Travel Guide: Tulum with Kids
I’ll be the first to admit, Tulum is not your typical family destination.
Unlike other resort cities, Tulum’s tourism was created by hippies and yogis looking to escape to the very southernmost reaches of the Riviera Maya. And despite its growing popularity in recent years, it still preserves much of that original bohemian vibe.
This is not Cancun. Tulum is as equally earthy as it is sophisticated, and it’s no longer a secret that this is the place to go for a stylish, yet low-key, beach vacation, even with kids.
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Tulum with Kids | The Basics
Tulum is located about 1 hour south of Playa del Carmen and 2 hours south of Cancun International Airport. Past all of the sprawling resorts that line the Riviera Maya, Tulum feels like a “best-kept-secret” that’s not so secret anymore. But despite the boom in tourism, Tulum still gives you quite a different experience. Its numerous boutique hotels dot Boca Paila, or the “beach road” as its known, with local restauranteurs and shop owners nestled in between them.
How to Pay
Not too many places in Tulum will take credit cards, so you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of pesos on hand. The easiest way to get cash is at an ATM, which will also give you the best exchange rate. You can find ATMs all along Boca Paila, but the most “secure” ATM (according to our hotel concierge) is at the 7-Eleven back in Tulum Town.
What to Pack
The weather in Tulum is hot and humid year-round. Even in the rainy season, you might expect only intermittent showers. Lots of lightweight shirts and shorts are a must, along with a good pair of sunglasses and a hat. If you plan to do any swimming in the cenotes, consider investing in your own snorkel gear to bring with you. You’ll want plenty of sunscreen and natural bug spray too. For kids, save the packing space and make a trip to Chedraui, a local supermarket, for milk, fruit, diapers, or baby food. It’s located right outside Tulum Town on your way to the hotel zone.
Getting Around Tulum
Renting a car will be the best way to get around if traveling with kids. There is so much to do in Tulum beyond the hotel zone, and having your own car will give you much more freedom to set your own schedule. As an alternative, taxis are a good, cheap way to travel short distances (especially up and down Tulum Beach, where parking is scarce).
For kids that are a little older, you might try renting bikes (or borrow them from your hotel, if available). Bike is a great way to get up and down the beach, but a ride into town might be a little too long for kids. If renting on your own, check out iBike Tulum. They rent bikes of all sizes and even have some with kid seats on the back!
Where to Stay in Tulum
There’s no shortage of hotel options along Tulum Beach, but it’s hard to know exactly which will be the right fit for kids. Although Tulum attracts a mostly younger crowd, we still saw plenty of families during our few days there!
This boutique hotel is where we chose to spend our stay, and I couldn’t say enough good things about it. An on-site restaurant and being steps away from the beach at all times make it a good choice for parents with young children. You can read more about our stay at Ahau Tulum here.
While we didn’t personally stay at Posada Margherita, I’ve read it’s also a great place for families, with a wonderful Italian restaurant on the property.
What to See & Do in Tulum
Just about every hotel along Boca Paila is right on the water, so it’s a given that you’ll be spending plenty of time in the sun and sand. This is especially great for kids, because it’s an easy way to fill in the gaps of your itinerary without really any effort at all.
Tip: If you’re not staying at a hotel along the beach, you can still access the water at Sunrise Beach (roadside parking available) about 5 km south along Boca Paila.
Shopping in Tulum Town
If you do nothing more than head into Tulum Town for lunch, take a loop down Avenida Tulum. There are plenty of shops all along the main street where you can find souvenirs of all types (and more affordable and authentic than what you’ll find along the beach).
A visit to the Tulum Ruins is a must. It’s close, quick and inexpensive. Not to mention it’s in the most gorgeous setting, along the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. For a few extra tips, read all about our visit to the Tulum Ruins (with baby in tow) here.
Dos Ojos Cenote
Dos Ojos Cenote (literally meaning “two eyes”) is located about 10 miles north of Tulum and easy to get to by car. What is a cenote? Basically it’s a natural swimming pool created by a sinkhole; kind of like swimming in an open cave.
Tip: At Dos Ojos, you have the option to snorkel on your own or with a guide. The area you can snorkel without a guide is limited to where there is light, so it’s pretty small. If you opt for a guide, they will take you through the dark areas as well. Regardless of which you choose, snorkel equipment is available to rent on-site and life jackets are required, but free.
