If you’re wondering how to get from Cancun Airport to Tulum, you’ve probably just discovered Tulum Airport doesn’t exist. So to get to one of the world’s hottest destinations you will need to fly into Cancun first.
Here we explain the different options to travel from Cancun to Tulum on a Mexico Road Trip including bus, shuttle / transfer, taxi service and rental car.
Before we dive in, let’s get one question out of the way which we’re often asked by friends planning a trip to Mexico for the first time …
Is it safe to travel from Cancun to Tulum?
In a word. Yes. The roads are freshly paved so potholes aren’t a worry, the traffic is usually quite light but there’s enough cars around so you aren’t isolated at all. This whole region of Mexico is exempt from any cartel activities.
How to Get from Cancun to Tulum
From Cancun Airport to Tulum is about a 1.5 hour drive, but it will take you 2 – 3 hours if you take the cheapest option by bus.
TL;DR just tell me the best way now
If you already have a plan in mind about how you want to get to Tulum from Cancun Airport, click the links below to jump to it.
Easiest Way: Private Transfer
Cheapest Way: Bus
Overall best way: Rental Car
After experiencing some other options first hand, we can recommend renting a car in Cancun and driving to Tulum as the best way to get there.
Driving in the Riviera Maya region which stretches from Cancun to Tulum is really easy as there is not much traffic and the roads in 2020 are mostly well paved.
The #1 reason for renting a car is convenience and price.
Car rental from Cancun is cheap: in December 2019 we rented a car for about $10 a day including insurance.
You will also save a bunch on all your activities in Tulum because all of the best things to do (like the stunning cenotes or Coba ruins) are outside town.
Tulum Activities you’ll need a car, collectivo or tour for:
Laguna Kaan Luum: the giant deep blue whole cenote and natural bud bath (20 minutes drive / 16km / 10 miles from Tulum)
Tulum Beach: Unless you’re staying in a resort along Tulum beach then it’s quite the distance from Tulum town. For example, from Tulum to Taqueria La Eufemia (the cheapest and therefore most popular beach bar in Tulum) is almost 7 miles or 30 minutes driving. Most people hire bicycles though it is still a long ride.
Tulum ruins: a must see attraction in Tulum is deceptively far from town. Plenty of people cycle there even though the road is rocky and unpaved. You might want to consider saving your energy for hiking the sprawling ruins
Coba Ruins: the only Mayan temple you can still climb. You really appreciate how epic the structure is when you see how it dwarfs everything around it. 1 hour drive from Tulum
Cenote Carwash: There are no Cenotes in Tulum town itself. One or two you can cycle to like Gran Cenote or Cenote Calavera but if you want to see more it’s so much easier to hire a car. For example, Cenote Carwash is 20 minutes drive and you can swim with a friendly baby alligator in crystal clear water.
The cheapest way to travel from Cancun Airport to Tulum is the ADO bus which costs 252 MXN pesos ($14 USD).
The bus journey takes about 2 hours if you catch one of the six (6) direct bus services daily.
ADO Autobuses is the only company which operates the route. We’ve traveled with them and can report first-hand the buses are air-conditioned, are generally in good condition and pretty reliable.
We stowed our suitcases in the luggage compartments under the bus and kept any other valuables in our seat with us. We found the buses to be safe – we wouldn’t expect you to be hassled even as a solo traveler.
Cancun Airport to Tulum Bus Schedule
You can catch the bus from any of Cancun’s 4 terminals (try to be there 10 – 15 minutes before hand).
If you arrive just after the scheduled departure times you may still be in luck because the bus picks up passengers from each terminal, departing from the 1st terminal at around the time listed below.
Direct Bus Schedule 
- 10:55 am
- 12:25 pm
- 2:25 pm
- 4:55 pm
If you miss one of the direct buses to Tulum, you don’t need to wait another two hours. You can catch a bus to Playa del Carmen (1 hour journey) then transfer buses to get to Tulum.
Price: 252 MXN pesos ($14 USD)
Journey Time: 2 hours
Departure: ADO Bus Terminal Cancun Downtown (Google Maps)
Via Playa del Carmen
Buses from Cancun Airport or downtown to Playa del Carmen run more regularly at 30 minute intervals daily.
Playa del Carmen is much more authentic than Cancun. Mexicans chose to vacation in Playa rather than Cancun which is far more orientated to American tourists.
From Playa del Carmen you can visit lots of interesting places including the Chichen Itza Mayan ruins, eat real Mexican food and take the ferry over to the gorgeous Cozumel island.
You can get to Tulum from Cancun Airport via Playa del Carmen transferring at ADO Bus Terminal Playa del Carmen on Calle Quinta Avenida.
Price: $302 MXP pesos ($16 USD). The fare is $208mxp from Cancun Airport to Tulum, then $94 MXP to Tulum
Journey Time: 2.5 – 3 hours including wait time
Departure: ADO Bus Terminal Cancun Downtown (Google Maps)
Transfer: ADO Bus Terminal Playa del Carmen, Corner 5th Avenue and Juarez Avenue (Google Maps)
Note: there are two bus terminals in Playa – on 5th Avenue and on 20th Avenue. Buses to Tulum leave from 5th Avenue.
