Last Updated on March 27, 2023 by Janine
Dreaming of a trip to the Riviera Maya’s ultimate boho paradise? Check out all the best things to do in Tulum: immersive nature experiences, restaurants, cenotes, beaches, and more.
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Known for its dreamy boho aesthetic and idyllic beaches, Tulum is one of the most popular beach towns in Mexico.
The scenery in Tulum is absolutely stunning. The white sand…the cerulean sea… the lush jungle…it’s incredible. Needless to say, most of the best things to do in Tulum involve immersing yourself in the region’s natural world.
As for the town itself, Tulum certainly has a distinct vibe, a cool aesthetic, and offers a different sort of feel than you get in places like Playa del Carmen or Cancun. But, as someone who has spent over 4 years living and traveling in Mexico and has visited over half of the country’s states, I’ve never quite understood why Tulum is the place.
It may be marketed as a laid-back beach town, but Tulum is one of the most touristy places I’ve ever been to (in Mexico and the world). If you’re looking for a truly laid-back beach town in Mexico, I think you can do better (Isla Holbox or the Oaxaca coast would be great options).
But if you’re into the design, the neo-hippy experiences, and the beautiful scenery, Tulum probably deserves a spot on your bucket list!
Just don’t be deluded. Tulum is anything but undiscovered. It’s crowded, hectic, and one of the most expensive destinations in Mexico.
Traveling soon? Don’t forget to buy travel insurance for Mexico. Insurance gives you peace of mind knowing you can get the help you need if anything goes wrong. SafetyWing is the provider that I recommend.
Property ownership disputes have insulated Tulum from being developed in the same manner as resort towns like Playa del Carmen or Cancun. Instead, business owners in Tulum have capitalized on the “laid back, hippy beach town” theme to the most extreme extent.
You’ll see signs and buildings crafted from twisty driftwood, thatched roofs, and indoor spaces that invite the outside in. There are raw vegan restaurants, juice bars, and places to partake in cacao ceremonies and temazcal rituals.
I’m not knocking any of this. It’s beautiful, delicious, and interesting. It’s also all for tourism.
If you’re someone who prefers to skip the crowds and stick to off-the-beaten-path destinations, Tulum might not be your place.
In my opinion, if you’re planning a Riviera Maya vacation, you’d do better to base yourself in Playa del Carmen and take a day trip to Tulum. Playa is ultimately more central, more walkable, more relaxed, and offers almost all of the same things to do. Plus, in Playa del Carmen you can stay within a couple of blocks of the beach (!!!) regardless of your budget, which is not the case in Tulum.
But again, if you want the cool aesthetic of Tulum, that’s where you’ve gotta be.
In this guide, I’ve outlined some of the best things to do in Tulum, infused with all kinds of travel tips based on my time there. While it’s not my favorite destination in Mexico, I do see the appeal, especially for a short vacation. If you choose to incorporate Tulum into your Yucatan itinerary, there are all kinds of fun things to do in the area.
Let’s jump in.
How to get to Tulum from Cancun
Chances are, you will be traveling to Tulum via the Cancun airport, which is the closest airport in the region. Tulum sits about 73 miles south of Cancun, and there are a few different ways to get there.
- Rent a car: A rental car offers the ultimate flexibility for exploring the Riviera Maya, and you can rent a vehicle at the Cancun airport. Then, just drive south on Highway 307 for about 90 minutes until you reach Tulum. It’s handy to have a car in Tulum to get back and forth from the beach and to do excursions outside of town. Hint: I like to use Discover Cars to secure competitive rates on rental cars.
- Book an airport shuttle: An airport transfer is a very safe and efficient way to get between the airport and your Tulum accommodation. This airport shuttle offers private transportation in a luxury vehicle. Book online, and the driver will greet you at customs, making your arrival smooth and expedient.
- ADO Bus: ADO is a bus line serving Southern Mexico, much like a greyhound (but way, way nicer), and it’s the most budget-friendly way to get to Tulum. Purchase a ticket online or at the airport, and the bus will drop you at the ADO station in downtown Tulum. Tickets cost about $15 USD. You can buy bus tickets using BookAway or Busbud.
