What I Spent: Five-Night Honeymoon in Tulum, Mexico

Mayan Ruins at the Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo, Tulum, Mexico
Florian Trojer/Getty Images

The upfront costs of vacations are predictable. It’s the little things—airport snacks, cocktails before dinner, tipping a tour guide—that can throw even the most well-planned vacation budget off track. In this new series, we’ll look at the spending patterns of real travelers in popular destinations, so you can estimate what you’ll actually spend. (Thanks for the inspiration, Refinery29!)

In this installment, a couple travels to Tulum, Mexico for a five-night honeymoon. 

Upfront Costs: 

Flights: $1599.98 (London Heathrow to Cancun); $496.74 (Paid in Chase Rewards points, Cancun to JFK)

Accommodation: $868.70 (50% deposit for five nights at Ahau Tulum)

Whale Shark Experience with Yucatan Diving and Travel: $450 for two people

All costs have been converted from GBP, EUR and MXN to USD, according to current exchange rates. 

01 of 06


Elspeth Velten

7:30 a.m. Time to hop on the London Underground at Arsenal and sit tight for the hour-long ride to Heathrow Airport. Cost: $13.56

10 a.m. Security was a breeze, so I have plenty of time to stop by Boots for bug spray and sunblock. I can never resist a couple of their cheap, store-brand beauty products—cucumber eye gel and moisturizer are definitely necessary for a sun-filled trip to Mexico. Cost: $16

10:15 a.m. We sit down for a quick breakfast at the Perfectionist's Cafe, Heston Blumenthal's Heathrow outpost. And perfection it is—one eggs benedict, one full English and two coffees later, we're ready for our one-hour flight to Frankfurt.  Cost: $34.79

2:30 p.m. I don't care if I'm in Germany for five minutes or five days—I will eat my weight in gummy candies and sausage. Walk off the plane and pretty much straight into the nearest convenience store for a bag of Katjes. Cost: $2

2:45 p.m. We have time to kill—we "might as well" have lunch and a beer at the airport beer garden (please—we've been looking forward to this since we booked the flight). Charlie goes for the currywurst and a beer, and I opt for the weisswurst and pretzel platter and a lemony radler. Cost: $39.40

6 p.m. We're on our 11-hour, budget airline flight and yes, we will be purchasing Condor's in-flight entertainment. I could start my honeymoon with a cute rom-com, but I go for Room. Cost: $17.92 and one million altitude-enhanced tears

10:05 p.m. We've finally landed in Cancun, and our pre-booked car transfer is waiting for us. It's over an hour to Tulum from here, and I spend it worrying about dying in a high-speed van accident. We don't. Cost: $116.60, including tip

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02 of 06


Elspeth Velten

9 a.m. We were up early (#jetlag) but finally feel like it's a decent enough time to figure out how to order our daily coffee and pastries that are included with the room. Cost: $0

10:30 a.m. Those baby croissants were good, but the allure of huevos rancheros is too tempting to ignore. We take a table at the hotel restaurant and go for one order of Ahau eggs, one breakfast burrito and two iced coffees to get ready for a day in the sun and waves. Cost: $21.30 (service is included)

12 p.m. It's officially noon on the first day of our honeymoon, and it's officially acceptable to have a drink at the beach bar. One "Hippie Chick Julep" (my first meeting with mescal), one Modelo Especial and one sparkling water. Cost: $16.60

12:30 p.m. We walk down the beach to Taqueria la Eufemia, named after a local dog that has more of an adult hairstyle than I do. We order a light lunch of tacos: two fried fish, one fried shrimp, one al pastor with pineapple and one chicharron. And wash them down with beers: one Sol, one Bohemia Clara, one Bohemia Oscura, one Indio. That quesadilla that just went past looked pretty good... One mango margarita and one quesadilla for good luck, please! Cost: $27.23 (including tip) DIY jalapeno crema and habanero-pineapple salsa: free and priceless.

