Yep, Paul and I are very much digital nomads (in some sense). We travel and work in countries around the world and rely on wifi to earn an income online. But we’re not your typical nomads, either. We truly enjoy immersing ourselves in places for longer periods of time. That not only allows us to better understand the culture but also to have a lighter environmental footprint when we slow travel. As such, we’ve been living in Mexico now for going on 2.5 – 3 years. The majority of which was spent on the west coast in the Riviera Nayarit. So this round, when moving to Mexico for the third time, we decided to test out the digital nomad scene in Tulum.
Tulum’s digital nomad community is ever-growing. People are flocking here by the dozen with their newly remote jobs in large part due to the global health crisis and Mexico’s laissez-faire travel restrictions. Once everyone figured out that you could still travel to Mexico this year, there’s been a constant flow of tourism. And if there’s a chance for strong wifi and good vibes, digital nomads aren’t far behind. After all, who could resist wanting to be a digital nomad in Tulum when constant photos of street art, fish tacos, and pristine beaches fill up your Instagram feed?
I know what it’s like to move to a different country as a digital nomad seeking just to integrate and support the community. I created this guide for my fellow nomads out there who wish to do the same in Tulum. With this guide, I hope to make your transition to digital nomad life in Tulum a bit easier while raising awareness of some of the more ugly issues negatively impacting this beautiful town.
Here’s my ultimate insiders-guide to the digital nomad life in Tulum, Mexico!
The Ultimate Digital Nomads Guide to Tulum
Cost of Living in Tulum as a Digital Nomad
For starters, let me just say that Tulum is an expensive place to live compared to other places in Mexico. But you definitely can live here on a budget. I also understand expensive is relative, so what I consider expensive might be someone else’s sense of cheap, lol.
For those coming from San Francisco or New York, where sky-high rent prices are kinda the norm, Tulum might seem really inexpensive. But that just contributes to the problem, in a way! To understand this better, you have to know that Tulum’s real estate market is booming and realtors (and even locals) are taking advantage of the surge in demand. Not to sound all doom and gloom here, but the insane housing prices are a big problem that is rapidly transforming Tulum into another Cancun.
Also, once you know that Tulum is very expensive according to locals and in comparison to other cities in Mexico, it makes it even that more shocking to see some of the prices here. Mexicans, who usually pay $3,000-$5,000+ pesos for housing in other towns, like in Muyil which is just 20 minutes south of Tulum, aren’t able to afford the cost of living here in Tulum. Compare that small price to what tourists willingly pay and it becomes clear why locals are getting pushed out of their own community while foreigners buy up properties and land.
I know this topic is not what you came here for, but I wanted to include it here so we can ALL reflect on how our choices to live as digital nomads in other countries impact the local population. 🙂
So, just how expensive is it to be a digital nomad in Tulum? Below are a few sample prices.
Apartments/Housing: $500-800 USD (around $9K-$16K MXN) | High-Season: $900-2,000+ USD
We found a 1-bedroom studio apartment that’s Mexican-owned in Tulum Town in a quieter, local neighborhood for $10,000 MXN or around €450 EUR or $500 USD per month (wifi and water are included, but not electricity or gas). I believe you can find cheap(er) housing but this will most likely be restricted to the Tulum Town neighborhood and only during the low season. We arrived and found our casita in early September – so right in the middle of the rainy hurricane season. If you want to live in the ex-pat communities of La Veleta or Aldea Zama, you will pay more.
Restaurants: $7-15+ USD per person (Town) | $15-40 USD per person (Hotel Zone)
Tulum Town has a pretty awesome food scene with both local and international cuisine. Vegans rejoice – because there are a lot of scrumptious vegan cafes and even street tacos here. If you go to the Beach / Hotel Zone in Tulum, you’ll pay double or triple (or even more) for a meal.
I will give more pricing details for Tulum’s co-working, cafes, transport, markets, and other living expenses below!