Related Reading: How to Get From Cancun to Tulum and Playa del Carmen
Fun Things to Do in Tulum
Check out some of the awesome activities you might wish to include on your Tulum itinerary.
1. Tour the Tulum ruins
The oceanfront archaeological site in Tulum was once an important port for the Mayan civilization. Now they’re a can’t-miss tourist destination. Whether you’re interested in the history of this archaeological site, or just want to soak up the scenery, the Tulum ruins are worth a visit.
The site does get incredibly crowded, so plan to arrive when the site opens, at 8 AM. Do this and you’ll have plenty of time to visit the beach below the archaeological site before the crowds become overwhelming.
Admission to the Tulum archaeological site costs about $12 USD, but it’s worth hiring a guide if you want to learn about the role this site played in Mayan history. There are no interpretive signs on-site, so a guide is highly advisable. Join a tour of the Tulum ruins or hire a guide on-site when you arrive.
Pro Tip: Mexican nationals can visit archaeological sites for free on Sundays, meaning this is the busiest day of the week at the ruins. For thinner crowds, visit mid-week.
Related Reading: 19 Fascinating Ruins in Mexico You Should Visit
2. Swim in a cenote
Swimming in cenotes is one of the best things to do in Tulum! Cenotes are natural sinkholes that form when limestone bedrock gives way to expose subterranean rivers.
There are hundreds of cenotes throughout the Riviera Maya, each with its own alluring characteristics.
Some cenotes are partially covered, offering a cave-like setting, while some are fully open to the sky above. Some cenotes are deep enough to explore by diving, while others are simple swimming holes.
Needless to say, you can’t go home before you check out a few of them!
One of my favorites is Cenote Dos Ojos because there are actually two cenotes to explore and both have all kinds of interesting rock formations to check out below the surface. If you’re interested in a cenote diving tour, you can swim through an underwater cave that connects the two cenotes.
You can also opt for a cenote tour. Tours are handy because they include transportation, saving you from figuring out the logistics of getting to the cenote of your choice.
Check out these intriguing cenote tours from Tulum:
- Four Cenote Adventure from Tulum: This action-packed tour will take you through a selection of the best cenotes near Tulum. You’ll have the opportunity to zoom through the jungle on a zip-line and plunge into a refreshing cenote. Then, snorkel in crystal clear cenote water before enjoying a delicious traditional Mayan lunch. Click here to learn more and check rates!
- Cenote Trail: Caves Visit and Bike Tour: On this bicycle-based based you’ll cycle through the Tulum jungle on your way to visit 3 different cenotes. You’ll stop off to swim and snorkel in each of the alluring cenotes and enjoy a delicious brunch before making your way back to Tulum. Click here to learn more.
3. Day trip to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka’an is a Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to over 300 bird species, animals, and a rich concentration of flora and fauna.
The park, which covers over 500,000 hectares, is made up of mangroves, tropical forests, marshes, sandy beaches, dunes, palm savannahs, and a large marine section.
Some of the animals found in Sian Ka’an include jaguars, ocelots, and tapirs. You may also encounter marine life like manatees, multiple species of sea turtles, fish, and more.
There is also a Mayan ruin called Muyil with Sian Ka’an. Supposedly Muyil was one of the earliest villages established by the Maya.
As you can see, Sian Ka’an is the perfect place to soak up the remarkable nature and history of this region of Mexico. The park sits just south of Tulum and it makes a fantastic day trip.
You can get to Sian Ka’an on your own, but you’ll have a better experience if you visit as part of a tour. A knowledgeable guide will be able to offer insight into the biodiversity of the park and point out all kinds of things you might otherwise miss.
Here are a few Sian Ka’an tours that stand out to me:
- Sian Ka’an & Muyil Birdwatching & Guided Walk: If you’re interested in birdlife, Sian Ka’an is the perfect place to spot them. On this 6 hour tour, you’ll visit the Sian Ka’an jungle and tour the Muyil ruins with an experienced guide who will point out bird species and teach you about the history of the site along the way. Click here to check rates!
