Tulum is a popular tourist destination in Mexico that’s well known for tropical coastlines, picturesque resorts, and incredible natural attractions.
But beyond lounging on a white sand beach or sipping a cocktail at one of the charming waterfront hotels, there is a lot to do around Tulum when it comes to outdoor activities. Plus Tulum makes such a great central location if you plan to travel around within the Yucatan Peninsula.
We spent a week in Tulum and during this time we explored ancient ruins, swam in turquoise colored water, snorkeled in underground cenotes, and relaxed on palm tree-lined beaches.
In this post, we’ve shared our favorite sights to visit around Tulum, plus other travel tips, to help you make the best of your time there.
Things To Do In Tulum
Here are some of the best things to see and do around Tulum for travelers.
Gran Cenote is one of my favorite places to visit in Tulum. Gran Cenote consists of limestone formations and is a popular spot for tourists to come swimming and snorkeling.
Gran Cenote is very picturesque and well taken care of. There are showers on the property along with bathrooms, maintained walkways and grassy areas to relax and lounge on.
Gran cenote has two main swimming areas that are connected through an underground tunnel. We mostly stayed in the shallow part that has clear water and looks very scenic with overgrowing trees and cute boardwalks.
The other swimming area was more crowded but had a lot more to see especially underwater. There was even an area that was blocked off and served as a sanctuary for turtles.
We brought our personal snorkeling gear to the Gran cenote for swimming and diving into the underground caves but you have the option to rent gear on the premises as well.
If you’re in Tulum only for a short time and are looking for the main highlights, the Gran cenote is one of the best things to do in the area and worth a visit.
Cost: 200 Pesos ($10 USD)
Hours: 8:00 am to 4:45 pm
Archeological Zone of Tulum
If you enjoy history and culture, you’ll love visiting the Archeological Zone of Tulum. This is one of the few historical attractions in town so if you want to take a break from lounging on the beach, head over to the Tulum Ruins and be taken back in time to an ancient Mayan civilization.
Compared to other ruins that we have visited in Mexico, Archeological Zone of Tulum was one of the smallest Mayan Ruins. But located next to the turquoise blue ocean what Tulum Ruins may lack in size they make up in the jaw-dropping scenery.
Archeological Zone of Tulum was built around the 13-15th century and was part of the Mayan trade system. The Tulum Ruins is one of the best-preserved Mayan coastal cities and is easily accessible from Tulum by bike or taxi. Tulum Ruins are highly visited so try to get there early to beat the crowds and the heat.
The main attractions of the Tulum Ruins are the El Castillo pyramid that used to serve as a lighthouse and the Temple Of The Frescoes. Tulum Ruins is also home to very cute local animals called coati and hundreds of giant iguanas that casually lounge on top of the ruins bathing in the sun.
This archeological site is not very big but you will be doing a lot of walking in open areas so make sure to bring plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen. These ruins also offer access to a secluded beach behind them. Come wearing a bathing suit so during your visit you can jump into the ocean to cool down from the heat.
A few other tips to keep in mind:
- Tulum Ruins is a “no drone” zone
- Visitors are not allowed to climb the pyramids
- Locals get free entrance into Tulum Ruins on Sundays so it gets very crowded
- It takes 1-3 hours to walk the entire site
- Try to go as early as possible
- Parking is very expensive and limited so try to take a cab or bike instead
- You might run into booths and guides before the main entrance trying to sell you tickets – just keep walking. These guys will overcharge you and you can pay the lowest price at the official entrance.
Cost: 80 Pesos ($4 USD)
Hours: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
Cenote Calavera is one of the most unique cenotes that I have visited in Mexico. Cenote Calavera consists of a large opening in the ground that visitors can use for jumping and swimming.
The main swimming area has a picturesque ladder and a swing that looks great in photos. But this cenote is very close to Tulum so it gets super crowded.
If you want to get some cool photos of this location, you might have to come early or wait around a while because most of the time this swimming area is full of visitors and divers.
Along with the main swimming spot, Cenote Calavera has a few smaller openings in the ground that can be used for jumping.
Some of the underground openings were so small that we could barely fit through which felt pretty scary. But once we got the first jump out of the way, our nerves went away and we ended up spending a couple of hours jumping and swimming at Cenote Calavera.
Location: QROO 109, 77796 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
Cost: 100 Pesos ($5 USD)
Hours: 9:00 am to 4:00 pm
When we arrived in Tulum the first thing we wanted to do was head down to the beach and dip our toes into the water. To our surprise, most of the beach access in Tulum was blocked off by beachfront resorts and it took some walking around until we found a hotel that let us pass through.
To make things easier the next day we ventured down to Paradise Beach, one of the prettiest and most popular public beaches in Tulum.
