one of the best beaches in Mexico.
Beach clubs make Playa Paraiso popular with day trippers from around the Riviera Maya.
But quiet high-end boutique hotels abound too. Their beaches are less crowded, but they also have fewer restaurants within close walking distance.
Playa Las Palmas and Playa Ruinas are also found in the North Beach zone.
Best places to stay in Tulum Beach
Starting at the southern end of Tulum and going north, this is our short list of the most deluxe and best beach hotels:
Where to stay in Tulum Town (Pueblo)
If you crave having all the excitement that Tulum has to offer at your fingertips, you’ll want to bed down in the Tulum Town area (known to locals as Pueblo).
Pueblo is the perfect base for exploring some of Mexico’s most popular tourist attractions.
You should have no issue catching a taxi to snorkel with turtles at Akumal or for cenote swimming. It’s a convenient base for taking tours to other Mayan ruins in the Yucatan too (like Coba).
It’s also the best area to stay in Tulum if you’d like to save a little cash – hotels are less expensive here than beachfront Tulum hotels.
In fact, everything (restaurants, hotels, bicycle rentals) is about half the price of what you can expect to pay if staying on the beach.
Another reason to stay in Tulum Town is the food.
Pueblo has a happening café and restaurant scene – with eateries like Cetli (authentic Chiles en nogada and Pueblan classics), Sabor de Mar (delicious shrimp dishes) and Campanella Cremerie (decadent gelato and pastries).
(If you aren’t sure where to start when it comes to Mexican cuisine, check out our comprehensive guide to Mexican food!)
Be aware that when staying in Pueblo, you’re at least two or three miles from the nearest beach. But the best hotels in Tulum Town compensate by having great pools. (They all have air-conditioning too.)
If you’d rather have a pool and can’t get enough of boutique shopping and tasty eats, then this shouldn’t bother you.
But if you have a beach vacay in mind, play it safe and stick to the Tulum Beach Zone.
Where to stay in Aldea Zama, Tulum
If you’re wondering “Where to stay in Tulum: Beach or town?” and just can’t decide, check out Aldea Zama.
The Aldea Zama vicinity is a new upscale residential development mid-way between Pueblo and the beach area, with lots of lush greenery, walking paths and bicycle lanes.
It’s just about walking distance to both beach and town – which could save you a small fortune in taxi fares!
There are cafés and restaurants within Aldea Zama too – it’s like a mini town. (Safari has the best shrimp tacos in Tulum!)
It’s an excellent place to stay in Tulum if you’re after that “home-away-from-home” feel, as many digs have kitchens.
What we love about Aldea Zama is the fact that it’s safe and quiet during the evenings, making it ideal for couples traveling with kids who need some undisturbed shuteye after a long day exploring.
However, we feel the area is slightly too low-key to provide much reason to stick around once you’re up and ready for the day.
How far is Aldea Zama from the beach?
Aldea Zama is about 2 miles from the beach. It’s about a 5- to 10-minute drive (if traffic is good) or a 30-minute walk.
Which area of Tulum to stay? Pros and cons
Here are some pros and cons of each of the best areas in Tulum to help you decide:
Best hotels in Tulum for different travelers
If you are wondering where to stay in Tulum on the beach or are looking for the most kid-friendly resorts, let’s break down the best places to stay for couples, honeymooners, families, luxury vacationers and more budget-conscious travelers.
Where to stay in Tulum for couples
- La Zebra Colibri Boutique Hotel: This intimate adults-only accommodation (part of the deluxe Colibri Boutique Hotels collection) has stylish rooms, some with plunge pools, and an outdoor main pool with a swim-up bar.
- La Valise Tulum: Nestled in the jungle, this oh-so-romantic adults-only resort has two infinity pools. In the Master Suite, you can sleep under the stars on a bed that can be rolled out onto your private terrace.
Where to stay in Tulum for beach glamping
- Libelula Tulum: This beachfront hotel takes glamping to the next level with luxurious comfy tents (complete with air conditioning!) and a fantastic Mexican restaurant. It’s one of the best places to stay in Tulum for anyone fancying an offbeat experience.
- Habitas Tulum: Stay in a luxury tent with hardwood floors and a palapa roof, and enjoy an outdoor shower. Some rooms come with private plunge pools.
Where to stay in Tulum on honeymoon
- La Zebra Colibri Boutique Hotel: It’s a contender for our award of most luxurious Tulum hotel. Choose a room with a private pool if you’re on your honeymoon!
- The Beach Tulum: For adults only, all of the rooms at this beautiful hotel have private plunge pools. (The hotel is well-versed in the art of creating memorable destination weddings too.)
Where to stay in Tulum with family
- Jashita Tulum: Located in Soloman Bay (north of Tulum), this 5-star hotel is the perfect place for families seeking an upscale Tulum vacation, with separate adults and kids pools and spacious suites.
- Suenos Tulum: This Mayan-themed hotel has 14 sustainable suites in a jungle setting, and children are welcome.
Where to stay in Tulum for a luxury splurge
- Be Tulum: It’s $1,000+ per night. But Be Tulum leaves no stone unturned with an infinity pool, yoga classes and opulent suites, some in the jungle, others with a vista of the beach.
- Encantada: One of the first boutique hotels in Tulum, it still retains an exclusive atmosphere and is loved by luxury travelers.
About the Sargassum seaweed in Tulum
Seaweed washing up on the beach has been happening since the dawn of time in Mexico. But since 2011, this issue has become way more pronounced.
You don’t need to worry about your safety.
However, this pesky seaweed kinda ruins the aesthetic of Tulum’s beaches when it gets out of control.
Unfortunately, only the deluxe Tulum beach resorts have the staff on hand to clear any build-up.
This is one of the major reasons we suggest booking into luxury hotels in Tulum if you’re staying on the beach – as you can rest easy knowing that staff will be constantly on the lookout for seaweed and raking and removing it when it washes ashore.
Stay in Tulum Town or beach? Bottom line
Finding the best place to stay in Tulum isn’t an easy task. With a huge array of hotel choices and the debate about which of the different areas is better, it’s a unique decision for everyone.
- Tulum Beach if you’re looking for a luxury vacation
- Tulum Town if you’re hunting for a more local experience (and/or you’re visiting Tulum on a budget)
- Aldea Zama if you’re keen for a bit of everything
Hopefully this guide has helped you decide where to stay in Tulum, Mexico. Now you just have to book your Tulum trip – and the countdown to a great vacation is on!