- Sian Ka’an Half-Day Tour From Tulum: Tour Muyil and spot birds, animals, and native plant species on a jungle walk as your guide shares details about Mayan history. Then, enjoy an assortment of Mexican snacks as you float through the lagoons and mangroves on a boat and scout for sea life before. Check rates here!
- Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve Full-Day Tour: Water lovers can experience the marine side of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve on this 10-hour boat-based tour. You’ll snorkel in the lagoon and have the opportunity to spot manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, and an array of fish and bird species. This tour includes round-trip transportation from your hotel along with snorkel rentals, and a buffet-style lunch. Click to check rates!
4. Eat your way through Tulum
Let’s be honest, the food is one of Mexico’s biggest draws.
And even though, in my opinion, the Riviera Maya isn’t typically representative of the truly incredible array of flavors that Mexico has to offer, Tulum’s culinary scene is one of the highlights of this beachside town.
Eater explains that this is because restaurant groups have been hard at work recruiting some of the country’s best chefs, resulting in a thriving culinary scene filled with unique dining experiences.
You’ll find everything from experimental raw vegan restaurants to authentic local eateries and everything in between.
Here are a few popular Tulum restaurants you should definitely check out:
- Burrito Amor: Burritos are very rare in Mexico, but there’s no denying that they’re delicious and convenient. Burrito Amor offers burritos suitable for every meal of the day along with margaritas, and more, all at affordable prices.
- Hartwood: This open-air restaurant prides itself on using locally sourced ingredients, meaning the menu changes daily. And, because they are committed to a zero-carbon footprint, food at Hartwood is cooked over a wood-burning grill and all electricity is solar-powered. You never know what you’ll get here, but you can count on it being tasty. As one of Tulum’s most popular places to dine, expect to wait in line here. Arrive when they open for your best chance at securing a table.
- Raw Love: Located within the Ahua Tulum resort, Raw Love specializes in raw vegan eats with a trendy, boho atmosphere. Try an acai bowl, a superfood smoothie, a “food pharmacy” shot, a coconut latte, or any number of other vegan specialties. But the food isn’t the only draw here– the adorable boho-beach setting will make you want to stay. Post up in a hammock under a canopy of tropical foliage and snap a photo with the Ven a la Luz sculpture before you go, you know, #forthegram 😛
Another fun way to experience Tulum’s culinary scene is through a food tour. If you’re keen to try some authentic Mexican cuisine, this 3-hour Tulum food tour will teach you about some of the most traditional Mexican dishes and flavors. You’ll visit Tulum’s food market along with a collection of eateries favored by Tulum locals while sampling some of the tastiest Mexican food in town.
Tulum’s trendy, unique restaurant offerings are appealing in many ways, but the local haunts are awesome in their own right. I highly recommend partaking in both of these dining experiences.
5. Lounge on the beach
There’s no question that the beach is the biggest draw in Tulum. Here you’ll find miles of idyllic white sand bordered by the cerulean Caribbean Sea.
I may not be the biggest fan of Tulum, but the beach is truly spectacular.
While there are tons of awesome excursions to partake in from Tulum, make sure you set aside some time for a relaxing day in the sand.
To make the most of your Tulum beach day, you can choose to post up at one of the many beach clubs in the area, or head to a public beach access point and throw your towel on the sand.
There are public beach access points within the hotel zone, but they can be tricky to find. You can always just walk through a beach club and usually nobody will question you.
Alternatively, when you drive toward the beach from town you’ll hit a fork where you can turn right to head to the hotel zone or turn left to head to North Tulum beaches. Turn left. There are still resorts and beach clubs scattered along this stretch, but there are more public access points. The beach is also much wider in this area!
While a beach club may cost a bit of money, it can be worth the splurge. Here you can enjoy amenities like lounge chairs, beach umbrellas, and access to public restrooms. Plus, you can order food and drink from a restaurant rather than having to pack your own.
The Papaya Playa Beach Club and Ziggy Beach, are both popular beach clubs offering comfortable loungers, a restaurant menu, and delicious cocktails.
