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Investing in Tulum? Read this.

Intro: My First 3 Hours In Tulum

Finally…in…the Cancun Airport. I bought my ADO (local bus service) ticket for 420 Mexican Pesos (MXN) only to realize the next bus is at 12pm. The last bus was at 10:20am. The time is 10:25am. DaMn.

Exiting the airport, I’m feeling frisky, I engage a taxi driver to see how much it would be for the 2.5 hour ride down the Riviera Mayan Peninsula to Tulum.

He shows me an official-looking card: 6,000 MXN ($367). HoLy FuCk!

No way, Jose! I’ll wait for the bus.

He quickly tells me that because it’s slow season, he can do it for 2,800 MXN. Negotiating ensures. I pay him 2,000 MXN, or so I thought. Hold, tight.

While waiting, I tell him I need a sim card. One month. I get it. 500MXN ($29). Phone data back on.

I’m dropped off at my Airbnb for the month. I made a direct booking to avoid the $1,500 in fees, but that means the hotel wants cash. 33,000 MXN ($1,950). But I need to go to an ATM. But before than, I need to rent a scooter which I’ve already coordenated.

I meet the scooter dealer outside. One-month scooter rental pre-negotiated: 6,000 MXN ($352) plus 5% to use a credit card plus $100 deposit plus my passport. My passport!? No way Jose! Travel tip: Do NOT give away you passport in any circumstance. What if he losses it? That creates a giant-sized fucking problem for me, not him.

I was highly advised to only carry about 200MXN with me while riding to bribe cops. The scooter dealer’s friend openned his wallet, containg 150MXN, to show me just how serious he was. I was also told to make a full and complete stop at all stop signs, otherwise I would be pulled over. That’s annoying. And to always keep my helmet with me, as it will be stolen if left on the scooter.

Four hours have passed since I touched down in Mexico. I’m hungry. While eating tacos ($32), my cell data cuts out. It’s cloudy. I’m in Mexico. I figure it’s temporary. But there’s no wifi in this taco shop to find the ATM so I have to go back to my Airbnb for wifi. Except, I don’t know how to get back.

I go to a coffee shop. Espresso: 60MXN ($3.52). I got to ATM, which was out of order. FuCk.

Go back to coffee shop. Back to second ATM which has money. The limit is 11,000 MXN and the fee is nearly $10 for each withdrawal.

I notice a TelCel sign (The Verizon of Mexico) and I pop in since my data still isn’t working. I found out that I’d been robbed. While I may have thought I purchased a month of data, I was given a sim card with 50 megabits. CrAp.

Travel Hack: Use Airalo for digital sim cards in any country.

I get back to my Airbnb intending to visit the beach for sunset around 6:30pm. However, I get a notification that my credit card was just used for $367 or 6,000MXN. Remember that number from above? The taxi driver decided to charge me the full amount.

All in, I have been in Mexico for 7 hours. I have been robbed twice, inconvenienced three times, and already spent $592 not including the Airbnb, the two robberies, or the scooter deposit.

During the rest of my month in Tulum, I will have no more robberies, countless inconveniences, and a lot of fun.

This is not an anti-Tulum post. I feel the same about Tulum this year than I did the prior two years having visited the jungle city next to the beach.

Tulum has a lot of pros and a lot of cons.

One of the reasons I went to Tulum was to investigate the short-term rental market for investing. And one of the largest cons is this reputational problem they have stemming from the scams, price gouging, danger, and inconveniences. All will be covered below.

History of Tulum

People have been coming to Tulum for a long time. But, I think a combination of the 2018 mass shooting in Playa del Carmen, promting music festivals to change locations to Tulum, plus the opening of Azulik, the insta-famous beachside resort, in 2019 were the two initial events to set the stage for what’s to come.

We all know what happened in 2020. While most places were closed down, Tulum was open for business. It was also super Instagrammable and Tik Tok was taking off. The city went viral.

