Tulum is a resort in the Mexican state Quintana Roo about 1,5 hours south of Cancun.
Over years, Tulum has transformed from a little-known hippie hangout into one of the most hot destinations in the Caribbean where you can spend up to a few thousand dollars for one night at a beachfront hotel.
Today, this small town in the heart of the Mayan Rivera greets visitors from all over the world who come here to swim in the turquoise waters and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.
But aside from sipping coconut milk and laying on a beach, there are many things to do in Tulum, and you shouldn’t miss out on them. That’s why I created my guide to help you get the most out of your trip when you visit one of the most popular destinations in Mexico!
The closest airport to Tulum is in Cancun.
To get from Cancun to Tulum you have to take a 1 hour 30-minute ride south on the 307 Highway. To do that, you can rent a car in Cancun, get a taxi or take a bus.
ADO is the main bus company that serves the Cancun Airport. There are a few buses a day from Cancun Airport to Tulum, so check the schedule ahead of your visit. You can also take a bus from Cancun Airport to Playa Del Carmen and then from Playa Del Carmen to Tulum.
Do you need to rent a car in Cancun?
Whether you need a car depends on your plans.
If you want to stay near the beach and hit a few bars and restaurants, you might not need a car. Those tourists who stay in Tulum hotels along the beach get around by bicycle or scooter which could be rented in Tulum. To check out Tulum ruins or take a dip in cenotes near Tulum, you can take a taxi.
However, if you plan to explore the Yucatan Peninsula and don’t want to travel by bus, I recommend to rent a car in Cancun before leaving for Tulum.
Things to know about renting a car in Mexico
Before you rent car in Mexico, you should know a couple of things.
When you look for your rental car online, watch out for very low bait-and-switch rates as they typically involve a high insurance which is not disclosed. Insurance is mandatory for car rentals in Mexico, and if you fail to do your homework and check a rental company, you could be hit with a few hundred dollar bill on top of your daily rate.
I rented my car with City Car Rental just 5 minutes away from Cancun Airport and was very pleased with their service.
Best things to do in Tulum
Besides boasting some of the best beaches in the Caribbean, Tulum has many cultural and natural wonders. For better experience, get out of the resort area for at least a day and explore some of the best places to visit in the Yucatan Peninsula such as Valladolid, Merida, Bacalar or Chichen Itza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
PRO TIP: ALWAYS carry Mexican Pesos when you travel in Mexico.
While businesses around major tourist areas generally accept credit cards, the further you go away, the less likely you will be able to use credit cards. For example, cenotes, souvenir vendors, and local markets only accept cash.
1. Bask in the sun at Tulum beaches
There are many beautiful beaches in Tulum with powdery white sand and clear turquoise waters. Called “playas” in Spanish, these beaches sit along the road that runs through the town. While south beaches are often accessible only through resorts and boutique hotels, north beaches in Tulum are more spacious and touristy.
Perhaps one the most beautiful beaches in Tulum is Playa Ruinas that is right below the famous Tulum Ruins. It boasts amazing turquoise waters and a great scenery, so if there’s one beach in Tulum you have to visit, it is definitely Playa Ruinas!
Paradise Beach in Tulum is a pristine stretch popular with yoga enthusiasts and snorkelers. It has plenty of restaurants and cafes nearby where you can buy food and snacks.
Playa Las Palmas
Las Palmas is one of my favorites beaches in Tulum because it’s a lot more secluded than other beaches in Tulum and provides a quiet retreat. Since this beach doesn’t have any restaurants or food stands nearby, don’t forget to bring your own food and water.
Secret Beachis a perfect place for those who are looking for a bit of an adventure.
This beach is located deep in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and boasts a secluded location away from other tourist hot spots. Frequented mostly by locals, this beach sees few tourists, so be prepared to speak Spanish if you need to buy something or ask for directions. Secret Beach is about one hour away from Tulum which makes it one of the best day trips from Tulum.
2. Visit Tulum Ruins
Facing the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, Tulum Ruins is the famous archaeological site north of the resort area. Second in popularity only to places like Chichen Itza, Teotihuacan and Uxamal, Tulum ruins are the remains of the wall that surrounded the ancient Mayan city.
