How to Prepare for Tulum Mosquitos + More Vital Visitor Info

We traveled to the Yucatan Peninsula, misunderstanding what to know about Tulum, Mexico. From Tulum mosquitos to Instagram spots, it was all revealing to see the reality vs. what you view on social media.

It was once the somewhat lesser-traveled tourist area on the east side of the Yucatan, south of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Yet it's become over-touristed. We were excited to experience this social media hotspot firsthand to form an opinion for ourselves.

We discovered a side of Tulum no one told us about. From ATMs that never dispensed money to hidden cenotes and countless Tulum mosquitos, our hope is this post will inform you of the things that surprised us most so your expectation can be better managed than ours was.

Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post, which means we may earn a small commission if you click the link and proceed with a purchase, at no cost to you. We truly only recommend hotels, products, and services we personally use. As Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.

🕐 Short on time? No Problem!
Tulum Mexico Essential Visitor Info with a picture of a cenote and thatched roof-huts in the distance.

What to Know about Tulum (That No One Else Will Tell You)

It's not uncommon to open Instagram to see a pretty woman perched on a rustic yet chic swing geotagged in this city. She's on the beach, of course, looking out to the clear blue ocean as she sips a margarita in cutoff denim shorts and a flowy top.

Naturally, this makes you want to go there and be that person. It seems social media photos from Tulum are endless. But we're sharing what no one else talks about regarding Tulum.

➜ There are SO MANY Mosquitoes in Tulum

If you're a person that bugs L-O-V-E, heed this warning: mosquitoes in Tulum are FIERCE.

I get a ton of bug bites in areas like this, while Dan gets a fraction of my bite count. I counted 42 bites on one leg the day after we arrived (that's not an exaggeration, that was the actual count). Why bother tallying up the bug bite damage on the other leg at that point?

Word to the wise: BRING BUG SPRAY. If you forget it for some reason, ask your hotel if they have some you can borrow. We found most places did because they know everyone has to deal with Tulum mosquitos.

Getting bug bites year-round is inevitable in Tulum. Make sure you order and packed a Bug Bite Thing for your trip.

They're the ONLY thing that works to get that venom out and get rid of the itch. Don't forget to take it with you every day for whatever excursion you're going on, whether hanging out on the beach or taking a guided tour of the Mayan ruins.

The bug population is thanks to the city's tropical climate and proximity to water. (Wind from the coastline is a good thing if this is an issue for you because the wind rids the air of some of the mosquitoes.)

Must-have item for your Tropical vacation:

The only thing we have tried that gets rid of bug bites from your skin is The Bug Bite Thing. This item is a MUST pack when we travel. We always pack one in our backpack/day bag and another in our luggage. Don't travel without it! And yes, it really works!

➜ Bohemian, Instagram-Worthy Scenery Doesn't {Necessarily} Abound in Tulum, Mexico

I was so confused when we arrived in Tulum. The main intersection revealed a gas station and billboards. Where were the Bohemian, Instagram-worthy scenes we were accustomed to seeing online?

We're well-traveled, so we are not strangers to things looking different in person than they do on social media. We were shocked after we arrived, though.

Our trip in the days before to the west side of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula seemed to have more charm than the famed Tulum at first glance!

What to know about Tulum is if you look for these picturesque places on social media and note exactly where those spots are within Instagram or TikTok on the location tag or if it's mentioned in the caption, you'll find them.

We found most of the Instagram-worthy areas were past the “gates” of posh resorts and hipster restaurants rather than visible to the general public from the streets.

So, as far as what to know about Tulum, beware, you have to go into many of the resorts to find what's on the OTHER side of the road in order to find Instagram-worthy photo opportunities.

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Hand holding an orange pocket Solis wifi hotspot.

➜ Cenotes are Very Hidden in Tulum

There's a good amount of hidden cenotes you should visit near Tulum. While they're picture-perfect, they're hard to find. Don't expect them to be so apparent and front-and-center in your face from the moment you arrive.

Our advice is to sign up for a dedicated Hidden Cenotes tour that will take you to cenotes and additional picturesque waterfront places.

💦 Claim Your Spot on a Hidden Cenotes, Sea-Turtle Snorkel, and Beachside Lunch Tour 🐢

➜ Tulum is a Hipster Town…But It is Still in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula 

Tulum seemed like a town divided.

Many (or most, I should say) parts of it are what I have come to expect, know and love in any area of Mexico I've traveled, from Baja California, to Los Cabos and beyond. It's a second-world country, and cinderblock homes with bars on windows reinforce that point.

Yet it's like a part of the town is grasping for a hipster tomorrow; it's certainly in the process of building that.

