Tulum – Travel Guide

Tulum

Sun, fun, sand, and more. If you’re planning your next summer getaway, a trip to Tulum, Mexico should make it to the top of your list. Tulum’s world-renowned beaches and exotic sights are enough to get you packing already.

While a beach sojourn in Central America paves the way for the ultimate R&R, Tulum is blessed with picturesque ruins and a boho-chic vibe to give you a unique Caribbean escapade. You get a bit of historic calm and coastal tranquility—with a blast of mojito and merrymaking.

“I love the beach. I love the sea. All my life I live within—in front of the sea.”

Rafael Nadal

How to Get There

In history, Tulum was known as the last walled Mayan city and was called the Zama, which means “City of Dawn” since it faces the east (sunrise). Because it sits strategically along the Mayan Riviera, it was considered a trade hub for obsidian.

Tulum is located in the Quintana Roo State on the southeast side of the Yucatan Peninsula. It lies on the Caribbean coast, making it the hot spot for beach lovers and backpackers.

To get there, you’ll need to fly out to the Cancun International Airport. Tulum is about 90 minutes south of Cancun. You can get there by car rental, shuttle, or public transport (bus or taxi).

You may hear Riviera Maya or Mayan Riviera in a lot of articles relating to Tulum. The Riviera Maya is a coastline of nearly 100 miles that stretches from the south of Cancun to Tulum. It’s perhaps synonymous with the beach paradise since it’s known for its pristine beaches, Mayan cities, mangroves, and jungle adventures.

Other Travel Things to Know

Time Zone: UTC-5 (Southeast (US Eastern))

Main Language: Spanish

Climate: If you’re looking for the perfect beach weather, then January to April is your best bet. May to October showcases a hotter and wetter season—which means warmer water to enjoy those water activities. This “low peak” season offers lower rates if you’re aiming for a budget-friendly vacation. Not to be outdone, November to December is the autumn/winter season. With a bit of chill in the air, many claim this is the best time to visit.

First Timer Tips:

If it’s your first time visiting, don’t get confused if you hear the word “Tulum” quite often. It can refer to any one of three areas. While there’s no contest among these locations, each zone offers its unique charm, vibe, and purpose.

  1. Tulum Hotel Zone or Tulum Beach

As a tourist, you’ll most probably be headed to the Hotel Zone where most hotels and lodging are situated closest to the beach. Long strips of restaurants and resorts will keep you bustling for things to do and eat. The hotel zone features eco-friendly and locally-inspired hotel and camping choices so you can relish an off-the-grid and bohemian lifestyle.

  1. Tulum Pueblo

Brushing up on your Spanish should easily tell you that pueblo means town. Tulum Pueblo is the town center or El Centro. It’s where most of the locals live being the central hub for business. Your much-needed ATM, pharmacies, and groceries are in the town center—which is about a 5 to 10-minute drive from Tulum Beach.

  1. Tulum Ruins

Going further north will take you to the breathtaking Tulum Ruins. While not much of an accommodation spot, you’ll hear more of it when the topic centers on tourist attractions.

What Is Tulum Known for?

  • White sandy beaches with crystal blue water perfect for the idyllic vacation and a relaxing swim
  • Awe-inspiring ruins and relics that help relive the Mayan history and culture
  • Snorkeling and diving since Tulum sits along the Mesoamerican Barrier reef (the second-longest coral reef)
  • Home to a huge number of cenotes that are magical, splendid, and beautiful. They provide a crystalline view of nature’s glory—and you can swim, snorkel, and explore as you please.
  • Adventures in the jungle and eco-parks to experience the wildlife and natural scenery
  • A bohemian vibe and sustainable lifestyle to connect more with the sacred and ancient ground

Popular Tourist Spots

Tulum is truly an enchanting place to visit as it combines the allure of the ancient world and a hippie vibe that makes it a hit for the young and adventurous. With incredible sights to take in and a dose of seaside calm, everyone is sure to get that much-deserved recharge from the city life.

Here are 8 tourist spots that you should visit in Tulum:

  1. Walk around the Tulum Mayan Ruins

This archaeological site is brimming with historical relevance and ancient energy. Don’t just look—feel the magic of the place. Sitting atop a bluff and overlooking the sea, the Tulum Ruins bring romance to a different height. That’s what makes this place unique: grandeur overlooking the Caribbean seaside.

