Get The Ultimate Tulum Travel Experience
Are you heading to Tulum? Visit any forum where people talk travel, and you will find the passionate debate over the many details of visiting this magnificent city. Tulum is among the places that you need to get away to.
The Mexican beach village at the Riviera Maya has always been a hotspot, but it has become more and more famous every year since the discovery of the ruins in the late ’90s. The area is renowned for its beautiful ruins and is home to some of the most impressive cenotes (natural sinkholes) that appear straight out of a fantasy-style film.
There’s also an abundance of hidden Mexican treasures just waiting for someone to explore and discover. It’s impossible to walk around the whole place, but there are some perfect spots for taking photographs. If you are not into partying every night, then you are missing out on the full Tulum experience.
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If you are keen to explore the most popular destinations in Tulum, this guide will help you enjoy the most out of your visit. It is the ultimate guide to discover what to do in Tulum when you are there.
WHERE TO STAY IN TULUM
There is no shortage of hotels in Tulum; you might have trouble finding a hotel that doesn’t look amazing while you’re visiting. The best thing about Tulum hotels is they have breathtaking views overlooking the Caribbean Sea, so you can relax on the balcony or terrace all day and watch cruise ships and private yachts go by. The views are incredible.
When booking a hotel in Tulum, there are two options: either book a hotel directly on the beach or book one of the many hotels that also offer rooms right on top of the cliffs above it.
Here are my opinions on both:
Booking directly on the beach: This is quite expensive, and it is a bit of an anti-climax to wake up and look at the ocean right below you. However, if you want to be close to all the action, then this is what you need. You might have to walk down the cliffs a little bit, but it’s worth it. The food and drinks are slightly more expensive than when you enjoy them while along your hotel’s terrace.
Booking one of the hotels perched on top of the cliffs: This is the cheaper alternative, and staying in one of such hotels will provide an incredible view over Tulum. They have terraces with loungers and sunbeds right on the edge, so you do not have to worry about climbing up hundreds of steps. Additionally, these hotels’ prices are much lower than when staying directly on the beach but be warned that they might not be as comfortable.
This is a wonderful option if you plan on staying for more than a few days or are traveling as a family. Most rentals on the market are new construction and offer fantastic, tranquil space, even in a community setting. You will still get that jungle paradise feel and, while you won’t be right on the beach.
Tulum is such a small town you’ll never be far from that beautiful crystal blue water.
WHAT TO DO IN TULUM
There are lots of options that will make you active during your visit to Tulum. It is a fun way to mix the activities and add this fantastic location into your workout. Heck, you may forget that you’re working out and enjoy yourself!
Place: Mexican Caribbean Kitesurf & Paddle surf
Kitesurfing combines wakeboarding with windsurfing, creating a new extreme sport harnessing the power of the wind. Basing on the name, you would think you need waves, but the flat water with nice winds make for the perfect spot to kitesurf. The smooth water makes it easier to take off and land on. That makes Tulum a great place to begin your kitesurfing experience.
Stand Up Paddleboarding
The Mexican Caribbean Kitesurf & Paddle surf team will also provide stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) lessons and rentals. SUP utilizes a surf style board and a very long paddle for gliding across the top of the water. Tulum is a great spot to learn!
When it comes to snorkeling in Tulum, visit Playa Paraiso and charter a little boat to take you out by the reef with a view of the ruins inland.
You can go sea diving in Tulum by getting a guide and visiting the biosphere. You have a chance to explore the second largest coral reef in the world and experience a world largely untouched by civilization. It is a no-brainer experience.
Xel-ha is situated between Tulum and Playa Del Carmen. It is a beautiful water park with a lot of features. You can snorkel, jump from the cliff, swim and zip line.
Tulum Running offers visitors an excellent opportunity to meet other runners and experience Tulum in a different way.
Tulum has more than 20 natural cenotes, but only a few are open to recreational guests for swimming and snorkeling each day – and almost all of these cenotes are at least half a mile from the town. So, how do you identify the best?
