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Tulum’s new airport is a fresh, intriguing and imperfect option for travelers. Here’s what it’s like

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There’s a brand-new airport for travelers hoping to visit Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Several U.S. carriers launched service during the past week to Tulum’s bright and shiny Felipe Carrillo Puerto International Airport (TQO), and TPG was there to report as the inaugurals began.

About 20 miles from the center of Tulum, the airport could be a more convenient option for travelers visiting the region’s beaches, resorts and historical sites — many of which sit closer to Tulum than Cancun.

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SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

Though it opened for domestic service in December, the airport welcomed its first international flights from beyond Mexico on Thursday.

As part of that international “grand opening,” TPG was on board the first-arriving American Airlines flight — as well as the first-departing Delta Air Lines flight. We aimed to get some insight into the new airport and the new dots and lines on these airlines’ route maps. This way, we can help you decide whether this is the right airport for your next trip to Mexico.

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Initial reaction

From the access road into the airport to the building to the terminal, taxiways and runways, everything is new. It’s clean, fresh and less overwhelming than the older and better-known Cancun International Airport (CUN).

Overall, it’s a gorgeous space with high ceilings, clever artistic touches and plenty of nods to the beauty of the surrounding Riviera Maya.

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Natural light floods into the terminal with floor-to-ceiling windows, illuminating the spacious ticketing area and allowing guests plenty of views of the ever-increasing number of aircraft coming and going.

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Still, readers should be aware it is lacking some amenities right now: The Wi-Fi and air conditioning were lackluster on day one of international flights, and it has little in the way of concessions at the moment.

Overall, though, it’s an impressive new option for travelers.

Here’s what we found arriving and departing on the first day of international service at Tulum’s new airport.

What travelers can expect on a trip to TQO

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Tulum, the Riviera Maya, Cancun and the entire Yucatan Peninsula are filled with gorgeous resorts.

Historically, though, guests hoping to get to Tulum have had to fly into busy Cancun Airport before getting a taxi or private shuttle to their resort; this can be a multihour trek and cost $150 or more each way. The new airport is designed, in part, to solve that problem.

Unfortunately, it’s still not the perfect solution.

Since the airport is actually south of Tulum proper, the drive could still potentially take close to an hour (or more) if you’re heading to the farther-north resorts of the Riviera Maya.

Still, there’s hope among some locals that splitting passengers across two airports could ultimately help relieve some of the traffic problems the broader Cancun area has seen recently.

Where is the new Tulum airport?

Again, the new Tulum airport isn’t exactly in Tulum.

It’s about 20 miles from the center of town — and it’s a bit farther from many of the popular resorts in the area.

One worker TPG spoke with at Tropical Elite Travel, a local transportation company, was quick to note the airport is more than a “stone’s throw” from some of the region’s better-known resorts north of Tulum. This is something for travelers to keep in mind as they plan trips.

GOOGLE MAPS

For some more context, the airport is close to 100 miles south of Cancun. Playa del Carmen is right in between those two destinations along the coast.

Getting to and from the new Tulum airport

The Hilton Tulum Riviera Maya All-Inclusive Resort. CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

Following a stay at the Hilton Tulum Riviera Maya All-Inclusive Resort, TPG managing editor Clint Henderson — who was on the first-departing Delta Air Lines flight Thursday — spent about an hour driving to the terminal.

On the plus side, that’s a lot faster than the 1 1/2 hours it took to get to the resort after arriving on a flight from Cancun.

Still, even with that shorter distance, getting to TQO was pricier than you might expect. The shuttle from the previously mentioned Tropical Elite Travel charged riders the same $120-plus for a transfer to TQO.

Our team found a taxi ride from the Tulum airport to the center of town (about a 45-minute ride) was about $60. From the Conrad Tulum Riviera Maya, north of town, it was closer to $100 for a taxi to the new airport.

There are also some cheaper ways to get to the airport, like taking an ADO bus.

CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

Departing the new Tulum airport

Passengers enter the brand-new terminal through any of the four ground-level doors.

