If you’ve ever opened Instagram, you’re sure to have seen shots of influencers flouncing around Tulum, Mexico, a chilled-out town in the Yucatan peninsula with miles of white sand beaches, dense tropical jungles, and a lively downtown area. Located about an hour and a half south of Cancun, Tulum has a distinctive New Agey-vibe; you’re just as likely to stumble upon a yoga studio or chakra massage parlor as you are to find a stand selling piping hot churros. So despite Mexico’s affinity for cow-tongue/stomach-based cuisine, it should come as no surprise that Tulum is bursting at the seams with awesome vegan eats to fuel you up before you head out to the beach, explore Mayan ruins, or scope out the best margarita in town.
On my husband, Justin’s and my recent trip to Tulum, we fell completely in love with this laidback, stunningly gorgeous oasis. So pack your swimsuit and get prepared to disconnect for a weekend in paradise- here’s my guide on how to get there; what to eat; what to do; and of course, where to play (it is Mexico, after all!).
How to Get There
You will likely fly into Cancun International Airport, a quick and easy airport to get through. Once you pass customs, you’ll either need to pick up a rental car and drive the hour and a half south; book a shuttle bus; or, if you have plenty of time and are trying to save money, take one of the ADO buses to Tulum’s city center (it’ll only cost you about $12 USD to get there this way!). Tulum and its surrounding area is super spread out, so I would highly recommend renting a car to get around, which wound up costing the same amount as a round-trip shuttle from the airport (around $80 for the weekend).
Truthfully, I was nervous about renting a car in Mexico- scared that we were going to get socked with a bunch of extra costs once we showed up at the rental car office; worried about corrupt cops pulling us over for no reason to shake us down for bribes; and in the back of my mind, had an embarrassing, creeping anxiety about dastardly cartel members slashing our tires and robbing us in the middle of nowhere. I can’t say these things never happen, but spoiler alert- we had ZERO issues while driving all over the Yucatan (and really, I felt incredibly safe the whole time we were in Mexico). Still, I’d definitely recommend paying close attention to the speed signs (which seem to be constantly changing) while driving and strictly adhering to them- I’ve read reports that the police here are very quick to issue tourists tickets.
Protip #1- You will be required to have Mexican personal liability insurance and a collision damage waiver for your car. You will almost certainly need to buy personal liability insurance through your rental agency, but check your credit card perks to see whether it covers your collision damage waiver. Personally, my trusty Chase Sapphire Reserve provides a $75,000 CDW for my rental cars, but make sure you check out the terms and conditions of your own credit card.
Protip #2- If you’re not adventurous enough to rent a car in Mexico, there are literally hundreds of taxis cruising around Tulum looking to give rides, especially along the areas close to the beach. Since parking is pretty terrible near Tulum’s beachy strip, we sometimes used taxis to get around to different bars and restaurants. We quickly learned to always confirm the price of the ride with our driver before getting in, but even after getting that hack down pat, the taxis can pretty quickly add up (a 5-10 minute ride was usually 100 pesos or $5). So getting around Tulum sans car is totally feasible- it might just add up over the course of your stay, especially given the distance between the beach and downtown area. Alternatively, lots of hotels and Airbnbs have bikes to rent, which you can ride along Tulum’s newly paved bike paths.
Protip #3- Despite blowing up in tourism, parts of Tulum are still pretty remote- many areas are not covered by cell service and, while lots of places offer Wifi, the signal may be weak and unreliable at times. I’ve also read a lot of TripAdvisor reviews complaining about some of the more “rustic” features of Tulum- for example, you can’t flush toilet paper in the majority of establishments (so instead, there’s a trash can in the bathroom) and I’ve heard that electricity can sometimes go in and out at even nicer hotels. If you’re looking for a hyper-luxurious experience, surrounded by all the creature comforts of home, you’re probably only going to get that experience by exclusively staying at one of Tulum’s higher-end resorts. Even if you’re okay with a bit of rusticness, definitely download an offline version of Google maps before you head to Tulum- it’ll definitely come in handy!