What are Cenotes?
Cenotes are natural sinkholes that appear as crystal clear pools of water that drop down into the earth. Many cenotes also feature underground rivers that continue to flow miles underneath all the way to the ocean. The Mayans believed that cenotes were sacred and used them for ceremonies, but not all the Tulum cenotes are underwater. Some of them sit as bodies of water filled with rainwater, but others have obviously collapsed in on themselves and now feature exposed underground rivers where you can swim and snorkel.
The good news is that this collapse makes cenotes ideal for tourists because it means you can do something different while visiting Tulum, and nobody has to swim down into the exposed river without a guide. All you do is take a convenient rendezvous bus ride to your chosen destination, pay the entrance fee, and then you can start your activities.
Gran Cenote is located on the highway to Coba, 5 minutes outside Tulum, making it the most convenient option. It is a dang big cenote and quite majestic.
Dos Ojos features among the three most extended underwater cave systems globally and contains the deepest known cave passage in the area. Dos Ojos is located approximately 50 minutes outside of Tulum.
Sac Actun is much less crowded than Dos Ojos or the Gran Cenote and still just as magnificent. It is relatively close to Dos Ojos and very convenient if you want to check out both on the same day. Sac Actun is located approximately 30 minutes outside of Tulum.
Casa Cenote is an open-air cenote within the mangroves. It is a different experience than the above three. Afternoons are the best time to visit as most of the crowds clear out by the early afternoon. It is also very close to the beach so you can spend a little time at both scenes. Casa Cenote is located approximately 15 minutes outside of Tulum.
LabnaHa provides a full day’s worth of activities. You can hike, zip line, kayak, swim, and snorkel all right here. LabnaHa is located approximately 15 minutes outside of Tulum.
WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT IN TULUM
The Mexican cuisine in Tulum is incredible! There are some excellent places for cheap, local meals. Some are made from fresh produce, including fruit and vegetables that can be bought at the daily markets in town and cooked up for you in various ways. Authentic Mexican cooking takes some getting used to, but it can be tasty if you know what to order and how to prepare it.
The seafood restaurants are a bit of a step up from the local food. The sea urchin is good, though you might not know this if you’ve only had it in sushi form. You can get them in many forms here, including grilled and fried. They’re worth trying if seafood isn’t your thing.
There are often barbecues along the beach where meat is cooked outdoors on wooden skewers over a fire for cooler weather days. It’s not the most nutritious meal but delicious anyway.
The local market in town sells some good food, especially the Thursday night stalls. Wander around and have a look. Alongside the usual selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, there are plenty of delicious local fish and meat dishes to try. Many visitors make it a habit after checking into their hotel to walk to the market for dinner each night, which is very convenient if you don’t want to cook your own dinner after a busy day in Tulum.
You will quickly notice that food along the Beach Zone (like everything else) will be much more expensive. Food in Tulum Pueblo is typically much cheaper and more casual but just as delicious. Many restaurants offer vegetarian options or have a focus on using only locally sourced ingredients. Even those with food restrictions will eat like kings while in this great town.
The food at La Nave is fantastic and considerably less expensive than what you would spend at a similar hotel restaurant along the beach. The pizza is thin, rustic, with an Italian style.
El Camello is well known for its fresh ceviche. It is located on the far end of the main avenue in town but worth the extra walk. You will enjoy great food.
Ki’Bok is famous as the coffee place in town. It offers good coffee, friendly baristas, and a killer wanderlust vibe.
Hartwood is an open-air restaurant lying on the jungle side of Tulum’s beach road. They are best known for their use of farm-to-chef ingredients cooked on the grill or wood-burning oven. With the focus on fresh, local ingredients, the menu changes daily based on ingredients’ availability.
They are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Tunich has mastered the art of breakfast and brunch. Their menu comprises fabulous omelets, waffles, pastries, fresh juices, and smoothies. It is the real deal breakfast, and it is such a nice break from all the American breakfasts and chilaquiles.
