Travelling with kids is not easy but I absolutely love showing my boys new and exciting places. My five year old, Dean, has asked me to describe to him what Mexico looks like, for a while now. We could have taken him to one of the overpriced resorts on the Cancun strip (that we’ve been to many times before, pre-kids), but I didn’t want him to have a picture of Mexico from a pool, a waterpark, a kids club or a fancy sushi restaurant. He is still raving about our trip to Hawaii last year where we gave him the full Hawaiian experience (see blog post here), and I wanted to make this trip even more memorable.
If I had to describe Tulum in a few words, I would say it’s a place that is bursting with energy and culture, it’s also very small (if you blink, you’ll drive right past it), quaint and rustic. The people who live there are modern day hippies and are very eco-friendly in how they live (i.e. you don’t flush toilet paper in Tulum), there are endless authentic Mexican food options, and there are lots of fun things to do, even with kids — there is something for everyone in Tulum!
This guide is for families who love to explore, who are foodies and who crave a new adventure, everyday.
Tulum is two hours South of Cancun. The drive may seem a little long but there is literally one road that takes you all the way into Tulum — Highway 307 is that road. You really couldn’t get lost if you tried. Other transportation options you can use to get into Tulum are booking a charter bus or taking a taxi. You can book a charter bus, but your trip into Tulum will most likely take longer because the bus often makes multiple stops along the way. If you stay in a hotel or resort, they can arrange to pick you up for a fee or you can take a cab for about $140 CDN each way. If you choose to get a lift into Tulum, you will have to rely on taxi’s while you’re there unless you rent a car in right in Tulum.
I mentioned that Tulum is very eco-friendly, bicycles are the predominant choice of transportation. It is a very small town so you can get to a lot of places fairly easily. However, our kids are too small to use this option. Bike rentals are available everywhere and they are cheap. You also avoid the hassle of finding and/or paying for parking.
We chose to rent a car in Cancun right outside of the airport. The rental car company shuttled us to the lot where our rental car was waiting for us. The rental car cost was a whopping $32 CDN for 10 days (keep in mind that our credit card has the necessary insurances to keep us safe – and they require a damage deposit of about $4000 – which your credit card may not be cool with). The other option, if you don’t have car insurance on your credit card, would be to purchase a package of the car rental company insurance – which would bring your total rental cost to about $370 CDN. Lastly, child car safety seats – we brought our own because our Airline allowed us to check a free child item, and because the car rental company charged a hefty rental fee of $12 per day/seat.
We visited Tulum during high season (December – February) so we stayed right in the city centre, in an Air B&B, because it is much cheaper than staying beach side at this time of year. Since we had a car, we were willing to make the five minute drive to the beach. A lot of the beach clubs along Playa Tulum are great because you can stay all day and use their outdoor beds and umbrellas for the mere price of lunch. We tried to arrive at 10am and eat breakfaston the beach because we noticed that from 1pm onward it got quite busy. We were lucky to have our Air B&B host available to us for recommendations. She told us the best beach clubs for families that had a lot of palm trees for shade, activities and a larger menu of food choices.
Here are some of the beach clubs we visited on the Tulum Beach strip:
Ahau – They have a few parking spots, a restaurant, bar, beds, umbrellas, hammocks and lots of palm trees. There is a restaurant and bar there, and they have great breakfast options. There are lots of egg dishes and fresh fruit however, the portions weren’t that big.
La Chan Cabanita (next to a large resort Coco Tulum Hotel) – This place has a huge parking lot across the street, restaurants, bar, beds, umbrellas, and lots of palm trees. Coco Tulum has a pizzeria called Juanitas Diavola Restaurant that made a perfect wood oven baked pizza and they had some fantastic coffee as well. Coco Tulum Hotel also had a restaurant with breakfast, fresh sandwiches, and expensive cocktails. We tried their Brisket Torta and they served it with spicy diced pineapple – the food and drinks were great but pricey. We grabbed a pizza and brought our own snacks and drinks when we visited this beach.
