If you do decide to take my advice and rent a car you will need to know a couple of things about driving in Mexico:
Passing: The first time I was passed by another car on the highway I was white knuckling the wheel in terror, both for myself and for the people passing me on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic. Later, someone explained to me that there are actually rules to this: If you are not going as fast as the person behind you are expected to pull to the right side of the road with your left blinker on which indicates to the car beind you that it is ok to pass you. This is considered polite. The left blinker can also mean " I want to pass you" or "I am passing you" depending on the circimstances.
Taxis, Trucks, & Busses: These vehicles always assume that they have the right of way and expect you to move to let them pass. They drive very fast, so move quickly.
Roadside emergencies: Many cars here do not have hazard lights to signal to others that they are broken down on the side of the road changing a tire, etc. Many times drivers will haul rocks, dead trees, etc into the road to ward off oncoming traffic. These are obstacles to watch out for.
I highly recommend renting a car if you plan on visiting Tulum and its surrounding area. For one thing, roundtrip transport from the airport in Cancun to Tulum costs $50 US per person and renting a car for a week costs only about $150 US. Also having a car will give you the freedom to go where you want, when you want to without waiting around for tour busses and wasting time sitting on them while they go from hotel to hotel picking people up. Tours can also cost upward of $90 US per person depending on where you go, which is a lot of money. If you do rent a car, don't be surprised if the car you get is over 20 years old. Ours was. But it and the air conditioning in it worked just fine!
You can get the bus to Tulum from Cancun, the Cancun airport, or from Playa Del Carmen.
After Playa Del Carmen, the bus only makes one real stop before Tulum, at the side of the highway in Akumal.
The bus fare is very cheap, only about $5, but the buses can be very full and you could have to stand the entire trip. They leave and arrive in Tulum about every 30 - 60 minutes depending on the time of day (more in the morning and afternoon).
The first stop in Tulum will let you off at the access road to the Ruins. The second stop will let you off downtown. If you're going directly to a cabana beach accommodation, you should find out before which stop is closer to your destination.
This photo is of the bus stop of the access road to the ruins, the tourists are walking away from the bus towards the ruins. The ruins are about a 1 km walk in from the bus stop. Since this photo was taken, they've built a large bus shelter to the front and left of the picture.
Hans and I wanted to be adventurous, so we decided to take local buses to TULUM plus most tours included Xel-Ha.
We left our hotel at 8:00 a.m. and took the R1 downtown Bus. At the Bus Depot we took the "ADO" Bus to Playa Del Carmen, as we were advised that the buses to Tulum were more regular from there.
ADO -- 1st class -- fare 32 pesos or $3.20 U.S. per person..
That stretch, Cancun to Playa del Carmen took about an hour and the bus brings you to the bus station (5th avenue & Juarez).
Then we took the MAYAB Bus to Tulum.
MAYAB -- 2nd class -- fare 20 pesos or $2.00 U.S. per person.
Make sure you get on the right bus, it's confusing at first. Ask the driver.
The bus lets you off at the "ZONA ARQUEOLOGICA DE TULUM". At first I thought he was dropping us off in the middle of nowhere, but if you cross the highway, you will see a little bus station and some restaurants which is the access road to the Ruins. You will come to a square where they sell souvenirs and is also a pick-up point for the little train. The ruins are at least a 1 k.m. walk from this point, so you may want to take that little train for 20 pesos or $2.00 U.S.
The cost of entry for the ruins is 38 pesos or $3.80 U.S.
For the return to Cancun, we walked back to the little bus station. The 2:00 p.m. ADO bus was there, but it was full, so we missed it. NOTE: The ADO Bus to Cancun runs every hour, on the hour so check out the departure times ahead of time, learn by our mistake.
Fortunately the MAYAB Bus pulled up (2:15 p.m.) and we got on that one. Fare to Cancun was 48 pesos or $4.80 $U.S. The bus first stops in Playa Del Carmen for about 15 minutes. We went on to Cancun and arrived downtown at 5:00 p.m. ( so about a 2 1/2 hour bus ride.)
Ok we took a bus like this one from the
Playa del Carmen busstation ,located on 5 th Avenue and Juarez.
Here it can get a little confusing .
When you go to buy your ticket I believe there were 4 ticket wickets (hehe that sounds wicket eh).
So we did not know that there is a fist class
(ADO) and a second class (Mayab ) bus service .So Lori buys the tickets to Tulum ,$ 2
dollar one way per person ,good deal .