Shopping along Boca Paila (Beach Road)
The are plenty of boutiques, ice cream shops, jungle cafes, and more all along Boca Paila. Spend some time strolling down the narrow street in search of a one-of-a-kind purchase.
Grand Cenote is better suited for amateur snorkelers than Dos Ojos and does not require any sort of guide. You can rent snorkel equipment there as well, but we instead brought our own, taking turns swimming the cenote while the other kept Evelyn entertained. I liked Grand Cenote better because there was more light and a few different areas for newbies to explore. Plus, it’s only about 5 minutes west of Tulum Town, so you can easily get there by car (or even bike).
Tip: Go early (before 10 am), so you can swim the areas without other people getting in your way. The cenote can get quite crowded by the afternoon.
Akumal is a little bit of a drive from Tulum, but worthy of a day trip if you want to swim at the famous sea turtle beach. Snorkeling with a guide is best if everyone in your family is old enough for it. For us it didn’t make sense, so Evelyn and I played on the beach while Matt sought out the sea turtles in the water.
Tip: When you arrive you will be told you can only swim with sea turtles if you buy a guided tour. This is only half true. There is a small netted area along the beach that is open for anyone to swim at no cost. Beyond that net, to protect the sealife, you can only go with a guide. Chances of seeing a turtle in the restricted area will not be as great as outside it, but it’s not impossible either (Matt caught two on camera)!
Coba Ruins & Monkey Sanctuary
We decided not to make a day trip to the Coba Ruins (a 45 min drive from Tulum) after a rough first day for Evelyn, but I’d definitely like to see them if we’re ever back in the area. There’s also a monkey sanctuary near Coba that you can visit, combining both experiences for a full day trip. This super detailed guide gives more insight on the best way to visit Coba.
Another popular day trip from Tulum is a trek to the famous pyramids of Chichen Itza. On your way, make a stop in the vibrant colonial town of Valladolid. There’s lots of fun things to do in Valladolid, so you may even want to stay the night and base yourself there for an multi-day adventure.
PS. If you’re short on time, considering booking a private tour from Tulum to Chichen Itza that will handle all of the details for you.
Where to Eat in Tulum
There are plenty of great places to eat in Tulum, serving fresh, local food. These are a few of our favorites that we were able to try during our time there.
Though you won’t find it on a Google Map, La Coqueta is located in the heart of Tulum (near the main intersection, across from San Francisco de Asis Supermarket). Albeit simple, I’d say it was one of the best meals we had in Mexico. (high chairs available)
We had some seriously good fish tacos at Mateo’s (they claim to have the best on Earth!), but also some pretty awesome carnitas and grilled shrimp. It may look a little Americanized (well, it is owned by an American), but it’s still worth a stop, especially with kids. They have parking too, a big plus for us! (high chairs available)
While Casa Jaguar is not really suited for kids, they had no issue with us bringing a baby for the first seating (6 pm). Unfortuantely for us, the gas went out the evening of our reservation, and though we tried to wait it out, we just couldn’t anymore with Evelyn. So I’m sad to say we didn’t get to try Casa Jaguar, but it is in a very lovely setting and comes highly recommended by others. (no high chairs)
Gitano is another place that doesn’t see a lot of kids. We arrived at 6 pm to a near empty restaurant (apparently eating at 6 pm in Mexico is like eating at 4 pm in the US). That didn’t really bother us though, we actually preferred it. We enjoyed some delicious (and beautiful) mezcal cocktails, carnitas tacos, and chicken tinga while Evelyn fell asleep in my arms at the table. (no high chairs)
Copiana is a great place to hit for breakfast or brunch. Fresh smoothies and creative middle-eastern inspired dishes will give you something a little different than what most other places are serving up. (high chairs available)
I can’t do a list of Tulum recommendations without mentioning Hartwood. Although we weren’t able to visit (they were closed for the month of October), Hartwood is the darling of Tulum’s restaurant scene. If you have a chance to go (it can be quite difficult to get in), don’t miss the opportunity at this farm and sea-to-table restaurant.
Well, that’s it, everything I know about visiting Tulum with kids! What intrigues you most? Let me know in the comments below!
cindy ladage says
I would love to see the ruins. I love the color of the pictures you offer. The beauty and history of Tulum would make this a perfect place to be away from the Midwest come January!