Tulum is a dreamy, laid back beach paradise with white sands and jungle adventures. I had five days there to explore and was overwhelmed with amazing things to choose from.
Now most of the time in beach destinations, I know exactly what to do – head to the sand and put on SCUBA gear, find a hammock, or search for a cold coconut. In Tulum there’s a lot more to choose from, including Mayan ruins, cenotes (caves or sinkholes that are filled in with crystal clear water) galore, various lagoons to float in, yoga, and street tacos. That last point is very important.
It’s tough to narrow it down, but these 13 amazing things to do in Tulum are some of the best, including lots of variety and deliciousness:
1. Take a dip in the cenotes
I had no idea until arriving in Mexico that there are roughly 1 billion cenotes to choose from. Well not really, but there are so many cenotes scattered just about everywhere that you could spend weeks only going cenote hunting. Each has a unique selling point as well – some are best for diving, others are deep in caves, and they vary in color as well. So how do you pick and choose? I asked a few of my friends who are familiar with the area to make recommendations before I went and ended up visiting five different cenotes:
*By the way, I rented a car and self-drove to these cenotes, which I recommend if you’re comfortable with it. If not, this day tour will take you to several.
180 pesos, very popular
This is a very popular one, but by arriving right when it opened at 8 AM I didn’t have to battle the crowds to enjoy this cenote. Later on in the day when I drove by, the parking lot was buzzing with cars and people. I would highly recommend getting to this one first and visiting the others on this list after. One quirky thing about Gran Cenote is that there are a ton of turtles in the water, which you can swim alongside!
While the cenote does feel very commercial with a big deck built on top, which initially turned me off, after spending some more time there, swimming around, and finding another little hidden area, I decided that it was quite beautiful and I do recommend visiting. Just go there early!
100 pesos, less popular (but no less amazing)
Out of all of the cenotes, I liked this one the best because it felt the least commercial. The baby blue water is a nice temperature and I just loved looking around the inside of the beautiful cave. In contrast to the Gran Cenote with its open ceiling, this one has a very small opening at the top and a narrow staircase down.
This is one of a trio of cenotes out near Coba, so I visited all three because we were there anyway, right?
100 pesos, less popular
I was struck by how deeply blue the water is in this cenote. It also has two platforms that you can jump off of into the water. I only realized mid-fall that the higher of the two really is quite high, so make sure you’ve got your form right before you hit the water!
I give my pencil dive a 7 out of 10 but let me tell you, after nursing a sore neck the next day I wish it had been a 10 out of 10! Keep the good form, people!
100 pesos, less popular
Out of the three cenotes near Coba, this one was the least amazing but it was also the biggest, so there’s plenty to swim around and to see. The stalactites on the ceiling are also quite impressive.
Bonus: Suytun near Valladolid
120 pesos, very popular
Suytun is quite a drive away from Tulum but out of all of the cenotes I visited, this one was the dreamiest-looking. The platform is partially submerged under the water and walking out to it to be illuminated by a hole in the ceiling feels like you’re walking on nature’s cat walk.
I woke up at 6 AM to get to the cenote right when it opened so that I could get photos without anybody in them. I’m still not clear on whether it opens at 8 or 9 AM. They opened the gate for us at 8:20 and we were the first ones there. I think with even one or two other people in the shot it wouldn’t be nearly as special. Also, if you want to swim in the cenote you are required to wear a life jacket, which takes it off of the swimming list for me! Can’t stand wearing those orange abominations.
There are dozens of other cenotes in the vicinity of Tulum (Cenote Cristal and Escondido are even within biking distance), and if you expand to the entire Yucatán peninsula, surely there are hundreds. However if you only have time to visit the ones I’ve mentioned here you will see a nice variety. Other honorable mentions include Jardin de Eden, Sac Actun, and Casa Cenote.
2. Hang out at Laguna Kaan Luum
100 pesos (extra 300 to fly a drone), moderately popular
This Laguna looks a bit like the Blue Hole in Belize. It’s a sinkhole in the jungle with some very shallow water followed by some incredibly deep water. The deep area is roped off to swimmers but you can scuba dive into it. While it is a nice contrast to all of the cenotes, I find that it’s more interesting from the air than down on the ground.
It’s a pretty cheap activity at only 100 pesos, however if you want to fly your drone there it will be an extra 300 pesos. It is unique, though, and was kind of worth it. This is another one that I visited right when it opened at 9am to get some shots of it without a bunch of people in them. It worked out. The early bird gets the worm in Tulum!
