Cancun to Tulum is a popular journey to make. After all, the two destinations are among the most popular tourist areas in Quintana Roo.
If you are vacationing in Tulum, you will have to fly into Cancun airport as Tulum does not yet have its own. Fortunately, transportation links between the two cities are convenient and plentiful.
There is a distance of 131 kilometers between Cancun and Tulum. The journey from one to another should take approximately 1.5 to 2 hours depending on the traffic and the transport method used.
The most convenient option for you may vary depending on whether you are headed directly from Cancun airport to Tulum as your first stop in Mexico, or whether you are in downtown Cancun. This guide will present and discuss all the possible transport options for both scenarios.
How to Get from Cancun to Tulum Mexico
Arguably the best option for getting from Cancun to Tulum is to rent a car or to organize a private transfer. It depends on what your itinerary is during your time in Mexico.
If Tulum is your first stopping point on a wider itinerary around Quintana Roo and the Yucatan, renting a car in Mexico can give you a lot more freedom and flexibility. However, if you are planning on staying in an all-inclusive resort in Tulum for two weeks, you probably don’t need a vehicle and you can simply get a transfer or a bus.
Drive from Cancun to Tulum, Mexico
Driving in Mexico is not as intimidating as it might sound. The experience of doing so can actually be quite enjoyable.
Renting a Car in Cancun
There are plenty of rental companies located at both Cancun airport and in downtown Cancun where you can pick up a car. Renowned international companies like Hertz, Thrifty, Budget, and Avis operate in Cancun.
Generally speaking, it is better to rent a car from a reputable global company as scams do exist in Mexico. You can use an aggregator platform to compare various options and read reviews before heading to Mexico.
You can expect to pay around $30-$40 a day in total when renting a car here. Insurance is essential and for your own peace of mind, it is better to purchase full coverage if you can.
Cancun airport rental companies are usually slightly more expensive than renting a car in Cancun city center. But it usually works out more convenient to just pay the difference rather than trek into the city from the airport, before even setting out on your journey to Tulum.
Do I Need to Rent a Car?
If you are basing yourself in Tulum but you hope to set out and explore more of Mexico from there, having a car makes getting around independently much easier. Buses run between most major tourist destinations, cities, and pueblo magicos in Mexico.
However some services are infrequent, and certain destinations require you to take more than one bus. In all, this just adds unnecessary stress to your trip, so having your own vehicle is almost always preferable.
Having a vehicle while staying in Tulum means that you can easily take excursions to Valladolid, its nearby cenotes, and Chichen Itza. Within a few hours, you can reach the sleepy beach towns of Bacalar and Mahahual, and the popular Playa del Carmen.
Things to Know When Renting a Car in Cancun
You generally ought to be between 21 and 75 to rent a car. There are some rental companies that allow you to rent a vehicle if you are between 18 and 21.
However, these are the exception, not the rule. If you are under 25 or you are a relatively new driver, you can expect to pay a premium.
You need a full driver’s license to rent a car. If this is written in the Latin alphabet, this is all you need.
However, if your driving license is displayed in, say, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, or Cyrillic letters, you will need to obtain an international driver’s permit (IDP). These are relatively affordable and easy to obtain.
The process for getting an IDP varies from country to country. You can find out more information here.
You will need to put a credit card on file to secure the rental. Most companies do not accept debit cards.
Before you drive off into the sunset in your rental car, make sure that you check it thoroughly. The rental office worker will usually come out with a checklist and you will need to check the interior and exterior of the vehicle and sign to accept its condition.
It is a good idea to take photographs of the interior and exterior of the vehicle. If you take these on your phone, they will be time-stamped.
That way, you have proof of the condition that the car was in when you picked it up. So, if any disputes arrive when you are returning the vehicle, you have evidence. This is good practice wherever you go, not just in Mexico.
Driving from Cancun to Tulum
The roads in Mexico are generally pretty well built and maintained, especially around Quintana Roo and the Yucatan. Gone are the days when you have to worry about potholes and sketchy roads.
There are some nice places to stop along the route from Cancun to Tulum if you feel up to it.
Puerto Morelo is a charming port town on the Caribbean coast that retains some of its charms as a former small fishing town.
There are some great freshwater cenotes nearby, including Verde Lucero and Las Mojarras cenotes. You could also stop for lunch in Playa del Carmen, or have a short relaxation break on the beaches of Akumal.