Tulum was built as a fortress on the Caribbean Sea and served as an important trading point for the ancient Mayans. The most prominent feature of the site is the castle, El Castillo perched above the cliff along the coast. If you continue going north of El Castillo, you will see a trail going along the cliff.
In front of El Castillo is the Temple of Frescoes, the best preserved building in the archaeological site.
Things to know about Tulum Ruins
The entrance to Tulum Ruins costs 75 pesos per person, but if you are interested in learning more about the history of the place, you can get a group tour.
This archaeological site doesn’t have much shade and it can get pretty hot in the sun, so make sure to bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water.
PRO TIP: Tulum Ruins open at 8 a.m. Few people know this, but if you are willing to pay 200 pesos, you can have the entire place to yourself from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. before the general hours.
And if you don’t want to pay extra money, my biggest advice is to arrive no later than 7:40 a.m., so you could be one of the first few people to enter the place.
Another good time to visit Tulum ruins is from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. before it closes because by then it’s not as crowded as it’s in the morning.
3. Eat delicious Mexican food
In Tulum, you can find traditional Mexican food such as tacos, tortillas and other staples as well as tourist-oriented vegan and vegetarian restaurants where you can get smoothies, desserts and dishes with meat and dairy substitutes.
Best vegan restaurants in Tulum
The vegan restaurant scene in Tulum is on point. When I first visited Tulum, I didn’t expect so many plant-based eateries, and yet, I was able to find enough options, which allowed me not to get bored going to the same place every day.
Here’s my breakdown of the best vegan restaurants in Tulum.
La Hoja Verde
La Hoja Verde is by far one of my favorite restaurants in downtown Tulum! The food here is mouthwatering, and the menu offers dishes ranging from traditional Mexican to Italian and Middle-Eastern food. I especially enjoyed their breakfast options such as açaí bowls and omelet made out of scrambled tofu.
Another amazing vegan spot in Tulum, Laylo is a small eatery that is tucked away around the corner from the main thoroughfare of downtown Tulum.
What I particularly like about Laylo is its selection of hearty vegan bowls made with fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts. Also on the menu, you can find vegan burgers, nachos, and freshly squeezed juices and smoothies.
If you have a sweet tooth, try their raw vegan brownie that is served with a cup of almond milk. Yum!
One of the most popular vegan restaurants in Tulum, Raw Love has two locations: one in downtown Tulum and another one in the village near the beach.
The entrance to Raw Love is marked by the wooden sculpture of the lady by the name Ven a La Luz (Come to the Light), whose body is filled with greenery. While prices are slightly higher at Raw Love than at other plant-based restaurants in Tulum, you get to enjoy the yummy food and the one-of-a-kind atmosphere.
This is technically not a restaurant, but an area with food trucks where you can buy a variety of food such as Asian, Mexican, Italian, and so on. This spot is good for vegans and non-vegans alike, as many dishes can be “veganized” upon request.
What’s cool is that there’s often live music here, so if you are looking for a casual place with plenty of ambiances on a Friday night, give it a try!
4. Explore Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka’an is a unique biosphere reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site south of Tulum. It’s an absolute must in my opinion, and even if you are in Tulum for a short period of time, you should carve out a day to visit this amazing place!
Sian Ka’an Tour cost depends on a company. Although you can book a tour on a spot, it might be more expensive than booking it online ahead of your trip. One website where you can look for tours to Sian Ka’an is Get Your Guide.
Don’t forget to bring cash so you could l tips for your driver and tour guide.
Your tour will start in Tulum where a bus will pick you up from a hotel and drive toward the entrance of the reserve. From there, you will go on to explore the gorgeous mangroves and try to spot wildlife.
At Sian Ka’an, you can see many wild animals such as dolphins, turtles, manatees, crocodiles and lizards. Depending on a tour, you might also have an opportunity to snorkel along the coral reefs that protect this huge lagoon.
PRO TIP: If you plan to visit Sian Ka’an, get a biodegradable sunscreen that will not damage its fragile ecosystems. You can also use it when you go for snorkeling in cenotes, so when you shop, look for the reef-safe label.