Zamna Music Festival was a hit. Ibiza moved there in 2021. Developers doubled down and so did real estate agents selling these projects mostly, if not entirely, to foreign investors, who may or may not be familiar with investing in international real estate. They were also promising future returns based on 2020 and 2021. I know because I met with one in Playa del Carmen.

Tulum Upsides

By far, the biggest upside for Tulum is the plethora and variety of activities to do in the area.

Cenotes, islands, beaches, daytrips galore, nearby cities, Mayan Ruins.

the best cenote casa in tulum mexico daytrip acitivites
the best cenote casa in tulum mexico daytrip acitivites

In one month, I went freediving, danced salsa, floated down a lazy river canal built by the Mayans, explored different areas of Tulum, and saw the sunset and sunrise. Speaking of the sunrise, I think it’s super cool how it rises so late at 7:30 am.

freediving experience in cenote angelita tulum mexico

I love the jungle vibes, especially compared to the concrete jungles of Playa del Carmen and Cancun. On top of that, it does appear that developers are respecting the vibe and advertising that a larger portion, up to 40% of the developed area will remain green space.

I love that the seawater is 80F.

In terms of considering the Tulum market for investing, the Mexican governemnt has done it before: Cancun. An ex-president literally flew over Cancun, said this will be a toursity desitnation, and now it is a world-famous touristy dsitinaton. Why? I don’t know. Cancun sucks. But it is. They’re done it before, that gives me confiden they can do it again.

Very good air quality. Something lacking in too many cities aroudn the world.

Mayan Train and Tulum Airport

Well, I have not-so-great news.

The Tulum airport, instead of being in between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, will be 35-minute south of Tulum. Why did they do that? I’m guessing to give taxi drivers a meaningul trip length.

But, you will have a third option now and that is the Mayan Train.

First thing is my read on the Mexican Governemnt tells me that the Mayan Train will be expensive.

Second thing is that the Tulum station is super poorly located. Why? Taxi money? Who the hell knows.

So if you don’t want to get goughed at the airport by taxi drivers, and your Airbnb is in Tulum City, then you can simply:

Step 1: Take Mayan Train to Tulum station.

Step 2: Take electric trolley towards the beach from Tulum Station

Step 3: Take public buses from the beach to Tulum City

Step 4: Get goughed by taxi drivers taking you to your Airbnb.

Both the Tulum Airport and Mayan Train, but espeically the later, had huge potential to make Tulum and the Riveiera Mayan Penninsula a world-class destination.

One of the things this area needs to improve is connecting the cities. Make transit between Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cancun, and the nearby cities seamless. Right now, it seems a lot furhter than it is to drive from Playa to Tulum. It will stay that way, unfortuantley.

Airbnb Supply and Quality

There are currently 5,081 entire home Airbnbs in Tulum. With the amount of projects going up, I anticipate that to double in the next 36 months. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Builders start projects because there is demand. In this case, I think the demand is more based on investor speculation than guest demand. The future will show us if demand (guests) are keeping up with supply (Airbnbs). Below is a graph from AllTheRooms Analytics comparing the ever increasing supply (purple) to the stagnant or slightly decreasign demand (green).

That aside, as an Airbnb in Tulum, and one who spend days agnozing about where to stay becuase THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME.

Yes, there’s a Tulum vibe, but I feel like evyerone is piggy backing of the other. For example, the same dream catcher thing above my bed, you’re going to find in receptions, restaurants, everywhere. They all have pools. They all have this and that. Ultimatel, I choose randomly where I stayed.

I found one property manager on Instagram and explaing what I wanted: full kitchen, balcony, desk space, pool. She sent me back a listing rated a 4.29. For anyone who doens’t knwo, anything below a 4.50 is really, really bad. I don’t book anything below a 4.70.

If that weren’t enough, the Airbnb that I checked into didn’t have: salt, pepper, paper towels, or coffee. It did have a tip jar and a blender that was chipped and not replaced, and I cut my finger on it.