To appreciate the relic more, there are guides at the entrance to help with your educational journey. Otherwise, a self-paced stroll is just as enjoyable.

Whether it’s for the culture trip or the ‘gram, remember to visit El Castillo (The Lighthouse), which served as a fortified tower for sailors. Other must-see sights: Temple of the Descending God, Temple of the God of the Wind, and the Temple of the Frescoes. 

If the ruins aren’t breathtaking enough, you’ll find two things that are sure to excite you even more: the beach and iguanas!

Iguanas can be seen lounging around the ruins, while beneath the cliff, you’ll find an excellent beach spot. Pack your swimsuit if you’re planning to go for a dip!

Top tip: Be early to avoid the crowds and the heat.

  1. Swim in a Cenote

First things first, it’s pronounced as “seh-no-tay.” Cenotes are sinkholes that are known all over the Yucatan Peninsula for their scenic beauty, diversity, and healing properties. The pit is created from collapsed limestone and offers a range of activities from snorkeling, swimming, scuba diving, or just wading.

There are hundreds to choose from in the Tulum area, each one unique in size and mystery. You may not find the time to visit them all, but here are the more popular choices:

  • Gran Cenote is the biggest and an open-air type. A fun activity would be to get into one pool and surface in another.
  • Cenote Calavera is also known as the Temple of Doom since calavera translates to skull.
  • Dos Ojos Cenote translates to Two Eyes Cenote and is a good snorkeling spot.
  • Carwash was named for its location that was once used to wash cars.
  • Taak Bi Ha may sound strange but offers a mesmerizing cave and the clearest azul water.
  • Casa Cenote is known for the mangroves and a tunnel leading to the sea.
  1. Welcome to the Jungle (and Adventure Parks)

Tulum has several tours to help unleash your wild side. You can hop on an ATV, go zip-lining on trees, and much more.

Your next destination can also include an adventure park or eco-park where you can enjoy nature in its finest form. The Grupo Xcaret is known for the fancy and amazing adventure parks that the family will love. Interestingly, they all start with the letter X.

Xcaret, Xenotes, Xplore, and Xel-ha are just a few of the choices on your list. If you’re keen on visiting the “largest aquarium in the world,” jungle trekking, riding bikes, or just enjoying a water slide, then consider a trip to any of these exciting eco-parks.

  1. Life’s a Beach

While it may sound like a given, there are dreamy, picturesque, and stand-out beaches in Tulum that are still worth a drive or a picnic.

Top finds would be Playa Paraiso, Las Palmas, Playa Pescadores, Secret Beach, and Playa Ruinas.

If you still haven’t taken a hint, playa means beach in English.

  1. Explore the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

If you’re into ecotourism and interacting with nature’s vast resources in their preserved habitat, a visit to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a must. Considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll understand why the wildlife, coral reefs, and forests are in pristine condition.

Go kayaking through the river canals or swim with the sea turtles. With nearly 120 km of coastline to wander, you’ll never run out of things to do.

Translated as “where the sky is born,” this is the closest you can get to a real-life paradise. Wait until you come across a jaguar or a dolphin!

  1. View the Laguna Kaan Luum

The Laguna looks like a blue hole surrounded by verdant water and a lush jungle. It’s said to have magical properties, but its allure comes from the contrasting colors that are glorious from a drone shot. Scuba diving is also allowed in the deeper part of the water.

  1. Climb the Coba Ruins

The Tulum Ruins may be the main archaeological spectacle, but the Coba Ruins are not to be ignored. At the center of the Yucatan jungle, a couple of hours away from Tulum, is another Mayan jewel that features the Nohoch Mul (largest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula) waiting to be climbed and discovered. A grand hidden relic and a large pyramid are enough to get you hyped for this rugged adventure.

  1. Pay Tribute to the Chichen Itza

Worthy of mention is the Chichen Itza, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It’s another UNESCO World Heritage site—2 hours away from Tulum. These ruins feature the gigantic pyramid, El Castillo, amid other glorious structures.