Overall, it’s a much quieter feel as you enter the airport. If you can picture the honking horns, police sirens and overall bustle and chaos common at busy airports’ drop-off curbs, this is far from that.

It’s also a far cry from Cancun’s much busier airport, which sees millions of passengers annually (nearly 4.8 million from the U.S. alone in 2023) and aircraft arriving from all over the world.

Except for the occasional noise of a jet taking off, it sounds (and in some way feels) more like you’re in a public park than outside a busy airport.

Ground floor

Inside, on the ground floor (which is technically the arrivals level), there are currently a few shops, rental car company offices, taxi stands and bus line offices.

This is where you’ll end up after baggage claim (more on that in a bit).

All around, you could hear the sounds of construction, making clear that parts of the airport (most notably the food and drink establishments) remain a work in progress.

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Ticketing area

Multiple escalators, elevators and stairs take you up to the ticketing area, which is spacious and airy — and easily the most impressive part of the building.

Sunlight pours in through a translucent roof. There are two large islands where airlines have set up their check-in and bag drop stations.

American, Delta and United each have a row of check-in counters with plenty of space. On the opening day of U.S. flights, there were balloons and treats to honor the inaugural flights.

United added its own check-in counters with some modest decor when it launched service Sunday.

JetBlue plans to launch service to Tulum in the coming months. So do Air Canada and Panama-based Copa Airlines.

Security

The security area was well staffed and took just a few minutes to get through.

Since Tulum is a much smaller airport than Cancun, you can likely expect smaller crowds — particularly until airlines fully scale up their flight schedules out of the airport.

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For Clint’s departure on Delta’s inaugural flight, two officers checked his passport and boarding pass before he was allowed to scan his ticket at automatic gates.

At security, officers asked passengers to remove belts and watches so they could be put through the X-ray machines. Other items, like laptops and Kindles, had to be removed and put into a separate bin for scanning.

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Airside

The departures concourse is one straight hallway. If you go left out of security, you’ll find gates for domestic Mexico flights — at least right now.

If you go right, you’ll find the gates for flights departing to U.S. destinations.

In all, the airport has 13 aircraft parking positions. There are only four true gates in the concourse itself, but some gates lead to multiple jet bridges. So, you could end up departing from a “D3A” or a “D3B.”

Aesthetically, the gorgeous ceilings had plenty of lighting, with Mayan-inspired wood sculptures creating a dramatic impact.

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This airport’s floor-to-ceiling windows will likely inspire AvGeeks with killer views of aircraft taking off and landing.

Departing passengers will find wide-open spaces, plenty of seating, and sporadic plugs and outlets. Like most airport terminals, when flights start boarding, passengers congregate in the concourse a bit. Still, generally speaking, it’s a fairly spacious concourse. That will be even more true once construction fully wraps up and there are more places to eat, drink and sit.

Marble floors and high ceilings give the terminal a high-gloss look.

Those gates number D1 through D4.

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The gates seemed to be generally interchangeable, “common use” gates. So, you might see a Delta jet depart from a gate at one point in the day and then an American plane at that gate later in the day.

CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

On day one of international flight operations, American Airlines decorated its gates with balloons and signage to mark the occasion.

Tulum uses automatic gates that let you scan your boarding pass, but right now, gate agents still seem to be checking passports prior to departure.

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As it was the first day of international flights to Tulum, the flights were far more packed arriving than departing, so the concourse was fairly empty. That will likely change in the coming months as U.S. and other international airlines add more service.

On this day, however, Delta’s inaugural outbound flight was lightly booked, with one worker saying there were 120 empty seats on the Boeing 737-800 — harking back to how empty planes were flying during the worst of the pandemic.

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Amenities at the new Tulum airport

CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

As mentioned, even though U.S. airlines only just launched service to Tulum, the airport has technically been open for about four months.

Still, it’s fairly bare-bones when it comes to amenities — at least right now.

That’s especially true regarding food and drink options.

