Tulum is a well-traveled hotspot for vacationers in Mexico, but how expat friendly is Tulum? According to one of the top realtors in Tulum, not so much unless you happen to have a fat bank account.
“Tulum is really more tourist friendly than expat friendly,” Malu Guijosa, who is a 63-year-old who was born and raised in Mexico City. “It’s expensive and my experience with expats has been that they are looking for less expensive places in Mexico to live, mainly the retirees.”
Guijosa graduated from hotel school in Mexico City and then headed to Cancún in 1981 to first work at a travel agency before exiting to become a windsurf instructor and work at other tourist-related jobs. She got her real estate start as a timeshare sales person and then worked in real estate sales in Akumal before starting her own Tulum-based company in 2010, Tulum Premier Properties.
“I just finished building my new office in Tulum in April,” she said. “This place is growing like crazy, as more vacationers turn away from flying to far distant destinations because of tight COVID-19 travel restrictions.”
Tulum is just under 50,000 people and strung along miles of Caribbean powdery white sand beaches lined with new hotels. Few private homes are beachfront.
“Well known restaurants based in Cancùn and Playa del Carmen have expanded to Tulum to cash in on the growth in tourism,” she said, “but they are expensive. An evening out at a good restaurant in town is easily US$50 per person. Of course, you can still find plenty of local restaurants where prices are more budget friendly.”
The Tulum area has an abundance of things to do beyond beach time on some of the best beaches in Mexico. Take for example Parque Xel-Há.
“The park is just over 12 miles north of Tulum and is a natural inlet of water,” she explained. “All the rivers here are underground and Xel-Há is one of the places where the rivers meet the sea. It’s an inlet of water that the Mayas used for protection, a place to harbor their boats and use it as a trading center. Now, it’s a national park that is known for great snorkeling in crystal clear water.”
Guijosa also said the many cenotes – sinkholes created by collapsing underground rivers – provide a cool relief from the hot and humid climate for local residents and visitors. The area is also known for having some of the best cave diving areas in Mexico.
Tulum is also the jumping off point for many historical archeological sites in the area. The area was the main Maya center for both sea and land commerce. Tulum has more than 60 restored temples, including El Castillo, which is perched high above the turquoise sea and is the most photographed archeological site in all of Mexico, primarily due to its stunning location.
Also nearby is Sian Ka’an, a biosphere reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site that has tropical forests, mangroves and marshes, as well as a barrier reef. Over 300 species of birds make the reserve their home.
“Yes, we have many historical things to see right here in our backyard,” said Guijosa, “but if you drive an hour or two, you will be amazed at what you will find. The ancient Maya city of Cobá is just a 40-minute drive northwest of Tulum. The site is the center of the largest network of stone causeways used by the Maya and a must see”
Guijosa told us that visiting the many Maya historical sites is a key activity of those who live in Tulum or are just visiting.
“Tulum is just three hours north of the border with Belize,” she said. “It’s a beautiful drive and you go through Bacalar on beautiful Lake Bacalar, known also as the “Lagoon of Seven Colors” because of its blue and turquoise waters.”
Tourists far outnumber expats in Tulum, Guijosa said, and many of the expats living in Tulum are not Americans or Canadians.
“A lot of the expats living here are from Argentina and mostly younger,” she said. “They are definitely beach people. The Italians are also well represented here. Many have come to start businesses in Tulum to capitalize on its growth as a tourism center. American and Canadian expats are mainly retirees, but many retired here a while ago and are now getting older, selling their homes and returning to their home countries to be closer to family and medical facilities. Home prices are soaring, driven by many Mexicans buying second homes in Tulum, so retirees who can’t afford to live here anymore are selling. You have to have money to live here now.”
Guijosa said homes range from US$200,000 to $600,00 for a penthouse with rooftop pool in the Tulum area. Rental properties are in the US1,000 to $1,500 range per month for an annual lease. Many expats, she said, live in the gated Aldea Zama neighborhood, comprised mainly of condos and a few houses.
“About three to four years ago roughly 90 percent of my clients were Americans or Canadians,” she said, “but now they are sellers, not buyers. The buyers are Mexicans looking for a beach location second home as an investment they can rent out and use for a few weeks a year.”
“I think many expats make the choice to live in Playa del Carmen or Cancún rather than Tulum because of the infrastructure in those places and lower costs than here,” she said. “For example, Playa del Carmen, which is about a 45-minute drive north of Tulum, has a very good hospital. In Tulum, we have four small clinics.”
If you are considering moving to Tulum, Guijosa cautioned that your cost of living will be higher than most of Mexico.
“I would say that if you are renting a place and paying for utilities, food and gas,” she said, “you can expect to pay from US$1,500 to $2,500 a month.”
But for Guijosa, Tulum is the place she loves.
“It’s still a smaller beach town with not much traffic, has great year-round weather, wonderful beaches and warm water. And when it gets really hot, you can swim in the cool cenotes. I love the proximity to all of these things and the many things to see and do within an hour or two drive.”
For expats contemplating a move to Tulum, it is very appealing, but be prepared to pay for paradise.