3 p.m. We’re back at Ahau under an umbrella on a beach bed and getting peckish. One order of guacamole with chips, two sparkling waters. Cost: $10

8 p.m. We may be feeling jetlagged and pathetic, but dinner tonight is the one I've been looking forward to most: Mayan-influenced dishes cooked with local produce over the wood fire at Hartwood. People wait in line in the heat of the day to score a reservation for the evening here—so we don’t hold back on our order. We start with the ensalada de langosta (lobster salad) and the empanadas de papaya (papaya empanadas!). The portions are enormous.

By the time Charlie's costillas al agave (ribs) and my platillo de pulpo arrive (plate of octopus), we’re already full. We sprung for sides too, though: one big betabel (beet) and the mashed yucca. We’re stuffed—the meal was unreal. We down it all with one grapefruit mescal margarita and one vodka with watermelon and mint. Cost: $103.65 (including tip) and our mobility.

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03 of 06


Elspeth Velten

5:30 a.m. Early wake up to snorkel with whale sharks—the largest fish on the planet—and we haven’t had coffee. Priorities. Our tour guide knows a place on the road. After an hour of driving back towards Cancun, we pull into none other than Starbucks and share an iced coffee. Cost: $1.90

12:30 p.m. We’re out of the water and holding back our vomit more successfully than some others on our boat. Swimming with whale sharks was one of the most amazing things I've ever done—there were about 50 of the enormous fish lazily swallowing unlucky microscopic organisms around our boat, and some graceful mantas showed up to the party, too.

Our captain and crew make the world’s best ceviche and some guac to match, and our tour guide produces the four beers that he packed for us. We eat in the turquoise shallows off of Isla Mujeres while rain falls. Back to the dock, time to tip. Cost: $5.50 for the captain and crew, and $5.50 to the girl on shore who took our photo before we left and pasted it onto a Cancun underwater aquarium background.

12:45 p.m. Our captain decided to cut our stop at Isla Mujeres short, so we’re back on shore earlier than expected. Our guide has been telling us about the best cenotes to visit in the Tulum area, so we decide to ask him to tack a tour of his favorite—Cenote Sac Actun—onto the end of our day. He agrees, for an extra USD $80 per person. It's worth it. Cost: $160 

1 p.m. We’re back at Starbucks—a different one, this time. It turns out that Cancun is more like America than it is like Mexico. Two tall iced coffees. Cost: $3.50

4 p.m. We get back to Ahau and make a bee-line to the beach bar. I use the WiFi to transfer whale shark photos from my GoPro to my iPhone and ask the bartender to crack open a coconut and add a straw. Charlie goes for a sparkling water and a coffee. Cost: $8.45

6:30 p.m. We walk back down the beach for our daily taco fix at Eufemia. We order nachos, tacos and quesadillas. One cucumber and one mango margarita. When our waiter arrives at our table with four margs instead of two (happy hour!) we know we’ve made it to our personal paradise. We top it all off with two Indio beers and call it a night. Cost: $38.84

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04 of 06


Elspeth Velten

9 a.m. Breakfast coffees and pastries arrive at the room, but Charlie ordered a latte—that’s (a lot) extra (apparently). Cost: $3.10

11 a.m. We strategically skipped a bigger breakfast this morning to be ready for a self-guided taco crawl by 11. It’s risky to wait any later to start, because one of our stops runs out of their cochinita pibil (slow-cooked pork) every day by 1 p.m. We leave the beach and head to town in a cab. Cost: $6.54 (including tip)

11:15 a.m. First stop: Taqueria Honorio. We order two lechon (suckling pig) tacos and two of the house specialty: cochinita pibil. We liked the lechon better—they came with pork crackling on top. Two manzanita apple sodas. Cost: $5.99 (including tip)

11:45 a.m. Second stop: La Savana de Mariscos. We each go for one coco-fried fish taco and one amaranth-fried fish taco, plus one homemade tamarind water that we’re too afraid to actually drink. (We're not trying to find out first-hand about Montezuma's revenge.) Cost: $6.15

12:15 p.m. I cant resist the mesh "Chichen Itza" shopping bags with sparkly handles that I walk past in town. One girl won’t come down from 150 pesos, so I head to the next store where they go for 100 (but are a little more shopworn). We hail a cab back to the beach road. Cost: $11.98

