I recently decided to study Spanish in Tulum Mexico. While I have visited many destinations in Mexico, including nearby Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, and Cozumel, this was my first time in Tulum. My arrival in Tulum, Mexico was not difficult, but took a little preparation. It is always a good to have some knowledge of the arrival situation in each destination you are visiting.
Also see my post on How to Prepare For Arriving In A Foreign Destination. It sucks to be stranded!
PORTS OF ENTRY
The 2 closest Airports are Cozumel and Cancun. From Cozumel, most people take a ferry to Playa Del Carmen (about 1 hour north off Tulum) and then the ADO bus or a private transport from there. Compare flights and busses to Tulum.
Also see Jenny In Wanderland article Getting Around Mexico.
I chose to fly into Cancun (CUN). Delta had a nonstop flight from many destinations in the US. I flew from Tampa, which was a short, one hour and a half flight. Since Delta only had one nonstop per week, I flew on Saturday.
It is a good idea to compare Flights to Tulum prior to booking. Considerations for choosing a specific flight or airline vary and may include:
- Loyalty program affiliation
- Flight times and *days
- Flight availability
- Personal preference
*Note when searching and comparing flights, many airlines only have flights into and out of certain destinations a one or a few days a week. Therefore if your search comes up empty, yry a different day, or google the airline to see which days they offer flights in and out of your destination.
As my flight approached Cancun, an announcement was made that Mexico was updating their forms for entry at Cancun Mexico Airport Immigration. Therefore, the airline did not have any to distribute. The flight attendants told us that they would be available in the customs area upon arrival.
The forms were available, but the area was crowded and disheveled. It can also be confusing if you are not certain which form(s) you need. It is often easier to fill out the forms, or at least have one printed, prior to arrival. See Jenny In Wanderland post on CANCUN MEXICO AIRPORT IMMIGRATION ONLINE FORM.
CUSTOMS – My Arrival in Tulum Mexico
My arrival in Cancun on a weekend was a little crazy. When I entered the customs area, the crowd was overwhelming. There was no air conditioning in the customs area and it was quite warm. There were literally hundreds of people waiting to clear customs. It was orderly disorder. Signs to the right tell you to use windows 1-4 for agent assistance.
Somewhere in the center, there was an area unclearly delineated, but labeled for Mexican Nationals. To the left, signs read, “2 step self service kiosks.” The line was long, but over the crowd you could see the rows and rows of glowing green computer kiosks. It seemed like the obvious choice.
After an hour and a half, as I approached the last turn in the queue before reaching the front, I realized none of the shiny glowing machines were functioning. Although the wait was long and hot, I made the best use of my time by practicing my Spanish with those around me and exchanging travel tips with others waiting.
So, after all the twists and turns, an agent finally called me forward. If you do not hold a Mexican citizenship or residency, you must have a valid passport to enter Mexico.
I showed my passport & entry form (which must be complete before you approach) to the young woman. She proceeded to “interview” me. She was excited I was going to Tulum and wanted to chat about it. The friendliness, even in customs is the beauty I love so much in Mexico. It may also be why it takes a bit longer to clear entry, but no matter.
TRAVEL TIP: My husband flew into Cancun midweek and waited less than 10 minutes in customs. Agents said that weekdays are much less busy, unless it is a holiday or very high season.
My initial arrival process to get to Tulum Mexico was long, but not difficult. Once admitted, I went to claim my luggage. It was in the center of the claims area, along with hundreds of bags, owned by the people who had landed long ago, but were caught up in the immigration line. It wasn’t a problem, but I noticed there was no one checking which bag you took. I dragged my bag to the wall where I quickly checked the contents prior to exiting.
Travel Tip: Never place valuables, prescription medications, computers, jewelry, cameras, or anything irreplaceable in checked luggage.
DECLARATIONS – My Arrival In Tulum Mexico
Next, I arrived in a very short declaration line. Most people are able to choose the line that says, “Nothing to declare.” However, if you are traveling with questionable items, you should read up on whether this line is legal and appropriate for you.
Here, officials ask about the contents of your luggage and if you have any food. The answer is clearly, “No” (even when a small bag of cheez-its is falling out of the side pocket of your backpack as you answer:)
Then, you push a button and hope the light turns green. It did, and I exited into the chaotic terminal. If you do randomly get the red “X” light, you will be taken through a secondary inspection where Mexican authorities will go through your luggage and potentially ask further questions regarding your purpose in Mexico.