When to Move to Tulum
Tulum is located on the coast of Quintana Roo, which gets lots of sun year-round! The summer months are hot and humid with a high chance of rain (because of the wet/hurricane season). The best time to visit Tulum would be November-March. November has sunny, clear days that aren’t too hot while evenings are pleasant and cool with a breeze.
The holidays are always busy, so if you want to avoid the crowds then it’s best to skip December or January. The pros of being here in the hot summer months are that 1.) there will be fewer people and 2.) summer is whale shark season so you have a chance to go snorkeling or diving with those gentle giants. The cons are obviously the hot, muggy days and the possibility of a hurricane. (We’ve had 2-3 just in the last 2 months!).
Transportation – Getting Around Tulum
Tulum is 2 hours south of Cancun, to get here you can either rent a car (save 10% on rentals with Sixt) or hop on a bus or colectivo from the Cancun Airport. If you rent a car, you will likely have to pay the car rental drop-off fee which is around $50 USD I think!.
Once you’re in Tulum, getting around is fairly easy. At least it is if you are based in Tulum Centro – in the town. The thing is, Tulum is pretty spread out.
You have the town itself which is easy to explore on bike or foot. The neighborhoods in Tulum are also far apart. So you could live 5 minutes to the supermarket if you’re on the north side of town, or 45-minutes away if you’re on the south side.
Then you have the Tulum Beach / Hotel Zone which is a 30-minute bike ride away down Coba Rd (or a 10-minute drive away). The Hotel Zone surprises many first-timers to Tulum because it is quite inconvenient. The road is one-way in and out. As such, traffic can be a nightmare. We usually get there on our bikes, which again, isn’t super far but isn’t just a block away, either.
Taxis/cabs are cheap if you use them just to get around the town. But if you hail one to get to the Zona Hotelera and back you’ll probably pay $200 pesos or $10 USD one-way.
We got lucky and had two bikes included with our apartment rental. But if you are a new digital nomad in Tulum, I highly recommend you buy a new or used bike or rent one monthly. You can find used bikes on the Tulum Facebook groups or Facebook Marketplace and new ones at the Super Aki market. Tulum is just too big to get around without a bike. Plus, it’s fun! Bike rentals cost around $100-200 MXN per day to rent.
Having a scooter in Tulum is super convenient for weaving through traffic and getting to/from the Hotel Zone to the Town much faster. With a scooter, you can ride a little further outside of town to some of Tulum’s more private and secluded cenotes. Scooter rentals cost around $20-25 USD for 24 hours.
If you want to take a day trip from Tulum and see new cities and towns, then you have a few options for public transport. Colectivo buses (little vans) usually do small inter-city trips and to/from nearby towns (i.e. Muyil, Felipe Carillo Puerto, Playa del Carmen, etc). If you want to go a bit further away, to Valladolid, Chichen Itza, or Cancun, then you can purchase an Ado bus ticket. The ticket office is in the town and is easy to get to.
To better understand Tulum it’s helpful to learn about its different neighborhoods. While there are a few micro-neighborhoods, the main ones to know as a digital nomad are:
- Tulum Pueblo/Centro
- La Veleta
- Aldea Zama
- Beach/Hotel Zone
Tulum Pueblo/Centro is the town or downtown. It’s where you’ll find everything from your local street vendors to your rooftop cocktail bars. In between, there are scuba dive shops, open-air artisanal markets, organic beauty stores, international restaurants, art murals, mezcal bars, spas, back-alley cafes, and more. I rarely explore the west end of Tulum (that is, the neighborhood above the Main Avenida running N-S) as it is mostly residential. There is also the Colonia Hurucanes neighborhood – where we live – which is more local and quiet, but with its own array of shops, restaurants, street art, and markets that we enjoy exploring.
La Veleta is an up-and-coming neighborhood on the south end of Tulum Town where you’ll find exquisite villas and a growing ex-pat community. It’s farther away from the big supermarkets like Chedraui and Super Aki but is closer to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, Cenotes Cristal y Escondido, and Laguna Kaan Luum that are all outside of Tulum. La Veleta has a couple of good restaurants and yoga places popping up, Gypsea Market (organic store), and the new Digital Jungle co-working space for digital nomads.
