If you follow just about any travel account on Instagram, you’ll know that Tulum, Mexico is a pretty happenin’ place right now. It ranks up there with Cappadocia, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Sri Lanka palm tree swing and basically anywhere in Bali. Lucky for Nashville dwelling me, a flight down to Cancun and the quick drive to Tulum is fast and very cheap so I’ve now been twice.
Doing research for this second time, I discovered that I couldn’t find any information on where some of the Insta hot spots are. I had to do some major digging or message the accounts who took the photos to find out. So after this trip, I thought that since so many of you are probably heading that way soon, I’d do a rundown of a lot of the can’t-miss shots and where exactly you can find them, including some tips on how to get that perfect Insta shot at those places.
But first and maybe most importantly, when you are wanting to get shots at most of these locations, don’t be an asshole. Don’t just walk in and take photos and leave. That’s bad and you look like a jerk. If it’s not mealtime, order at least a drink or some guac at each place you stop. Some of the higher end hotels are reluctant to let non-guests in as it is, so tell them you are there for some drinks and actually go get drinks before starting to shoot. Or else you’ll ruin it for everyone. Without further ado…
#1 Tulum Ruins
-Seriously, and I mean it, get there beyond early.
-There isn’t much on this side of the T (where you go either left or right on the beach road from town) apart from a few hotels and the main public beaches like Playa Paraiso (which are stunning), but if you are riding bikes up there, there are some nice places to stop for a marg or three on your way back.
-You’ll have to trek a ways along some paths before you get up to the top where the good shots are
-Later morning/afternoon will allow the best blue colors of the water show, but early morning there aren’t people…so your call. Above was taken around 10:30am
#2 Azulik Hotel
-This is where you’ll find the shots people in the nests with the best sunsets, the rope nets overlooking the jungle and what I like to call the pet store cage walk.
-Even if you aren’t eating here, still be prepared to pay around $10 for a drink
-At the front, just tell the person that you are there for a meal or drinks and they should let you up. Once through, you’ll curve through the paths and climb the weird bamboo ramps and head upstairs to the restaurant Kin Toh where you’ll find both the nets and the table nests. The cage walk is next to the table nests and goes over to another restaurant. (photo in the walkway above is @eat.shop.travel, a total babe we traveled with this trip)
-Best thing to do is have a reservation for the nests for around sunset so you’ll have them all to yourself. We got lucky and there was an empty one that we popped into really fast, but you can’t be guaranteed that
-The rope nets usually aren’t occupied all the time, if someone is in them, they will be out soon and it’ll be your turn to flop in. They are very, very difficult to navigate around so be super careful. The particular net shot above was taken from an angle of the photographer standing on the spiral staircase. It also gets dark pretty quickly in there, so make sure you get there in the day or with plenty of evening light left.
#3 Jungly Trash Bin
-Across the street from and right close to Amansala hotel
-This may not be a Tulum hot spot just yet, but after ya’ll see the shots Aleisha from @eat.shop.travel and I got here, you may change your mind 😉
-Aleisha saw this and was like hmmmmmmm and voila a new hotspot was found
-I say it’s a trash bin because we are almost positive it’s where the garbage was held :::shrug:::
#4 Coco Hotel Swings
-Note: The bar and swing area has changed! They renovated it a few months ago and so some of the photos you may have saved in your folders no longer exist. For example:
This shot is no longer possible because this bar isn’t there and it’s not set up like this anymore. The swings are now in one long line parallel to the beach.
-Go very early. We went right after sunrise as our first stop of the day. It wasn’t even open yet and we had to pull the swings down off the railing from where they stored them the night before. Totally was worth being the only ones there. Plus, the morning light next to the water is gorg.
#5 I Scream Bar: Blue Tuk Tuk
-This has also been moved around. It was against the bamboo wall across the street and then they thought it would be a good idea to move it where it is with the bar in the background. Personally, I don’t like it right here because there’s a chance people will be in the background of your shot. Boo, I Scream Bar.
-The ice cream is vegan and although it did taste really good, I’d rather have the creamy milky texture of dairy ice cream. But truly the flavor was quite nice.
-A lot of the stops along the beach road during the afternoon are going to have high sun light filtering down through the trees and it can make your photos have the bright speckle white light that’s hard to deal with. Good idea to wait for a quick cloud cover if you need to.
