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Mexico’s Tulum has become, thanks to its white-sand beaches and Mayan ruins, a great alternative to a Cabo vacation. Here are Culture Trip’s 15 reasons for visiting this laid-back beach town.
In recent years, Tulum has rightly established itself as one of the world’s premier beach destinations. Boasting spectacular Mayan ruins overlooking the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea, you would be hard-pressed to find a more Instagram-worthy spot anywhere in the Americas. Here are 15 reasons why the town should be on everyone’s bucket list.
The 13th-century Mayan archaeological ruins are not Mexico’s largest, but their beachfront location makes them a truly jaw-dropping sight. The clifftop watchtower, or Castillo, is a vestige from when the area was used as a port and is one of the country’s most photographed sites.
Although Playa Ruinas is the region’s most famous beach, there are plenty of other options. Playa Paraíso, or Paradise Beach, is never far from the top of any local’s recommendation list. Tulum’s near-transparent water, pristine white sand, bars and restaurants makes it a coastal destination for relaxation.
Tulum is home to an amazing array of animals, from monkeys and jaguars to sea turtles and iguanas. One place to get a closer glimpse at all of them is at the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean and one of the world’s top ecotourism destinations. Sian Ka’an offers refuge to thousands of species of flora and fauna, which is why, in 1987, it was granted a World Heritage site designation by UNESCO.
From May to October, Tulum’s coastline sees the arrival of thousands of nesting turtles. After the sun sets each night (Tulum faces east, which is why it’s believed that the Mayans called it Zama, meaning sunrise), the mother turtles make their way to the beach to lay their eggs before slowly journeying back to the water.
Tulum is surrounded by cenotes, or underwater sinkholes, attracting divers, swimmers and adventurers year-round. Once revered as sacred by the ancient Mayans, Gran Cenote, located about 4mi (7km) inland from the beach, is a particularly popular location. And don’t fret, snorkels and other scuba-diving equipment are available to rent on-site.
Don’t want to dip into the water? That’s okay – you can fly above it. Sports companies such as Aventuras Mayas offer more adventurous travelers the opportunity to speedily travel through the jungle on its Riviera Maya zip lines. The company provides tours that take around six hours and can also include a chance to rappel down a 60ft (18m) rock face and snorkel through an underground cenote.
Tulum has established itself as one of Mexico’s numerous food hubs with trendy restaurants like Mur Mur offering exciting gastronomic experiences. Dedicated to sourcing all of its ingredients from local producers, the critically acclaimed restaurant opened in December 2015 and has already made its mark on the Mexican culinary scene. Taquerías such as Don Beto and Antojitos La Chiapaneca offer up traditional flavors such as juicy al pastor tacos.
Whether it’s delicious roadside tacos, fresh coconut water or refreshing ice pops, Tulum is one of Mexico’s top street-food destinations. The laid-back restaurant Taqueria La Eufemia specializes in delicious fish and shrimp tacos.
Tulum offers delicious fruits in abundance, with coconut standing out as a particular favorite for tourists. After a night at the bar, nothing will rehydrate you as quickly as the juice of a young, green coconut or a fruit salad with a delicious coconut milk dip.
The nightlife options in Tulum are plentiful and include excellent beach parties and live music joints. We recommend Batey for its laid-back atmosphere, cocktails and live music. Papaya Playa Project is another great option if a beach club vibe is more your thing.
Over the past decade, boutique accommodation options have been springing up in Tulum at an incredible rate. While some bemoan the rising prices and pace of development, there’s no doubt that luxury hotels are a great place to relax. The Mezzanine Colibri Boutique Hotel is one of the region’s finest, boasting thatched-roof suites in a stunning beachside setting.
Tulum is Mexico’s top yoga destination and hosts a huge range of spiritual retreats, wellness spas and yoga studios. The Yoga Dicha Studio is a popular spot for serious practitioners, offering both teacher training courses and excellent daily classes. Not as experienced? Here’s a helpful guide to a slew of other studios.
Holistic massages are one of many therapeutic treatments on offer at the Yäan Wellness Center. The luxurious spa forms a part of the Be Tulum Hotel and is open to outside visitors as well as guests. The venue offers individual treatments such as massages, reiki or hot stone therapy and also allows visitors to craft their own individual packages.
The Mayan practice of steam baths is growing ever more popular with visitors to Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Many hotels and spas in Tulum, including the Yäan Wellness Center, are reviving the healing steam ceremonies, which are performed in an igloo-shaped structure called a temazcal.
Tulum has a unique layout, with most hotels and bars clustered along the shoreline. It’s a great idea to rent a bike for your stay so you can get around quickly without having to rely on taxis. In addition to being convenient, Tulum is a very bike-friendly town, making it a pleasure to explore on two wheels.
Alex Wexelman contributed additional reporting to this article.