Protip #4- Cash is king in Mexico- in my experience, hardly any places take credit card. Instead, use an ATM in Tulum to withdraw Mexican pesos; they’re relatively ubiquitous and you’ll avoid being charged for converting your currency (make sure to check with your bank about foreign transaction fees before your trip, though!).
Vegan Eats in Tulum
Before we dive into the fun stuff, here’s a quick primer on Tulum’s geography.
By Tulum’s beaches, there’s a strip of restaurants, bars, and shops several miles long, running alongside Highway 15. This portion of Tulum is what you see most on Instagram- lots of beach bars, groovy smoothie shops, and macrame hammocks perfect for lounging- i.e. the area 100% caters to tourists and thus, tends to have more English speaking folks/menus. While convenient, this also means everything is generally more expensive (slightly less or on par with pricing of smaller U.S. cities).
A little over a twenty minute drive northwest of this area is the city’s downtown area, which has noisy street fairs; bustling fruit markets and taco stands; and vibrant street art. The downtown area is a lot less touristy and thus, most places are significantly cheaper than the beach portion of Tulum.
Regardless, both have their own perks and are definitely worth checking out, but it’s something to keep in mind when you’re booking accomodations. I’d also recommend trying to group your stops in both locales together, given the distance between these two areas.
Two locations- Carretera Tulum-Punta Allen, Tulum, Quintana Roo 77780 (Beach location); 6G6R+G2 Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico (Downtown)
Everyday 8 AM-7 PM
This is one of those spots you’ve undoubtedly seen on your ‘gram, a super vibey, photogenic juicery with cute wall murals (gotta love the “I love Tulum so matcha” surfboard), swings for chairs, and gorgeously crafted smoothie bowls. Serving all vegan lighter fare, like kombucha, smoothies, and granola, this is a great place to grab a leisurely breakfast before hitting the beach. We got the Papacito bowl, a wonderful mix of almond milk, banana, protein powder, maca, dates, and a shot of cold brew, and Mamacita bowl, featuring matcha, almond milk, banana, mango, and almond butter- a little bit of protein and fresh fruit to start the day!
With a bilingual menu, this spot seems to primarily cater to tourists, so expect to pay the equivalent for a smoothie bowl in the United States (around 200 pesos or $10)- if you happen to be a local, you get a 15% discount!
Avenida Tulum and Satelite Sur, Tulum, Quintana Roo 77780, Mexico (Downtown)
Everyday 6 AM-1:30 PM
On the completely opposite end of the spectrum is this mostly locals, completely no-frills taco stand, shilling up yummy breakfast tacos, served on freshly made tortillas, starting at 6 AM. The vegetarian tacos typically come with eggs, queso, avocado, and lettuce, so to veganize, obviously, ask to omit the eggs or cheese. While an avocado, lettuce, and tomato taco may sound rather basic, their veggies are impossibly fresh and each table is stocked with pickled red onion, pico de gallo, tomatillo salsa, and a deliciously spicy habanero sauce, allowing you to craft your own perfectly spiced, crazy flavorful breakfast taco. At around 15 pesos (or 75 cents) a pop, order up a hearty plate, pair it with a side of coffee, sit back, and watch Tulum’s downtown area breathe to life in the morning.
Lunch and Dinner
Av Tulum Pte Mz 3 Lote 5 Local 1, Av. Tulum, Centro, 77780 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico (Downtown)
Wednesday through Monday, 8 AM-10 PM
This stylish, open-air eatery looks out over the bustling downtown area and has a laid back vibe, like you’re chowing down burritos in your best friend’s backyard. It also just happens to be hands down the best burrito I’ve ever had in my life (and I’ve had a many burritos in my life). Their vegan burrito is lightly grilled, giving the fresh tortilla an awesome crunch and is stuffed with nopal (cactus); chaya (mayan spinach); black beans; rice; and avocado. It’s so flavorful and despite the seemingly moderate size, is surprisingly filling. Definitely a must-try when you’re in Tulum!