6. Day trip to Cobá
The Zona Arqueológica de Cobá is located about 30 miles Northwest of Tulum. Cobá doesn’t get quite as much attention as more prominent sites like Chichén Itzá, but it is still well worth a visit.
Cobá was once a prominent Maya city state that was believed to have over 50,000 inhabitants. As such, it is a sprawling site with a number of structures nestled amongst the jungle foliage.
The largest structure at Cobá is the Ixmoja pyramid, which is 138 feet tall. When you climb to the top you can enjoy an incredible view over the top of the jungle– it’s worth the climb!
After exploring Cobá you’ll definitely need to cool off. Fortunately, there are a few cenotes nearby that are perfect for a refreshing swim. Though, you will need a rental car to reach them.
Renting a car is the perfect way to make the most of your visit to Cobá, as it gives you the flexibility to spend as much time at the ruin as you wish and to stop off along the way to and from Tulum.
If you’re not up for driving, the best way to visit Cobá is on a guided tour. With transportation included, you can focus on enjoying your visit to the ruin without worrying about travel logistics.
The Tulum, Cobá and Cenote Day Trip Tour includes visits to both the Tulum and Cobá archaeological sites along with snorkeling sessions in the ocean and cenotes. Click here to book your spot!
Where to Stay in Tulum
Tulum offers a wide range of different accommodations, from glamping to vacation rentals all the way to boutique luxury hotels, you’re spoiled for choice.
When visiting Tulum you will either stay in the hotel zone, which is right on the beach, or in Tulum pueblo (the town section of Tulum) which is about 3 miles from the beach. Most of the accommodation in the hotel zone is quite pricey. Unless you’re looking to splurge, you’ll likely end up staying in Tulum pueblo.
This is my main complaint about Tulum as a beach destination: more than likely, you won’t be able to walk to the beach from your accommodation.
While it doesn’t conjure up the same romantic images as a beachfront hotel, staying in the pueblo has its own set of advantages. Namely, it will cost less and you’ll likely be able to walk to restaurants, bars, and shopping.
Aldea Zama is one neighborhood within Tulum that is particularly popular. It sits right between downtown Tulum and the hotel zone. It’s a modern development with many luxury buildings and a grocery store nearby, making it convenient for long-term stays.
The only downside to Aldea Zama is that there is a lot of construction happening in this neighborhood. If you choose to book here, read reviews carefully to ensure the property you’re considering isn’t affected by construction noise.
I’ve curated a few gorgeous VRBOs that would make a fantastic base for visiting Tulum.
Radiant Loft Apartment with Kitchenette
This bright and vibrant loft is outfitted with everything you need for a lovely stay in Tulum. The loft-style bedroom holds a clean bed while the living area features a kitchenette, dining table, and a lounge area with a television. This unit also includes access to a shared swimming pool.
Modern Penthouse with Private Pool
With boho and mid-century design elements and a plethora of natural light, this condo is truly stunning. It features a small kitchenette and a living area complete with a sofa, flat-screen tv, and a dining table. The bedroom holds a queen bed. There is also a balcony and a private rooftop patio with a pool offering panoramic views over the surrounding jungle.
Gorgeous 2-bedroom Condo with Shared Pool & Outdoor Dining
This beautiful, airy condo features two bedrooms, a full kitchen, a living room, and a spacious balcony. One bedroom holds a king bed while the other offers two double beds, making this a great option for a family trip. There are also two full bathrooms. Additionally, the complex has a beautiful shared pool, and there are free bikes available on-site!
Airy Penthouse with a Private Rooftop Pool
This penthouse offers chic, minimal design and panoramic jungle views. If you’re looking for a dreamy, romantic escape this could be it! The suite features a king bed, kitchenette, a spacious patio, and a private plunge pool. The building offers additional amenities such as a gym, yoga classes, a juice program, and more.
How to get Around in Tulum
Because Tulum is so sprawling you won’t be able to walk everywhere. Unfortunately, there is no Uber in Tulum. Below I’ve outlined the best ways to get around within Tulum and the surrounding areas.