Bahia Soliman – Located at the north end of Tulum beach and off the beaten path but with lots of parking available. Keep driving to the end of the road, passed all the hotels and haciendas, until you reach the public beach area where the road ends (there is a sign that says private beach but we confirmed that it was in fact public). They have the best restaurant Chamicos Tulum. There is a children’s play structure with wood and tire swings, lots of palm trees, hammocks and chairs and tables — it is also beach front! Because this part of the beach is situated within a bay, the water is slightly calmer. Sometimes rain happens in Mexico, just like all tropical locations, so we were happy to see a rain shelter where we could wait out any rain showers. This is a great spot for snorkeling or kayaking as well – with equipment rentals located right on the beach. There is a really cool abandoned boat that has been spray painted by a local artist sitting on the beach. There are outdoor bathrooms, but bring your own paper and remember not to flush it (use the bucket of water outside to flush).
This is a public beach, so there may be some seaweed build up along the shore as well as rocks/shells so bring water shoes for the kids. There are also a lot of locals picnicking on the weekends — it was fun to meet them. Bring music, snacks and towels and you can spend all day here. Hardly anyone knows about this beach so there is little to no traffic getting in or out which is a big difference from the main Tulum beach strip which could get quite congested in the late afternoons.
Chamicos Tulum is located right on Bahia Soliman. We ate the best ceviche as well as whole fried fish here. They also have fantastic tacos, guacamole with chips and quesadilla. There is also beer and really delicious margaritas available as well as gelato for the kids. If you are a fan of fresh seafood, this is the place you have to visit. It is also cool to see how the restaurant operates – take a walk to the prep and wood oven area – it is quite interesting to watch. There are waiters roaming around who will happily take your orders and serve you, but you are also allowed to bring your own food, if preferred. But like I said, Chamicos Tulum is a must try!
Here’s a tip about the Tulum beach strip: The farther South you go, the less busy the beaches get. The cruise ship folks and tourist crowds tend to stay closer to the north end where the Ruinas Mayas de Tulum and a few public beaches are located.
After beaches, there’s the food, and this is where we wanted to explore. In the past when we’ve visited Mexico, we were confined to resort food — this time was a completely different experience.
First up, the practical part — Tulum has a major grocery store called Chedraui. When we first arrived we bought a bunch of staples we would need during our stay there – yogurt, crackers, water (for drinking), fruit, juice, milk, eggs, butter, toast bread, pancake mix, frozen waffles, pasta, and cheese. We had a full kitchen and we used it. When you have children who wake up at the crack of dawn, you need to have breakfast available at a moment’s notice. The Chedraui was also a great place to buy pastries and baked goods (they have a fantastic bakery section) and the beer is super cheap, so we stocked up. A few shopping bags filled with ice kept the beer cold en route to the beach.
Ki’bok – There is a very touristy strip in Tulum – and you won’t miss it because there is a French restaurant and a bunch of tex-mex restaurants, also a mojito bar with a VW beetle outside grinding up sugar cane called Batey. This strip hosted lots of live music and was always quite busy and fun. The only place I enjoyed, food wise, on this strip was ki’bok – they had the best coffee and great breakfast options. There is a bar for quick service located at the front or you could sit inside the café or in their backyard garden. We had their coffee every morning (we were in walking distance) and we ate there for breakfast – the pancakes were great and so were their Chilaquiles topped with eggs.
El Capitan – That touristy strip that I just mentioned, one of the waiters from the French restaurant there recommended that if we wanted authentic Mexican food in walking distance, we should go and visit El Capitan and we did. They served us tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole as we sat down – I was already sold. I had the ceviche and my husband had the Spanish rice with seafood. Everything was delicious and very authentic. The portions were enormous so we took the leftovers to go, kept them in our apartment refrigerator and ate them the next day.
El Bacaro – This place has nothing to do with Mexican food – it’s an authentic Italian restaurant. My kids and husband really wanted Italian food and this place was very good. Sometimes when you see “authentic Italian” it’s not so authentic, however El Bacaro did it right. We had a panzerotti that was enough for 3 people and a plate of gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce and pecans – I wanted two plates! Their wine went down really great as well, but I think when you’re travelling with kids, all alcohol seems to go down pretty nicely.