Americans and other international ex-pats seeking escape in this growing city are constantly building restaurants, bars, and hotels. But make no mistake about it – it's still in Mexico. (We love Mexico so that is a-okay with us.)

It was to be expected the sidewalks were often non-existent, roads needed more than a little repair, or we spotted several homeless dogs in the streets. We passed plenty of abandoned and rundown buildings too.

We were pleasantly surprised to see the blending of Tulum's polarities on the home below: a house adorned with a super cool mural on its facade.

Also, if this photo of a sign we passed while bike riding through town doesn't scream Hipster Zone, we don't know what does:

Tulum Mexico Travel Vacation Tips with helpful information no one tells you from times to go to the ruins to other activities and secrets of this romantic city. Click through to see detailed info! #TulumMexico #TulumTips

➜ Tulum Isn't Inexpensive

So much of what a lot of tourists enjoy about Mexico is its low prices. People travel to Mexico excited about a plethora of things, from Mayan ruins to the food, to great coffee, to its oceans…and how far their dollar will go.

Because of the rise in popularity of this tourist destination, and the subsequent creation of restaurants and hotels in the area to accommodate the desires and needs of visitors, prices are…well, pricy. What to know about Tulum in this regard is it's not cheap.

For instance, expect to pay at least $75-100 USD for dinner for two (with the exception of truly local Mexican joints, of course).

Also, don't forget you'll need a taxi or Uber to get there unless you rented a car. (I wouldn't recommend renting or driving a car if you're there on vacation, drinking!)

Luckily, we had breakfast included in our hotel reservation at Papaya Playa Project. But if we wanted anything else, like fresh juice, it would cost about $12 USD. That's more than we pay in America!

Recently, a friend noted she had to pay $13 for a smoothie in Tulum to get close to a beach there. Say, what? But we believe it! It's overrun with tourists and resort owners capitalizing on assets like beachfront property. It's literally a “pay to play” model.

What is cheap? The beer! 🙂 Say it with us: “Un otro cerveza, por favor!” (Another beer, please!)

Tulum Mexico Travel Vacation Tips with helpful information no one tells you from times to go to the ruins to other activities and secrets of this romantic city. Click through to see detailed info! #TulumMexico #TulumTips

➜ ATMs in Tulum Either Didn't Work or Dispensed American Dollars, Only

We checked into our hotel at night. When we arrived at Playa Papaya Project, we were hungry and tired. Naturally, dinner was on our minds.

We asked the woman at the front desk for her recommendation, which was followed by, “I recommend this restaurant…but they only accept cash.” Well, we didn't have enough cash to cover the meal. (We needed about $75 USD.)

We had traveled to Mexico with about $200 USD worth of pesos and were already on day five of our trip. The destination we were traveling to afterward, where I was excited to photograph this wedding, almost entirely eliminated our need for cash.

We assumed we could simply use credit cards throughout Tulum.


We quickly learned that many restaurants in Tulum don't rely on credit card machines because they often don't work. This is due to the unpredictable internet in the area.

Thus, many places don't accept credit cards, so there is a need to travel around with cash. We were told not to worry because many ATMs were within walking distance to the hotel (where most hotels in Tulum are also located).

Well, after we hit up about SIX ATMs that either didn't work or ONLY dispensed American dollars (which we didn't want), we gave up and found, what seemed to be, the only restaurant open at 10:00pm that accepted credit cards.

Our mistake in incorrectly rationing cash for our stop in Tulum was thinking everywhere would take credit cards, just as Riviera Maya and Cancun do. Yet we discovered ATMs in Tulum are unreliable, if not even a tad shady.

Our point is when it comes to what to know about Tulum, bring cash.

  • If you can stop at an ATM in another area before you arrive in Tulum, like the airport, we recommend getting cash there.
  • If Tulum is your first or only stop in Mexico, simply order pesos to your home before you leave, which we usually do when we need different currency before a trip. This is available through many banks, online or in person.
  • Ration cash for Tulum if it's part of a bigger trip to Mexico.

➜ The Mayan Ruins Near the Beaches of Tulum are Packed with Tourists

One of the top attractions in Tulum is the Mayan ruins. “Tulum” literally means fence or trench in Mayan. Here lie the ruins of one of the last known cities of Mayan culture.

Its roots date back to the 6th century, with its height as a trade route and walled city experienced between the 13th to 15th centuries. It's unique because not many Mayan cities were surrounded by a protective wall.

It felt like we didn't really see many tourists around Tulum overall…but the morning we went to the ruins, they were suddenly EVERYWHERE. We were there off-season, on a grey and rainy morning. Where did all these tourists suddenly come from? I can only imagine how busy it gets on a nice day during peak times.