2 p.m. There are a couple of beach vendors passing by each day, but none of them have prettier jewlery than the young girl selling intricately woven-friendship bracelets. Of course, I want one of the thickest designs. She says it's 300 pesos—I get her down to 200 and we have deal. Cost: $10.86

4:30 p.m. We’ve racked up quite the bill at the beach bar. One sparkling water, one young coconut, two Leon beers, two Victoria beers and a mixed ceviche with shrimp, fish and octopus. Cost: $38.84

7:30 p.m. All of the restaurants on Tulum's Beach Road are expensive, so deciding which one is worth it for another splurgy dinner is tricky. We (I) decide on El Tabano—after much research—and hail a cab. El Tabano is empty; we’re the only ones there. Weird, but the poblano and huitlacoche crepes quickly assure me that we didn't make the wrong decision. Charlie orders the beef meatballs with tamarind and I go for the fish with local Mayan pumpkin seed sauce. One (strong) margarita, two Victoria beers. By the time we’re done, the place is packed! Cost: $50.17 (including tip) Cab: $4.36

9 p.m. I make us stop at the super-cool Gitano mescal bar on the way back to the hotel. Cost: $3.81 for the cab

9:30 p.m. We’re on a tiny tree stump sofa under an enormous disco ball that’s glittering all over the canopy of palm fronds above, and we’re admitting that neither of us can really get into the smoky taste of mescal. Cost: $22.71

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05 of 06


Elspeth Velten

9 a.m. We head to the Tulum archaeological ruins early to beat the heat... and the crowds. Entry: $3.54 per person, plus $2.45 for my camera. $7.08 for the cab there. Cost: $16.61

10 a.m. We opted against taking a guide—it’s just too hot to be traipsing around in the sun for more than an hour. Next stop: the Don Cafeto restaurant in town for the Mexican breakfast of my dreams. Cost: $5.45 cab fare (including tip)

10:15 a.m. Charlie’s waiting for a table at Don Cafeto, and I’m next door at the pharmacy looking for anti-itch ointment for my bug bites. I think they’re from sand flies? It’s probably not Zika. Cost: $5

10:20 a.m. Don Cafeto is a dream that I refuse to wake up from. We sit near the sidewalk and order two Aztec breakfast plates with steak, eggs and chilaquiles. The meal comes with coffee, juice, toast and pickled vegetables—a whole head of garlic, tiny peppers, onions and potatoes. Cost: $19.50

11 a.m. Food coma hits hard. Cab back to the beach. Cost: $5.99 (including tip)

2 p.m. It starts to rain so we run into the open-air hotel restaurant with everyone else from the beach. I convince Charlie that he can stomach a club sandwich (I wasn't kidding about that food coma!) and I get quesadillas. Everything comes with hot sauce here. One sparkling water, and two coconuts that we drank before on the beach. Cost: $30.91

3 p.m. The sun is back out, but we’re laying around in the room. The hammock on our deck has an ocean and palm view.

7 p.m. Cab back to town for dinner at La Barracuda. Our whale shark guide told us that the ceviche here is the best in town. "In town" is the key phrase here, because he says nothing can beat the ceviche we had on the boat with him. We order mixed ceviche and shrimp nachos, a Tecate for me and a dark beer for Charlie. Cost: $6.54 cab fare (including tip) Dinner: $28.05 (including tip)

8 p.m. We walk off our meal on Tulum's main street and Charlie stops for a gelato at Campanella Cremerie. Cost: $1.91

8:15 p.m. We stop for a drink at Batey Mojito and Guarapo Bar, and rack up a bill of three watermelon and yerbuabuena mojitos and one Pacifico beer. A live band starts playing. I clock a huge cucaracha crawling across the pebbled garden—time to go. Cost: $14.71 for the drinks, $6.54 for the cab back

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06 of 06


Ahau Tulum

11 a.m. It's time to check out. We settle the bill, tip housekeeping and get in our pre-booked taxi to the colonial town of Valladolid, where we'll spend two more nights before heading back to reality in NYC. Cost: $135 cab fare, $27 tip for housekeeping, $890.42 remaining 50% of room rate


Food & Drinks: $529.79

Activities & Entertainment: $638.10

Accommodations: $1786.12

Transportation: $2414.72

Miscellaneous: $60.73

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