3. Check out the Tulum Ruins
80 Pesos, Very Popular
Evidence of the Maya civilization is all over this peninsula and down into Guatemala and Belize, though the Tulum location was of significant importance to the empire as a religious and ceremonial center. The location is also stunning, set on a backdrop of the beach with dazzling blue water and white sand. While not as impressive as Tikal in Guatemala or Chichen Itza much further west, both of which are astounding due to their respective sizes, it’s certainly more convenient to check out the Tulum ruins.
If you do go, make it early. I deviated from my usual plan of visiting popular attractions first thing in the morning and regretted it! By midday it is unbearably hot and I was sharing the ruins with hoards of other people. Make this one of the activities to prioritize early in the morning if you want to check out the ruins without tons of other people around.
4. Explore the jungle
The beach in Tulum is absolutely gorgeous with its white sands and gorgeous blue, bath temperature water. But the jungle is quite magical as well. Before moving to a beachfront hotel, I stayed in a little hut in the jungle and it was so nice falling asleep to the sounds of all of the animals, and seeing the stars so dazzling and brilliant in the sky.
Plus, if you stay off of the road that goes towards Coba where many of the jungle hideaways are, you will already be on the stretch of road that leads to most of the cenotes. Spend some time in the jungle, even if it’s just wandering around at the cenotes, exploring at your resort, if they have a jungle path, or sleeping in a jungle hut.
Close to Tulum is the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, which is full of wildlife and jungle adventure opportunities. It’s great for environmentally conscious travellers who want to really take in the magic of the Maya jungle.
5. Get in the ocean
There are so many things to do in the water in Tulum! You can do standup paddle surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, or hop on a catamaran.
I also really like that this beach is still laid-back and there aren’t tons of high-rise hotels and constant paragliders and speedboats. There is still some peace and tranquility.
If you aren’t staying at any of the beach resorts and are doing Tulum on the cheap, Playa Pocna is one of Tulum’s only public beaches, but just as beautiful as any other. Otherwise, you might end up paying an arm and a leg for a beach chair or an overpriced beach cocktail.
Another tip is to keep an eye on the seasons before planning your trip if you’re hoping to spend some quality time with the beautiful turquoise waters. Between May and October of each year, the beach tends to have loads of sargassum (aka stinky seaweed) that piles up on the beach.
6. Eat some local food
There are two kinds of food on offer in Tulum: food meant for tourists with an English menu and high prices and the little, unassuming local eateries that are more authentic and tastier, tbh. The area is known for its cuisine that is bursting with spicy, sweet, and savory flavors. Don’t skip on salbutes, panuchos, and tamales.
I was so excited to eat street tacos when I got to Mexico that the first thing we did, straight from the airport, was to pull over on the side of the road outside of the airport when we saw a taco stand. Street tacos are so cheap, delicious, and fresh. If you’re hesitant about the whole affair, go to a stand that has lots of patrons (try La Chiapaneca in the center of town!). It wouldn’t be super popular if it made people sick.
There’s also a fantastic fruteria in the town of Tulum called Huerto del Eden with fresh juices, hand-ground coffee, plus cooked to order eggs. All of the produce is fresh from local farms, it is locally run, and the guys working there are so nice and accommodating. Plus, it’s authentic and the price matches.
7. Get into the hippie vibe
Tulum is a hippie haven. It must be a combination of the area being sacred to the Maya people, the laid back atmosphere of the beach, the natural beauty, and the jungle vibes. There’s just something about it that calls the type of people who are into the spiritual side of life.
If you’re curious about this kind of thing, the beach area of Tulum is the perfect place to try something new, like a cacao ceremony (this yoga studio hosts them from time to time), beachfront yoga classes, holistic health offerings and meditation classes. Just explore and see where your open mind can take you.
8. Check out the architecture
There’s a reason why Tulum attracts architects from all over the world. The jungle is an obvious inspiration and much of the architecture mimics ancient Maya techniques while adding a modern, minimalist flair.
One place in particular that you can’t miss is Azulik hotel. Its whimsical vibe and offbeat attractions are enough to make your jaw drop as you walk through. The hotel itself is quite pricey to stay in, but you can enjoy it from the inside if you want to get a drink at the hotel’s bar.
As you walk through the hotel zone, it’s hard to miss the giant wooden sculpture called Ven a la Luz at the entrance of Ahau Tulum. It’s a popular spot for photos because really, is any trip to Tulum complete without an Insta post there?