#6 Raw Love
-Although it feels like the popular boho photo ops are moving towards Nomade, Raw Love is still on people’s list for photos and for good reason.
-All plant based, including some of the best (and most photogenic) smoothie bowls in Tulum
-Rope swings! Hammocks! Jungle vibes! Cute embroidered pillows!
-There’s a ton of tree cover in here so you don’t necessarily need to worry about super bad light, you can see some light speckles in my photo and it was still taken right in the middle of the afternoon
#7 Matcha Mama
-Arguably the most famous Insta shot in Tulum
-Drinks are excellent, especially the smoothies.
-You’ll either have to wait for a photo or just straight up get lucky that no one is on those front swings.
-The afternoon light here is a killer, so go earlier or later in the day. We actually rode past it early afternoon and saw how bad the light was and decided to get the shots on the way back through. Later in the day the light is behind the stand and filters through the trees so beautifully, so that’s when I recommend hitting this place.
-The best boho vibes in all of Tulum, in my opinion. It’s reminiscent of Morocco but I think that’s what they were going for.
-La Popular is the restaurant on the beach and this was where we splurged on a fancy shmancy lunch because it’s pricey. Honestly, most of the hotel zone is pricey, but some of them take the cake. I got the fish tacos (omg) and the couscous (OMG).
-Macondo is the restaurant you see in all the photos with the poufs on the floor. It’s the first restaurant on your left when you’re coming into the hotel. As usual, get there super early if you want the place to yourself or just hang around the hotel until you see it’s relatively empty. It’s a vegan plant based restaurant (but you can add some meats on the dishes if you wish). We just stopped in here for drinks and photos after we ate our lunch at La Popular. I highly recommend the melon martini.
-The light in Macondo doesn’t really matter because it’s covered, so you’ll be good all day
-When we arrived to the hotel, we beelined straight for a restaurant because we were starving, but they weren’t opening for lunch for another 30 minutes. One of the staff lead us out to a palapa on the beach and brought us a menu and just let us hang, which was surprising and really nice considering we weren’t hotel guests.
-The beach at Nomade is where you’ll also find those triangle teepee net things, however people are in them all the time and we literally never got a chance to get photos in the several hours we were at Nomade. I understand that people are staying here and they just want to chill in them, so I get it, but it did suck we didn’t get those shots.
#9 Casa Malca aka Pablo Escobar’s House
-This one was super tricky because there are no signs. I feel like that’s part of its appeal, but yeah we passed it a few times before we were like “okay well maybe let’s just try in here?” It’s just right past Nomade. If the giant front doors are open a little and you can see inside, look for massive potted plants. You’ve found the right place. If you see giant doors but can’t see inside, it’s probably it and go in anyway.
-Go in and hang a left through some trees and the main building will be on your right. This is where you’ll find the hanging furniture.
-The light is very very harsh and speckled during the afternoon, so I definitely recommend coming early or late. I luckily got a slight bit of a cloud to dull it a little bit, but I don’t think you should risk it if you want a great shot. Aleisha was returning to Tulum a few weeks later and just said F it this time she’d get the shot when she came back because the light was so not ideal.
-Weird (but helpful) advice: if you need to do an outfit change, there is a bathroom right inside this main building that you can change in.
-This was the one place we just walked into and took photos and left, but only because we didn’t see a restaurant or a bar anywhere nearby.
-Tip: If you are going to Tulum in spring, or as of April 2018 will be going to Tulum sometime in the very near future, you will be very, very disappointed with the seaweed situation. It’s piled several feet high on all the beaches and the water is brown. BUT!!! If you come down super far this way to this Nomade/Casa Malca area, it’s nearly nonexistent and the water is pretty and blue and there isn’t much seaweed.
#10 Palm Fringed Road
-I desperately wanted to get a cute shot on my bike of a sandy palm tree road, but they are surprisingly hard to find. There are basically only two roads in Tulum as it is, and no little side roads to veer off to find jungly paths. The best place to find something similar (car-free) is to go on past Casa Malca a ways and just keep going until you find a shot you like.
-There’s hardly anything down here until you hit the Sian Ka’an biosphere area. I wanted to ride a little further into it but we saw what looked like cars paying to get past that point so we just decided to head back.