This area is very safe and frequented by tourists. However, you should try and avoid driving at night if you can.
If your flight lands in Cancun very late in the evening and you are planning on driving from Cancun to Tulum, consider whether you can stop somewhere for the night in Cancun first. It is harder to get your bearings and become accustomed to the roads in a new country at night.
A lot of Mexican roads have very poor lighting at night and it can be tricky to see hazards, animals in the road, etc. Not to mention, although this area is safe, driving at night increases the likelihood of bumping into less than desirable individuals.
Police checkpoints and tolls
Police checkpoints can be found around Mexico. You will find them stationed randomly throughout Quintana Roo and the Yucatan and on Mexican state borders.
You will also see state police patrolling along highways and toll roads in the same way you would see state troopers on the roads in the USA. On the road from Cancun to Tulum, you will pass by three checkpoints.
Most vehicles are not stopped, but if you are asked to stop, don’t worry. Vehicles are asked to stop at random and the main thing that the Officers are checking for are weapons.
You may be asked to show your driving license, your tourist visa (FMM), or your car rental information. Carry these documents with you at all times.
Car insurance for renting a car in Cancun
Car insurance is essential if you are renting a car. At the very least, you must have personal liability insurance.
Full coverage is not essential but it is better to purchase this for your own peace of mind. There is, unfortunately, a lot of sketchiness that surrounds Mexican car insurance.
A lot of companies will pressure you into purchasing their insurance and tell you that you must buy it from them. If you have purchased insurance elsewhere, they may tell you that that is not valid/enough and that you must buy theirs.
In general, to save yourself stress and headaches, you should aim to purchase insurance from the Mexico car rental company that you rent the car from. Full insurance coverage usually means that there are zero deductibles.
Always read the small print and ensure that you fully understand the terms and conditions of both your rental car and the insurance you have purchased. if you only opt for limited liability insurance, the deposit can be as high as $750 – $2000 depending on the company
However, if you opt for full coverage, you may not have to pay a deposit at all, or you may only have to pay a very small one – to the tune of $100 or so. Full coverage doesn’t necessarily cover all aspects of the vehicle.
For instance, minor damages, tires, windows, keys, and windscreens may be excluded. Double-check everything before you drive off with your vehicle.
Renting a car in Tulum
If you decide that you want to rent a car in Tulum and make alternative arrangements for your journey from Cancun to Tulum, rest assured, there are plenty of rental companies in Tulum. Alamo, Avis, and numerous other global, reputable companies operate out of Tulum.
Take the Ado Bus
Perhaps the most convenient public transport option for getting from Cancun to Tulum is to take the ADO bus. Buses depart frequently from both the ADO bus station in downtown Cancun (Calle Pino, SM23, MZ56, Lt 1 y 2, Centro, 23, 77500 Cancún, Q.R.) and from Cancun airport.
Downtown Cancun to Tulum bus
Downtown Cancun to Tulum buses depart daily at the below times:
06:00, 06:45, 07:10, 08:00, 08:45, 09:30, 09:45, 10:30, 13:15, 15:30, 15:45, 18:30, 19:00, 20:00, 20:30, 20:50, 21:30, 22:15. Tickets are 136 pesos each way.
Cancun Airport to Tulum bus
There are only a few buses each day that run directly from Cancun airport to Tulum. So, if your flight is arriving at a time that does not allow you to board a direct bus, you can either transfer in downtown Cancun or organize a private shuttle.
Direct buses from Cancun airport to Tulum run at the below times:
10:55, 12:25, 14:25, 16:55, 20:00, 21:45. The buses stop at all four terminals so keep in mind that there will be a few minutes difference between each stop.
Try to arrive at the bus stop 10-15 minutes early if you can. There will always be ADO representatives wandering around that you can ask questions to if you are unsure whether you have missed the bus.
A ticket from Cancun airport to Tulum is 262 pesos each way. There are a couple of bars and cafes that serve drinks, coffees, and light snacks where you can wait if you have a while to go before the next bus.
Taking an indirect bus
If there is not a Cancun airport to Tulum bus due when you arrive at the airport, or you have just missed it, you have a few options available. You can either head into downtown Cancun and take a bus from there, or you can change in Playa del Carmen.
Buses from Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen run every 30 minutes. There is only one bus station in Playa del Carmen, on 5th Avenue and Juarez Avenue.