Where To Stay In Tulum

Today, you have two main options broken down into various other consdierations. The main options are: beach or town.

Most people aren’t staying on the beach, unfortuantley, becuase hotels cost $500 nightly or come without A/C. There’s no gyms, no supermarkets, few cafes, and everything costs 40% more.

If, however, you want to stay on the beach, you will need to decide between the north section or the south section. The south section is mostly considered the better section. But, it’s also the much, more inconvenient section because of the Beach Road we’ll talk about soon.

If you decide in town, you’ll be decideing between Aldea Zama, the first “finished” neighborhood with paved streets, La Valeta (where I stayed), or Downtown. In the future, Selva Zama, Region 15, or Region 8, all closer to the beach, might be the place to be. It’s anyone’s guess at this point.

tulum city map where to live district 9 15 8 veleta downtown pueblo beach selva zama aldea holistika airport
tulum city map where to live district 9 15 8 veleta downtown pueblo beach selva zama aldea holistika airport

Safety

“I feel safe walking around here” said the pretty Canadian woman I met. Tulum has the perception of safety. And that’s a good thing. I’ve never seen so many single and groups of female travalers. And they are coming because they believe Tulum to be safe. Maybe it’s the cop or military man with guns that you see various times each time you go in public. Maybe it’s becuase the Mexican governemtn does a fantastic job at covering up the things that do happen.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe Tulum is overwhelmingly safe. The difference between a safe and unsafe place isn’t that much. Let’s say in a safe city, you have 0.1% chance of something bad happening to you any time you leave your home. In an unsafe city, that number goes to 0.5%. Still really unlikely, but now there are 5x the amount of stories out there.

This perception represtns a risk for me, though. The reputation can only down and there are many reaosn why it should. I live in Colombia for much of the year and nothing ever happens to women travelers. Male travelers, yes, things happen. But women, no. In Mexico, I heard of a woman getting raped in a taxi cab upon my arrival. I heard from a local girl visting from Guadalakra that girls get attacked all the time. But it rarely makes the news.

Seaweed or Sargasum

I have been to Riviera Maya beaches all throughout the year and more often than not, there is seaweed, and lots of it on the beaches. The Tulum beaches, both public and private, are without seaweed because the clean it daily. And the beaches do look great without it. Pair that with the warm water and white sand, and it’s picture perfect. But the seaweed isn’t going anywhere becuase it’s caused by pollution, of which there is a lot. The water is some of the most diguating in the world.

tulum beach view from the ocean sea azulik private best
tulum beach view from the ocean sea azulik private best

Polluted Water

Ok, everyone knows you don’t drink the water in Mexico. They say it like it’s acceptable. I guess, on some level, it has become acceptable. It is not acceptable on numerous levels. Neither is polluted air. Sham on you, governemtns, that don’t provide both clean air and clean water to your citizens. You didn’t find it pollued as fuck you digusting pigs!

Alright, so don’t drink the water. But what about boiling your food with? What do you rinse your mouth with? What if your chipped blender cuts your finger, what do you clean it out with? Not the pollued water for fear that you give yourself an infection. With the water coming out of the kitchen sink faucet!

What about when you go diving in a cenote? You instcutore gives you some solution to put in your ears so you don’t get an infection.

Scams

You already know about two scams. But this place is teaming with scams. Even a very experienced traveler like myself got scammed numerous times.

Remember when I wanted to go to the sunset my first day? I made it, kinda. A friend wanted to show me a somewhat hidden, but public beach. All the beaches are technically public in Mexico. The next week, I’m driving along the beach road and I see a parking sign for a beach. Being in explore mode, I pay the kid $10 to park my scooter and check out this new beach. For Tulum, a $10 activity is cheap.

The kid tells me wehre to park and then indicates I should go through a gate to get to the beach. So, I did. And what I found upon seeing this beach I just paid $10 to get to is the same beach I saw the week before with my friend. It was literally the same beach, different entrance.