Hartwood – Chef Eric Werner (from NYC) and his wife Mya Henry, are the proud owners of this incredible restaurant in the jungle in Tulum. Make a reservation at least one month ahead of time. This place is highly sought after — and for good reason. Their menu changes daily based on what the sea and the land offer them. Hartwood uses strictly local ingredients but in a way that is not traditionally Mexican, creative and interesting. They are open for dinner only, 6-11pm, closed Monday and Tuesday and they are located at the 7.6km mark on the jungle side of Tulum beach road. At Hartwood, you are surrounded by trees and the floors are gravel. We had the Ensalata de Langosta (Lobster salad) and the Platillo de Pulpo (roasted octopus). Both dishes were incredible, even with my expectations set so high. Make sure you come loaded with bug spray, although they did burn some kind of smoke incense that reminded me of the kind they use during church service. They didn’t warn us about it, they just smoked the place, but it seemed to get rid of the mosquitoes for a while, so I was okay with it. One of the down falls of eating in the jungle I guess — bugs. The service at Hartwood was by far the best we received in Tulum. The staff completely fussed over their customers and they looked like they were having a blast in the process. Here is a really cool article giving the chef’s true account about running his unique restaurant, Hartwood.
Taqueria Honorio – Everything is good here. It’s always packed — they serve breakfast and lunch and they stay open until 2pm only. We had lunch here quite a few times. They sell authentic tacos and tortas (a French baguette stuffed with traditional taco fillings, and apparently they were the first to invent the torta.) Taqueria Honorio make all of their meats in a wood oven onsite and they have a few people making fresh tortilla. The kids enjoyed watching them prepare our food. They also sell fresh juices like watermelon and cantaloupe. At Taqueria Honorio, we tried the pulled pork, roasted pork and turkey with black bean sauce tacos. They weren’t on the menu but I also ordered quesadilla solo queso for the kids. The tacos were amazing – the roasted pork was my favourite. One day when we visited, they served it with crunchy pork rind on top — that was a tasty surprise! Taqueria Honorio has Fresh tortilla with perfectly seasoned meat with that perfect hit of smokiness that only a real wood oven can provide. They also add on some roasted onions for texture and flavour. We also had the roasted pork torta – this was great to grab as takeout – we brought it to the beach to eat for a late lunch.
La Reyna de Michoacan – Fresh juices, handmade paletas and ice cream — too many flavours to list. Grab a paleta or some ice cream and take a walk. It’s right across the street from a food/fruit market as well that has a huge fruit stand outside of it.
Panna e Cioccolato was in walking distance from our place and it had tons of great gelato. There are plenty of large benches outside of the shop so you can sit and people watch while eating your ice cream.
La Gloria de Don Pepe – a Spanish Tapas bar. This place had true tapas, great Spanish beer and Sangria. The service was great and the paella was delicious. What more can you ask for in a Spanish restaurant?
Beaches and food are sometimes all you need when you visit Mexico – but we wanted a little adventure so we found some other great things to do.
We attended a cooking class at Riviera cooking school. Lily’s home, the teacher, is located right in the town of Tulum. I will write more about what we learned in upcoming post on Daily Tiramisu. Lily gave great tips to use with my new clay pot and new tortilla press that I purchased from a market in town — I can’t wait to share!
Be sure to visit a Pottery and kitchen tool market – I bought a tortilla press for about $8 CDN and a clay put for about $6 CDN. We found a large one right in the town centre a few blocks from La Reyna de Michoacan.
