Located on Mexico’s beautiful Riviera Maya, Tulum is a beach town 80 miles south of Cancun with the ruins of an ancient Maya city overlooking the stunning Caribbean Sea. In the past, people would come for the day, visit the archaeological site and enjoy the beach before heading back to Playa del Carmen or Cancun. Now, Tulum is a destination in its own right with many great restaurants, charming hotels, and shops, as well as dive shops, yoga schools, and wellness centers. Although the top things to see are still the ruins and beach, those wanting to explore a bit farther will find there are lots of things to see and do in this delightful beach destination. Here are a few of our favorite things to do in Tulum.
Hit the Beach
Tulum has one of the most beautiful stretches of white sand beach. The water is crystal clear close to the shore, transitioning to brilliant turquoise then to deep azure toward the horizon. Just enjoying looking out at the water, or getting in for some swimming or snorkeling, are wonderful ways to pass the time. Playa Ruinas, the beach at the archaeological site, is one of the Riviera Maya’s most picturesque spots but has no services. Playa Paraiso is also beautiful and publicly accessible. Playa Paraiso Beach Club offers loungers for a minimum spend on food and drinks.
The archaeological site at Tulum is one of the most amazing Maya ruins in Mexico. This ancient walled city is perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. An important trading port between the 13th and 15th centuries, now it's a popular tourist site with many people visiting on day trips, so it's a good idea to visit early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Bring a swimsuit because, after a tour of the site, you may just want to take a dip before doing anything else.
Rent a Bicycle
One of the best ways to get around Tulum is on a bicycle. It’s more economical than taxis or renting a car, and it’s also a fun way to explore the town. Feel the wind in your hair and a sense of freedom as you pedal along the beautiful coastal area, then check out the shops and restaurants in Tulum city. There is a lovely wide bike path that runs from town to the beach and then along the beach road for some distance. Several spots along the main road in Tulum rent bikes by the hour or day, or get in touch with Ola Bike Tulum—they can deliver a bike to your hotel.
The ancient Maya considered them gateways to the underworld, but these natural sinkholes that sometimes lead to underwater rivers are a great place to cool off from the heat of the day. Some cenotes offer snorkeling and diving to explore interesting geological features, including stalagmites and stalactites, or you can just take a swim in the crystalline water while bats and birds fly overhead (and unlike swimming in the ocean, you won’t end up salty and sandy afterward!). There are several cenotes located within easy distance of Tulum: Gran Cenote is just 3 miles away from central Tulum toward Cobá archaeological site; Cenote Calavera is 1 1/2 miles away, and Cenote Dos Ojos is located about 20 minutes north of town. If you want to go diving, get in touch with Diving Cenotes Tulum for an excursion.
Savor Fresh Seafood
Tulum has an abundance of great restaurants, and you’ll find numerous opportunities to sample the catch of the day, delicious guacamole, or some fish tacos. If the options seem a bit overwhelming, start with a Tulum food tour to sample some authentic local fare at a few different locales. Later in the day, head over to the restaurant at Zamas beachside hotel, find a table with an unobstructed view of the ocean and order a cocktail and.a grilled fish with garlic sauce. At happy hour this place is hopping, and there’s often live music after the sun goes down.
Take a Yoga Class on the Beach
Tulum is the perfect spot for those looking to take a vacation with a focus on health and wellbeing. It’s home to a variety of wellness centers and retreats, so it’s an ideal location for spending time on mind and body healing, as well as pampering and relaxation. Sanará (which means “it will heal”) is a yoga and wellness center offering classes and events, as well as a full menu of spa treatments and healing with sound and other modalities.
While in Tulum, you'll want to be comfortable as well as have the right look. Your regular wardrobe may not have all the right elements for the boho-chic style that predominates here, but not to worry! There are plenty of boutiques in Tulum where you can pick up a sundress or a sarong, as well as some sunglasses and a floppy hat to protect you from the sun, and don't forget some chic yet comfortable sandals. Of course, if you're looking to pick up some Maya-made handcrafts, a hammock, or some jewelry, there are also plenty of options. Zak Ik Boutique, located within Azulik resort, is an upscale boutique with an innovative design that evokes the surrounding jungle—even if you can't afford the price tags, it's worth a visit for the sensory experience alone!
Get Active on the Water
The Caribbean Sea at Tulum is very enticing. It’s perfect for a swim, but you can also try out some water sports—and if you’ve never done them before, it’s an excellent opportunity to learn something new! The waves at Tulum are quite gentle, so it’s great for swimming but not strong enough for surfing. You can, however, go kitesurfing—the best time is from November to May—or you can also try stand up paddleboarding. Go to Mexican Caribbean Kite Surf for lessons, equipment rental, and excursions.
The largest protected natural area in the Mexican Caribbean, named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, Sian Ka’an is an ecotourism destination that you have to see to believe. The reserve covers 528,147 hectares with several distinct natural ecosystems, including tropical evergreen forests, wetlands, savannah, and ocean. Just off the coast is the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, with amazing underwater life. A day trip to Sian Ka’an provides the perfect opportunity to observe the abundant flora and fauna, including jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays, jaguarundis, howler monkeys, crocodiles, and more than 345 species of birds. Rent a 4×4 for the bumpy drive there, or sign up for a tour.
Tulum’s archaeological site is impressive for its location on the water rather than its size or grandeur. Just 30 miles inland from Tulum, however, lies the site of Cobá, which is a large site with the largest climbable pyramid in the area. The entire site is spread out over more than 30 square miles. It’s surrounded by two large lagoons and connected to many smaller sites by sacbéob or “white roads,” ritual causeways created by the ancient Maya. You can rent a bicycle or hire a bicycle rickshaw to take you to the area with the giant pyramid, Nohoch Mul. If you’re brave enough to climb it, you can enjoy a magnificent view of the surrounding jungle from above.