Can't-miss Tulum experiences that cost nothing

Tulum conjures up images of white sand beaches and thatch-roofed bungalows, a place where art and nature meet the young and boho beautiful.

Tulum's growing popularity, though, has made prices skyrocket – a tough reality when you're on a tight budget. But free (and almost free) things can still be found here, and they are sure to help make your beach vacay that rather more memorable.

Playa Las Palmas

As you head north across the beach road, just past Mezzanine hotel, you'll pass a cluster of bicycles and cars parked alongside the road. This really is Playa Las Palmas, and something from the only public access suggests Tulum's beaches – you don't need to sneak in through a chichi hotel or to hunker down at a pricey beach club. Glorious (and gloriously free), Playa Las Palmas is why you came to Tulum: a large expanse of pristine beach and brilliant turquoise waters-and very little else.

Playa Pescadores

Take an early morning walk along this beach. Fishers get to their red- and white-painted boats, the sterns full of catch which will become ceviche platters later in the day. Shortly after the fishers have gone, the indie travelers start to arrive, walking along a sandy path from the road, towels draped around their necks.

As the sun's rays and sand grow hot, the background music from beach clubs begins – thumping, bumping – and nearby kiosks open their doors, offering boogie board rentals and snorkeling trips.

Vendors with mangos on the stick begin plying the beach, while the Tulum Ruins overlook it all. It's picture-perfect, and lots of fun too, and Playa Pescadores provides access to it all without spending a peso.

Biking the Beach Road

Enjoy the light breeze (and sense of satisfaction) as you pedal past the line of cars waiting to show onto Tulum's beach road. Going through the beachfront on a bike, dense vegetation throughout, sunlight glittering with the canopy of leaves – you'll seem like you're finally on holiday. Should you turn left, you'll ride north to the ruins, beach hopping on the way.

A right turn will take you past countless eco-chic hotels along with a small commercial area with gelato shops, bars and boho boutiques. From there, the gorgeous southern beaches are available for the cost of a drink in an oceanfront restaurant.

Or keep pedaling and prevent for any dip within the cool waters of Cenote Encantado. Should you ride further you'll head to the wild, and almost empty, Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. Bike rentals are cheap in Tulum, and lots of hotels often offer them for free.

El Batey

Music from the inside leaks onto the street – a Latin jazz set having a driving trumpet and African drums in the background. People of all ages, locals and travelers, spill out with the melodies where a psychedelic-painted VW bug marks your arrival at El Batey, Tulum's long-time fave for mojitos and live music.

Past the crowded bar, is definitely an open-air courtyard jam-packed with individuals, some sitting at tables, others spinning while watching stage. This really is Tulum town nightlife at its best. Free cover and reasonably-priced drinks too.

Tulum Ruins

Stand on the 40-ft cliff, overlooking the Caribbean with El Castillo, Tulum's most imposing structure, looming like a sentinel behind you. Below the small beach is dotted with visitors playing in the waves.

Take a minute to envision the 50-ft canoes that arrived there centuries ago from throughout the Yucatan and Guatemala, laden with honey, salt, amber along with other goods for trade only at that cultural center. The Tulum Ruins really are a small but dramatic sight and a must visit (and just US$3.25). Arrive very first thing to avoid everyone. And don't forget your bathing suit!

Taquería El Carboncíto

It's exactly what we're all searching for: A no-frills, locals-only taco joint in Tulum town-a hidden gem. At 50 cents a taco, it's a steal too. Hungry customers sit at plastic tables on the sidewalk, platefuls of pint-size tortillas topped with sizzling meat, onions and cilantro placed before them, the outdoor grill just feet away.

Order the home specialty – tacos al pastor – spit-roasted pork, red with achiote along with other spices, topped with pineapple. Cash only.

Gran Cenote

Down a long jungle path lies steep wooden staircase nearly hidden by the foliage leading deep in to the earth. A cool breeze reaches up in the depths. At the bottom, the turquoise water extends far back into a cavern before disappearing into a dark tunnel and stalactites hang like icicles from the ceiling – it's wonderful. Located just three miles west of Tulum, this really is totally worth the admission fee (US$9) and quick colectivo (public shuttle) ride there.

Radio Tulum

A huge leafy courtyard on the gritty downtown block greets you as you walk into Radio Tulum. Some nights you will probably find a stark stage within the center in which a man having a guitar and Tibetan singing bowls chants. People sit in mismatched chairs listening intently as the aroma of Indian food fills the area.

Almost nightly, alt-art performances are broadcast live came from here – music concerts and spoken word performances, soulful conversations and live DJ sets. A snapshot of Tulum's boho heart. Cover is free of charge or combined with a meal.

Muyil Ruins (aka Chunyaxché Ruins)

The Muyil ruins ($2.25), has a notable insufficient visitors. If you venture here, all you will find is really a handful of towering temples and the sound of birds. It's perfect. Following a sacbé (ancient road) with the long-abandoned city, it might be a boardwalk running through a mangrove forest to a teetering tower.

At the very best, you're met having a spectacular view of the site's namesake lagoon – an image of blues and greens – the lush Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve surrounding it, and also the Caribbean in the distance.

Parque Dos Aguas

It's not the prettiest of central plazas – plenty of cement with a few shade trees – but take a stroll through Parque Dos Aguas and you'll quickly realize it does not matter. This is the heart of town, an ideal place to people watch, to obtain a sense of local life.

Catch couples strolling arm in arm, a raucous bet on pickup basketball, and if you're lucky, a folkloric dance performance. At sundown, once the food carts magically appear, try the chocolatey marquesitas (crispy stuffed crepes) and steaming elote (corn on the cob) smothered in mayo, chile and parmesan cheese. Everything, a taste of Tulum.