If you visited Tulum and Coba and made a trip to Chichen Itza, you might feel like you are done seeing the ancient Mayan ruins. Now let me tell you about a hidden gem about 20 minutes south of Tulum and feels like the world away.
Muyil is the ruin site, which was one of the earliest and longest inhabited ancient Maya sites on the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula. Located in the lush jungle, it is dominated by an impressive pyramid (El Castillo) that stands 56 feet tall and also boasts a boardwalk through the lagoon which leads to a cool observation tower.
Muyil also offers access to Sian Ka’an Biosphere, so if you would like to get a tour, you can combine these two activities. I spent a day at Muyil and I got to check the ruins, climbed the tower, and took a boat tour of Sian Ka’an where my guide and all of our group took a swim in one of the canals. It was by far one of my favorite places to visit near Tulum.
I highly recommend booking the tour of Muyil and Sian Ka’an!
6. Swim in Tulum Cenotes
Visiting cenotes is by far one of the most popular things to do in Tulum.
The Yucatan Peninsula is home to over 6,000 of cenotes (pronounced sey-noh-tays), natural sinkholes filled with crystal-clear water that are perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Some are completely underground, while others are only partially underground or open.
Touring cenotes near Tulum could take a while, so I’m going to give you a quick rundown:
Located about 3 miles from Tulum, Gran Cenote is one of the most popular cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula. One of the key features of Gran Cenote are the caves with stalactites and stalagmites which are also homes to bats and birds.
Before you enter the cenote, you have to take a shower. You can rent snorkeling equipment and pay for a locker to store your valuables.
PRO TIP: Gran Cenote opens at 8 a.m., but it gets crowded very quickly. I suggest arriving about 15-20 minutes before it opens or before it closes at 4 p.m. when most people are gone.
Gran Cenote fee: 180 pesos, snorkeling kit is 80 pesos and life jacket is 50 pesos.
The neighboring Cenote Calavera is just outside of Tulum.
The name of the cenote comes from its shape that resembles a skull (Calavera means a skull in Spanish). The facilities at Cenote Calavera are pretty modest compared to those at Gran Cenote. Cenote Calavera entrance fee is 100 pesos and doesn’t offer lockers or gear rentals.
Some websites say that Cenote Calavera is open at 9 a.m., however when I arrived there, it was closed until 10 a.m. Similarly, I found out that closing time is at 4 p.m., whereas some websites listed 5 p.m.
The entrance to Cenote Calavera is located along the highway to Coba just before Gran Cenote.
Cenote Car Wash
It might come as a shock but the name of this cenote actually comes from the fact that people used to wash their cars there. Luckily it’s not happening anymore, so by all means you should come check it out. Car Wash Cenote entrance fee is 50 pesos. The cenote is located right off highway to Coba and sees significantly fewer people than other neighboring cenotes.
PRO TIP: If you are short on time, you can book a tour of multiple cenotes near Tulum. It’s a great option if you don’t have a car and want to maximize your time. Or if you want to do the diving in one of cenotes.
Just up the road from Cenote Car Wash, Zacil Ha looks like a beautiful inground swimming pool with crystal clear water and a zipline. The cenote is about 10 feet deep and offers a great opportunity for relaxation and cooling off.
Zacil Ha also boasts plenty of amenities on site. It has a restaurant, covered areas and even on-site cabins. It’s also a popular venue for special events including weddings and parties. Cenote Zacil-Ha entrance fee is 80 pesos.
Cenote Dos Ojos
Cenote Dos Ojos (Or Two Eyes in Spanish) is one of the most beautiful cenotes near Tulum and one of the most photographed cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s actually two cenotes that are connected by a 400-meter long underwater passage.
The blue color of the cenote that is exposed to the light is crystal clear combined with stalagmites and stalactites make for an amazing snorkeling experience. However, you can also book a tour of Dos Ojos.
Dos Ojos cenote entrance fee is 350 pesos, which is a lot higher than other cenotes in the area. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located about 12 miles north of Tulum.
One of the main landmarks in the area is Xel Ha Park near 307 Highway, so it’s good to combine these two places into one trip!
7. Wander around Coba Ruins
If you have some spare time, visit Coba, a small town that surrounds an archaeological site with the Mayan ruins.
