Tulum is an incredible destination – with gorgeous beaches, cool cenotes and Mayan ruins. Looking for the best things to do in Tulum? Here are ten spots you shouldn’t miss.
From exploring the spectacular Mayan ruins, to spending days on the beach and taking a little road trip to cool destinations in the surrounding areas (ahem Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve – we’ll get to that later).
Let’s be honest. Tulum has been so hyped up in recent years, with barefoot luxe hotels dominating the beachfront, a progression from the hippy hangouts and camping under the stars vibe that dominated in times past.
Before I visited, it wasn’t clear whether Tulum still retained a kernel of what originally attracted people in the first place – an alternative to the built up environs of nearby Playa del Carmen and Cancun – or whether had evolved into a Disney-like parody of its former self.
Well, by all accounts, it has changed. Have no fear. Tulum still has that elusive magic that draws people again and again: a heady combination of sun-drenched days, barefoot chic and gorgeous attractions, natural and man-made in Tulum and its surrounds.
In short – I loved it and I’m pretty sure you will too.
Planning a visit to Tulum and wondering what to do while you’re there? I’ve picked ten of my favourite things to do in Tulum to help you plan your trip. From well-known spots to Tulum’s hidden gems, these are the places you shouldn’t miss.
Cool Things to do in Tulum, Mexico
The Tulum Ruins are an absolute must for your time in Tulum. How do some ancient Mayan ruins in a spectacular beachside setting sound to you? Thought so…
The ruins aren’t actually that big, so you can explore them in the course of an hour or so if you’re on a tight timeframe.
However, I’d recommend bringing your swimwear and spending part of the day exploring the Tulum Ruins and then soaking up the sun on the stunning beach tucked underneath the cliffs on which the ruins are located.
Built in the period after 1200, you can still see the grid-like formation of the Mayan city – but the real highlight (and the picture you’re bound to have seen a million times on Instagram) is the view from a cliffside path to the Castillo, framed by turquoise waters on one side, verdant greenery, rugged cliffs and platinum sand on the others.
Just remember to bring tonnes of suncream and water because that Mexican sun is hot, hot, hot.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka’an is a UNESCO World Heritage site perched just at the end of Tulum playa.
Well, it starts there anyway – believe me when I say that Sian Ka’an is vast.
Covering over 1.3 million acres, it contains tropical forest, marshes, mangroves and some absolutely jaw-dropping beaches that demand to be explored.
I would say that Sian Ka’an is hands down one of the best things to do in Tulum.
There are two separate ways to access different parts of the Reserve from Tulum – one is to follow the coastal road from Tulum and the second (though slightly less reliable option) is via the Muyil Ruins (which we’re also going to pop along to later in the video).
I would highly recommend doing both. It’s a long drive between the two entrances though, so you’ll need to do them on separate days.
If you are going to visit Sian Ka’an, you will either need a car or to book a tour.
Tours generally last all day and include activities like snorkelling, dolphin spotting (like this one) or taking a Jeep adventure to get up, close and personal with the abundant wildlife in the park.
If you drive, you can take things at your own pace. I wouldn’t blame you if you just decamped to a stretch of empty beach and enjoyed the beautiful natural surroundings.
Oh.. by the way peeps – don’t swim in the coastal lagoons unless as with many parts in the Yucatan – there are crocodiles.
Tulum has an incredible culinary scene; with some of Mexico’s (and the world’s) most famous chefs setting up shop here in recent years. There’s a lot of fanfare over which is the best restaurant in Tulum, and plenty of spots where you have to book months and months in advance (I’m not even joking).
Personally, I think that if you only make time to eat in one of Tulum’s fabulous restaurants, Ka’an should be it.
First up, the location is unparalleled. Ka’an occupies a pristine spot of untouched beach in Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve. Meals come with an eyeful of gorgeous views and a twang of salty sea air.
Then we need to talk about the food: freshly caught seafood, local fruits and vegetables, traditional Yucatan recipes with a twist, all cooked on open fires under the watchful helm of Hugo Durán.
I obviously couldn’t resist heading down to the beach while we waited for the food to come. Word of warning – don’t make the same mistake that I did and leave your swimsuit at home. I can’t think of anything better than popping down here for lunch then spending some time hanging out on that beach.
Azulik Uh May
By now, I think we can all agree that Tulum is full of surprises but here’s one cool thing to do in Tulum that not many people know about – Azulik Uh May.
I had no clue that this place even existed until a friend of mine suggested that we all take a little road trip out there (shoutout to Rebecca for this stellar suggestion) because this place was straight-up insane.
Totally bonkers and a complete work of genius, Azulik Uh May bills itself as a is a holistic center for human vision and aims to reconnect visitors with the environment.
Azulik Uh May is set in the midst of the Tulum jungle about 30 minutes from Tulum town. The founder, Eduardo Neira AKA Roth is a social entrepreneur and the founder of the Insta-famous Azulik hotel in town.
It’s also not a bad place to snap your next poser-ass shot for the ‘Gram (just saying).
Muyil Ruins and the Northern Section of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Remember when I mentioned that there was another way to enter the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve? I know that you have all been waiting with baited breath so I won’t keep you on tenterhooks any longer.