5.5, Punta Piedra, Zona Hotelera, 77780 Tulum, Q.R. (Beach)
Open daily from 5-11 PM
This Mexican fusion restaurant is conveniently located on a pretty happening strip of the beach area, close to Azulik, the most “Instagram-famous” (and accordingly, $$$$) resort in Tulum and other fun, bustling bars and restaurants nearby. We initially hadn’t intended to stop here for dinner, but after catching a glimpse of some tasty sounding options on the menu, we decided to give it a try. Needless to say, we were blown away by the food- a ceviche, a refreshing cold dish made of fresh peppers, crunchy coconut, and lots of citrus and cilantro, as well as veggie tacos, stuffed with juicy mushrooms, creamy avocados, and pepitas. With a slightly upscale beachy-bohemian vibe and friendly, attentive staff, this would be the perfect spot for a chilled out date night.
Calle Venus Oriente 19. Entre calle Orion sur y beta sur, Tulum, Quintana Roo 77780 (Downtown)
18.00 till 23.00
Bucko is an intimate outdoor bar/restaurant with mega hippie vibes (i.e. Justin and I were seemingly the only ones with shoes on while we were here!) and a stage for live music. With its tiny footprint and relaxed atmosphere, it kind of feels like you’re getting dinner at your friend’s garage concert, rather than a restaurant. And while I’m not sure there’s anything 100% vegan listed on their actual printed menu, the bartender’s eyes lit up when I asked about possible vegan options.”Falafel?!” he excitedly asked me. Not feeling totally confident of Mediterranean cuisine in the Mexican jungle, I hesitantly agreed and was totally delighted when a delicious dish of homemade pita, beet falafel, and zesty hummus was brought to our table- so fresh, SO good.
Beyond having an awesome vegan dish, I later found out that Bucko is actually an art collective, with not only with a restaurant, but also an Airbnb, a tattoo studio, and a music lab, with frequent events like yoga workshops and movie nights. Definitely worth popping by- you’ll never know what’ll be going on next!
Antojitos La Chiapaneca
Avenida Tulum S/N. Col. Centro Manzana 6, Tulum, Quintana Roo 77780, Mexico (downtown)
Tuesday-Sunday, 9 AM-1 AM
I saved the best for last. This beloved taco stand is brimming with locals, where you can sit along the bar just inches away from the cooks lovingly pounding corn tortillas into shape and deep-frying salbutes (puffed tortilla). Best of all, the incredibly delicious and ridiculously fresh vegan options are all 10 pesos (or .50 USD) a piece! Order up a hearty mixture of salbutes, sopes (a thick tortilla that’s crunchy on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside), tostados (a thin, crispy tortilla base), or panchuchos (my favorite, a Yucatan specialty of tortilla stuffed with refried beans ) vegetariano, which are all smothered in black beans, avocado, pickled onion, and other veggies. Once your food arrives, head on inside the restaurant where five large molcajete bowls filled brimming with sauces and condiments are waiting for you: guacamole, pico de gallo, limes, and onions. Wash it all down with a 25 peso Corona and head home a full and happy camper.
What To Do
You could easily spend a weekend moseying around Tulum’s beach strip, checking out local crafts and drinking margaritas at beach bars. If you want some more concrete stuff to do, though, here’s what I’d recommend for a short visit:
Carretera Federal Tulum 307, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Everyday 8 AM-5 PM
While Tulum has its own Mayan ruins, I’ve heard that they’re incredibly crowded with tour groups and overall, not the most “impressive” out there (however, these are a great option if you’re trying to really make the most of your short time in the area). Instead of making the longer trek to Chichén Itzá (a four hour round trip journey), we headed about an hour outside of Tulum to the Coba ruins, an ancient Mayan community which mainly held dominance in the region from 100-600 AD, which left dozens of towering pyramids and structures behind. Given its somewhat remote location, the Coba ruins are way less crowded than Chichén Itzá or Tulum and because of this fact, you actually get to still climb some of the pyramids.