9. Learn about the Mayan culture
Tulum is at the very heart of the Zona Maya and many people don’t know that the Mayan people still exist AND speak their indigenous language. If you’re a history and culture buff, consider taking a quick Maya language class to learn more about the unique numbering system and Maya glyphs. It will certainly give you a glimpse into the past and a greater understanding of the local people.
All around Tulum you can also find Temazcal ceremonies, which are a rich cultural experience involving a trained shaman who guides participants in a cleansing ceremony.
10. Go for a stroll through the Centro
While most of the action in Tulum happens in the Hotel Zone, the Centro is also full of fun things to do and plenty of shopping and restaurants. Plus, things tend to be much cheaper on this end of town and this is where the locals hang out.
Looking for the best cup of coffee in town? Cara Feliz is an adorable bookstore café that has plenty of coffee and tea options if you need a caffeine fix. The café hosts painting nights, live music, and other cultural events regularly. Plus, they have a few rescue cats lingering around which are up for adoption from the local shelter.
11. Rent a bike
As soon as you get to Tulum, you’ll see people on bikes everywhere. Renting a bike is affordable and a great way to get from place to place if you’re staying off the beaten path. Whether you want to get out and hit the beach bright and early or head to a cenote a couple kilometers away, biking really is a fun way to enjoy this tropical paradise.
Not into biking? There are also plenty of places to rent motorbikes or a car around town.
12. Get off the beaten path
Tulum has absolutely exploded in the last few years, and for good reason; it’s one of the most beautiful beach destinations in the world! However, there is so much more to the area than just the beaches and cenotes.
About 15 minutes south of Tulum is Muyil, where you can explore the Muyil Archaeological Site and even spend the day floating down an ancient Mayan canal.
Cobá is another awesome place to visit while you’re in Tulum, as the ruins are some of the best in the peninsula. Climbing to the top of the pyramid, you can get an amazing view of the brilliant green jungle all around, and maybe even catch a glimpse of a toucan or maya clock bird!
13. Take a mural tour
Being such a hub for artists of all kinds, Tulum is full of beautiful, colorful murals. While plenty are easily spotted from the main street in the Centro, consider taking a tour to learn more about the art itself as well as the incredible artists who create the murals.
Where to stay
I split my time in Tulum between a luxury hotel on the beach and a little hut in the jungle. It was perfect, and allowed me to get the best of both worlds:
Hotel: The TRS Yucatan in Akumal has the dreamiest pool, a gorgeous white-sand beach, and the world’s best breakfast. I did a little tour of the breakfast spread and room in the video above. The service was excellent, the food was delicious, and it’s all inclusive without being cheesy!
Jungle Hut: The Lumapi Jungle Eco Lodge is in the perfect spot if you want to visit the cenotes, plus you get a chance to fall asleep to the jungle noises and get a secluded experience – with an outdoor shower! The huts are made from materials that already exist in the jungle and they run on solar power. The owners are so lovely as well, and the vibe is just amazing. I stayed for two days and thought it was perfect. (if you’re new to Airbnb you can get a discount here).
If you’re an Airbnb enthusiast like me, check out our list of the best Airbnbs in Tulum!
How to get around
It’s possible to take collectivos, taxis, or tours, but nothing will give you the flexibility of renting a car and driving yourself. We were able to cover so much ground and to get everywhere first thing in the morning because we drove ourselves.
Driving in Mexico wasn’t scary or all that different from driving in LA, where I grew up. Just go slow, drive defensively, and watch for speed bumps in the towns. Car rentals are dirt cheap (just make sure that insurance is included in your booking or they’ll try to charge you extra for it when you pick up the car!), and if you get a model that’s good on gas, it’s a cheaper alternative to tours or taxis.
Tulum is a laid back paradise in the Riviera Maya. I tend to love places like this because, well, I fit right in. This is much more my speed than the mega resorts of Cancun.
Though I was heartbroken to have had to leave what felt like way too soon, I was pleased to find that there were so many things to do in Tulum. I had no idea before I went how many amazing options would be pulling me in so many directions. It’s a lovely thing to visit a place and immediately start making a list of things to do when you return, but next time with much more time on your hands.
If you’re visiting Mexico, make sure Tulum is on your list.
**COVID-19 Update: Like much of the touristic state of Quintana Roo, much of the attractions remain open and running amidst the pandemic. Classes and experiences are still taking place, but with group limits. Make sure to book any activities in advance to secure your spot and of course, be mindful of the local population and take safety precautions!