Or there was the time when I forgot my laundry ticket, and the lady tried to charge me an extra 10MXN. There was no sign to indicate you’d be charged this if you forgot your ticket, it was not printed on the ticket. It was no where. This lady was just adding on a charge. This is common. Check your bills, folks. You WILL be charged extra. Either they will add somethign to the bill, give you back the wrong change is paying by cash, or just charge you extra when you leave.

I also heard a common scam is dropping you off at wrong airport terminal in the giant Cancun airport requiring you to pay another $15 to arrive at the correct terminal.

Tulum Guide to Investing, Scams, Nightlife, Mayan Train, Airbnbs, Safety, neighborhoods, where to live

Road Quality and The Beach Road

Let me tell you about a date I went on. I planned to pick her up on my scooter and we’ll go to dinner. She was late in getting ready and I was hungry. Distance between us was 12 minutes. I had two options: go to the beach road, which I know is paved, or take a shortcut. I took a shortcut and IT WAS ONE OF THE SCARIEST THINGS I’VE DONE IN A LONG TIME. Why?

Try to picture this. You’re in Mexico on a 125cc scooter. It’s pitch black because there are no streetlights. You are driving on a narrow, unpaved road filled with potholes with the jungle immediately to your left and right. You have your cell phone out in the left hand to guide you. For all the prior reasons you have to drive slow. Someone could push you over if they wanted. Now your cell data cuts out, which is very bad luck because the directions are faulty. You are at a dead-end. Nothing but jungle in front of you, to your right and left.

To summarize: you’re on a tiny scooter, in a dead end road, pitch black, lost, no cell service, no one in sight, jungle to your left and right, hoping there are no bad guys in these bushes and being thankful you are a man and not a petite female right now. I took this picture when I stopped at once point to try and unfuck myself.

Now, those are the roads in La Velta and towards the beach. There are two roads to the beach, not to be confused with the beach road.

A second and much-needed road to the beach was opened recently, but without much thought. There are no sidewalks. It’s dangerous as fuck because cars are driving 50+ MPH. I was surprised I didn’t see more accidents.

Now, once you arrive at the beach, you see no beach, but you are on the beach road. Another narrow, somewhat paved, but full of potholes and without sidewalks long road with hotels, restaurants, beach clubs, and discos on each side. Insane traffic. You have wild dogs, people walking and biking, giant-sized and numerous potable water trucks constantly delivering water to the businesses because there is a lack of infrastructure supplied by the government.

Other Downsides of Tulum

When discussing the Mayan Train, I said that my read on the Mexican government suggest that it will not be cheap, making travel between cities accessible and pleasant. So what is my read on the Mexican government? Why are they, unlike their Balinese counterpart, undertaking large infrastructural projects? Answer: because there is large economic viability.

You will not see the government build a park or something free. But they will do something that will bring in the dough. Somewhat better than the Balinese government, still not what I was hoping to discover. Maybe that’s why there are no sidealk on the beach roads?

But what confuses me is the power and water outages. I guess there is not a super duper clear and direct economic viability incentive? I guess. People are already coming, and it would be hard to measure how much this inconvenience is affecting their economy. Would it grow by 10%, 100%, or 0% if the government put in a bunch of money to upgrading the system? Or maybe upgraidn the power grid is simply too expensive? I’m really not sure about that, but I am sure about how inconvenient the numerous power and water outages were. In a month, probably around 10 in total.

Playa del Carmen still has power outages. There were two days of 8+ hours of power outages and the government did send communication around which was nice, but it simply said something like ‘working to make things better’. Well, ok. But it’s 2024. And this is has been going on forever. And, the amount of construction in progress is only going to make things worse. I was hoping for a link to a document outlining the government plan to totally fix all of these issues.