From here, you will need to purchase another ticket to take the bus from Playa del Carmen to Tulum. Buses run very frequently and the journey takes around 50 minutes.
It is worth checking the details of the bus you are boarding. Some stop in Tulum center and others stop at Tulum ruins.
Both are actually fine. However, it is somewhat more convenient to take the bus to the center if you have the option. You can take a taxi from either location to your hotel.
Taxis do not have meters in Tulum. So, be sure to agree and confirm the price before getting in the car.
It is worth enquiring on Mexico Facebook travel groups, or asking your hotel in advance what the correct rates ought to be. That way, you minimize your chance of being ripped off or overcharged.
Riding the ADO bus
Riding the ADO bus is very comfortable. These buses are far superior to American Greyhound and British National Express buses in terms of their comfort and cleanliness.
They service a lot of popular tourist routes around Mexico and are a popular way to get around. For instance, Cancun to Merida, Merida to Valladolid, etc.
All coaches have reclining seats, air conditioning, and wifi. You can purchase your tickets online in advance or in person when you are boarding.
Opting to buy your ticket in advance can give you peace of mind in ensuring you have a spot on a particular service. Your QR code ticket will be sent to your email address and you can simply show this to the driver on your phone.
The ADO website and App are only available in Spanish. However, it is all pretty self-explanatory and easy to use, even if you don’t speak a word of Spanish.
Take a Private Shuttle
Arguably one of the most comfortable and convenient ways to get from Cancun to Tulum is to do so by a private shuttle. This actually doesn’t work out that expensive, particularly if there are a few of you traveling together.
Also, let’s be honest, it gets very hot, sticky, and humid in Mexico. It is a lot more convenient to simply jump in a vehicle that is waiting for you when you arrive, rather than have to wait around in the sun for buses or worse, make several bus transfers.
The price of a private shuttle varies depending on the number of passengers traveling together, the season, and the company used. You can book your shuttle in advance and organize round trip transportation so that your return to Cancun airport is taken care of too.
Generally speaking, it is around $170 round trip for 1-3 passengers, $200 for 4-6 passengers, and $220 for up to 9 passengers. When you divide this up between you, it is actually pretty good value.
Taking your private shuttle to Tulum
When you book a private shuttle from Cancun to Tulum, you will be asked to provide your flight information. So, should you be unfortunate enough to be delayed or late, you don’t have to worry about not being able to communicate with your driver.
They are following your flight number and will be waiting for you when you arrive. Drivers speak English and Spanish and will be waiting for you at the airport after you pass baggage claim.
Passengers are provided with complimentary bottles of water and are taken to Tulum in style and comfort in an air-conditioned vehicle. You will be dropped off right on your doorstep.
It is not compulsory to book a return trip with the private shuttle. However, discounts of up to $25-$30 are applicable if you book a round trip as opposed to two separate journeys.
Luggage is included in the transfer price. If you want to stop at a restaurant or store to grab something en route after a long flight, your driver is usually happy to comply. Just give them an extra tip at the end.
Take a Shared Shuttle
The shared shuttle from Cancun to Tulum can be a convenient option if you have missed the bus and you don’t want to pay for a private shuttle. If you are traveling alone or there are only two of you, this can work out as a more affordable option.
You are looking at $40 for a one-way trip per person, or $70 return on the shared shuttle. Considering the fact that the private shuttle is usually $170 round trip for 2-3 passengers, this doesn’t work out any more expensive per person if there are more than 2 of you.
It is also worth keeping in mind that, like the bus, the shared shuttle makes a lot of stops en route. When you arrive in Tulum, you are likely to stop at various hotels to drop off other passengers before arriving at your hotel.
This can easily add upwards of 30 more minutes to your travel time.
Cancun to Tulum Colectivo
The cheapest way to get from Cancun to Tulum is to take a colectivo. These are small, shared minivan-type buses that run regularly along a set route and depart when full.
You could compare them to the marshrutka-shared vans that you see in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, or sheruts in Israel. This is the cheapest way to make the journey to Tulum.
A one-way ticket costs just $3 – very affordable considering the journey takes over 2 hours. You will find mostly Mexicans taking this bus.
It is generally worth paying extra to take the ADO bus. Colectivos are not air-conditioned and are often very crowded.
Sometimes, if the seats are all full, you will often find that the driver allows people to stand and crowd the aisles. This is perhaps only a good option as a last resort or if you are traveling on an extreme backpacker budget.