Tulum, Mexico: why you should stay away

Anyone who reads my blogs more often knows that I am always honest. Last month, just before the release of my travel book Tropical Escapes, I left my home for two sunny weeks in Mexico. I visited popular Tulum and paradise Isla Holbox. We all know the idyllic pictures of these sunny destinations and Tulum seems to be a true Instagram paradise. With the emphasis on “seems.” Because while it is true that you stumble across fashionistas everywhere, I unfortunately got to know a very different side of Tulum; that of rivaling drug cartels…

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Tulum MexicoGitano Beach | Tulum, Mexico

I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of the world, but never have I felt as unsafe anywhere as I did in Tulum. On my second day in Mexico I go to breakfast and hear that 5 people from my hotel witnessed a shooting the night before. An Austrian boy and girl had to run for their lives when they saw guns being drawn in the restaurant where they were eating. Three others arrived right after it happened and saw wounded and dead people lying on the ground. A drug dealer, an American travel blogger and a German girl were killed. A 21-year-old Dutch girl was seriously injured.

The two faces of Tulum

Although the violence is not directed at tourists, there are a lot of bullets being fired at busy tourist spots. This shooting was at 10 pm in the heart of Tulum Pueblo, where all the nice cocktail bars and restaurants are. I was in shock. After talking to locals, I realised that this was not an incident. The week before, a police officer was shot dead on the same street. There are also shootings on the more luxurious beachfront hotel strip, such as in September at RosaNegra restaurant and bar, where 2 people were killed and at least 8 bullets were found.

liefs tulum mexicoraw love tulumLiefs and Raw Love | Tulum, Mexico

Locals told me that a few months before my arrival, a big maffia guy was released from prison and he wants his territory back. That battle is now being fought in the streets. Two cartels are at war. At the time I was there, October 2021, there were weekly shootings. Often in the heart of the tourist center.

TulumThe Maya ruins | Tulum, Mexico

Every hour of the day you see cars full of heavily armed military and police driving through the streets; a very intimidating situation. When I handed in my rental bike in broad daylight on a side street off the main road, a man was aggressively pushed into a car 2 meters away from me. He fought back. I ran back to the main road and was afraid that guns would be drawn. I probably witnessed a kidnapping.

Riding my bike on the sandy road and the beautiful Grand Cenote. 

Once back home in the Netherlands I heard of yet another shooting near Cancun. The beach of the luxury Hyatt Ziva hotel was stormed by gang members, shots were fired and hotel guests fled into the hotel. The police are trying their hardest to stop the violence, but the cartels are currently at war with each other.

Other disappointments in Tulum
When you stay in Tulum Pueblo, where all the cheap and tasty restaurants are, it is a thirty minute bike ride to the beach. The roads are bad and full of holes. After rain, the holes are no longer visible and this creates dangerous situations. Hotels close to the beach are very pricey. The beach is absolutely stunning though, but some days there will be a lot of seaweed. Especially between May and October.

Most nice places at the beach can only be visited if you are willing to pay. For a day at a nice beach club you often pay at least $50. Beautiful Gitano Beach does not ask for a fee, as long as you have some drinks there. Tulum is very expensive and not comparable to other destinations in Yucatán. In a nice restaurant you pay the same price as in a restaurant in the Netherlands. That is exactly the reason why I wanted to stay in the town, because there you still find nice, authentic restaurants and bars which are affordable.

sfer ik tulumSfer Ik Art 

I was very uncomfortable in Tulum after the shooting and my friends and I weren’t relaxed at any of the restaurants anymore. The restaurants and hotels pay the cartels for protection. At a good restaurant close to the beach, we walked into the garden in the back after dinner, where a DJ was playing. Between the restaurant and the dancing area was a drug dealer who, in front of the restaurant staff, offered us cocaine. In exchange for protection, the restaurant must allow a drug dealer inside. I was shocked that this was happening in this beautiful restaurant….

mimosa tulumMy beautiful room at Mimosa Tulum 

Stay away from Tulum for now. The violence is flaring up and, according to the locals, the end is nowhere in sight unfortunately. Never buy drugs. Tourists keep this war going, because a lot of money goes into this industry through their purchases.

If you travel to Tulum in better times, eat at La Coqueta, Burrito Amor, Mestixa, Liefs, Casa Jaguar and Raw Love. Try the divinely delicious iced coffee at Liefs! Stay at Mimosa Tulum or Co.Bañitas Eco Hotel.


Isla Holbox was a true paradise! The blog post with all my recommendations will be online soon….