The largest pyramid at the Coba site is called Ixmoja, which stands 42 meters (138 feet) tall and was formerly the heart of the city. For a totally Indiana Jones moment, climb up the 120 steep rocky steps to the top (there’s a thick rope to help you up!) and gaze out over the lush Mexican jungle once you reach the summit. While it’s definitely not for those scared of heights (I’m not particularly acrophobic and still felt mildly panicked on top), the view and the cool breeze from the top of Ixmoja is worth it!
Protip- The Coba ruins site is enormous, stretching for miles and miles in all directions. To make the most of your time, I’d definitely recommend hiring a pedicab or renting a bicycle to help you get to the spread out ruins sites faster.
Hit the Beach
This one may seem like a no-brainer if you’re headed to Tulum, but if you’re not staying at a resort with its own beach, it can actually be a little challenging to know where to go. A significant amount of the beachfront is owned by hotels and can only be accessed by their guests. As forever Airbnbers, Justin and I had to find a beach of our own.
For the best public beach, Playa Paraíso is the epitome of a beach paradise, with stretches of white sand, looming palm trees, and sparkling turquoise water. If you arrive early, you should be able to snag a beach chair for the day (250 pesos, or about $13 for two beach chairs). It’s also conveniently located right next to the Tulum ruins, so you could easily stop at both of these attractions.
If you, like us, are skipping the Tulum ruins, there are several hotel beach bars that allow you to hang out on their beach property, as long as you purchase a drink or food. We headed to Punta Piedra Beach Posada, which is a hotel and beach bar, serving up beer, wine, and cocktails. Compared to the other more upscale properties it shares its beach with (including Azulik, mentioned above), this is a pretty simple, casual bar, which thus comes with cheaper prices than some of the other beach bars (you should still expect to pay around $7 USD for a beer or $9 for a cocktail- hey, you’re getting a free beach chair out of the deal!). Some other (albeit more pricey) beach bar options are Papaya Playa Project, Coco Tulum Beach Bar, or Nomade Tulum.
Protip- Since 2018, Caribbean beaches, including those found in Tulum, have been overwhelmed by sargassum , a brown algae/seaweed that has been washing ashore in mass quantities (as you may see in the picture above). While it doesn’t smell great and looks pretty unsightly in pictures, it poses no danger to beach-goers and generally should have no impact on your day at the beach. Still, if you want to avoid the height of sargassum collecting on the beach, fall and winter months experience less growth than the rest of the year.
Explore a cenote
Cenotes are natural limestone sinkholes filled with fresh groundwater and almost exclusively found in the Yucatan peninsula or Cuba. There are literally thousands of cenotes spread across the Yucatan, with some being completely open to the air like a lake, while others are almost entirely enclosed like underground cavern. Each of them have their own unique aquatic life and fascinating underwater rock formations. You can spend weeks exploring the cenotes around Tulum, but for a one-stop shop, the Gran Cenote (Quintana Roo 109, 77796 Tulum; 8 AM-4:45 PM daily) is the way to go.
Justin and I usually try to avoid super crowded attractions and, as one of the most popular cenotes near Tulum, I would typically not be interested in this spot. However, it was on so many people’s “best of” lists and located only ten minutes from Tulum’s downtown, it seemed perfect for our weekend getaway. It was a blast to explore this cenote- with tons of tiny turtles swimming around, stunning beams of light shining through the turquoise water, and with its towering underwater rock formations, it’s supposed to be one of the best snorkeling spots in the area. And for animal lovers, you can swim under a long tunnel-like cave teeming with chirping bats, admire the tiny fish darting through the crystal clear water, and potentially even spot a toucan, if you happen to be visiting around February!