While Coba Ruins is a less popular choice, and most travelers head to Chichen Itza or Valladolid from Tulum, you can take a day trip from Tulum and combine your tour of Coba Ruins with a quick visit to nearby cenotes such as Tankach-Ha, Choo-Ha and Multum-Ha.
When you arrive to Coba ruins, you have to pay a fee to park your car. You also have to pay 75 pesos for entrance to the actual ruins.
Coba ruins are pretty spread out around the Archaeological Park with some of the sites located about 1 km away from one another. Most of the trail goes through the jungle, but you should still put on plenty of sunscreen and bring snacks and water.
While you can take a bike taxi or rent a bicycle to get around Coba Ruins, you can also walk from site to site. If you want to learn more about the area, book your Coba tour through Get Your Guide where you can also purchase a tour of the popular Chichen Itza.
Climb Nohoch Mul
When you visit Coba Ruins, try a steep climb to the top of Nohoch Mul, one of the main features of this archaeological area.
This is the place that most tourists see when they read about Coba in magazines and brochures. Nohoch Mul towers above Coba and opens a 360-degree view of the sprawling jungle in all directions. The climb to the top is pretty steep and some of the rocks are a bit slick, but luckily, there’s a rope in the middle that you can hold onto.
Where to stay in Tulum
Tulum is divided into the beach area and downtown.
The beach area is home to the most expensive hotels are Tulum. Here you can find boho villas, boutique hotels and luxury resorts. Meanwhile, downtown Tulum has a better selection of budget-friendly accommodations such as motels, hostels and Airbnb’s.
When deciding where to stay in Tulum, you should figure out if you want to be within a walking distance from the beach or if you want to save some money and rent a bicycle to get around Tulum.
Budget Hotels in Tulum
Despite its reputation, Tulum is not all about expensive resorts. The town has plenty of affordable options such as Mango Tulum Hotel just outside of the city center that boasts a garden and pool; or Teetotum Hotel that offers free bikes and free breakfast.
Another great option for budget travelers is Maison Tulum, a colorful hotel a few blocks away from downtown Tulum and near the ADO bus stop.
Mid-Range Hotels in Tulum
If you are looking for a good mid-range accommodation in Tulum, you are in luck! The town has dozens of hotels catering to travelers who are willing to spend a bit more money.
For example, Hotel Cabanas isn’t crazy expensive, but it offers a secluded location with some of the rooms facing the gorgeous white-sand beach. Diamante K is a moderately priced hotel that has beach-front bungalows; and Villas H2O, is a budget-friendly, yet extremely stylish place with a seasonal outdoor pool.
Luxury Hotels in Tulum
Tulum is the ultimate spot for a luxury stay! From eco-lodges to rustic 5-star resorts, Tulum has many gorgeous hotels many of which are located along the beach. For example, Casa Malca, an upscale resort about 6 miles away from Tulum sits along the beach near the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
Suenos Tulum is an extremely photogenic hotel along the beach. It boasts artsy Mayan-themed decor and a gorgeous outdoor setting with hammocks and cozy decks.
And if you want a more secluded spot, choose Hotel Bardo, one of the most beautiful hotels in Tulum that will blow you away with its amazing design! Another gorgeous eco-setting is Nomade Tulum that has incredible tree houses and cabins in the middle of the lush jungle.
Explore Tulum by bicycle
If you are staying near the beach, one of the best things to do in Tulum is explore the area by bicycle or scooter. You can rent a bike in Tulum in many hotels and bike shops around downtown, all you need is cash and your ID. Most of these stores ask to put down a deposit between 500-1,000 pesos which you will get back when you return your bike.
Some of the shops where you can rent a scooter or bicycle in Tulum are Iguana, Kelly Bike Rental and Barbel.
Best time to visit Tulum
When planning a trip to Tulum you should be aware of seasonal changes such as the hurricane season that lasts from September through early November. During this time, you will see more rain and clouds than usual, so if you plan a beach getaway, this is something to consider.
The winter season (January through early April) is the busiest time not only in Tulum but in most of the Rivera Maya when many visitors from colder climates of North America come here to escape winter.
The best time to visit Tulum is November through early January. The hurricane season is over, the weather is not extremely hot, and hotel prices in Tulum are great during this time!
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