Go FIRST thing in the morning if you want a better chance of having the ruins to yourself. It's already packed by 11:00am!

The photo below has tourists in the distance. Luckily you can only view some areas from a pedestrian pathway and cannot walk through the grass, so there is still hope for limited images without tourists in them if you visit the Tulum Mayan ruins at peak times.

Tulum Mexico Travel Vacation Tips with helpful information no one tells you from times to go to the ruins to other activities and secrets of this romantic city. Click through to see detailed info! #TulumMexico #TulumTips

🌴 Book a Tulum Guided Tour to Avoid the Hassle of the Crowds

➜ Expect to Take Advantage of Bicycle Rentals (and Be Realistic About the Ride)

There is a bountiful amount of bicycles in Tulum. They're often the most effective mode of transportation regardless of whether or not you rent a car. We rented bicycles for $15 USD each for the day (yes, United States Dollars, not pesos – like many things in Tulum are in USD) and rode them to the ruins and around town.

Why do I mention “be realistic?” For a few reasons:

  1. We tried to ride our rented bicycles from our hotel to (what looked like) a nearby restaurant on a map. After thirty minutes, we still hadn't arrived at our destination. Yet we were definitely sweating our asses off on a dirt road with cars whizzing by. We decided to turn around in favor of spending the time we had left a little more comfortably, relaxing on the beach.
  2. If you're not used to riding a bike, beware that your groin will quickly begin to get sore. Even if you are accustomed to riding your bike, the rentals may not provide the comfortable, cushioned seat you are perhaps used to. The pain was exacerbated by uneven terrain and a lot of speed bumps!
  3. It's really hot. Tulum is below the Tropic of Cancer, north of the equator. It's quite literally in the tropics! As the sun beats down and you constantly wipe sweat from your brow, you wonder why you didn't take more stops along your route to get water, not even alcohol. (Tip: take water, reef-safe sunscreen, bug spray, and a Bug Bite Thing!)

Check out the items we recommend buying and packing for a trip to a tropical-climate area:

Travel Poncho
Travel Poncho
The Bug Bite Thing
The Bug Bite Thing
Solar Power Charge Bank
Solar Power Charge Bank
Travel Rain Poncho
Travel Rain Poncho
Travel Umbrella
Travel Umbrella
Reusable Round Water Bottle
Reusable Round Water Bottle
Reusable Flat Water Bottle
Reusable Flat Water Bottle
Rechargeable, Portable Handheld Fan
Rechargeable, Portable Handheld Fan
SPF Sunscreen Lip Balm
SPF Sunscreen Lip Balm
Reef Safe Sunscreen
Reef Safe Sunscreen
Travel Poncho
Travel Poncho
The Bug Bite Thing
The Bug Bite Thing
Solar Power Charge Bank
Solar Power Charge Bank
Travel Rain Poncho
Travel Rain Poncho
Travel Umbrella
Travel Umbrella
Reusable Round Water Bottle
Reusable Round Water Bottle
Reusable Flat Water Bottle
Reusable Flat Water Bottle
Rechargeable, Portable Handheld Fan
Rechargeable, Portable Handheld Fan
SPF Sunscreen Lip Balm
SPF Sunscreen Lip Balm
Reef Safe Sunscreen
Reef Safe Sunscreen

Here we are, taking a break from the ride so I could give my groin a rest by snapping a photo of the scenery. (That's Dan on the right.)

Tulum Mexico Travel Vacation Tips with helpful information no one tells you from times to go to the ruins to other activities and secrets of this romantic city. Click through to see detailed info! #TulumMexico #TulumTips

The Nearest Airport and Its Distance from Tulum 

What to know about Tulum is that the airport closest is Cancun's International Airport. (Airport code: CUN.) It's a good hour and a half drive to the main parts of Tulum.

Expect to arrive in Tulum, at best, between an hour and a half to two hours after landing at the Cancun airport. This estimate is between taxiing to your gate, getting checked luggage, clearing customs, finding your transportation company, and getting into the car/van (or renting a car), and being on your merry way.

Car or Van Service in Tulum, Mexico

We recommend pre-arranging a car service to take you from the airport to Tulum if you aren't renting a car. This is easy to do online.

You can easily reserve this Cancun to Tulum car service for anywhere from one to 8 people.

🚙 Check Off a Tulum To-Do List Item: Book Your Airport to Tulum Airport Transfers

Car Rental in Tulum

If you decide to rent a car, simply beware the highways were a bit crazy (aggressive drivers, loads of traffic, and random speed bumps along the way), and there are a few police checkpoints on the drive. (A commonality in many parts of Mexico).