At the time of writing, the Gran Cenote entrance fee is 180 pesos and rentals for snorkeling gear was 80 pesos; lockers were 30 pesos, and life jackets were 50 pesos.
WHERE TO PLAY
Kilometro 5.5, Carretera Tulum, Tulum Zona Hotelera, 77780 Tulum, Mexico (beach)
Open from 5-11 PM daily (and a happy hour until 6!)
This spot is hands down my favorite bar in Tulum, with the most delicious cocktails we had during our time there, a friendly staff, and as the highest bar in Tulum, an absolutely stunning view of the sunset over the jungle. Weirdly enough, I didn’t have any really fantastic margaritas in Tulum other than Ciel Rose, whose passionfruit margarita, full of citrus-y pulp, blew my socks off. There also is usually a live musician playing along with the sunset, making this one of the most magical places I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching the sunset. 10/10- would highly recommend! The only downside is it’s a bit challenging to find, but luckily, it’s located in the backyard of Pura Corazon, one of my recommended dinner spots above!
Carretera Tulum - Boca Paila Km. 8.5, 77760 Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico (beach)
10 AM-5 AM daily
Literally constructed of old junk (I’m talking disassembled cars, old television sets), I Scream Bar is sort of like an artsy, hipster version of what I imagine a Cancun bar is like (if that bar happened to be plopped in the middle of the jungle). The bartenders here are all incredibly cheerful, lively locals, who are constantly dancing on the bar to the blaring live music, enthusiastically cheering “I! Scream! Bar!”, and generally, just having a grand ol’ time. With its infectious energy, a ton of vegan ice cream flavors (ergo, the bar’s name) that you can mix with your booze of choice, and 2-for-1 drink specials from 6-8 PM, this is a must-stop on the beach portion of Tulum.
Carretera a Boca Paila KM 9.6, Zona Hotelera, Tulum, Quintana Roo (beach)
7 PM- 1 AM daily
Right down the block from I Scream Bar is Diablito Cha Cha Cha, a more upscale, Instagram-ready lounge, with gorgeously crafted mezcal and tequila cocktails and panoramic views of the ocean. During our visit, the service was impeccable, and they dished up the best guacamole of our stay in Tulum (and trust me, we tried lots of guac in a 48-hour timeframe). Justin and I came here fairly early in the evening, but it sounds like they have a bumping dance floor later on in the evening.
Batey Mojito & Guarapo Bar
Calle Centauro Sur between Andromeda Oriente and Avenida Tulum, Tulum, Quintana Roo 77780, Mexico (Downtown)
Monday-Saturday: 8-2 AM; Sunday: 5 PM-1 AM
I would be decommissioned as a travel blogger if I failed to mention this crowd favorite, which dishes up a wide variety of mojitos from the standard lime and mint flavor to more interesting flavors, like cucumber basil (I hear the passionfruit is the real winner!). Batey’s main schtick is that they handpress the sugarcane juice used in the mojitos on demand, in a converted vintage VW bug in the middle of the restaurant, with a stalk of fresh sugarcane adorning every drink. Between the tasty mojitos, the spectacle of the sugarcane press, and the bustling atmosphere (there’s live music almost every night!), be sure to hit this spot up as you stroll around downtown. Bonus- on most weekend nights, they shut the street down in front of Batey, with local arts and crafts being sold along the sidewalk and the perfect mix of locals and tourists for people watching.
Places we want to check out next time!
Justin and I were feeling a more chill vibe when we went to Tulum, but if you’re headed down there to party, everyone will recommend hitting Gitano on Friday and the Papaya Playa Project on Saturday night. They are both supposed to host raging parties on their respective evenings!
That wraps up my guide to a vegan weekend in Tulum- have you been to Tulum? If so, where did you find the best margarita? Let me know in the comments below!