When destinations rise to iconic status, sometimes their reputation doesn’t match the output. But even as Tulum continues to shed its status as an idyllic coastal village, it remains as spectacular as you’ve envisioned.
Facing east, the days start early in Tulum. The sun rises above the white sand beaches, its light searing through the translucent water. With such perfect weather, you can begin exploring the things to do in Tulum at dawn, and you’ll want to make the most of each hour.
Travelers will have their choice of a tranquil paradise experience, sunbathing on the golden sand. Yet behind you, others will be heading to ancient ruins on their bikes or making use of Tulum’s position to visit an envious number of natural landmarks.
18. Kaan Luum Lagoon
An exotic alternative to the white sand beaches of Tulum is the Kaan Luum Lagoon. For a small fee you can enter the vast blue lagoon, which apparently is laced with a magical aura, and enjoy an invigorating afternoon.
Along the water’s edge are swings and hammocks to relax on. For an even better view, the shore has a tower that you can walk up, but it’s the calm electric blue water that is the main attraction. There is a large swimming area to wade in the balmy elements, but for scuba divers there’s a vast drop off to explore.
17. Xel-Há Water Park
After a brief drive north along the coast, you’ll arrive at the brilliant Xel-Ha Water Park. Another of the peninsula’s famed nature-slash-theme parks, Xel Ha, is a popular attraction among families.
The park is based around a large rocky inlet and features plenty of history alongside its aquatic-based activities. Xel-Ha is an archaeological site that, according to the Mayans, was where water was born. The inlet was also later used as a Spanish settlement.
Visitors can snorkel around the lagoon alongside colorful fish, stingrays, and barracudas. You can go for a hike, explore the jungle, and caves or see it all from above on a zipline.
16. Go Biking
If there’s one thing the paradisaical Tulum and cold Amsterdam have in common, it’s a love of bicycles. First timers to Tulum will immediately notice the swath of bikes along the coast and throughout downtown. It’s a fun and pleasant way to get from A to B and to explore off the beaten path. A bike is also necessary for those staying in the downtown area.
There are several large bike lanes that run between the heart of town and the beautiful beaches. A number of smaller tracks lead into the surrounding hills. Avenida Coba is a road with a bike lane that heads to the Coba Ruins.
Ola Bike Tulum and Paolo are two popular bike rental shops in Downtown Tulum. Ola Bike will even deliver them to your hotel.
15. Ven a la Luz
For photographers, the Ven a la Luz is often at the top of the Tulum bucket list. The giant wooden sculpture is located Ahau Tulum’s public art park that has a number of amazing pieces.
Daniel Popper designed the famous sculpture that stands at 33 feet tall and features rope, wood, steep, and greenery. The sculpture features a woman who has spread open her chest. Within is an entrance filled with lush foliage and supposed to showcase the connection between humanity and nature while drumming up attention for the delicate ecosystems around Tulum.
It’s an incredible work of art that stands at the forefront of Tulum’s many photo hot spots.
14. Cenotes Sac Actun
Featuring an elaborate underwater world of caves and tunnels, Cenotes Sac Actun could be the largest of its kind on earth. The incredible labyrinth combines to cover 215 miles.
The cenote was only discovered towards the end of the 20th century, in 1987. But surveyors quickly gave the cenote its famous reputation. Visitors, however, will only explore a relatively small part of Sac Actun across the standard 90-minute guided tour.
The tour includes snorkel gear to explore the caves and dangling stalactites. Visitors will also learn about the history of the site and Mayan archaeology that was discovered here.
13. Muyil Archaeological Site
If you had to visit one of the two dozen Mayan sites near the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, the Muyil Pyramid would be the one. The Muyil Archaeological Site dates back to 350 BC and is placed along a vital trade route that led all the way to Coba.
The pyramid is steps away from the Sian Ka’an Lagoon and is a sight to behold. To reach the location, you’ll first walk along a raised boardwalk that takes you through dense jungle and over the marshland. The main site is called El Castillo and stands at over 55 feet tall.
You can learn all about the site, which was inhabited until the 16th century, thanks to a series of informative signs. There is also a tower you can climb for spectacular views.
12. Bar hop in Downtown Tulum
To experience the true height of the nightlife in Tulum, explore the downtown district on your own bar crawl. You could stick to the bars that line the beach, but there’s something enchanting about the mass of establishments in Downtown Tulum.
The charming bars have a wonderfully chaotic energy after dark. With more residents enjoying a drink than other parts of town, it feels more local, and the prices are certainly kinder to your wallet.
Bars to add to your crawl include Pasito Tun Tun for Mezcal cocktails, Ki-Bok for their rooftop terrace and Kiki for the ultimate Tulum nightclub experience, but it’s Batey Mojito and Guarapo Bar that is the heart of the downtown party scene. Come for fresh mojitos and stay for the live music.
11. Swim with Turtles in Akumal
About 30 minutes north of Tulum is another gorgeous coastal town, Akumal. Along with its spellbinding white sand beaches, Akumal is known for its abundance of sea turtles.
The short trip from Tulum allows you to swim alongside the majestic creatures, away from the cenotes and out in the spectacular Caribbean Sea. Several tours leave from Tulum and Akumal. Travelers can also venture out with their own snorkel gear.
The Akumal turtles are mostly found within the local protected bay. There is an offshore reef that mitigates any swell and allows for easy swimming with plenty of turtles meandering through the colorful sea.
