The Top 19 Things To Do in Tulum, Mexico
Tulum, once a sleepy off-the-grid beach town, is now a popular Mexican Caribbean vacation destination that offers countless activities and adventures for visitors. Here’s our pick of the best activities around.
Tulum, a renowned getaway for those who want to see and be seen, has managed to maintain its bohemian feel as it has grown. Its popularity means there are more and more things to do and see, from free or inexpensive activities to pricey excursions. Read on to learn about the best of the best.
Rent bikes for easy transportation
Due to Tulum’s unique layout – the coastline, its principal attraction, is separated from downtown by a short drive or a long walk – it’s advisable to rent bikes for at least a couple of the days you’ll be there. This will give you far more freedom to explore the area without relying on taxis. Plus, with the wind flowing through your hair as you cycle around, you’ll practically forget about the humidity.
Visit and take photos of Daniel Popper’s sculpture
Commissioned for the first Art with Me event in Tulum in 2018, the huge, breathtaking sculpture known as Ven a La Luz (or Come into Light) by internationally known multidisciplinary artist Daniel Popper is permanently installed at Ahau Tulum hotel. Made from wood, steel, rope and greenery, the work symbolizes our deep connection with nature. Parents and kids may notice the resemblance to the goddess Te Fiti in the Disney film Moana. Stop by Ahau for a drink or lunch to see this spectacular piece.
Dive into the Gran Cenote
One of the advantages to being in the Yucatan Peninsula is that you’re surrounded by natural sinkholes, otherwise known as cenotes. In Tulum, you’ll be within a stone’s throw of some of the area’s most magnificent examples – El Gran Cenote, Calavera and Carwash are some of the most well known, but with a little searching you can find some practically deserted ones to explore too.
Bar hop in downtown Tulum or party on the beach
For night owls and party animals Tulum has plenty of options, whether you’re a fan of live music, beachside DJ sets or Caribbean salsa rhythms. If you choose to head downtown, you’ll have plenty of choices between the clubs that fill up on the weekends and the smaller, more intimate venues that take a bit more hunting down. We recommend Batey for quirky live music. Alternatively, head to Papaya Playa Project if partying on the beach is more your style.
Go swimming in the Caribbean
Yes, OK, it sounds obvious, but it’s actually one of the very best things to do in Tulum. When the ocean is calm, it’s crystal clear and you can see right down to the bottom. When the sea is wavy and more active, it’s fun to jump and ride the waves. However, do pay attention to the beach flags, which signal water conditions: a black flag means do not swim; a red flag indicates dangerous conditions or swim with caution; a yellow flag means that although there is no immediate danger, you should still use caution while swimming; and a green flag means that it is completely safe to swim. Be aware that most remote beaches do not have flags.
Cool off with a sweet treat
There’s nothing like ice cream on a sweltering tropical day. There’s almost always a line at Panna e Cioccolato downtown on Tulum Av. because of their gelato’s delicious flavors. At Helados Buena Estrella on Highway 15, which leads to the beach, they serve fresh mixed ice cream, while Meows Cream Heladeria on Jupiter Avenue offers vegan soft-serve with an oat or coconut base. For something more authentically Mexican, visit La Reyna de Michoacan, located on Alfa Sur street off the main drag, for paletas (popsicles) made from natural ingredients.
Check out turtles in their natural habitat
If you’re into nature, then this is undoubtedly one of the must-do things to do when visiting Tulum. Each year from May to October, most of the coastline experiences sea turtle nesting season. After the sun sets each evening, mother turtles slowly make their way onto the beach to lay their eggs before journeying back to the surf. If you want a more hands-on sea turtle experience, day trip to Akumal, where you can snorkel with these magnificent creatures.
Shop till you drop
Tulum is overflowing with independently owned shops and boutiques that sell everything from luxury home goods and apparel to Mexican handcrafts and fair-trade items. Many shop owners are people who visited Tulum, fell in love, stayed, opened a store and sell unique merchandise that is inspired by the area. For beachy one-size-fits all dresses, visit Josa Tulum. If you’re looking for home goods, Kaahal Home carries beautiful items. Gender-fluid fashion can be found at CALO. There are shops in both the downtown and the beach area.
Visit the Mayan ruins
This is arguably the biggest cultural pull Tulum offers, and it’s easy to see why, as year after year tourists flock to these superbly located Mayan ruins. Perched high on a cliff with sweeping vistas of the jewel-toned ocean below, you come for the culture but stay for the view and the beach. If the view looks familiar, that’s because it has become one of the most emblematic images of Mexico, even serving as the cover for a Lonely Planet guidebook. Top tip: arrive early and beat the hordes of tour buses.