Seasonality is another downside. While I was there, the majority of the days were what I consider perfect. Around 75-degress with limited humidity, clouds, or wind. Perfect. Really made me feel good. That lasts from around December through February. Then things get really hot 100+ and really humid (sweating moments after you step out of your house). And a lot of Tulum cafe’s and dining is outdoors.

I use Google Maps when discovering new spots in a new city and there were a lot of closed businesses while I was going around. Coworking, restaurants, cafes, clubs. Usually I find 1 or zero closed business that are showing open on Google Maps. In Tulum, maybe ten.

I confirmed with a couple at my Airbnb apartment who had been coming to Tulum for the past five years that it was really slow. This was Feburary, high-season. I recall walking down Calle 7, the popular street in La Velta, on my first weekend and thinking it was really empty. This is not good for Tulum and something to keep an eye on. One of the reasons I think Tulum might have a bad future is that reputational problem I hinted at above.

There are many people who come to Tulum and love it. But there are just as many who don’t. And they’re sharing their experiences online. It could be the scams. It could be the value being low based on the price paid. It could be the poor service. If you check business reviews on Google, a 3.5 is high for Tulum. It could be the taxi price gouging. Could be the power outages, the theft, the danger, or a bunch of other negatives. A market grows slowly over time. Like Medellin, probably 90%+ have great things to say, go back home with those great things to say, and the word slowly spreads. Tulum grew quickly. Will that growth keep up?

One thing that I’ll be keeping my eye on is the cost versus value equation. Tulum is expensive. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The most expensive cities on the planet are typically the nicest. The most expensive dinner, is typically a lot nicer than an average cost dinner. But in Tulum, things dont’ function like that.

In Playa del carmen, a 10-minute taxi ride costs 50MXN, but in Tulum it’s 200MXN. Same service. Cities within an hour of each other, but 4x cost difference.

If you’re curious about other Tulum prices, I keep a cost of living index on my Travel page. Just search Tulum, or the city you wish to examine.

How Tulum Can Turn Into A World Class Destination

I believe Tulum can be a world-class destination due to the climate in the high season, the beach, the proximity to the USA, and a fewother factors, but there are some things I believe ned to improve to get there.

Focus on Uniqueness. There are things that make Tulum unique. The jungle vibes being the biggest. There are very few cities that haven’t cut down all the trees in sight. Ubud comes to mind. One of the most magical and special ambiance in any city on Earth. Special consideration needs to be paid to taking I to the next level. For example, the dirt roads aren’t necessarily bad. But the potholes and general unpleasantness of driving on them is bad. The dirt roads can give a natural vibe. I also like the thin trees dotted throughout some trees and sidewalks. This vibe should be nurished and promoted. An immediate visual impact on all who visit Tulum.

Beach Access. Being so close to the beach, it’s inconvenient to arrive. There are only two roads; they’re really long, they’re dangerous, there are no sidewalks, there are random speed bumps, and there is a giant curve adding an extra 5 minutes to the trip just as you approach the main beach road. There are also few public beaches. I’d also like to see the beach from the main beach road which needs to be heavily modified.

Uber. Needs to be legal. Needed to be legal already, really. It is not legal in Playa del Carmen where it’s less an issue due to high walkability. There’s a reason why Uber became a worldwide phenomenon, created numerous competitors, and is not going anywhere. Taxis suck. They gouge. They scam. They don’t offer good service. Oftentimes they have crappy cars. Multiple that double or triple for Tulum. Allowing Uber would go a long way in fixing Tulum’s reputational problem.

Inconveniences. There are more daily inconveniences in Tulum than any other city I know. Random construction causes major traffic or detours. ATM is out of service, but it doesn’t say that, so you pay 10MXN to check your balance, thinking that’s the way in. I’m really not sure whether to qualify that as a scam or an inconvenience. No same day turnaround on laundry plus adding an extra day to delivery if the power goes out. And all that for rates higher than most places. On a side note, I have never seen laundromats rated so low. I’m talking 1.5 stars. Power outages are an obvious inconvenience, as are the roads, as is carrying your helmet with you everywhere because it will get stolen. Everyone wanting cash or charging 5-10% extra with credit cards. Then there are a bunch of additional random inconveniences. For example, in Medellin, when I go the spa or get a hair cut, there is never any line. I just go when it’s most convenient for me, and get the service right away. In Tulum, you have to make appointments.

