Tulum, Mexico with a Toddler and a Baby in Four Days
We traveled to Mexico in November which is, in my opinion, the best time to visit Mexico. It’s the end of the low season which means lower prices but still fabulous weather. We split our time between Tulum and Valladolid. My son was 26 months old and my daughter was 6 months old during our stay in Tulum. So this itinerary suits our needs to fit in short activities before and after an afternoon nap at our vacation rental. This area has so many ruins, cenotes (gorgeous swimming sinkholes), and beaches to offer within a short drive. I wished we had more time here, but this is what we accomplished in four days.
Tulum is a beach town, but staying right on the beach did not seem worth it for our family. A beachfront glamping experience in Tulum can cost $300 / night. Staying on the beach would also have multiplied our food bill exponentially as we wouldn’t have access to a kitchen and all of the nearby restaurants are quite expensive. Instead we opted to stay in an apartment in Aldea Zama which is a new planned community in between the beach and central Tulum. For $89 a night (I actually got it for free with Capital One Venture points!) we had a luxury two-bedroom apartment with a gorgeous pool, stocked kitchen, a crib, and baby and beach toys. We were only a five minute drive from the beach and we were equally close to the center of town which helped us save on food too.
Day 1 - Beach Club
Tulum is a beach town, so you of course have to spend some time enjoying the beach. There is a public beach which is nice enough, but if you want white sand, clear water, no seaweed, and a cozy beach bed to relax on, your best bet is to visit one of Tulum’s beach clubs. We opted for La Zebra because I had read they have a playground (it’s actually just some monkey bars and a swing - so not a huge selling point). La Zebra has a 500 peso (about $25 USD) minimum per adult to enjoy one of their beach beds for the day. Tulum is pricey so that’s not hard at all. We ordered 2 margaritas, 2 smoothies, nachos, and a ceviche and were just a tad over.
We pushed naptime back a bit to enjoy the beach longer. Then we spent the rest of the day enjoying the pool at our fabulous apartment.
Day 2 - Tulum Ruins and Palma Central
The Tulum Ruins are one of many Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico. Tulum is unique in that the ruins are right on the beach. In comparison to Chichen Itza, the most popular of the Mexican Mayan Ruins, Tulum is much less crowded and feels more natural. We saw several coati (adorable Mexican Raccoons) and iguana during our visit. The ruins are less grand than those found at Chichen Itza, but Tulum also has no souvenir vendors which makes for a much more pleasurable experience. The cost to enter the ruins at Tulum is about $3.50 per adult. We parked for free, and later found out that people that were coming in from route 307 had to pay for parking. So come in on route 15 along the beach and save some money like we did.
It was about a 15 minute ride back to our apartment in Aldea Zama for naptime, lunch and pool time. In the early evening, we drove out to Palma Central which was about 10 minutes from our apartment. Palma Central in short is the perfect dining option for families with high energy kids. It’s a fenced in street block with a playground, stage, and about eight food trucks featuring just about anything you could be craving. We happened to arrive during a kids birthday party. So while my son played with all the Mexican kids on the playground, we enjoyed a sampling of foods from the food trucks. It was a perfect ending to the day.
Day 3 - Gran Cenote
It was about a 10 minute drive to the Gran Cenote and we arrived just as they opened at 8 AM. We certainly did not have the place to ourselves, but it did get much busier as we were leaving around 11 AM. It cost about $8.75 per adult to enter, $2.50 to rent a PFD, and $4 to rent a snorkel mask. There is a good amount of turtles and fish in the cenote along with some pretty cool stalagmites, so I do recommend a snorkel mask. One unique feature of this cenote is that you can swim through a cave to get to another more secluded swimming spot. I would consider this a pretty kid-friendly cenote, but we really only felt comfortable taking our baby in the back half of the cenote which had stairs entering the water instead of a ladder. Our two year old on the other hand was totally comfortable climbing the ladders, jumping off the deck, and he even swam all the way through the cave to the other side.
After our customary afternoon nap, lunch, and pool time, we headed back to Palma Central since we had such an awesome time the night before.
Day 4 - Tulum Center and Public Beach
We spent our last day exploring the center of Tulum. We started at Dos Aguas Park where a series of perfect moments unfolded. Playgrounds in Latin America are much more of a complete experience than the ones we have at home. They generally are part of a larger plaza which means that in addition to the playground, there are places to get food and vendors selling random stuff like balloon animals and fruit cups. Dos Aguas Park offered all those things and more.
Tulum has some really lovely murals throughout the city and while I would have loved nothing more than to drive around photographing them all, that would likely result in a meltdown. So I got a few photos in where I could.
After naps, lunch, and pool time, we paid a visit to the public beach. The water is a little brown, there was a mound of rotting seaweed, and a there were a lot more people than at the beach at La Zebra. Still this beach wasn’t completely without charm. There is a giant rock which is fun to climb and gets you really close to the many local pelicans. This also seemed like the “locals” beach. It was nice to be among the local children playing, old guys fishing, and young people on sunset dates. And of course it is free.
Flight from DC - I cashed in 47970 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points for our three round trip plane tickets. The only expense to me was $238.56 in taxes. This would have cost $885 without the miles.
Rental Car and Gas - We paid $289 for the rental car for this portion of our trip. It was so much more than I had anticipated as they required us to purchase liability insurance. We only spent about $5 on gas.
Lodging - FREE. It would have cost $445, but I cashed in Captial One Venture Points
Food and Drinks - $273.84. We generally ate one meal out a day and cooked the rest of our food at our rental house. This also includes all of our baby supplies - diapers, wipes, etc.
Activities - $31.50. This includes our tickets to the Tulum Ruins and the Gran Cenote.
Total for our family of four: $837.90. But since we also visited Valladolid on this trip, subtracting half the flight price seems more accurate. So that would be a total of $718.62 or $45 per person per day.
Baby Supplies in Mexico
We did our grocery and baby supply shopping at Bodega Aurrera and Super Chedraui, both of which are supermarket chains that you will find all over this area. I was actually a little overwhelmed by the variety of wipes and diapers available for purchase at both stores. The weight range for the sizes is in kilograms which is of course a bit confusing for us Americans. Some brands use the same number sizes that we use in the US, but others use small, medium, large. And then there are so many brands and scents to choose from. The baby food variety was not as extensive as I would find in our local grocery stores, but it was definitely sufficient. There were also some fun flavors that I would not be able to find at home. Both of these stores had all sorts of baby things from pacifiers to clothes to toys. So if you forget anything else, you shouldn’t have trouble finding it.