Aldea Zama is an even newer neighborhood in Tulum that’s developing and is primarily where you’d go to buy a condo or rent a high-end apartment. It’s located in between the Town and the Beach/Hotel Zone, so a little bit more convenient than La Veleta if you’re a frequent beach-goer. People who stay there love it because it’s quiet and has a good location. But we’ve biked in and around Aldea Zama a few times and are always underwhelmed (or overwhelmed rather) with all the construction and real estate and how it starkly contrasts the livelihood of the locals just opposite who live in tin-roofed homes on the other side of the fence.
Tulum’s Beach/Hotel Zone is the strip of land running parallel to the sea which is, as you can guess, lined with hotels. Unlike the high-rises in Cancun, though, Tulum’s Hotel Zone is littered instead with “eco-resorts” that aren’t very eco-friendly and run off diesel generators 24/7 (apart from a select few). Since there are no huge hotels, the area keeps its jungly/tropical vibes and takes advantage of it to mark-up prices in both the boutique stores and restaurants. The Hotel Zone is very Instagram-worthy which is why droves of tourists come here. Also, the public beaches are actually on the opposite side of the Hotel Zone (toward the Tulum Ruins). The Hotel Zone’s beaches are mostly privatized by the hotels, so if you want to access those you have to pay to enter the hotel’s beach club. If you’re coming to be a digital nomad in Tulum, it’s not likely that you will be spending most of your time in the Hotel Zone
There is also the Villas Tulum, at the entrance of the town (behind Super Aki) which is a quiet residential neighborhood, and the Colonia Hurucanes neighborhood which is full of street art and local shops and houses.
Finding Apartment Rentals in Tulum
So you know you want to come live the digital nomad life in Tulum, but where do you start your search for housing?
Facebook Groups & Airbnb
Join Facebook groups such as “Rentals in Tulum” to connect with locals and realtors about available apartments. Tip: It helps to know exactly how long you wish to rent for, otherwise, you’ll get largely ignored or brushed aside. We always start our search in Facebook groups and then simultaneously search for monthly rentals on Airbnb.
Airbnb prices are usually more expensive when you book monthly, but that’s why you should go the extra step and contact the owner privately to inquire about monthly rentals off the platform. Chances are you can negotiate for an actual “liveable” monthly rental. This is how we were able to live in an adorable studio with a huge jungle backyard with free bikes for $500 USD per month when the Airbnb price was $80 USD per night.
Gas + Electricity
Depending on who and where you rent, you might have to pay extra for services such as your wifi, electricity, or gas. Electricity in Mexico is fairly expensive, especially when you have an air conditioner. Our bill comes every 2 months. The last billing cycle cost us $100 USD. As for cooking gas, you simply have to call the gas people to come to refill up your tank (or replace it) when you run out. Depending on how often you cook, that should be every 1-2.5 months. To refill the tank completely will cost around $1,000 MXN.
Furnishing Your Apartment
When we rented our apartment I was searching all over for where to buy furniture in Tulum. But I had no luck. Other than the World By Hand store in Tulum (which is seriously house decor goals), there isn’t anywhere to buy just regular cheap furniture. As two digital nomads, we needed desks! The only way we found our desks, which were handmade by a local, was on Facebook Marketplace. Now we have two wooden desks and chairs! He even delivered them to our house on his bike. 🙂
A few weeks later, we saw another guy selling local furniture on the side of the road just above Main Ave. If you want more options for decorating your new home in Tulum, then you could also drive up Coba Rd (toward Coba). There are a ton of roadside furniture shops along this road. They’re just less convenient than at-home delivery!
If like us, you enjoy buying plants then there’s this amazing little locally-owned garden on Calle Sol Oriente just beside Hostel Nicte-Ha where you can buy all sorts of plants from tiny cacti to large tropical floor plants.