-The bright afternoon light here isn’t too bad; above was taken around 2pm
Cenotes are one of the main draws to this area. They are refreshingly cool fresh water sinkholes that are clearer and bluer than any water ever should be that’s lake style. Most are $5-10 to get in, there are tonsssss of them in the Tulum area, and thousands in the Yucatan alone. A lot are just a short ride outside town, but the beach road has a few you can just pop into, although I’ve not been to any. There are too many in this area to even name, but these are the three I’ve been to personally.
If you are wanting perfect shots, make cenotes your morning priority. Most open at 8 or 9, and get there THEN. If you wait even an hour or so after they open, there are people all over the place photobombing while you try to nail your float angle.
#1 Zacil Ha Cenote
-Small, circular, pool-like cenote.
-We arrived 45 minutes before it closed and the people emptied out and we had it all to ourselves, but as soon as it opens would probably be less risky.
-There’s a zipline that you can ride and drop into the water from for a few pesos.
-As always, morning or evening light is going to be best for these, although the color of the water does vary greatly depending on the angle from which you’re looking at it.
#2 Gran Cenote
-One of the most popular, so getting there when it opens is of utmost importance
-We arrived maybe 15 minutes after it opened and people were already coming in and then another 30 minutes and it was pretty packed. Plan accordingly
-This shot above that most people want to get is at a different part of the cenote that seemed to be way less busy. Instead of going down the first stairs you see on the left, keep walking and you’ll see another set of stairs a little hidden. Go down those. Although both entrances are connected underneath, you have to swim through a low ceiling cave to reach the other and it’s creepy and maybe most people don’t wanna. I didn’t.
#3 Cenote Calavera
-Seriously so awesome
-This is a big scuba diving one. Once you are down there you can swim back into the caves and no thanks.
-It looks small, but once you’re down there swimming in the water the cave opens up all around you and it’s major eerie vibes.
-Terrible phone photo, but this one has two holes like this with “jump here” signs. They are only a few feet wide and Alex (@outoftheofficetraveling another babe I traveled with) nearly knocked herself out when she jumped a little too far forward. You jump into pitch black and end up maybe 20 feet away from the main hole. It’s dark looking down in but once you jump and come back to the surface of the water, it’s light and bright in there, I promise. It’s much higher than it looks, however.
-We got to this one a little later in the morning, maybe around 10, and the light was suuuuper bad. I’m still working on my edits of these trying to fix them because it wasn’t excellent. We were the only ones there when we arrived (this one opens at 9), but many people showed up shortly after. So I don’t know if that was coincidence or maybe most people show around 10, but I’d still say get there earlier than 10, if anything for the better light.
-Chichen Itza is about a 2 hour drive from Tulum
-If you want not only good light and no people but a wonderful experience, please go when it opens. About an hour after it opens, not only do the swarms of tour buses arrive, but so do the vendors. Hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of tents and tables stuffed with items to buy set up in any empty space they can find along the walkways and it makes the experience seriously tank. I really enjoyed myself when we got there and took time to appreciate the ruins, but once all the chaos began I was ready to leave.
-It’s an all day endeavor. Make sure you can plan to have a full day devoted to this trip. We hired a taxi through our hotel. He took us up, stopped for coffee, waited for us and then took us to his favorite taco stand on the way home. I’m sure each dude would be different, but I recommend doing that for sure. It was a little expensive, something like $160 for the day round trip, but it was worth it.
-Once you enter and see the pyramid, you’re gonna be like WTF why is the sun there? Because it really looks like the light will be awful, but just keep going around to the other side, ‘sall good.
BONUS! Leaning Palms
-#1 left; #2 right (or #1 top; #2 bottom for mobile)
-If you can’t be in the South Pacific but are still looking for some good leaning palm trees, the two above are the only ones I know about.
-#1 is at Playa Paraiso and there was a literal line to take a photo on it. People are also camped out underneath and don’t care at all that they are in your shot
-#2 is in front of Amansala resort. It’s a little harder to climb, but no people around
-Sorry for the inconsistant edits, the first was from October when I was editing a little differently 😀
I really hope all of this was helpful! Let me know in the comments if there are other places you want to know where they are and I’ll try and help!