Cycling is a popular way to get back and forth from Tulum Pueblo and the beach. Some accommodations have complimentary bikes on-site for guests. If yours doesn’t, you can rent bikes in town. Keep in mind, you’ll be cycling in hot, humid weather and the distance between downtown Tulum and the hotel zone is about 3 miles. Are you up for it?
Taxis get a bad reputation in Tulum for charging exorbitant fees and being difficult to find. I wouldn’t write them off completely though. My favorite way to deal with taxis is through a Radio Taxi service, which enables you to request taxis through WhatsApp.
You tell them where you want to be picked up and dropped off and the dispatcher will provide a price and a unit number, so you know which vehicle to get into. It’s safe and saves you the trouble of negotiating rates.
Price-wise, expect a taxi between downtown Tulum and the hotel zone to cost about $300 pesos ($15 USD).
Use this service to arrange taxis safely.
For excursions to sites near Tulum, colectivo is an affordable and efficient way to go. These small passenger vans run up and down the highway between Cancun and Tulum all day every day. Use them to visit nearby beaches, towns like Akumal or Puerto Aventuras, cenotes, and more.
You flag colectivos on the side of the road and tell the driver where you’re going so he knows when to stop for you. A colectivo ride from Tulum to Akumal will probably cost about $40 pesos.
If you know you want to do lots of side trips from Tulum, renting a car is probably the best way to go. It will give you the freedom to stop anywhere you want, and the convenience of being able to stash your belongings somewhere secure while you’re seeing the sights.
The only caveat with rental cars is that parking in Tulum can be limited. If you know you’re going to rent a car, try to book an accommodation that offers parking.
Discover Cars is the service I recommend using to find the best rates on rental cars.
Is Tulum safe?
While you should always use common sense in Mexico, Tulum is generally considered safe. I have heard many tales of theft in Tulum, so a theft-proof purse is definitely in order. And, if you partake in Tulum’s party scene (which is huge) be extremely cautious, as you will be vulnerable when under the influence.
Related Reading: Top Safety Tips for the Riviera Maya
How long should I spend in Tulum?
There is a lot to see and do in and around Tulum, plus it’s nice to hang out at the beach. Personally, I’d recommend 3 to 5 days. Unless you’re absolutely in love with the vibe of Tulum, I can’t see spending more than 5 days.
When is the best time to visit Tulum?
High season in Tulum is between November and April. This is when you’ll experience the best weather (but also the highest prices and the biggest crowds). Because the outdoors are such a big part of Tulum’s draw, November through April is the best time to visit.
June through October is hurricane season, which means afternoon rain showers are frequent and heat and humidity is extremely high. Many of Tulum’s roads are dirt, so the city becomes a muddy mess at this time of year. If you’re prepared for it, it’s tolerable, but it can be unpleasant.
Is there sargassum in Tulum?
Sargassum is a type of seaweed that frequently piles up on the beaches of the Riviera Maya. It is brown and stinky and makes it impossible to swim or enjoy the beach. Sargassum is most prevalent during the summer months, but it ultimately depends on water temperatures and ocean currents.
When I lived in the Riviera Maya I experienced sargassum beginning as early as February. Basically, it’s unpredictable. Use social media to check for updates on the sargassum situation ahead of your visit.
Continue Planning Your Trip!
Mexico Guide Books
This Mexico phrasebook will help you communicate, even if your Spanish skills are lacking.
This Mexico travel guide is packed with all the info you could ever need.
I use a combination of Booking, Airbnb, and VRBO to find accommodation throughout Mexico.
Booking.com is awesome for booking hotels and resorts, while Airbnb and VRBO specialize in apartments and villa rentals, making it a great place to find long-term stays.
Some cities in Mexico have more listings on VRBO than Airbnb (or vice versa), so it’s best to check both to find the perfect place!
Rental cars add tons of flexibility to your travel plans. If you opt to rent one, I recommend using Discover Cars to find the best rates!
Skyscanner is my favorite tool for finding the best deals on airfare.
Never leave home without travel insurance.
SafetyWing offers super-affordable policies that cover things like medical expenses, trip interruption, and lost luggage. They even offer coverage for some expenses related to COVID-19. Their policies are particularly great for long-term travelers, making them a great option for Mexico.
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