Tulum has been a firm favourite for national and international travellers for many years and will undoubtedly continue to be so, not least because of its prime location on Mexico’s azure blue Caribbean coastline. Even though it will forever play second fiddle to the infinitely more tourism driven Playa del Carmen and Cancún, there’s so much on offer; here’s everything you must see and do when in Tulum.
Rent bikes for easy transportation
Due to the peculiar layout of Tulum – the coastline, its principal attraction, is separated from the centre of the town by a short drive or a rather much longer walk – it’s advisable to rent bikes for at least a couple of the days you’ll be there. This gives you far more freedom to explore the area without a reliance on taxis; plus, with the wind flowing through your hair as you cycle around, you’ll practically forget about the often humid climate.
One of the advantages to being in the Yucatan Peninsula as a whole is that you’re surrounded by Mayan sinkholes, otherwise known as cenotes. In Tulum, you’ll be within a stone’s throw of some of the country’s most magnificent examples, so you really ought to take the chance to check them out. El Gran Cenote, Calavera and Carwash are some of the most well-known examples, but with a little searching you can find some underrated and practically deserted ones to explore too.
Bar hop in Tulum’s town centre or party on the beach
For night owls and party animals Tulum has plenty of options, whether you’re a fan of local live music, beachside DJ sets or Cuban salsa rhythms. If you choose to head to the centre, you’ll be spoiled for choice with some of the bigger, more popular clubs that get full to bursting on the weekends and the smaller more intimate venues that take a bit more hunting down. We recommend Curandero for quirky live music and an easy to find location. Alternatively, head to Papaya Playa Project if partying on the beach is more your style.
If you’re into all things ecological, then this is undoubtedly one of the most unmissable things to take part in when visiting Tulum; each year, from May to October, most of this coastline sees the arrival of turtle nesting season. After the sun sets each evening, the mother turtles slowly make their way up the beach to lay their eggs, before carefully journeying back to the surf. If you want a more hands on turtle experience, day trip to Akumal instead, where you can snorkel with these magnificent creatures!
This is arguably the biggest cultural pull Tulum offers and it’s clear to see why year on year tourists continue to 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 at Tulum’s ruins. Does the view look familiar? That’s because it’s become one of the most emblematic images of Mexico in recent years, even serving as the cover for a Lonely Planet guidebook. Top tip: arrive early and beat the hordes of tour buses.
However, if the crowds at the ruins of Tulum are off-putting, don’t give up on your dream of visiting Mayan ruins while in Tulum! The wildly underrated archaeological site of Cobá, some 30 miles outside of Tulum town centre, is worth a couple of hours if you’re a fan of either history or refreshingly tourist-free destinations. 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.
If you prefer to lie on the beach rather than look at it then one of Tulum’s most famed stretches of coastline has to be Playa Paraíso, which literally translates to Paradise Beach. Let’s just say that that name isn’t giving false hope – practically transparent water, picture-book perfect palms and super fine sand all add to the atmosphere at Playa Paraíso. But even if this beach doesn’t take your fancy, pretty much every other coastal destination in Tulum is just as aesthetically appealing, and several of the beaches are lined with campsites which you can stay at for a small (and very well-deserved) fee. There’s nothing like waking up to the sound of the ocean lapping in the distance, after all.
Another fantastic benefit to staying in Tulum is its proximity to the breathtaking Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, one of Quintana Roo’s top eco-tourism destinations. With a name that translates to ‘where the heaven is born’, you know you’re in for a treat. See jaguars, pumas, monkeys and ocelots up close, and soak up the natural wonders that are dotted over the 1.2 million acres’ worth of land. There is literally something to suit everyone, whether you enjoy snorkelling, diving or just plain old wandering.
If the sheer scale of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere proves daunting, head instead to the other ecological park offering that’s available in Tulum – the Parque Ecológico Labnaha, to be precise. Within the limits of this park you’ll find the Mundo Mágico Maya, at which you can indulge your daring side in activities like ziplining, snorkelling and even kayaking. As is to be expected in the Yucatan Peninsula, there are of course cenotes to be explored too.
This has long been one of Tulum’s favourite food spots due to the ridiculously fresh and flavoursome ceviche and seafood served up on the daily. While locals still stop by regularly, this has become somewhat of a traveller joint in recent years (they accept dollars as payment, alongside pesos), although that’s not to say it isn’t worth trying at least once. If that doesn’t tickle your tastebuds, there are a swathe of other top notch food vendors and restaurants that you can try out in Tulum.