Visit Shiva Tulum for North Indian food prepared using tandoor (a clay oven). It has quite an incredible, large open-air palapa lounge with comfy couches and more traditional seating under the stars.
Chacabar is the first restaurant in the new development of Aldea Zama. It is an intimate spot that makes you feel like you are tucked away in the middle of the jungle with a charming and inviting atmosphere. The service is on par with that enchanting atmosphere and only adds to the experience.
Throughout the town, you will find lots of fruit stands and carts selling fresh, local produce. While relaxing on the beach, it is also very likely that you will have children walk up offering you fresh-cut fruit. Enjoy these little treats whenever possible. These products are grown locally, and generally speaking, local farmers do not use pesticides to ensure larger crops.
WHERE TO PARTY IN TULUM
Nightlife in Tulum is always fun, and there are many local spots where you can dance and have a great time. Many of the hotels have bars and run specials throughout the year.
If you want the full experience, then here are some of my favorites:
Batey Mojito and Guarapo Bar
If you go to Batey, you have to get a mojito. They freshly press the sugar cane in a machine converted in the back of an old, brightly painted Volkswagen Beetle in front of the bar. It’s a fun novelty but also makes for a fantastic cocktail. It is a small bar with a great outdoor seating area in the back with live music every night.
Gitano is a mezcal bar and restaurant with a fantastic vibe. Gitano brings the jungle alive, especially on Friday nights when they have local and guest DJs and dancing. Even if dancing’s not your thing, it is still worth going to experience the atmosphere. While inside, you will meet nice lounge-style bench seating, candles, chandeliers, and a disco ball right in the middle of the jungle.
Papaya Playa hosts several parties and is famous for the Full Moon Parties. Plays wonderful music for nice dance moves. It is fun and worth experiencing. If the parties are too much for you, their bar has a nice atmosphere. Head there and catch an evening cocktail as you listen to the waves along the beach.
Popular Drinks in Tulum
Michelada - It is a type of Mexican mixed drink that contains fresh lime juice, peppers, spices, salt or a salty seasoning – assorted sauces (such as soy sauce), Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and beer. Micheladas are served over ice in a glass with a salted rim.
Chelada - A Chelada consists of beer with a salt-based seasoning called a “chelo” (pronounced “keh-lah”), which is made from the juice of the “nigra or limbo” (also known as the malanga fruit and often known as yucca.) The liquid includes the addition of salt, lemon juice, and tomato sauce.
Cuba Libre - A Cuba libre is a cocktail of rum, orange juice, and bitters.
Mezcal - Mezcal is a Mexican alcoholic beverage made from maguey. The agave liquor can be distilled in a similar manner as tequila but differs in its production. It has a smokey flavor and is served with sol de gusano (a particular salt for sipping mezcal) and orange slices.
WHERE TO SHOP IN TULUM
Shopping in Tulum is fantastic because it gives you more of an authentic experience than visiting Cancun or another tourist area. Cancun is so overrun with tourists that you’ll get frustrated if you are looking to shop for souvenirs for loved ones back home.
Tulum is a treasure chest of local handicrafts, including clay pottery, embroidery, woodcarvings, hammocks, and mats. The vendors are present in the center of town on Avenida Tulum. Prices are generally higher than elsewhere, but Tulum is also known for its exceptionally high-quality workmanship, which is worth the splurge. Often handmade in remote workshops, items are sometimes one-of-a-kind, so make sure you bargain before you buy.
It offers various Mexican souvenirs produced by Mexican artisans from throughout the region and Mexico. They have beautiful hand-blown glass pieces, ornate silver jewelry, and mesmerizing beaded artwork.
WELOVE offers apparel and accessories with clever, fun graphic designs. Their products are eco-friendly. You can also get tote-bags, trucker hats, mugs, etc.
Tulum has always been a great place to spend some time away from everyday life and enjoy the great weather. If you want the full Tulum experience, then this is my guide to what to do in Tulum when you are there.