Internet + SIM Card
If you’re coming to Tulum as a digital nomad, you’re probably wanting solid answers to questions like this:
- “How fast is the internet in Tulum?”
- “I’m looking for an apartment in Tulum with good wifi”
There’s someone who asks either one of those questions in the Tulum Facebook group at least 1x a week! And depending on who you ask, the answer changes.
The thing is, Tulum’s internet speeds will vary depending on which neighborhood you live in, even the apartment complex you’re staying at, and which company your internet is registered with. We get our internet through GigNet and we only have around 2.5 Mbps upload and download speeds. Is that amazing? Not at all. But surprisingly, it’s enough for both Paul and me to work full-time, every day, without major flaws. Watching YouTube or Netflix isn’t a problem.
If you need more speed, you simply have to pay for it! Packages can cost up to $2,000 pesos ($100 USD) for something around 40 Mbps. The bigger issue of the internet in Tulum is power cut-outs and full-blown outages that can last for hours, or days (especially in the hurricane season).
SIM card: I would recommend getting a Mexican SIM card as a back-up just in case. We use our phones a lot for data when we’re out exploring. We use Movistar but you can also get a Telmex card. Movistar will cost around $200 for the SIM. We recharge online every 3 weeks or so for $200 pesos. The $200 package gives us 3 GB of data and unlimited social on Instagram, Snapchat, and 1 GB of YouTube and Netflix (on our phones).
Working in an apartment all day can get a bit lonely or boring sometimes. Luckily, there are a couple of co-working spaces in Tulum you can retreat to when you need to freshen up your mind and creativity or want to just hang out and connect with fellow digital nomads.
We just recently discovered Digital Jungle in the La Veleta neighborhood and loved it! The breezy space is brand new and invites you in with its open-air design, plant-covered walls, chic wooden tables, and cozy nooks. Fiber optic wifi plus free drip coffee and a fruit bar are included in the Day Pass which costs $350 MXN or $300 for residents. Beyond that, they offer private Zoom booths for $150 MXN/hour, private meeting rooms for large groups or conferences ($500 MXN/hour), and an upstairs mezzanine where you can play Xbox (or take a nap as Paul did, lol). The Week Pass costs $1,500 MXN and includes 5 consecutive day passes. I can definitely see this place becoming a digital nomad hotspot in Tulum in the near future!
For a co-working space that’s a bit more centrally-located in Tulum, check out The Good Space. It is sandwiched right between The Good Burger and The Good Pizza on the middle floor. They offer fiber optic wifi, AC, unlimited coffee, and an open-air balcony with a view of downtown. Their prices are $200 MXN for the day and $800 MXN for a weekly pass.
We’ve also heard you can co-work at Selina if you want to spend the day in the Hotel Zone, but we haven’t tried it yet.
Cafes (with Wifi)
Another way to get out of the house with your laptop is to head to a cafe with wifi (that accepts you to sit and work on your computer). There aren’t many in Tulum but we’ve found at least 2-3 that we enjoy circulating through when we crave a chai latte pick-me-up.
Botanica is an open-air garden cafe that serves awesome brunch-style food, baked goods, and delicious drinks. But it’s also a digital nomad-friendly co-working space where you can come and work without too much distraction. Follow their Instagram to get updates on community events or workshops that you can join each week like language meetings or painting classes.
Starbucks isn’t your local cafe with wifi BUT it has literally saved our butts several times when the internet was out in our house and we desperately needed to submit work. There are quite a few digital nomads who come here to get their dose of sugar and fast internet speeds.
Other cafes you might want to check out are (that I haven’t worked in):
- Ki’bok Coffee: Always super busy but you might be able to snag a table in the morning to hash out an hour or two of work.
- Babel Cafe: Seems like a nice spot but not very cozy or inspiring to work at. Not sure how the internet situation is or if digital nomads get glared out for taking out their laptops here. Does anyone know?
- Vintage Cafe Tulum: Located in Aldea Zama, this is a somewhat new cafe and from the pictures, it looks like it would be digital nomad-friendly. Let me know if you end up going!