Food and drink

Hard-hat areas make it clear that more shops and restaurants — including big chains and local spots — are on the way.

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Eventually, more restaurants will be available, including some that will be familiar to Americans. TPG saw “proximamente” (“soon”) signs for everything from Starbucks to Firehouse Subs to Le Pain Quotidien to Burger King to Applebee’s.

It’s a similar story landside, where we saw signs for well-known outlets like Starbucks and Domino’s, along with some more locally inspired food and drink establishments.

Right now, though, be warned: Food options are sparse, with just a few small concession stands — think snack bars, not restaurants.

Until more places open, travelers can expect little more than bodega-like establishments selling cold water, sodas and bagged snacks like potato chips.

This should get a lot better in the coming months. In fact, there are already tables in place for what appears to be a budding food court.

At the moment, a key piece of advice if you’re headed to the airport: Don’t arrive hungry.

CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

Shopping

Ironically, despite the concourse being devoid of sustenance, there’s already a duty-free shop up and running immediately post-security. Vendors wasted no time selling products like cologne, makeup and booze to travelers heading home from vacation.

Is there a lounge at the new Tulum airport?

CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

Among the “coming soon” spaces is a Sala VIP club. A worker there said it would be opening in a few weeks.

The signs near the boarding area where American Airlines had set up festivities for its first flight out of Tulum suggested the lounge would be called The Grand Lounge Elite Salas Club; it has several outlets at Mexico City International Airport (MEX) and accepts Priority Pass.

CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

Other amenities

A small nondenominational chapel with a giant lighted cross at the altar could provide a nice respite for those who want a spiritual moment at the airport.

CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

There were also several large restrooms in multiple spots throughout the terminal. The bathrooms were spotless, and everything worked perfectly, as one might expect at a new airport.

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Inside was a large restroom as well.

CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

Finally, there were two children’s play areas. One was near the domestic gates, and there was another near the international departure gates (D3 and D4).

Arriving at the new Tulum airport

The arrival at Tulum was seamless for TPG aviation reporter Sean Cudahy, who was on the first-ever commercial flight from outside Mexico to touch down at the new airport.

SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

After beautiful views of the Mexican coastline on the final descent, it was a quick taxi to the gate; passengers were off the aircraft in minutes.

SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

With a much smaller footprint than the Cancun airport, it was a very short walk to customs — no more than a minute or two down a ramp.

Getting through customs

Along the way, it became clear that this is a more visually appealing airport than the one in Cancun.

There were plenty of nods to the Mayan aesthetic and natural beauty of the Riviera Maya. One example is this tunnel leading into the customs area.

Passport control was a breeze. Since we were the first international arrival (and some of the first travelers off the aircraft), the customs agents were waiting for passengers — not the other way around.

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Still, with 18 lanes and a relatively modest number of international flights planned to the new airport this year, it seems like a facility that should be well equipped to handle the planned passenger traffic even as things get busier.

But, as always, it will be worth watching how that unfolds in the coming months.

Baggage claim

Sean waited no more than five minutes for his bag at baggage claim, where there are three carousels for international carriers.

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Notably, baggage claim is mere steps from where ground crew members unload bags from the aircraft. This should be a major help in getting bags back to passengers expeditiously.

This is an area where Tulum has the chance to excel over Cancun. Lately, TPG has heard reports of multihour waits for bags on some peak days in Cancun.

SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

Once you have your bag in hand, head to one last customs station, where all of your belongings (even carry-on bags) will have to go through one additional scanner. Numerous travelers were stopped randomly by Mexican officials to have their bags opened and inspected.

TPG team members have experienced this in Cancun as well, so it’s fairly consistent with the arrival experience there.

This could turn into a spot where bottlenecks could be a problem in the coming months, so just be prepared that once you have your bag in hand, your wait may not be over. As one of the first international passengers to proceed through this checkpoint, though, the wait was almost nonexistent.

Ground transportation

Travelers who have flown into Cancun know it can be a bit chaotic once you emerge from baggage claim; there are taxi companies, shuttle services, timeshares and tour operators all trying to get your attention.