Tulum Bus Terminal
From Cancun Downtown
If you are spending time in Cancun before visiting Tulum, there is no need to return to Cancun Airport to get the bus to Tulum.
You can catch the bus from ADO Bus terminal in Downtown Cancun instead.
The average fare for the bus from downtown Cancun to Tulum is 190 MXN pesos ($10 USD) but you can find some cheaper services from $170 MXN pesos depending on your dates and times.
Downtown Cancun to Tulum Bus Schedule 2020
Price: 190 MXN pesos ($10 USD)
Journey Time: 2 hours
Departure: ADO Bus Terminal Cancun Downtown Google Maps)
Shuttle | Private Transfer
If you don’t like the idea of catching a bus or driving in Mexico, you can easily reach Tulum by shuttle or private transfer.
With a transfer you can reach Tulum from the airport in as little as 1.5 hours. You will be shuttled in air-conditioned comfort in a large minivan (usually up to 11 people will fit).
Transfers run all day and night but you should book in advance to avoid being extorted at the airport.
The cost of a shared shuttle to Tulum is as little as $16 (for this service here which isn’t reviewed) but they can fluctuate and become more expensive closer to your travel dates.
What’s the difference between a private transfer and a shuttle?
A shuttle is a shared service with other passengers, meaning the price is cheaper.
With a private transfer you don’t need to wait for other passengers. Find your driver, jump in and go! Think of it like a pre-booked taxi with a lot more leg room and enough space to move a whole family.
The cost of a private transfer from Cancun Airport to Tulum is as little as $40 round-trip.
I’m going to offend some friends’ family members here because I hate taxis. There, I said it.
I would rather take an Uber, Grab or any other local Uber-alternative 10 out of 10 times. I’ve never been ripped off by an Uber but I’ve been ripped off by taxis about 50% of the time.
Is there Uber in Cancun?
Unfortunately, there is no Uber in Cancun, which unfortunately means it’s not possible to get an Uber from Cancun Airport to Tulum or Playa del Carmen.
Uber does operate in Mexico, but only in Aguascalientes, Chihuahua, Cuernavaca, Guadalajara, Merida, Mexicali, Mexico City, Monterrey, Puebla, San Miguel de Allende and Tijuana.
If you do decide to take a taxi from Cancun Airport to Tulum, expect to pay no less than 1,700 MXN ($90 USD) one way.
If you’re getting a taxi to Tulum prepare to barter. Expect your first quotes to be closer to 2,500 – 3,000 MXN ($130 – $160 USD).
We paid less than $250 USD for three weeks car hire including comprehensive insurance which for us is a way better deal because we could drive to remote cenotes near Tulum without paying for an expensive tour.
Arriving in Cancun Airport
A word of warning for first-timers. Arriving in Cancun Airport is overwhelming, even for seasoned visitors.
Although airport authorities have clearly placed restrictions on the amount of spruiking which can be done inside the terminal, you will still feel bombarded by vendors selling all the different transportation options from Cancun Airport under the sun.
Our best tip for smooth sailing it to know how you want to get from Cancun Airport before you arrive.
Although all the spruikers there want to make a sale, Mexicans are also incredibly friendly and will gladly help you find your transportation option if you explain you’ve already booked it in advance.
When you collect your bags and pass customs at the airport (International Terminal), you will head pass through doors into the foyer where you will find rental car companies, private transfer operators, taxi companies and ADO bus representatives.
There are also ATMs, foreign cash exchanges, sim card sellers and small convenience stores for a snack if you feel peckish. Outside you will find a couple of fancy-ish restaurants serving western-style Mexican food and icy margaritas and cold Coronas which looked very appealing to parched travellers.
Tips for Driving in Mexico
Read More: Car Rental in Cancun
Here are some useful tips. If you heed our advice to rent a car in Cancun and drive to Tulum.
One question I didn’t research before driving in Mexico was whether it is legal to turn right through a red light?
The legal answer is No. I’m ashamed to say it took me over a week of driving around taking illegal right turns through red lights before I remembered to ask a Mexican friend the answer.
All the locals take illegal right turns, so it’s up to you about whether you drive like a local. Personally, I won’t be doing it because I don’t want any run-ins with Mexico police.
- Traffic lights at four way intersections operate one at a time. This means that cars on a green signal will be turning left, right and straight, so keep an eye out if you’re making an illegal right turn through a red light. From memory I only recall two traffic lights on the highway from Cancun Airport to Tulum. One is as you turn right onto the road to Tulum. The second is at the intersection as you enter Tulum town.
- In Mexico you drive on the right side of the road (normal for US and most of the world except UK, New Zealand etc)
- The maximum speed limit on the highway to Tulum is 100 km/h (62 miles / h). You will find a lot of cars exceeding the speed limit. I didn’t spot any speed cameras, but there were a few police cars parked along the roadside.