The Muyil Ruins (which are also known as Chunyaxche) are a little-visited archaeological complex, located just off of Highway 307. The ruins are all that remain of a Mayan town that flourished between 250AD and the 17th century – though most of the ruins date from between 1200 and 1500. The complex isn’t huge, but the structures, jutting out from amidst the jungle, are a stark reminder of the historical wealth of the region.
Once you’ve finished looking around the ruins, I’d recommend taking the path through to the northern section of the Sian Ka’an Nature reserve where you can hire a guide to take you on a boat tour of the Muyil Lagoon (which in turn is connected to the much larger Chunyaxche lagoon and then the sea by means of an ancient Mayan canal), or just hang out by the lagoon’s shore.
It’s probably worth mentioning that you do have to pay a separate entry fee of around 120 pesos to get into the reserve – but it is pretty cool once you get inside.
Top Tip for Visiting the Muyil Ruins: Don’t forget to bring your mosquito repellent – never is it clearer that you’re in the middle of the jungle than when a swarm of mosquitos are feasting on your flesh.
Wondering what to do in Tulum? Eat tacos!
I’d heard so many people tell me about the insanely good tacos at Taqueria Honorario that there was absolutely no way that I wasn’t going to visit it myself… and I did – twice! What can I say? The tacos are banging and some of the cheapest eats you’ll get your hands on while you’re in Tulum.
These aren’t your fancy, perfectly presented, chi-chi tacos. No. These tacos are the real deal – priced around 15-20 pesos per taco, they’re small, packed with flavour and a highlight of Tulum’s culinary scene.
I’ll warn you – this place is deservedly popular, so if you want to get your hands on their famed cochinita pibil tacos, you’d better get there early (they open at 7am). Taqueria Honorario closes at 2pm, or whenever the food runs out, whichever is earlier.
Visit a Cenote
You’ll hear everyone raving about the cenotes in the Yucatan area. Cenotes are giant limestone sinkholes that come in all shapes and sizes. Some small and underground – others more like lagoons tucked amidst the mangroves.
Now, enough has been written about the most popular cenotes – Dos Ojos and Gran Cenote – to be honest, I didn’t go to either of these because a) I hate crowds and b) I love my bed enough that I didn’t want to get up at the crack of dawn just to get the cenote to myself.
What I did do was hang at a couple of quieter cenotes like this cool one at Nativus – they’re everywhere, so go and explore.
Go Swimming with the Sea Turtles in Akumal
Akumal is about 40 minutes from Tulum and is the spot to go snorkelling with sea turtles along the Mayan Riviera.
You need to go snorkelling with a licenced guide – you’ll either snorkel straight from the shore or out on a boat – either way, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see the turtles hanging out in their natural habitat.
Akumal beach is an incredibly pretty spot too, so bring your beach stuff and hang out for the day.
It’s easy to get to Akumal if you have your own transport. If not, you’re best off booking a tour like this one, which includes a snorkelling guide and a trip to two nearby cenotes for swimming.
Spend Time on One of Tulum’s Fantastic Beaches
Tulum’s long stretch of golden sand is the main reason that it’s turned from a dozy fishing village to the bohemian getaway we see today.
In other words, you can’t come to Tulum and not spend at least a day hanging out on the playa.
There are a couple of free beaches, but access is largely through hotels and beach clubs where you pay for loungers or have a minimum spend. I spent a lot of time at Dos Ceibas and Ahau and loved them both.
and… when the sun sets, you’re in the perfect place for sundowners and to watch the gorgeous sunsets.
PS – there is a seasonal issue with the sargassum seaweed – check before you book.
Party the Night Away
When the sun goes down in Tulum, the music comes on and people party until the early hours.
From the Maravela Sessions at Habitas to the DJ nights at Nômade, get ready for some big nights or even just a chill night hanging by the fire and bathing in copal smoke.
There are some bigger clubs too – Saturdays at the Papaya Project are rumoured to get pretty loco if you have the energy.
I’ve shown you just a fraction of what to do in Tulum – from visiting ancient Mayan ruins to finding your own stretch of deserted beach or feasting on some insanely good eats.
I hope you’re ready to discover Tulum for yourself. Here are some practical tips to help you along the way.
Practical Tips for Exploring Tulum, Mexico
Where to Stay
I stayed at Outsite Tulum (independently, not hosted) and would recommend it, with some reservations.
On the pro side, the rooms are really nice (ask for one of the gorgeous spots overlooking the jungle) and the prices are incredibly reasonable for Tulum Beach. The concrete walls, pretty dreamcatchers and woven lampshades make for a laid-back and stylish place to sleep at night.
What’s more, Outsite Tulum is only a two minute walk to Tulum Beach and less than a ten-minute drive to Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve.
On the con side, the wifi was pretty bad (Outsite is a co-working and co-living community, so wifi is actually important) and the shared spaces were pretty bare. There are a number of small pools and a rooftop terrace, but they weren’t that great and, as a result, none of us used them.
Overall though, Outsite is great value for the money and the location is really good too.
Hiring a Car or Scooter
Tulum is split into two main areas – Tulum Town and Tulum Beach – while the town has cheaper accommodation and a number of cool bars and restaurants, Tulum Beach is really the big appeal. The beach road is long (17km and counting) – the easiest way to get along it and to destinations in the surrounding areas, like Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve, Azulik Uh May and Akumal – is to have your own transportation.
Luckily, car rental in Mexico is pretty cheap. I rented a car for my last few days in Tulum and kept it to road trip up to Mexico City for around £20 per day including full insurance.
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