There have also been reports of scams and unscrupulous pricing from taxi and Uber drivers at the Cancun airport for years, with visitors sometimes stuck in the middle.

Snap reaction at Tulum: There is some of that, but it’s on a much smaller scale at a smaller airport.

Sean arranged on-site for a taxi to his central Tulum hotel for $60, and the driver was attentive and friendly.

Overall, though, Tulum’s ground transportation still seems more expensive than what you’d expect in the region. You could be looking at anywhere from $100 to $120 if you go to any of the larger resorts.

If you are headed to Tulum proper, there are taxis for less; our ride to get there was “just” $60. Most visitors, however, will likely be headed farther afield.

The airport also offers rental cars, but it’s worth checking opening and closing hours. Rental car offices are already open at the airport, including Hertz and Europcar, and that could be worth it if you don’t mind driving. Just keep in mind most resorts will also charge you for parking.

You might want to investigate a bus service called ADO, which will drop you at spots close to major resort areas starting at $20 one-way. It was already taking bookings at the Tulum airport. You’ll still need to take a taxi to your final destination, but this could help cost-conscious visitors.

CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

Transportation in this part of Mexico is not terribly organized, and the new airport won’t solve those issues.

Eventually, the new (and controversial) Tren Maya (Mayan Train) will open a station at the Tulum airport. There was signage and construction for the train on my journey into the airport, but it doesn’t look like it’s opening anytime soon.

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The train started service in December, but so far, it only goes between Cancun International Airport and the city of Campeche. Eventually, it will come to Tulum and to the airport, but that’s a long way off, judging by the construction sites at the airport.

If you’re planning a trip to Tulum, we’d advise checking in advance with your hotel to see what type of transportation you might be able to book in advance.

How expensive is it to fly to Tulum?

CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

For the foreseeable future, U.S. airlines will operate far fewer flights to Tulum than Cancun. That’s in part because airlines are just getting operations off the ground. Also, Tulum is, quite simply, a much smaller airport.

Thanks to the forces of supply and demand, that will make for more expensive airfare to the newer Yucatan Peninsula airport.

Between now and the end of September, the average round-trip airfare to Cancun is around $364 (or $433 if you want to book a nonstop flight), according to booking app Hopper.

For Tulum, round-trip prices sit around $437 — about 20% higher — or $455 for a nonstop flight.

What US airlines fly to Tulum?

From the outset, the “Big Three” legacy U.S. airlines are offering service to Tulum. A fourth carrier is coming soon.

Airline Airports
American Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

Miami International Airport (MIA)

Delta Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
United Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD)

Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) — launches May 23

Newark Liberty International Airport (IAH)

JetBlue New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) — launches June 13

Spirit Airlines had originally planned Tulum service from Orlando and Fort Lauderdale but had to temporarily postpone those flights amid fleet constraints. In February, the airline told TPG it hoped to reestablish plans to launch Tulum service in the future.

Bottom line

CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

The brand-new Felipe Carrillo Puerto International Airport is a beautiful airport that is worth considering on your next trip to the Yucatan Peninsula.

The airport isn’t as close as guests visiting Tulum, Riviera Maya and Playa del Carmen resorts might hope.

However, it can still be a more convenient option than Cancun International Airport for visitors to some resort towns in the area.

It’s also a lot less crowded and chaotic than the Cancun airport and doesn’t have (so far) as many of the aggressive salespeople trying to get you to rent a car, buy a timeshare or hail a cab.

Unless you’re traveling to a resort in Cancun itself, or otherwise visiting the northern reaches of Mexico’s Caribbean coast, it may be worth considering TQO over Cancun — even if you have to pay a bit more to fly in and out of this airport.

That said, the airport has growing pains. The air conditioning is spotty, the Wi-Fi isn’t currently working, and there are very few shops and restaurants right now. Oh, and there is no lounge as of writing.

Stay tuned as TPG monitors how the airport performs as crowds and flight options grow in the coming months.

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