You Can Now Fly Direct to This Mexican Coastal Paradise

After years of delays, a new airport has opened in this boho-chic beach hot spot south of Cancun. And several U.S. airlines have already announced new nonstop flights there in 2024.

Aerial view of the beach and coastline in Tulum, Mexico, with buildings with thatched roods and palm trees

Skip Cancun and go straight to Tulum.

Courtesy of Spencer Watson/Unsplash

It’s official: It’s now easier than ever to get to Tulum. What has traditionally been a lengthy journey, usually involving a flight into Cancun and then a two-hour drive south, has now been dramatically shortened with the official opening of the Felipe Carrillo Puerto International Airport or Tulum Airport (TQO) in Quintana Roo, Mexico.

The airport project has been long overdue. It was first announced in 2011 but has been a start-stop project over the years due to a lack of funding and other issues. But momentum officially picked up in 2022, and the airport welcomed its first domestic flights on December 1, 2023. The hub will undoubtedly be a game-changer for the destination, as well as for some of the more remote beach destinations further south that have always remained slightly out of reach for most travelers.

What airlines fly into Tulum?

At the moment, Tulum’s airport is only operating domestic flights with carriers VivaAerobus and Aeromexico via Guadalajara, Mexico City, Monterrey, Tijuana, and Toluca. But beginning on March 28, 2024, the airport will start to welcome international flights from an all-star cast of U.S. airlines.

International carriers that will operate flights to Tulum in 2024 include:

  • American Airlines: American will fly twice daily from Dallas/Fort Worth and daily from Charlotte and Miami
  • Delta Air Lines: daily service between Atlanta and Tulum will begin on March 28
  • JetBlue: daily service from New York’s JFK will begin in June
  • Spirit Airlines: Spirit will fly seven days a week from Fort Lauderdale and Orlando
  • United Airlines: daily service to Tulum will be offered from Newark, Los Angeles, Chicago O’Hare, and Houston

According to CAPA – Centre for Aviation, a provider of aviation analysis and data services, the Tulum airport can reach a capacity of up to 5.5 million passengers annually.

Where is the Tulum airport?

The Tulum airport is about 20 miles southwest of Tulum proper, but it can take up to an hour to reach central Tulum from the hub. This time will be shortened once the connector road to the main Highway 307 is complete, which is anticipated to be done before the arrival of international flights.

By contrast, Tulum is 81 miles south of Cancun and a two-hour drive without traffic. Travelers can use local taxis, the ADO bus system, or private transportation to Tulum and other destinations nearby.

Rideshare services will not be permitted at Tulum airport due to tensions between the local taxi syndicates and rideshare providers like Uber and Lyft, which is true almost everywhere in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.

The airport is also expected to have its own train station connected to the Maya Train—a government project that began partial service from Cancun to Campeche on December 15 and has been mired in controversy due to its environmental and social impacts, as well as an unprecedented cost of $30 billion. When completed, the train will connect Cancun and Tulum with other destinations around the Yucatan Peninsula, including Merida, Palenque, and Bacalar.

Tulum development continues to boom

These days, travelers have various options for accommodations in Tulum. While many of the OG bungalows are long gone, their boho, minimalist aesthetic set the stage for the more high-brow, amenity-packed alternatives that followed, like the 11-beachfront suite La Valise Tulum or the 26-villa, jungle-shrouded Muaré. Tulum even has a few all-inclusive resorts now, like Hilton Tulum Riviera Maya, Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa, and most recently, Secrets Tulum Resort Beach Club.

The beachside escape, known for its 13th-century Mayan ruins with ocean views, is expecting an MGallery Hotel in 2024 and a Nobu Hotel in 2026. An additional 20 hotels are planned in Tulum in the coming years, each between 50 and 500 rooms, a joint venture project between Asset Management Spain Gestmadrid and Apex Capital.

Expanse of still shallow water, with distant elevated thatched pier on the lagoon in Bacalar

Get further off the tourist trail and use the new Tulum airport as a launching pad to arrive in Bacalar, Mexico, a little further south.

Photo by Shutterstock

Beyond Tulum—other destinations served by the new airport

Tulum has muscled its way into the big time, alongside other tourism giants like Cancun and Playa del Carmen. For travelers who prefer that barefoot, cash-only, ends-of-the-earth vibe, you may want to look further south.

Bacalar, for example, while not a new name to U.S. travelers, is a destination far enough removed from Tulum to feel more relaxed and remote. The lakefront pueblo mágico, roughly three hours south of the Tulum airport, sits on a spectacular freshwater lagoon, Laguna de Bacalar, and prides itself on being low-impact, eco-friendly, and very low-key. Still, luxury developments are on the rise there, too, like the wellness-oriented Casa Hormiga, Habitas Bacalar, and, coming in 2025, a Banyan Tree.

Mahahual is another beach destination that, because of its distance from Cancun and Playa del Carmen, has also managed to stay somewhat out of the spotlight. This stretch of white-sand beach has a thin ribbon of beachfront hotels and palapa-topped restaurants. Mahahual is a five-hour drive from Cancun and three hours from Tulum airport.

Also three hours from the Tulum airport is the sleepy community of Punta Allen. With a population of less than 1,000, this spit of white sand at the end of a bumpy dirt road is the largest village in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Facilities here are limited at best, with a sprinkling of family-run restaurants and a handful of hotels. If you’re looking for that barefoot bungalow fix, Punta Allen may be the place to go.

Meagan Drillinger is a travel writer and Mexico expert who lives on the road full-time.
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