Dreaming of white sands and turquoise waters? The new Tulum Airport is about to put a few new destinations on your radar.
The new Felipe Carrillo Puerto International Airport (TQO), or Tulum International Airport, expands your travel choices into the Rivera Maya, but the best part about it is that thew new travel hub shrinks the distance from you to the farthest reaches of Quintana Roo, often called ‘Costa Maya’, and beyond.
And that means a few Tulum alternatives will be easier to visit.
New Tulum Airport Flights: Key Info
The airport’s transparent, pyramid-shaped roof pokes out of the jungle, about 20 miles (ca. 32 km) southwest of Tulum, 40 minutes to an hour drive to the town of Tulum (compare that to the two hours it takes from Cancun International).
Tulum International will host flights from these US cities:
- Chicago O’Hare
- Dallas/Fort Worth
- Fort Lauderdale
- Los Angeles
- New York’s JFK
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines will operate these routes.
You can already book your trip with the airport code TQO.
And the good news? Even though the Tulum Airport is much smaller (it’s built to handle 5.5 million passengers), prices seem to be on par with Cancun (which saw over 30 million passengers in 2023). I did a few quick searches for flights from New York to Cancun and Tulum the middle of April and the flights were all about the same price (from the mid $300s for a weekend and in the low $200s for weekday flights). But of course, this could change.
Travel Planning: 3 Tulum Alternatives within Reach of the Tulum Airport
If you live near one of those lucky airports and love clear water, soft sand, local flare, and solitude, here are a few gems within three hours drive of the new TQO worth checking out.
1–Mahahual: A Beach Haven, 2.5 Hours from Tulum International
Mahahual was once a quaint fishing village. Thanks to its gorgeous beaches and cruise-ship welcoming port, it has already blossomed into a modestly known tourist destination. Well, at least for a few hours, a couple times a week. That’s when boats pull up and passengers marvel at the white sands and clear water. But when then they leave, all that’s left is the magic.
The main draw of Mahahual is its stunning coastline, an escape from the perennially crowded shores of more popular destinations. The beaches here are postcard-perfect, with powdery white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters. The water is calm and shallow, ideal for people who prefer gentle swimming. To keep your belly filled, there’s a small boardwalk with ceviche, bakeries, cafés, and bars.
Snorkel and Dive the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef
Mahahual is at the doorstep of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the world’s second-largest coral reef, ideal for snorkelers and divers alike. You don’t need a certification to enjoy Mar Adentro Diving, which offers $100 day courses with PADI instructors that venture into the open water.
Kayak through Pristine Mangrove Streams
For a different kind of water-bound adventure, PePe Dive offers a five-hour kayak tour through Xcalak National Park’s stunning mangrove lined streams, for $80.
Take a Traditional Steam Bath
For a touch of local culture, the temazcal experience, a traditional Mayan steam bath, is an invigorating blend of spirituality and tradition found at most spas. Check out the Viva Bonida Spa, right on the beach.
Zip Lines and Water Slides
And if you’re traveling with family or just love a bit of adventure, the Lost Mayan Kingdom adventure park serves up zip lines and water slides.
Explore Lesser Known Ruins
There are a few Mayan ruins nearby, and guides from The Native Choice are expert in all of them. Chacchoben, featuring pyramids surrounded by jungle, is about 30 minutes away. For a more off-the-beaten-path experience, the Kohunlich and Dzibanche ruins are about a two-hour drive from Mahahual. Often combined with a trip to Dzibanche, Kinichna is a smaller site featuring a large climbable pyramid known as the “House of the Sun” with spectacular views of the surrounding jungle.
Wake With a View of the Beach
Blue Kay Eco Resort provides rustic, but well-appointed cabanas of various sizes (and amenity structures) right on the beach from $40 to $110. It’s got a spa, snorkeling, a party boat, and it’s close to three different restaurants.
2–Bacalar: Lake Life on the Caribbean, 2.5 Hours from Tulum
Bacalar isn’t on the coast, but you won’t miss the sea here. It’s perched on the shores of the Bacalar Lagoon, a giant, fresh water lake as refreshing as the tropical ocean is in Tulum, with strikingly clear waters that showcase a spectrum of blues — from gentle turquoise to deep azure. This is a curious and captivating destination that offers a unique blend of natural wonders, cultural heritage, and relaxed, far-flung vibes.
Visit the Lagoon of Seven Colors
Spanning approximately 42 kilometers in length and relatively shallow, the freshwater lagoon is a visual marvel and a popular spot for water activities. Fed by underground cenotes, it is warm, inviting, and incredibly clear, making it perfect for a dip. Guided tours from Amir AdvenTours, include activities like kayaking, paddleboarding, and sailing (with open bar) are popular on this fresh water take on the Caribbean.
Make sure you see The Pirates’ Canal, or Canal de los Piratas. One of the most picturesque parts of the lagoon, it was a hideout and strategic passage for pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, it’s a pit stop worth its weight in gold.
Step Back in Time at Fort San Felipe
Fort San Felipe in Bacalar was built to defend against pirates in the colonial era. Today, the only thing slayed here are the views. The $3.50 admission to the museum is worth it for the informative exhibits in both English and Spanish.
Make Your Way to these Unique Cenotes
Bacalar is surrounded by some of the coolest cenotes in Mexico. One of the most popular is Cenote Azul is known for its deep blue waters. Circular and surrounded by lush vegetation, it’s a popular spot for both swimming and snorkeling.
Cenote Cocalitos is famous for its stromatolites, make from some of the oldest forms of life on Earth, and Cenote Esmeralda, as the name suggests, is known for its emerald green water. But the magic happens where it connects to the Bacalar Lagoon, and a unique natural phenomenon, where different shades of blue and green mix, can be seen. Cenote Negro, also known as the “Cenote de la Bruja,” is deeper than it appears, giving the water a dark, almost black appearance. Daytours Bacalar can set you up with a guide.
Relax on the Lagoon
The best hotels put you right on the lagoon and The Akalki Hotel & Centro Holistico has rooms that open up right onto the water, in a secluded location in the serene mid $200 range.
3–Punta Allen: A Remote Outpost, 3 hours from the Tulum Airport
If you’re really looking for the barefoot bungalow experience, put the white, sandy beaches of Punta Allen on your map. It gives Tulum thirty years ago vibes, nothing more than a ramshackle village at the end of a long dirt road in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
It’s the kind of place you go to avoid the Wi-Fi and head straight for the R & R. You’ll find a few family-run restaurants and a handful of small hotels, offering a more authentic experience compared to even Mahahual and Bacalar.
Make the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve Your Playground
The name “Sian Ka’an” means “Origin of the Sky” in the language of the Mayan peoples who inhabit this region. It’s a biosphere Reserve known for its exceptional natural beauty and diverse ecosystems, which include tropical forests, mangroves, marshes, and ruins. Popular activities in Sian Ka’an include snorkeling, boat tours, and river floating. With more than 300 species of birds, it’s also a prime birding territory.
Camp on the Beach
Wake to nothing but the sound of crashing waves and your feet in the sand. For about $30 a night, a place among the tents, huts, and villas right on the beach at Cielo y Selva, a few miles outside of town, can be yours.
The New Tulum Airport Opens Up Remote Destinations
Tulum International is 2 hours from Cancun and an hour from Tulum, but this new airport puts off the beaten path locations that were once 5 hours away within driving distance.
Looking for gorgeous, sparsely populated beaches? Head to Mahahual, a port of call for cruises known for its crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches. Want something a little different? Bacalar is a freshwater version of Mahahual. And if you want a true escape from it all, Punta Allen is magically unplugged.
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