That said, if you're going to go to a lot of places on the Yucatan peninsula, you may want to consider renting a car.

We recommend Discover Cars for their ease of website use and customer service.

Don't Postone Renting a Car!

What to know about Tulum's GeographY

Where in the World is Tulum? 

  • North of Belize and Guatemala
  • South of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida (the states that border the Gulf of Mexico)
  • East of Mexico, particularly Mexico City
  • West of the Cayman Islands and Cuba

Within the Yucatan Peninsula, Tulum is: 

  • East of Merida, Mexico
  • South of Cancun and the area considered “Riviera Maya,” which includes Playa del Carmen
Tulum Mexico Travel Vacation Tips with helpful information no one tells you from where it is in the world, to go to the ruins to other activities and secrets of this romantic city. Click through to see detailed info! #TulumMexico #TulumTips

Would We Go to Tulum, Mexico Again? 

Probably. We would go for perhaps three or four days next time and perhaps with girlfriends.

For some reason, it had “girlfriends trip” written all over it. We'll be equipped with this vital knowledge of what to know about Tulum next time we travel there, which you're luckily already privy to from reading this article!

Craving more knowledge about the Yucatan Peninsula area? Check out:

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  1. this was incredibly helpful! thank you! i had heard all about the ATMs and mosquitos. Thanks for well.. reinforcing that 😉

    1. Thanks, Christine! We aim to tell the truth! It’s not all Instagram in Tulum, unfortunately. We’ve maybe go back one day but it’s not at the top of our list. Glad we went once though and can help tell the story of the “other” side of going there, rarely revealed through pretty Instagram shots.

  2. I’m in Tulum right now and was looking for some extra infos and I’ve found this !
    First things first, it’s clearly, completely, overrated. Also, forget covid safety unlike Merida and the whole Yucatan state. It’s all about the gram, and people are lining up for the spot picture.
    The beach is nice, but you’ll get the same sandy beach all along the coast, def recommend Belize and Costa Rica for the best ones without the hashtag chasers and the bros.
    What a disappointment after the beautiful surprise and the generosity of Merida. Tulum screams Little Cancun, with rampant real estate speculation completely destroying what’s left of the pueblo or the ecosystem. It’s the first time in Mexico I see a real slum and it made me sick to think that i was contributing to this carnage. Detritus are littering part of the city and obviously some areas on the beach.
    Tulum is a nice 3 days stop over on a longer yucatan trip (or central america), you’ll get nice and overpriced vegan options, a nice hotel suit with view for a good 500 USD / night which is cheaper than Cabos San Luca, but abandon all hopes of finding a “gem”.

    1. Hi Stephane – I’m glad you found our post! It’s interesting to see the reality versus Instagram information, right? We definitely enjoyed moments in Tulum here and there, but overall we wanted to make travelers aware of all the things we thought were vital to know that “instagrammers” never show.
      Hopefully you had some fun in Mexico – it sounds like Merida may have been a bright spot. We LOVED the western side of the Yucatan. (And we do like the east side – but the western was a favorite.) Safe travels!

  3. Traveling with 3 teenagers, are there places you would recommend elsewhere in Yucatan before we head to Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende (May 20th- June 8th)? We like off the track but having some ability to bike and a few cenote type things to do are exciting for them.

        1. Hi Julie! If you mean the western side of the Yucatan, like near Merida, there were bugs but it was NOTHING like Tulum and the mosquitos there! It was awful in Tulum.

  4. Can I asked what month you went? Trying to figure out if the mosquitoes really are a rainy season problem or if that information is wrong

    1. Hi Katie! We went in October and they were out in FULL force! We cannot recommend The Bug Bite Thing enough – it’s AMAZING and takes care of bug bites! Wish we knew about it when we went but didn’t discover it until later. Now we don’t travel anywhere without it (truly – I’m allergic to bug bites and this knocks them all out!). We actually have three: one at home, one in the car, and one for travel:

  5. thank you so much for this guide! I’m interested in Tulum, but as someone who gets eaten alive by bugs a lot this is scaring me a bit haha guess I’ll have to invest in some good bug spray before visiting!

  6. Just booked a holiday in Tulum yesterday and this makes for incredibly depressing reading. Will be there in September and now not looking forward to it at all.

    1. Knowing what to expect means you’ll have realistic expectations rather than the Instagram-worthy scene after scene people post on social media. It’s a nice place to visit, but hopefully, knowing that the ATMs may not work and there will be lots of bugs will help better prepare you for the reality of Tulum. Despite all it’s challenges, it still provide for a lovely vacation with a multitude of options for things to see and do, and where to eat and drink.

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