For me, the glass doors thankfully opened to a literal sea of people holding signs, waiting to pick up their passengers.
The moment I stepped out into the airport, I could feel the excitement of Mexico. Cancun Airport is the perfect mix of modern and old Mexico. There were rows of stores and restaurants, some unique to Mexico, and many what you would expect to find in an airport.
Most of the airport was modernized with digital signs, public restrooms, air conditioning, and everything you would expect. However there were also some traits unique to old Mexico such as the lack of air conditioning in customs, some of the unique vendors vying for business in the main area, and taco carts.
There were crowds of people behind the metal rails, holding balloons and flowers, waiting to greet family and friends. Beyond them, there were auto rental counters, transport windows, accommodation rentals, and a welcome center.
Getting from the Airport to Tulum
It is approximately 131 Kilometers from Cancun to Tulum, which is just over a 1.5 hour drive, barring major traffic, which can lengthen the ride by an hour or more at its worse. Plan accordingly if you have to catch a flight or are tied to a schedule. There are several options for transport including bus, taxi, private car, rental car, or airport shuttle.
A taxi from Cancun to Tulum can charge up to 2000 pesos, equating to about $107 USD, depending on the season. You will need to purchase a ticket from booths inside Terminals 2 or 3 before entering the cab. Once you have a ticket, taxis are parked outside the exit gates of these terminals. Other (unauthorized) taxis use meter fares and not only get extremely costly in traffic, but have a poor reputation for changing prices once you are enroute.
The Ado bus can be taken from Cancun Airport, terminals 2, 3, or 4, to Tulum. The bus departs regularly from the airport. The ADO bus goes to many cities. You may need to transfer busses to some of the further destinations, such as Tulum. From the airport to Tulum, you change in Playa Del Carmen (about halfway). This is relatively easy and not a big deal. The bus runs often and is nice and comfortable.
The busses are modern, air conditioned, have no luggage limits, and cost approximately $15 USD to Tulum. My private transfer was around $85 to put it in perspective. I chose to take a private ride because it was late and I had large luggage. See my post on Getting Around Mexico.
The possible negatives of the bus are schedule (you may have to wait for the next one), if you desire a private ride, and that it drops you at the bus station at the center of town. From there, you still need to get to your exact location.
An airport shuttle can be private or shared. A private shuttle is more expensive, but you do not need to share your ride and make additional stops. A shared ride may be shorter if all passengers are going to the same destination.
I decided to take a private shuttle. My transfer company warned me not to speak to anyone, and immediately look for my driver. They said that tons of people would approach me, trying to sell me things and talk me into going with them for cheaper. They informed us that there were many scams and bait and switch operations where, once you entered a vehicle, you were made to pay the new asking price, prior to being able to leave the transport. I, for the record, did not experience any of this.
I scanned the people holding signs and made my way through, until I found a man holding a paper with my name in large letters. The company my language school recommended at the time, gave me a code. The driver had to know my code to prove he was actually my ride. He did.
My driver was extremely nice and professional. He took my luggage, and asked me to wait curbside while he pulled up. He was happy to converse with me in Spanish or English, offered me bottled water, and shared some area information with me.
Rental cars are nice to have if you want to explore the region, taking day trips from Tulum on your own. And of course the added bonus is that you are on your own schedule and can drive yourself to and from the airport. Rental cars may be cost effective if you have more than one person in your party and/or are planning on exploring a great deal away from Tulum. Downsides are the need for insurance, having to drive in Mexico which can have erratic drivers, bumpy roads, and a great deal of traffic. The other issue may be parking upon arrival.
A private car can be pre-booked and your driver will usually meet you inside the terminal with a sign containing your name. Private rides are slightly more costly, but can be nice after a long journey. Advantages are that they make no additional stops, unless you request them to, are generally nicer vehicles, and they will drop you directly at your destination.
Whichever transport you choose, you should always negotiate your rate, prior to entering a vehicle. Confirm the currency your driver accepts. Some services accept credit cards, some foreign currency, and others only Mexican Pesos. Know before you go.
Regardless of which mode of transport you use, be aware that traffic can be unexpectedly bad. If you are trying to catch a flight, bus, or ferry, or have a fixed schedule, be sure to leave early just in case.
There are also some fantastic options for hotels in Tulum. Whether you choose to stay at the beach or in the pueblo, Tulum is small and easy to get around by bicycle. Compare and book your Tulum hotel now.