Tulum is also known for Cenotes (caves) and the famous Ruinas Mayas de Tulum. There are no above ground rivers in Mexico, only caves and about 56,000 feet of them. We visited the Grand Cenote since we were told it was the safest for kids. The other caves had deep waters that weren’t safe for kids. Bring snorkel gear if you have it. It only costs about $10 USD to explore all day. There were 3 entry points we climbed into with the kids suited in life jackets. We brought life jackets with us but they are also available to rent on site. Don’t bring valuables with you since you have to leave your bags on the dock while you swim in the caves. This particular cave was home to lots of turtles. There were spots to sit and watch them and they would also pop up while swimming in the cave – the kids loved it! There is a food truck located at the entrance but we packed a lunch and drinks and ate on the main level under the pergola (a designated picnic area). There is also a grassy area that is in direct sunlight where you could dry off before eating. The grounds at the Grand Cenote are very well kept and clean.
The Ruinas Mayas de Tulum (Mayan Ruins) – Get there at 8am, right when it opens. You can’t drive into the site, you can only walk in by foot, so all taxis and cars must park outside the gates at the side of the road. It’s a short walk to the area where you can enter the ruins – just follow the other tourists. This site gets busy really quickly – also, the later in the afternoon you go, the hotter it is — there isn’t a lot of shade. We were lucky to get a day where a nice breeze kept us cool. We paid $10 USD to enter the Ruinas Mayas de Tulum, and we opted to add a private tour guide at an additional cost. If you round up some other tourists, you can split the cost of the guide. It is worth doing this so you don’t end up wondering around the grounds, aimlessly, not knowing what you’re looking at. Ruinas Mayas de Tulum have an amazing beach located at the back end of the ruins site. There are great lookout points for photos, but be careful – high cliffs plus children can make a mother a little anxious. We opted not to take the very tall wooden staircase down to the beach, however, you could certainly spend some time walking the secluded beaches after your tour. We learned a lot about Mayan history and the history of Mexico — we really enjoyed our time there. It was easy to navigate with a stroller so we kept our two-year old busy in there.
Zine Food & Films an outdoor movie theater, was a fun spot for the kids. It was about an 8 minute drive from Tulum’s town centre. This restaurant and theater is in the jungle, and you rent your very own private movie theatre. We reserved a room for 4 people online for a fee of about 20 CDN. You can also make a reservation through their Facebook Page. When we arrived, we met our waiter who happened to live in Toronto a few years back (what a coincidence!) We sat in the main entrance and put in our order. You can choose from two-course combos that run about 250 pesos each and that gets you a main, a dessert and a soft drink. They also have half portions for kids.
The Menu at Zine Food & Films wasn’t anything crazy — sliders and fries, a pepperoni and a beef and pepper pizza, and a berry meal salad. They provide complimentary popcorn and there are also cocktails and beer available. At the same time we ordered our food, we chose our movie (they have a binder full of options in many different languages.) Once your food and movie are set up and ready to go, they walk you into your private viewing theater. It was very impressive — there were 2 large double sofas attached to little tables that swing out in front of you so you can eat and watch. The screens are really large, like a real movie theater! Our waiter came to visit us every half hour and also brought us our food in stages. It was an expensive outing, but we really enjoyed it, and so did the kids.
This vacation is definitely one for the books. We ate and saw so much in Tulum — when travelling with kids, I need 10 days minimum — It takes us a few days to actually start to relax and it’s quite a lot of work to get away with children — 10 days is the perfect amount of time for a family vacation. After a fun-packed 10 days in Tulum, we were ready to come back home and get back to our busy lives.
I hope you find this guide helpful — Happy family vacationing!
Areas to Stay:
- Rent an Air B&B in Tulum City
- Stay at a hotel or Air B&B on Tulum Beach Road
- Stay at a hotel or Air B&B on the North end of strip near Bahia Soliman
Where to Eat:
- Chamicos Tulum (Beach restaurant)
- Ki’bok Coffee
- El Capitan
- El Bacaro
- Taqueria Honorio
- La Reyna de Michoacan
- Panna e Cioccolato
- La Gloria de Don Pepe
What to do:
Shopping / Souvenirs to look out for:
- Clay cooking pots
- Tortilla press
- Woven Hammock
- Clay Christmas ornaments (piñata shaped!)
- Hand-painted Plates, glassware
- Handmade dolls
- Leather sandals
- Artwork, i.e. Frida Kahlo and El Dia de los Muertos skull art