Explore the Cobá ruins
If the crowds at Tulum are off-putting, don’t give up on your dream of visiting Mayan ruins. The underrated archaeological site of Cobá, some 30 miles (48km) from Tulum, is worth a couple of hours if you’re a fan of archaeological sites. While there may not be the crystalline Caribbean in the background, this site is a rugged introduction to Mayan architecture right in the heart of the Yucatan jungle, and you can still climb the largest pyramid.
Try Mexican craft beer
Everyone knows that Mexican beer is superb (from well-known Corona to hipster-loved Tecate or higher-end Modelo), but Mexican craft beer, or cerveza artesanal, has recently become very popular. There are breweries popping up and many restaurants and bars now sell craft beer. The best place in Tulum to get craft beer is Hermana Republica, where they pair traditional food with their eight different types of craft beer. Cerveza Pescadores, brewed in Puerto Morelos, can be found at Safari and Los Aguachiles. Safari also serves Cerveza Colima, while at Mateos you’ll find Cerveza Mundo Maya. Look out for Cerveza Cancun at grocery stores, and if it’s important to you that your hotel offers craft beer, stay at Encantada Tulum.
Pay a visit to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Another fantastic benefit to staying in Tulum is its proximity to the breathtaking Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, one of the best ecotourism destinations in Quintana Roo. With a name that translates to ‘where the sky is born,’ you know you’re in for a treat. Visit a virgin beach and soak up the natural wonders that are dotted over the 1.2 million acres’ worth of land. Take an eco-friendly tour with Amigos de Sian Ka’an, an organization that is dedicated to environmental conservation and sustainable development.
Get adventurous at Parque Ecológico & Cenotes Labnaha
If the scale of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere proves daunting, head instead to another ecological park offering that’s available in Tulum – Parque Ecológico & Cenotes Labnaha, also known as ‘Mundo Mágico Maya’ or Mayan Magic World, where you can go zip-lining, swimming, snorkeling and kayaking.
Take a vacation photo at the Tulum sign
It seems like every Mexican town that tourists visit has a colorful signs for visitors to be photographed alongside, and Tulum is no different. Get creative and lie down in front of the letters, look through them or sit on top of them. The picture you take here will make the perfect Instagram post or Facebook cover photo. The Tulum sign is located downtown in the main square. Bring along your patience and some water because there is almost always a line.
Try out the ceviche at El Camello
This has long been one of Tulum’s favorite food spots due to the ridiculously fresh and flavorsome ceviche and seafood served on the daily. While locals still stop by regularly, this has also become somewhat of a traveler joint (they accept dollars as payment as well as pesos), but it’s still worth a visit. If that doesn’t tickle your taste buds, there are a swathe of other top-notch food vendors and restaurants that you can try out in Tulum in both downtown and the beach area.
Stop off at multidisciplinary museum Sfer IK
This multidisciplinary museum located in a huge sphere made from natural materials features visual artists, workshops and artist residencies focusing on interdisciplinary projects and new ways of experiencing and creating art. They also have programs that involve the local community. The whole museum can be seen in 10 minutes, but many will want to stay for a while to soak in the visuals and energy. Located at kilometer 5 on the Tulum-Punta Allen highway, visitors must take off their shoes to enter. Admission is free. Don’t miss the front door, which is a huge porthole.
Visit Xel-Ha eco-adventure park
Xel-Ha is an eco-park located about 20 minutes north of Tulum and is part of the Grupo Xcaret family, which also includes Xcaret, Xplor, Xenotes, Xoximilco, Xenses and Xavage. Swim or snorkel in the ‘largest natural aquarium in the world’ and flooded caves and cenotes filled with marine life, jump off the Cliff of Courage, explore Mayan ruins, ride bikes, hike through the jungle, zip-line, cross the floating bridge, fly a kite or, if you prefer, just relax in a hammock. Xel-Ha also offers a 30m (98ft)-high water slide, a kids’ area called Children’s World and a buffet restaurant.
Experience a dining adventure
There are plenty of fantastic restaurants in Tulum, but if you’re looking for a dining adventure, try Mexican Experience Tulum, a communal dinner with up to 21 guests that takes you on a gastronomic journey through Mexican culture by combining Mexican classics and local delicacies. Mexican cuisine is a fusion of ancient indigenous civilizations and other cultures. Dinner is accompanied by unique cocktails and plenty of free refills. You’ll also learn how to prepare authentic Mexican salsa. People with special dietary requirements are welcome.
Kiteboarding is an exhilarating extreme sport. Whether you’re an expert or it’s something you’ve always wanted to try, Tulum is a great place to kiteboard. If you don’t have your own gear, there are kiteboarding schools that offer rentals and lessons. Mexican Caribbean Kitesurf at Ahau Tulum hotel is a good option because they also offer restrooms, Wi-Fi, beach beds, a restaurant and parking. Kiteboarding all depends on wind – and remember that though the windiest months are November to May, during this time there may be days with no wind, while conversely there may be very windy days during the non-windy months.
This article is an updated version of a story created by Lauren Cocking.