Tulum is a laid-back but beautiful beach town on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, situated some 80 miles south of Cancun. It marks the southernmost boundary of the region known as the Riviera Maya (the area to the south of here is known as the Costa Maya). While Tulum is cherished for its gorgeous beaches and upscale hippie vibe, the town is probably most famous for its impressive Mayan archaeological site, set dramatically on a clifftop overlooking a stunning stretch of turquoise ocean.
Areas of Tulum:
Tulum is divided into two distinct areas: the lively, if rather scruffy, main town center is set right beside the highway, while the hotel zone, or “Zona Hotelera,” is located on a more secluded stretch of jungle and beachfront leading towards the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. While many travelers don’t linger in Tulum after visiting the ruins, they’re missing out: it’s well worth spending a few days to soak up the relaxed, eco-friendly vibe, stunningly wild beaches, and excellent dining, drinking and spa opportunities.
What to Do in Tulum:
- Explore the ruins of Tulum (open 8am-5pm daily), a cluster of Mayan structures from the Postclassic period whose relatively modest design is more than compensated for by its unforgettable setting overlooking the ocean. Be sure to take a refreshing dip in the sea after exploring the site. There are steps leading down to the beach -- bring a towel!
- Take a day trip to Sian Ka’an, the spectacular nature preserve declared a UNESCO Biosphere, for outstanding wildlife viewing, bird watching and swimming in the clearest waters you’ll ever experience.
- Observe sea turtles laying their eggs on the beaches: several hotels, like La Nueva Vida de Ramiro, operate volunteer programs to protect the turtles and their eggs
- Swim, snorkel or even go cave diving in cenotes, the system of underground rivers found beneath the Yucatan Peninsula. Visit the Gran Cenote, on the road to the Cobá ruins, where you can snorkel in the caverns, or for a more memorable day out, arrange a tour with a local outfit like AllTourNative, who can arrange excellent guided tours to little-visited spots.
- Sweat it out in a temascal, the ancient Mayan sweat lodge ritual that’s becoming an increasingly popular pursuit among travelers. The spa at Cabanas Copal offers an affordable version in the jungle
- Rent a bicycle and explore the entire stretch of beachfront.
Where to Eat and Drink in Tulum:
- Don Cafeto: great snacks, coffee and street front people-watching. Avenida Tulum 64, Lote 12. Phone: +52 984 871 2207
- La Nave: excellent wood-fired pizzas and European wines. Avenida Tulum 570. Phone: +52 984 871 2592
In the Hotel Zone:
- Ana y Jose, there's a romantic oceanview restaurant at this popular hotel. Carretera Tulum-Bocapaila, Km 7, Hotel Zone. Phone +52 998 880 6022
- Casa Banana has a beautiful ambiance and delicious Argentine-Mexican fusion cuisine. Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila Km 8.5, Hotel Zone. Phone +52 984 877 8512
- La Zebra, Carretera Tulum a Boca Paila Km 8.2, Hotel Zone. +52 984 115 4728
- Zahra, Carretera Tulum-Ruinas Km 5, Hotel Zone. Phone +52 984 115 4728
Where to Stay in Tulum:
- Ana y Jose. Phone +52 998 880 56 29 or visit the website
- Cabanas Copal. Phone +1 866 471-3472 or visit the website
- Azulik. Phone: Toll Free US/Canada +1 866 471-3472 or visit the website
- Dreams Tulum. Luxury all inclusive. Phone +52 984 871 3333 or visit the website
- La Nueva Vida de Ramiro. Phone +52 984 877 8512 or visit the website
- La Zebra. Phone +1-303-578-1301 or visit the website
- Read more about romantic resorts in Tulum
Getting There and Getting Around:
Cancun's international airport (Airport code CUN) is the main point of entry for the Riviera Maya. Tulum is around an hour and a half drive south of the airport.
There are several transportation options from the airport:
- Take an ADO/Mayab bus to Playa del Carmen, then transfer to Tulum bus or collectivo.
- Take an ADO bus to Cancun City Bus Terminal, then a bus to Tulum.
- Hire a taxi or rental car from the airport direct to your hotel in Tulum. (While this can be pricey due to the distance, ask around near the taxi desk as often travelers can band together and hire a collectivo taxi and split the fare.)
- Rent a car to explore the area independently. Unlike some other areas of Mexico, roads in the Riviera Maya are in good condition and well-marked.