Grocery Shopping + Markets
There are two big supermarkets in Tulum where you can stock up on almost anything you can think of. If you want to save money, though, while supporting local, I’d recommend shopping at your local corner market in your neighborhood!
Chedraui is your Wal-Mart equivalent with aisles in food/grocery, clothing, kids, entertainment, sports, pharmacy, beauty, etc. We go here for international goods, some organic items, and all our canned goods and coffee/tea, sugar, oil, etc. We usually go here once a week and spend around $2,000 MXN or $100 USD for groceries for two people.
Super Aki is, to me, the low-cost and smaller version of Chedraui. You have about the same options for fresh veggies/fruits (which aren’t always great at either place) and all your canned goods and toiletry needs. They also have a dedicated wine/spirits selection, similar to Chedraui, but it looks a bit fancier. You can also buy new bikes here for around $2500 MXN, which I found to be random but good to know nonetheless!
Mexican Mercados: If you want to save money as a digital nomad in Tulum, then I highly recommend getting all your fruits and veggies at the local markets. Plus, it’s a great way to support the small vendors. For this, we often head down to Calle Alfa Sur and get some goodies on that street from all the businesses and pop into the colorfully-painted Fruteria Pool Centre (on the back corner of Parque Dos Aguas).
Mercado Vegano: There is an awesome vegan market next to El Bajon vegan tacos where you can find natural and eco-friendly beauty products (period pads, deodorant, soap, etc.) as well as vegan meats and cheeses, plus recycled clothing and accessories.
Gypsea Market: Located in La Veleta, the Gypsea Market is a healthy, organic, and very upscale market. You can find lots of awesome fresh veggies, fruits, seeds, nuts, spices, etc., but it’s much more expensive than what you can find in town. A bag of organic tortilla chips here cost $10 USD, lol. We don’t come here that often because it’s too expensive but if you have the budget you’ll find it to be really nice. We buy our artisanal soaps, copal sticks, and fresh baguettes here!
La Madre Tierra: For all your organic beauty needs, head to La Madre Tierra located right in the heart of downtown. It has organic and natural soaps, shampoos, deodorants, lotions, oils, loose teas, and even sunscreen or makeup all made with eco/natural ingredients. We bought a natural sea loofah, de-o for the b-o, and some baths soaps. The prices are fair for what it is and I haven’t had to go back since all the products have lasted me for a while!
There are SO many good restaurants in Tulum. We’ve literally eaten our way through about 20-25 different restaurants and cafes so far since being here and there are still dozens we want to try. You will pay around $7-15 USD per person or more to eat out for brunch or dinner in Tulum Town, while that price can double or even triple if you eat out in the Hotel Zone.
I will be publishing my foodie guide to Tulum very soon, so check back for updates or stay tuned on my Instagram!
Healthcare in Tulum
If you’re moving to Tulum, it’s a good idea to get acquainted with the medical and healthcare services offered here. Luckily, we haven’t yet had any reason to go to the doctor or hospital here, but I’m going to list a few resources for you to just have in case of emergency.
Pharmacies: For any over-the-counter medication you need, just head to one of the pharmacies in Tulum. You’ll find prices to be fairly affordable here (especially if you’re coming from the U.S…)
Costamed: Costamed is a private hospital located in the Villas Tulum neighborhood that is often recommended by ex-pats and digital nomads in Tulum.
Centro de Salud: The public Health Center in Tulum is available if you need it. Find it located on Calle Sol Oriente Pte or call +52 984 802 5554.
Tulum Community Hospital: Located on Calle Acuario Pte. As I understand, this hospital is currently being used for patients recovering from the virus.