Types of Sights and Activities

Each tourist spot or attraction in Tulum is brimming with activities that you’ll never get tired of.

  • Water and Beach Activities

Swimming isn’t the only thing you can do at the beach. You’ve got a range of activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, kitesurfing, or kayaking. If you’re in a dreamy mood, relax in a lounge chair while sipping a mojito.

  • Wildlife Wonder

Nature is alive in Tulum, and a jungle adventure will be a sure hit with the young. The adventure parks and bio reserve make sure you have the best time of your life with their ATVs, zip-line activities, swimming in caves, and more.

  • Archaeological Sites

Don’t forget to include a bit of culture in your trip. The Tulum and Coba Ruins combine splendor and rich history. Trekking would be the main activity but in the case of Tulum Ruins, who can say no to a quick dip?

  • Shopping

A Mexican holiday will not be complete without shopping! Souvenirs, accessories, and handicrafts are uniquely created, and you’ll want to buy them all for yourself.

Local designs, apparel, and handmade jewelry can dress the beach-chic you’re going for. Homegrown boutiques are booming and cater to hippie fashion. Ceramics, trinkets, and Fairtrade items would make great gifts—in case you need to bring some back home.

  • Watch the sunrise

Since Tulum faces the east, waking up early won’t be a problem if you want to catch the spectacular sunrise.

  • Bike

Renting a bike is the most efficient and common way to get around Tulum. It’s easier to get to the places you want to visit, and you can explore the roads less traveled.

  • Yoga

Join a class, or do some yoga on the beach. Many believe that the Mayan spirituality is strong in Tulum, so yoga and other meditative techniques would be more powerful here. You can also try a temazcal ceremony, which is like an ancient “sauna” to purify your body and soul. Tulum is a magnet for holistic health practitioners and hippies.

  • Party

Party-loving people will not be disappointed with the nightlife scene in Tulum. You can walk around the beach strip and find one to your liking. Weekends mean live music, DJs, parties on the beach, and dancing all night.

Tulum Pueblo offers just the same kind of party high. From clubs to casual bars, enjoy local beers, mojitos, and music—and revel in the Mexican party style.

  • Food trip

A trip to Tulum, Mexico cannot end without a mandatory food trip. Expect your usual Mexican fares like street food tacos and banana leaf-wrapped burritos. Ceviche is something to try if you’re daring enough. Since the beach life leans towards the bohemian lifestyle, there are a lot of seafood and vegan restaurants for the health-conscious. High-end dining areas are also available for those looking to feast on quality seafood, steak, and a buffet.

Feel the heat? Make room for coconut ice or gelato. Of course, you’ll never go wrong with Tulum’s favorite drinks: mojito, local beer, and mescal. Cheers!

Food for Thought

“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch—we are going back from whence we came.”

John F. Kennedy

Other Travel Tips

Getting ready for your Tulum trip? Here are some tips and information to make your stay even more enjoyable.

  • While tempting, don’t use or buy drugs. With the lengthy list of things to do, you can get high with adventure, beach activities, and food trips instead.
  • Tulum is generally a safe place for travel. Still, it’s advisable for ladies not to walk alone at night.
  • Always be cash-ready for charges on sites and attractions. Some places charge you for bringing a camera or loaning a beach lounge chair.
  • Since Tulum is known for sustainable living, be wary of wearing sunscreen or lotion in certain areas like the cenotes.
  • Play your day’s activities beforehand to make the most of your stay. Research the opening and closing hours, fees, and other requirements of your destination ahead of time.
  • If visiting during the hurricane or wet season, always check the weather reports.

Tulum promises a one-of-a-kind beach adventure with a side trip on Mayan history. Whether you’re a spiritual seeker or a backpacker, you can curate your fun and magical vacation in the Mayan Riviera—and will surely be back for more.

All About the Riviera Maya

This was an important commercial and religious center for the ancient Maya, and there are many archaeological sites to discover in the area, such as Tulum, Cobá and Muyil. For hundreds of years, the area remained isolated from the rest of the country due to the lack of adequate roads. As Cancun was developed, some tourists wanted an alternative to the mega-resort area, and the Riviera Maya was discovered.

https://www.tripsavvy.com/mexicos-riviera-maya-1588622

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