Who Should Invest?

Speculators and experienced investors.

Tulum is already well-known, but not world-class. There is much more potential that may or may not be realized. It’s not going to be realized randomly. The government, developers, and local community activities will need to more actively meet and sync on the future of Tulum.

There are a lot active and planned projects. I anticipate the supply of short-term rentals only to increase, by a lot. And I don’t anticipate the Mexican government inposting any restrictions on Airbnb. If the Mexican government keeps the incoming tourists arriving, like they have done so well in Cancun, then the problem is sovled.

But, Tulum is in a turning point right now. In high season, it’s not busy. But it’s an expensive place to run. How much can the prices come down? Can the city withstand it? For a couple months? For a couple years?

Before investing, I recommend you watch a video I did on how to know if you’re making a good short-term rental investment based on the numbers.

If I’m investing..

The first thing I’m doing is spending a lot of time living in the Tulum market, in different neighborhoods. I’m getting a feel for the different vibes and what visitors will want.

At the same time, there is so much construction going up right now as I write this blog. In five years, I have no idea where the hot neighborhood would end up. Right now La Valeta is the hip spot. But there’s a ton of undeveloped/developing land between here and the actual beach.

calle 7 popular street in la valeta tulum where to live
calle 7 popular street in la valeta tulum where to live

I’m going to visit as many finished, plan, and ongoing developments. My guess is that some of the projects will not finish, especially if Tulum stays as a bear market for an extended period. How easy will it be to get the money back? Ensure there are clauses for on-time deliveries with no more than a 6-month buffer.

When I visit these developments, I’m asking the real estate agent a lot of questions and double checking all of their answers. A good real estate agent has really good answers for all your questions. Don’t be fooled. Remember, they are there to sell you on the property and part of that is painting a bright future which includes skipping over most or all of the negatives. It’s your job to verify everything they say. Be skeptical of all answers. Find out the negatives.

Some of these developers have been building in Tulum for years. Los Amigos being the most famous in the area. They have built Lagunas, Central Park, and Panoramic. I would preference a developer on their second or third project to a new one. I’ve even seen some projects launched by men who have never ran a real estate development. Go visit the prior projects. Walk around. How’s it kept up? How’s the occpunancy? What are the receipts the apartments are bringing in?

Differentiation! As previously mentioned, many of the Airbnbs look the same. I would be looking for a project doing something different in terms of design.

I would preference a development nearer the beach. Even though Tulum is a jungle city near the beach, people think Tulum and they think beach. I think a vistor wants to be near the beach. Plus, I think it’s inconvenient to arrive at the beach from town. But this preference is a concern because I’d be guessing where the hot neighborhood would end up being in five years.

I don’t think the government is going to significantly improve the power grid or the water situation. Although I’d want to know more about the plans the government has to improve the infrastructure, I’d also inquire about the developers plan for both energy and water. For example, Amari Tulum has an onsite water filtration system stemming from an onsite well.

tulums public beaches next to the mayan ruins north
tulums public beaches next to the mayan ruins north

Conslusion: Tulum’s Future

I’ve been tough on Tulum. It’s in my personality to more easily see the negatives. But, I do like Tulum minus the things I really don’t like. And, I wish there were less things I really don’t like. I want to love Tulum. Currently, I like Tulum. There is a future for Tulum. That’s easy to see. I just want that future to be as bright as possible.

I plan to return. If you’d like to read more of my notes on Tulum including things to do, daytrips, favorites cafes, coworking, and restaurants, click over to my Tulum travel guide.

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