- Avoid driving at night. This is a general rule of thumb in Mexico which our Mexican friends gave us. Driving within Cancun, or Tulum is fine of course, but I would personally avoid driving from Cancun to Tulum at night and stay at a hotel in Cancun instead. As far as I’m aware the drive is not dangerous but there will be fewer other drivers at night and scams do occur.
- If your driver’s license is not in English (i.e. Cyrillic, Japanese, Arabic, etc), you will need an International Driving Permit (IDP/IDL) or an official translation in English.
- The minimum age to rent a car in Mexico is 21 years. Like many other countries, a young driver fee must be paid if you’re 21-25.
- yellow lines on the curb mean no parking. If the curb is painted white, or not marked at all, you’re probably safe to park there.
- Mexican gas stations are not self-service. When you enter a gas station to fill up, an attendant will usher you to a pump and then pump the gas for you. You might even get a window wash and inflated tires too. Tips are usually expected – 10 pesos ($.5) is plenty.
- Returning cars at Cancun airport is simple – just program in the airport then follow the signs to your rental company once you are near the airport. Note that if you program in the rental company into Google Maps, it will take you to the vehicle collection location, which is different to the drop off area for most major companies.
- All major car rental companies at Cancun Airport have their cars on-site but not within walking distance from your terminals. Find you company’s booth as you exit customs – they will show you where to get the shuttle to the collection center
- make sure to check underneath your car for damage. Speed bumps are used to slow drivers entering towns, and they can approach quickly if you’re not paying complete attention. You don’t want to get a car which looks fine on the exterior but has been scratched under carriage by the previous driver.
- the legal alcohol limit in Quinto Rio, Mexico (the state for Tulum and Cancun) is 0.8 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) which is the same as every US state except for Utah.
- If you plan to visit Cenotes or less touristy Mexican beaches like Akumal, be prepared to go over some pot hole filled dirt roads. You don’t need a 4WD for driving the Rivera Maya region.
Navigating some Unique Traffic Intersections
One unique feature about driving in Mexico is traffic intersections along major highways with no stop lights – just blinking yellow or red lights.
Upon approaching these intersections you will be slowed down by rows and rows of raised cats eye markers operating like mini speed bumps.
This is because the traffic lights don’t usually work on a red, yellow green basis. Rather, the lights will either be flashing yellow or flashing red.
Flashing yellow means you have right of way over vehicles driving along the road with flashing red lights. This seems complicated but it’s a really simple system which local drivers respect and it’s not dangerous.
Where to stop on the journey
Kick your Tulum vacation off with a bang by making a pit stop at some of these places on the way from Cancun Airport.
If you’re in need of caffeine or a restroom, there’s a Starbucks on the highway as you leave Cancun airport.
About 50 metres before Starbucks is a taco stand on the side of the road. We didn’t stop ourselves but it’s very popular with locals which is always a good way to pick a restaurant here.
About 10 minutes drive down the highway to Tulum is a large brewery called Casa Cervecera Pescadores where you can try locally brewed lagers. There is live music Saturday from 4 – 6 pm and a popular taco truck out front. (Google Maps)
Dolphinaris Cancun – a few years ago we did the Trainer for a Day visit. It remains one of our favourite animal encounters!
Near Playa Del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is about 50 minutes drive from Cancun Airport. The town is a destination in its own right – think of it as a more authentic version of Cancun. It’s where Mexicans vacation if they want to avoid the Americanized Cancun.
Coffee Break: There’s another Starbucks at Playa del Carmen on the highway from Cancun to Tulum if you need a rest break (Google Maps).
Food break: Grab authentic Mexican tacos al pastor (pork topped with pineapple) from El Fogon for $16 MXN pesos or $1 each (Google Maps). A frosty Corona will set you back about $36 MXN pesos – less than $2.
Xplor Park is the most visited zip-line park in the world. Zip through Playa del Carmen’s jungle through two circuits containing seven zip-lines each. Cool off with water slides and refreshing water landings.
Akumal – between Playa del Carmen and Tulum is this cool beach where you can swim with turtles. The turtles are most active in the morning, so I would recommend skipping this if you are driving in the afternoon. You can visit Akumal on this tour from Tulum including lunch, a cenote visit and early access to Tulum Ruins.
Xcaret is a water, theme, amusement, eco-archaeological park. Located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum in the Mayan jungle you will find underground rivers, cenotes and white-sand beaches. For nature lovers you will see jaguars, manatees, flamingos, spider monkeys and saraguato, bats, deer, and tapirs. You can experience daily life in a Mayan Village; be part of their homes and customs.
Cenote Dos Ojos – about 30 minutes drive outside of Tulum you will find one of the most popular cenotes in Tulum. Personally, we recommend the Cenote next door: Cenote Tak Be Ha because it’s epic (think a the cave is there are far fewer tourists).
So we think the best way to travel from Cancun to Tulum is with a rental car. What do you think? If you have any tips about the journey – maybe your favourite bus seat or somewhere else to stop on the way – share it with us and other readers in the comments below
Wondering where to go next? Why not go to Cuba, only a hop, skip and a jump away from Cancun. If this sounds like a great idea, check out our Cancun to Cuba guide for the best way to get there.