Emergency numbers, in case you need them:
- Tulum Red Cross: +52 1 (984) 802 5521
- Ambulance Akumal: +52 1 (984) 879 2250 and +52 1 (984) 120 1678
- Municipal Police: +52 1 (984) 871 2055
- Civil Protection: +52 1 (984) 871 2688
- Taxi: +52 1 (984) 871 2029
- General Hospital of Tulum: +52 1 (984) 871 2271
- Tourist Police: +52 1 (984) 849 7133
Travel Medical Insurance
If you don’t have insurance yet and are a digital nomad, check out SafetyWing – the travel medical insurance for nomads by nomads. I never really took insurance seriously because it was always so complicated to find a company that offered packages that suited my nomad lifestyle. I’ve been with SafetyWing now for a little over a year now and I’m so happy with it! You can get covered for as little as $40 for 4 weeks and it really takes less than 5 minutes to sign up. So much cheaper than the airline insurance I used to always buy out of panic, lol!
Spanish is the official language spoken in Tulum (and in Mexico in general), but there are many indigenous languages spoken as well.
If you spend ample time as a digital nomad in Tulum, you’ll no doubt hear or encounter people speaking the Mayan language. I find this especially intriguing and I always hear it outside of Tulum in the smaller towns such as in Muyil (on a visit to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve). I think it’s wise and respectful to learn a bit of Spanish if you want to live here.
But you certainly can get by easily in English, especially in the Hotel Zone and in most parts of downtown. But if you need to go into a local market for shopping, or a papeleria to print things, or a bike shop for repairs, then Spanish will come in handy.
Other Tulum Digital Nomad Living Expenses
@ Digital Jungle
Laundry: We do our laundry about every 10 days. A big bag of clothes usually costs us around $100-200 MXN and that’s with 2-day service. Most laundromats will charge you a premium for same-day returns and that’ll cost more around $300 MXN or more. We’ve learned that no matter how many times we give repeat business to our neighborhood’s laundromat, they always try to sneakily upcharge us as if we didn’t know their tricks already, lol. Towels cost more and they’ll sometimes surcharge you for bleach when you didn’t ask for it. So just be careful. (It helps to speak a bit of Spanish to clarify things!)
Water: Your drinking and cooking water comes in big water jugs that you can get at any OXXO or local abarrotes store. Refills for e-Pura bottles cost us $36 MXN and last us about 5-6 days. Also, don’t be surprised if they are strict about which bottle/brand you have. They’ll also check for any tiny holes in the bottle you’re swapping out before letting you go grab a new one.
ATMs: The best ATMs in Tulum are in the center. You’ll see people often at HSBC, Scotiabank, and Santander. They all vary in fees, but I think HSBC has the lowest. We usually get charged between $60-100 MXN for the ATM fee.
There are many things to do in Tulum and I’m always on the hunt to add more items to my bucket list. My most favorite activities in Tulum are by far:
- Jumping in cenotes
- Scuba diving on the Tulum reef
- Scoping out the next best restaurant
- Going out for mezcal cocktails at Tu, The Good Pizza, or El Grifo
- Watching the sunset
- Lounging at the public beaches
- Floating down Mayan lagoons in Sian Ka’an
- Riding bikes around town and along the Hotel Zone
- Visiting the Tulum Ruins
- Going on fun day trips from Tulum
Check out these Tulum Tours on Tripadvisor for more ideas of what’s possible on a trip to Tulum!
Final Thoughts on Being a Digital Nomad in Tulum
If you’re still reading this, congrats!! You survived my digital nomad guide to Tulum, ha! I am super thrilled to share all this information I’ve compiled over the past few months here.
I truly hope that your stay in Tulum, whether temporary or long-term, is beneficial, safe, and soul-satisfying! I know that there are many more things I could talk about as a digital nomad in Tulum here. But I’ll leave you with all this to digest for now.
As always, if you have any questions about moving or living in Tulum, feel free to reach out to me on Instagram, by email, or drop a comment below. I’ll be so happy to hear from you!
Finally, if you are seriously thinking about becoming a digital nomad in Tulum, then you must watch this documentary appropriately called The Dark Side of Tulum to get a glimpse of what’s happening here to the fragile eco-system. Please watch and share with friends!
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