So we go to the bus we see and get in with our tickets and later find out that we have second class tickets and we are in a fist class bus (bus driver's fault he never looked at our tickets ,he knew but did not pay attention.Ok we then just tranfered to our second class bus ,NO problemo easy does it.and after an hour drive we were dropped of on the Higway but we could see the Tulum entrance and we were there .Higway 307
In this picture you see the ADO busses in Cancun's ADO busstation .
To get here from your Hotel just take an R 1 Bus it will be written in BIG on the windshield
of the Bus .
Now the frequentcy of this bus to Tulum is not that great so they advised us to take a bus to Playa del Carmen ,and this what we did
I believe a bus to Playa del Carmen leave every half hour .It cost $3.20 one way per person to Playa del Carmen,pretty good price for an about one hour bustrip.
The picture shows it pretty good ,this is optional ,overprized ,you pay the same here for a short 1 km ride in this tractor pulled train as you paid for the busride from Playa del Carmen to the Tulum Ruinas.
$ 2 US dollar for a one way 1 km ride .
save your money and walk (is good for you hehe) ,unless you can't of course.
Just kidding it is money well spend ,just two bucks.
The first thing you see when you arrive at the Tulum Ruins is a square, where they sell souvenirs and Mexican handicrafts. It is also the place where you can hop on the TULUM TRAIN. It is a small tractor-pulled train which brings you to the site of the ruins. It is a 1 km walk, which most people were doing, but if it's hot or if you're tired after touring the ruins, you can hop on the train for 20 pesos or $2.00 U.S.
Colectivos are white shared vans that start from Calle 2 between 15th and 20th in Playa del Carmen. It cost 20 pesos per person to take the colectivo to the ruins. The vans wait until they are full so they leave every 10-15 minutes. The passengers are mostly local people going to work at the resorts.
The ride took about 45-50 minutes, the colectivo drops you on the highway. From the highway you have to cross the street and from there you can either walk 10-15 minutes or so to the entrance or there is a tram that was around 15 pesos round trip.
You can get from the ruins to the town of Tulum either by colectivo or by taxi.
The taxis at the entrance of the ruins seemed expensive so we walked back out to the highway to catch a colectivo. A taxi pulled up and said that he would take us for $2US, the colectivo would have been a minimum of 10 pesos each so we hopped in the taxi.
Check out this great new bus terminal in downtown Tulum! This is used to be just a street alley where you would hop on the busses going northbound. It's on the west side of the street almost directly across from the old bus station. Now you can buy your tickets on either side of the highway and the person working the counter will tell you which side you should be on to catch your bus. This new station is still kind of small, so watch your bus doesn't sneak in behind another one and leave without you noticing.
If you're only going to/from the ruins, ignore this tip--this station is further south than the one at the ruins access road which you'll use.
It is a very easy drive on the highway from Playa del Carmen to Tulum but if you are combining Tulum and Xelha there really is no benefit to renting a car as colectivos run all day long so you never have to wait all that long.
If you do decide to drive, familarize yourself with the rules of the road, a quick read through any guide book should be sufficient and check the car for dents and dings before you drive off and make sure they are marked on your rental contract.
Chances are if you rent you will get one of these stylish white classic VW bugs made like they used to in the US :-)
Getting to or from Tulum - I suggest taking a collectivo. We took one from Tulum to Playa del Carmen and it cost about $3. You can go all the way to Cancun if you like.
The only downside is that the collectiivo (van w/ about 12 seats) will siit around until they are full. If they are not full by the time they leave (no set timeschedule) then you will stop every fe minutes to pick up riders along the way. Squeeze in as an empty seat costs money!
In Tulum you can pick up the Collective in front of the bus station.
From Playa del Carmen we took a bus into Cancun and thought that it was not bad at all! Not overcrowded and a nice motorcoach.
Ask for the "combis" (vans) terminal in Playa del Carmen. These take you to the ruins for $2.50, you just have to tell the driver to drop you off at the ruins, most of them speak english since many tourists take these vans which are by the way very confortable. They leave every five to ten minutes, and make a few stops on the way, but nothing to be stressed about.
On the way back since you will probably be tired you can take a taxi from Las Cabañas to the main road and take the van back to Playa del Carmen, which is by the way a best place to stay rather than Cancun.
If you are coming to Tulum from any point along the Riviera Maya, do not join an organised tour or waste money in a private taxi. Stand by the edge of the road and wait for a colectivo to stop and pick you up. Colectivos are minivans (11 or 14 seats) that provide transportation along the main road. They can let you down whereever you want. just tll the driver that you are headed for the ruins.
In 2006 a colectivo from Playa del Carmen to Tulum was 25 pesos.