We wanted to visit this location because it was free and accessible to the public. Plus the main attraction of Paradise Beach is a low hanging palm tree that visitors can climb for a fun beachy photo.
And yes, you can totally judge us, but we wanted to come here for the palm tree photos and we were not the only ones. By the time we arrived at Paradise Beach, it was crowded with tourists waiting in line to take a photo on this one epic palm tree.
For being a free public beach, Paradise Beach was very scenic covered in pristine sand and turquoise blue water. The only downside of this beach was the brown seaweed that often washes ashore in the Yucatan Peninsula during spring and summer months.
Visitors of the Paradise Beach can also rent beach chairs to lounge on or grab food and drinks at the local beachfront restaurants.
Location: Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Matcha Mama Cafe
You can’t really visit Tulum without stopping for a drink at the iconic Matcha Mama café.
Matcha Mama is a cute roadside café that serves smoothies, juices, bowls, ice cream, coffee, tea, and other yummy drinks. Matcha Mama is located along the main road in Tulum so it’s easy to stop here for a quick refreshing drink on the way to other destinations.
Matcha Mama café is cozy and picturesque but it’s very small and only offers seating for a handful of people. A photo of Matcha Mama cafe swings and surfboards has become highly popular for visitors to share on social media, especially on Instagram.
Juices, drinks and bowls at Matcha Mama are quite pricey costing around $5-$10 per item, but Tulum isn’t exactly cheap in general.
Hours: 8:00 am – 6:00 pm
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Tak Be Ha Cenote
If you like to explore hidden gems, you will enjoy the Tak Be Ha cenote. It’s the perfect spot for a fun “off the beaten path” jungle adventure.
When we arrived in Tulum we didn’t have any plans to visit this cenote. We were driving to one of the more popular swimming areas and stopped to ask for directions when a local suggested for us to check out Tak Be Ha cenote instead.
After following his directions and driving through remote jungle roads we found the hidden underground cenote Tak Be Ha.
Besides a few other divers, we were the only people at this cenote. Despite the crazy heat temperatures outside the water was refreshingly cool and we swam here for hours until our bodies felt frozen.
Being completely underground, the Tak Be Ha cenote felt very eerie and mystical. There is very little light in this cenote that mostly comes from small openings in the ceiling along with some artificial underground lights.
Visiting this cenote was a pretty surreal experience but it’s also not for everyone. Some visitors get discouraged by the difficult roads and the lack of amenities at the Tak Be Ha cenote and prefer to visit one of the more mainstream cenotes instead.
Location: Quintana Roo, Mexico
Cost: 200 Pesos ($10 USD)
If you’ve never been to Tulum before, you may want to note that Tulum is divided into two areas – an older downtown and a beachfront strip with newer resorts.
Downtown Tulum is where you can find the traditional style restaurants, souvenir shops, and hotels. We spent very little time in downtown Tulum and only came here once to eat dinner and to look for some souvenirs.
Most international travelers that come to Tulum stay at one of the beach resorts located along Route 15 just a few minutes south of the downtown. This is where we stayed and spent most of our time in Tulum.
Route 15 goes along the ocean but majority of the beach access is closed off by private hotels.
If you’re not staying at one of these charming resorts (because they are VERY pricey), most of the hotels offer day passes so visitors can come and hang out at their beachfront clubs and restaurants. Often access to these resorts is free if you purchase some drinks or food which is what we did.
With soft white sand, lush palm trees, and turquoise water Tulum’s beachfront is claimed to be one of the best in the world. There are a lot of resorts and beach clubs to choose from but a couple of our favorites were Alma Tulum Hotel and Coco Tulum.
If you’re looking for an unforgettable experience in Tulum (that’s also free), we highly recommend setting an alarm early in the morning and heading down to the beach for an epic Tulum sunrise.
Even though I’m not a morning person, I’ve never regretted waking up extra early for a sunrise at the beach, especially when they look like this.
In the early morning, Tulum’s beachfront is also more accessible and we didn’t have any issues passing through the hotels to get to the beach.
Route 15 is the main street that runs through Tulum. This is where most of the beachfront hotel entrances are located along with hip cafes, restaurants, and charming shops.
Lined with palm trees and rustic decorations Route 15 is very scenic and even features the popular “Follow That Dream” sign that is located right next to the Lolita Lolita Tulum health and beauty shop.
Chichen Itza is one of the most important archeological sites in Mexico. Chichen Itza was once the epicenter of the Mayan civilization and is located just a 2-hour drive from Tulum. Visiting these pyramids is a great day trip to take from Tulum if you have the extra time.
Chichen Itza Ruins are very popular and get flooded with lots of tourists during the day. On our visit, we waited over an hour in line just to purchase the entrance tickets.
