The Top Things to Do in Tulum, Mexico

Go snorkeling with turtles on Tulum's beautiful coral reefs
Go snorkeling with turtles on Tulum's beautiful coral reefs | © Nino Marcutti / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Kristin Carleen Busse
2 September 2021

Once a sleepy off-the-grid beach town, Tulum is now a popular Caribbean vacation destination, with countless activities and adventures for visitors. Its popularity means there are more and more things to do and see, from free or inexpensive activities to pricy excursions. Here’s our pick of the best activities around.

Experience all that Tulum has to offer – and more – by booking Culture Trip’s small-group, nine-day tour around Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula.

Rent bikes for easy transportation

Sports Center, Shop
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First Person View riding Bike with Woman in Mexico
© Brandon Means / Alamy Stock Photo
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 here. This will give you more freedom than if you were having to rely 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

Boutique Hotel, Spa Hotel
4.4/5 (57 Reviews)
Ahau Tulum
Courtesy of Ahau Tulum / Expedia
Price Drop
Now from $491 per night
Commissioned for the first Art With Me event in Tulum in 2018, the huge, mind-blowing sculpture known as Ven a La Luz (Come Into the Light) by 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.
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Dive into the Gran Cenote

Natural Feature
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Snorkeler swimming in crystal clear water of Grand Cenote, Cenotes, Tulum, Riviera Maya, Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Caribbean
© Helmut Corneli / Alamy Stock Photo
One of the advantages of being in the Yucatan Peninsula is that you’re surrounded by natural sinkholes, or cenotes. In Tulum, you’ll be within a stone’s throw of the area’s most magnificent examples – Gran Cenote, Calavera and Carwash are some of the best known, but with a little searching you’ll find some practically deserted ones to explore, too.

Bar hop in Downtown Tulum or party on the beach

Bar, Pub Grub, $$$
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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. Head downtown for the clubs that fill up on the weekends as well as more intimate venues that may take a bit more hunting down. Alternatively, head to Papaya Playa Project if partying on the beach is more your style.

Go swimming in the Caribbean

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Crystal clear turquoise water on a Mexican sandy beach under palm trees - tourist attraction and holiday destination in Tulum, Mexico, Caribbean Sea
© Oliver Rein / Alamy Stock Photo
Sounds obvious, we know. Paradise Beach is one of the most spectacular beaches in the area and when the sea is calm, it’s crystal clear and you can see down to the bottom. When the sea is more active, it’s fun to jump and ride the waves. However, do pay close attention to the beach flags that 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 the more remote beaches do not have flags.

Cool off with a sweet treat

Dessert Shop, Dessert, $$$
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There’s nothing like ice cream on a sweltering tropical day. There’s almost always a line at Panna e Cioccolato downtown on Avenida Tulum because of its sensational gelato flavors. At Helados Buena Estrella on Highway 15, which leads to the beach, you’ll find 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

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Green Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico
© Reinhard Dirscherl / Alamy Stock Photo
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

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Tulum abounds with independent shops and boutiques selling everything from luxury home goods and apparel to Mexican handcrafts and Fairtrade items. Many shop owners are people who visited Tulum, fell in love, stayed, and opened stores selling unique merchandise 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, while gender-fluid fashion can be found at CALÓ. There are shops in both the Downtown and the beach area.

Visit the Mayan ruins

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Mayan Ruins at the city of Tulum near Cancun, Mexico in the state of Quintana Roo filled with history, limestone buildings, vegetation and wildlife
© Cyndi Hageman / Alamy Stock Photo
This is arguably the biggest cultural pull in Tulum, and it’s easy to see why, as year after year tourists flock to these superb Mayan ruins, perched high on a cliff with sweeping vistas of the jewel-toned ocean below. You’ll 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 tour buses.

Explore the Cobá ruins

Ruins
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Tourists climbing Nohoch Mul pyramid, Coba Archeological Area, Yucatan Peninsula, Quintana Roo state, Mexico
© Witold Skrypczak / Alamy Stock Photo
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, 30mi (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.

Stop off at multidisciplinary museum SFER IK

Museum
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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. Admission is free, and although the whole museum can be seen in 10 minutes, many will want to stay for a while to soak in the visuals and energy. Located at KM5 on the Tulum-Punta Allen highway, visitors must take off their shoes to enter. Don’t miss the front door, which is a huge porthole.

Pay a visit to the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve

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The observation tower and boat dock at the Muyil Lagoon in Sian Ka'an, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
© Jon G Fuller / VWPics / Alamy Stock Photo
Another fantastic benefit to staying in Tulum is its proximity to the magnificent 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 1.2m acres (485,623ha) of land. Take an ecofriendly tour with Amigos de Sian Ka’an, a non-governmental organization dedicated to environmental conservation and sustainable development.

Get adventurous at Parque Ecológico & Cenotes LabnaHa

Park
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If the scale of the Sian Ka’an biosphere proves daunting, head instead to another ecological park in Tulum – Parque Ecológico & Cenotes LabnaHa, aka Mundo Mágico Maya (Mayan Magic World), where you can go zip-lining, swimming, snorkeling and kayaking.

Try Mexican craft beer

Restaurant, Bar, Mexican, $$$
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Los Aguachiles Restaurant in Playa del Carmen
© Al Argueta / Alamy Stock Photo
Everyone knows that Mexican beer is superb (from well-known Corona to hipster-loved Tecate or higher-end Modelo), but cerveza artesanal (Mexican craft beer) 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 restaurants, and 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.

Take a vacation photo at the Tulum sign

Hotel
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Colored lettering of the Mexican city Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
© Rainer Lesniewski / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

Experience a dining adventure

Restaurant, Mexican
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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.

Try out the ceviche at El Camello Jr

Restaurant, Mexican, Seafood, $$$
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Small cerviche at El Camello in Tulum
© H.C. Peres / Alamy Stock Photo
This has long been one of Tulum’s favorite food spots, thanks to the fresh and flavorsome ceviche and seafood served daily. While locals still stop by regularly, this has also become somewhat of a traveler joint (they accept dollars 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 the Downtown and beach areas.

Go kiteboarding

School, Sports Center
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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, wifi, beach beds, a restaurant and parking. Kiteboarding all depends on the 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 also be very windy days during the non-windy months.

Visit Xel-Ha eco-adventure park

Park, Ruins
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Launching Place for Snorklers and Swimmers, Xel Ha Eco-adventure Park, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Yucatan, Mexico.
© Charles O. Cecil / Alamy Stock Photo
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.
These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh. This article is an updated version of a story created by Kristin Carleen Busse

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