Tulum is one of Mexico’s most popular beach towns and features historic ruins, great food and endless beach clubs set along the spectacular Caribbean Sea on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Although Tulum’s popularity continues to increase, it remains quieter than nearby Cancun and Playa del Carmen, offering a more laid back and authentic experience for travellers.
Tulum is split between a central area with shops, restaurants and hotels that run along the main road to Playa del Carmen and Cancun in the north, and the beachfront, approximately five kilometres from town.
The small road running the length of the beach has hotels and restaurants on both sides and is where you will likely spend most of your time while in Tulum. Whether you stay by the beach or in the centre of town, it is easy to get between the two areas.
If you’re on a budget, it’s cheaper to stay in central Tulum and make your way to the beachfront either by car, taxi or bike.
While you could easily spend all your time in Tulum eating, drinking, and swimming, the town is close to a number of popular attractions in the surrounding area.
Here are some activities you should not miss during a visit to Tulum.
Things to do in Tulum
1. Spend a lazy day at one of Tulum’s beach clubs
There are more than 50 beach clubs along Tulum’s main stretch of beach. Many are hotels as well, with most offering access to day visitors either for free or for a minimum spend at a bar or restaurant on site.
Spending the day at a beach club is one of the best things to do in Tulum if you are staying in central Tulum and not on the beachfront itself. There are a couple of public sections of beach, but if you want to relax on a sunbed under an umbrella with a choice of food and cocktails a beach club is the way to go!
Not all beach clubs are created equal, though, so do your research to work out which ones suit you best.
A great way to do this is to go for a walk along the beach. From the ocean side you can check out the different set ups of each club, something you can’t do from the road.
Personally, I loved Viento De Mar. This was a smaller beach club with a minimum spend that seemed to help keep numbers down. From my research, Viento De Mar had among the best sunbed set up of any beach club and has the advantage of not being listed in the tourist map handed out by most hotels in town meaning people won’t come searching it out.
If there are two of you and you have the choice, select an umbrella with two single beds, as opposed to doubles as during busy times you may find they put another couple next to you under the same umbrella, which kind of kills some of the exclusivity. Pack a book or two and you’ll be set for the day.
2. Explore the Mayan ruins of Tulum
The ruins of the former Mayan city at Tulum have to be the most beautifully situated I saw in all of Mexico. Right on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, many people come to the Tulum ruins for the photo opportunities alone.
The most impressive structure still here today is the Castillo, which sits atop a limestone cliff above a small sandy beach. There are palms below and turquoise water laps at the shore. It is easy to see why this is one of the most iconic images of Mexico.
Ancient Tulum was at its most powerful between the 13th and 15th centuries. The city served as a port and was the only Mayan city built on the coast, as well as one of only a few walled cities ever built by the Mayans. This makes the well-preserved ruins unique to explore.
It’s best to arrive early to visit the ruins at Tulum. The site opens at 8am and if you are there for opening time you can make your way through the old city wall and into the site before the tour groups arrive meaning you’ll get some great photo opportunities as well as some time to appreciate the site before it gets busy.
3. Swim in the Gran Cenote
Just three kilometres from Tulum on the way to Coba and Chichen Itza is the Gran Cenote, a popular swimming and snorkelling spot.
Cenotes are like natural sinkholes, created when limestone collapses to reveal the underground river systems below. Cenote means sacred well and the Mayans built cities close to cenotes as they were a reliable water source in an otherwise dry landscape.
There are many cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula but the Gran Cenote would have to be one of the best for swimming.
The water is so pure and fresh that it is as clear as glass. Plenty of fish and turtles are at home in the cenote and they don’t seem to be too shy so you’ll likely run into a few while you are swimming.
As you make your way through the cave system you will see stalactites, stalagmites and just like in any cave, lots of bats. As well as swimming and snorkelling in the Gran Cenote, you can also arrange scuba diving.
Like the ruins at Tulum, try and get here for opening time (8am) so you can be the first in the cenote. The cenote is not particularly big so you will have a much nicer experience if you are one of just a couple of people silently swimming around. The ambiance can be lost when noisy groups arrive.
4. Ride a bike through the jungle at Coba
The Mayan ruins at Coba, about 40 minutes from Tulum, are set among dense jungle and are different again from the ruins at Tulum and other popular Mayan sites such as Chichen Itza or Uxmal.
Large sections of this former city are still to be discovered and restored, meaning Coba has a much more wild and untouched feel to other ruin sites.
The site is huge and was once home to around 50,000 people. Much of the Coba’s construction occurred in the sixth and seventh centuries and you can see the remains of roads, homes and temples still today.
There are bikes for rent inside the complex and I really recommend you grab one for exploring Coba. It means you can cover more ground and it’s also lots of fun. The site is so large that at times you can find yourself in a little pocket with no one else around.
You’ll also ride past plenty of mounds that upon closer inspection prove to be pyramids and other structures not yet cleared of the vegetation that has taken hold over the years.
You are able to touch and climb the structures here and although it feels a little disrespectful to begin with, it is actually a great way to get up high and look out over the site.
Once you see all the people climbing the giant pyramid, known as Nohuch Mul, at the back of the site, you’ll want to give it a go to.
It’s a steep ascent, but the challenge is more in the mind than the body at times, particularly on the way down. At about 42 metres, be sure to only look a step or two ahead if you’re not a huge fan of heights.
Plan Your Trip to Tulum
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