If you want to avoid the chaotic tourist madness, try to go as early as possible, preferably right after opening. Plus in the morning the weather is a lot cooler and by mid-day, you’ll be wishing to be back in Tulum lounging on the beach.
Due to the large crowds that come to Chichen Itza visitors can’t climb the pyramids anymore but there is a lot to see at this archeological site so plan to set aside at least a couple of hours.
Tulum is such a great central location for exploring the Yucatan Peninsula and it’s very easy to arrange a day trip from Tulum to nearby attractions. If you’re interested in a guided tour of the Chichen Itza pyramids, this all-inclusive tour will take you to discover these ancient Mayan ruins, Ik Kil cenote, and other popular locations in the area.
Location: Chichén-Itzá, Yucatan, Mexico
Hours: 8:00 am to 4:30 pm
Suytun Cenote is another popular place to visit that’s located relatively close to Tulum. Suytun Cenote is located about an hour and a half from Tulum so many people make a trip to visit this stunning underground cenote.
Suytun Cenote is quite special because it’s located in a round underground cave and has a picturesque walkway at the center of it. On a sunny day at noon visitors can even experience seeing a light beam illuminate this underground cenote through a small opening in the ceiling.
Suytun cenote gets very busy so if you want to get that epic shot standing on a platform you might need to wait around for a while. Tip – come wearing a bathing suit so you can jump in for a swim in this mystical cenote while you wait.
Cost: 70 Pesos ($3.50 USD)
If you’re planning a longer trip to Tulum, I highly recommend setting aside a day or two to explore Bacalar Lagoon that’s located around 3 hours south of Tulum.
Although it’s a bit of a drive to get there, Bacalar is one of the most amazing places that I’ve been to in Mexico and is well worth the trip.
Bacalar is a large lake that’s very pristine and is known for its colorful turquoise and blue hues. The most popular attractions at Bacalar Lake are wooden piers, lakefront swings, and hammocks that resemble those in tropical islands like Fiji and Maldives.
Here travelers can also visit natural cenotes like Cenote Cocalitos that’s made of fossilized rocks and the perfectly round Cenute Azul that’s surrounded by a dense jungle.
Bacalar Lake is little known to international travelers so it’s much cheaper than Tulum. Food, hotels, and activities in Bacalar cost a fraction of similar experiences in Tulum.
Location: Lake Bacalar, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Read More: Guide To Visiting Bacalar Lagoon In Mexico
How To Get To Tulum
Tulum is a highly visited destination for travelers so there are a few options for getting around. Most people fly into the Cancun International Airport and from there arrange an ADO bus, collectivo or a rental car to Tulum. You can also take a taxi but it’s a two-hour trip so you’ll end up spending around $100 USD each way.
Highway 307 is the main road that travels from Cancun to Tulum and it even goes past Tulum to the Belize border. Highway 307 is a major highway that connects all of the biggest coastal towns in the Yucatan Peninsula so travelers can hop around easily.
ADO is one of the most popular public transportation modes for traveling to Tulum. ADO buses run often, they are reliable, comfortable, clean, spacious, and not too expensive.
You can browse the ADO website here for their bus schedules, fees and to purchase tickets.
Colectivo is the cheapest public transportation option in Mexico and this is what the locals take. Colectivos are easy to spot – they are usually white vans that say “Colectivo” on the front.
These are great for budget travelers but on the downside colectivos are usually packed full with people leaving little space for luggage and don’t run on a strict schedule like the ADO buses.
Having a car is our preferred mode of getting around. We like to visit places early in the morning to take photos before everything gets crowded so having a car is essential for us.
Is Tulum Safe?
Tulum is a laid back city that mostly consists of travelers and locals that work in tourism.
Tulum is an especially great city to visit for first-time Mexico travelers because it’s super nice and will help put any fears or misconceptions about Mexico at bay.
Tulum is a major travel destination and while it has some petty crime, during our visit we felt very safe.
Before we arrived in Tulum we spent over 5 months in Mexico and rarely had any issues or troubles. But while we were pretty lucky and didn’t have any major problems with safety we always recommend traveling with caution.
Here are a few Mexico travel tips that have helped us stay out of trouble:
- Travel with someone who knows Spanish
- Travel in groups
- Always tell someone where you’re heading (even if it’s just a day activity)
- Don’t stay out late
- Don’t drink too much
- Don’t walk back late at night – take an Uber or taxi instead.
Is Tulum Cheap?
While in general Mexico is pretty cheap, I do have to say that Tulum itself is not. Tulum is one of the most expensive places that we visited in Mexico so it’s not exactly a “budget-friendly” destination.
If you’re looking for cheap low-key places to visit in Mexico, here are some of our favorite locations that we recommend:
Interested in how I capture photos on my trips? Here is my suggested camera gear that I use to create my images:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (helps eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for nature shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Sony Camera Charger Set
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
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