Previously known for it's laid-back, tiny village character, Tulum nowadays is growing more and more into a popular tourist destination. Nevertheless, it's beaches are by far less crowded than in Cancún or Playa del Carmen, and the town and surrounding with its cenotes and the Sian Ka'an national park might be worth a visit.
Tulum can be divided into three parts: The town / pueblo along the highway 307, the ruins about 2 km north-east of town and the hotel zone about 3 km south-east of town.
Hitching within the city
Hitchhiking from the town to the hotel zone and vice versa is easy and much practiced. You will encounter locals and travellers alike hitchhiking this part of the road 109. From the town, you can walk to the crossing to Cobá and follow the bicycle path southwards. After about 200m, there's a big supermarket (Chedraui) to your left. A few meters further, at a smoke shop (or the Captain's bar a bit downstream), there's a popular spot for hitchhiking down to the beach. Here, you'll catch both traffic coming from the Cobá crossing as well as local traffic from the town. Ignore the taxis, you might get a ride easily within a few minutes. Along the hotel zone, any place is good to hitchhike back to town, but especially where you find 'topes' (speedbumps). Another good spot for hitchhiking back is the police post at the junction to the hotel zone and ruins/public beach.
Northeast towards Cancún
Walk about 1.5kms east from the ADO bus station along Avenida Tulum (Highway 307) to the junction with Avenida Cobá (the road which goes to the beaches). Here you will find an (abandoned) tourist information kiosk and a small lay-by just after it. Hitch at the start of the lay-by. Approximately 600m further along the highway, you'll encounter a police post where traffic is obliged to slow down, and where it is possible to hitch from. Make sure you'll be dropped off at the end of town at either side when on transit, otherwise it'll be quite some walk to avoid local traffic. Note that cargo trucks do not drive along the 307 through the city center, but use some small "ring road" around town, meeting/leaving the 307 at the Cobá intersection.
Northwest towards Cobá, Valladolid
Walk as above to the Cobá intersection. Turn left (northwest) along highway 109... it should be easy to walk up a few meters to find a hitchhiking spot (with shade) to continue your journey northwards. If you want to cut out all local traffic, continue walking 600m and hitch from the edge of town. However, there's no shade here, but hopefully you'll get a lift before you get baked alive. If you’re looking for nice cenotes, better get to Valladolid first, as the cenotes are cheaper and more attractive there.
Walk about 800m west from the ADO bus station along Avenida Tulum (Highway 307). There is a police post here where traffic is obliged to slow down and from where it is possible to hitchhike.
Places to avoid
Accommodation and Sleep
For wild camping, enter the beach somewhat at the end of the hotel zone through one of the hotels (see below) and then just walk along the beach until you find some not-yet-developed area. Respect the wildlife, though. Some areas might be closed for public to protect nesting turtles, so do not ever disturb these!
If you want to stay overnight, go past the ruins and head to the northern part of the beach. You will immediately notice an old white lighthouse on the top of the hill. It’s easy to get there, just follow the path and sneak into a hole in the fence. There are a few buildings surrounding the lighthouse. This place is totally abandoned, which makes it a very nice spot to sleep. It’s a bit dirty, but you can put your tent in one of the buildings and stay protected from rains, which often happen in this part of Mexico. Be aware of wild animals and tourists, that sometimes get to this complex by curiosity. Enjoy cocos from palm trees and the view from the top of the lighthouse.
Other useful info
Along the hotel zone, it might seem that entry to the beach is only permitted when consuming at the various hotels or restaurants that block the entrance to the beach. There's a "free" entrance to the beach at Eufemia's (next to Camping Chavez), but in general, just simply walk through the hotel areas straight for the beach.
The bathrooms at the entrance of Tulum ruins are free to use, you know what to do.