10. Go Kitesurfing
With turquoise water as blue as the sky above, Tulum was made for water sports. From kayaking to stand up paddle boarding, the list is varied and long, but the consistent winds that flow along the Yucatan Peninsula making kitesurfing the best of the lot.
The moderate swell close to the golden sand shore suggests the coast was designed purely for the exhilarating sport. Local beaches offer several rental outfits that will get you kitted out and ready to embark on an adventure. The balmy waters and simple waves make Tulum the perfect spot to learn this new skill. The establishments often combine your rental with an hour-long lesson that will get newbies up to speed.
9. Punta Laguna Nature Reserve
Forty miles north of Tulum exists an opportunity to get up close with one of the most fascinating animals in the region, spider monkeys. Punta Laguna Nature Reserve is home to a range of thrilling wildlife, but there’s something about watching these critters swing through the canopy that captures your attention.
As you walk through the park, you’ll hear the rustle the leaves. The monkeys move about in plain sight, providing ample evidence that there’s plenty of life out there. Alongside monkeys, the reserve is home to colorful giant lizards and a wide range of birds. Punta Laguna also features a protected population of pumas. However, they’re in a fenced sanctuary.
Other activities to do include abseiling into a cenote and ziplining across the lake.
8. Aktun-Chen Park
Another of the amazing eco-parks along the Yucatan, Aktun-Chen Park, combines forests and caves for a memorable outdoor adventure. While other parks have artificial sections and enthralling rides, Aktun-Chen keeps things all natural.
Within the park, you can tour the cave on foot, venturing deep underground for over half a mile. You can learn all about how it was created with the cave creating dramatic lightscapes against the jade-green water. Afterwards, chuck on some snorkeling equipment and explore the underground water system, seeing just how far it extends.
Visitors can spend some time walking around Aktun-Chen on the many paths. There is also a small zoo that’s home to the delightful spider monkeys. To complete the experience, zoom through the canopy on a zipline ride.
7. Shop till you drop
It’s not all sunbathing and ruins in Tulum. In fact, the seaside community is a fun place to indulge in a little retail therapy. If you need a change of pace from your many adventures, then prepare to shop till you drop.
There are two major shopping areas in Tulum, those are Tulum Town and Tulum Beach. The former is the cultural heart of town. Away from the tourist areas, it’s a place where local commerce thrives, and life continues on as it always has. It’s a top spot for authentic cuisine and offers rows of stalls, but prepare to haggle.
Tulum Beach has more Western-style shops and eclectic boutiques selling traditional and modern clothing. Popular stores include La Troupe, Arte Sano and Wanderlust.
6. Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
The translation of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve should make all travelers giddy with excitement. The reserve translates to gate to heaven, providing you with a glimpse of the resplendent beauty that awaits.
Sian Ka’an became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and covers an immense section of the Yucatan Peninsula. Within this varied ecosystem, which includes saltwater lagoons and dense mangroves, are over 300 bird species, stunning flora, and fauna, along with colorful reefs and almost two dozen Mayan historical sites.
A tour is the best way to see the highlights of the enormous park in a single day. Visitors should also take time to explore beautiful water home to tropical fish, dolphins, turtles, and manatees.
5. Cobá Ruins
Coba is an ancient settlement that dates back as far as 50 BC. However, its heyday wasn’t for several centuries, when the Mayans developed a community of around 50,000 people between the 6th and 10th centuries. It was during this era, known as the Middle and Late Classic period, that several breathtaking structures were complete.
Today, visitors can make their way to the Coba Ruins to see the Nohoch Mul Pyramid, Coba Stelae and Conjunto de Pinturas. They form what is now a sprawling historical site, so large you should consider renting a bike for the day.
The buildings provide invaluable insight into the city of Coba, including societal roles, clothing, and religion. The pyramid is the highlight and rises over 130 feet above.
4. Gran Cenote
Featuring a pair of caves that are half submerged, Gran Cenote is one of the most popular local dive sites. It’s not too far from Tulum making it easy to access and the cenote is particularly loved by traveling families. Gran Cenote is gorgeous but isn’t an elaborate labyrinth, making it easy to explore.
Visitors can make use of the snorkeling gear and life jackets provided at the entrance. Once you’re strapped up and ready to go, you can float along the still surface enjoying vast clarity beneath the water.
It won’t just be you and fellow travelers exploring Gran Cenote. Within the caves, you may be able to spot the resident bats, while beneath the water, you’ll find turtles going from A to B.
3. Playa Paraiso
The Yucatan Peninsula is no stranger to stunning white sand beaches. Those traveling to Tulum will have several nearby, with Playa Paraiso being the best of them. Between the swaying palms and the turquoise Caribbean Sea, the sand is so snow-like it could be found at Whistler.
The famous beach helped to put Tulum on the map. In fact, it’s also been rated as one of, if not the best beach in the country. As soon as you step onto the beach and the sand dances between your toes, you’ll understand why. From your spot on the public beach, you’ll have splendid views and calm water to play in.
The beach is free to access, but if you want to splash some cash, there are two beach clubs that offer loungers along with food and beverages.
2. Cenotes Dos Ojos
Of the many cenotes around Tulum, Cenotes Dos Ojos is one of the easiest to access. The intriguing natural landmark is only 20 minutes from town and if you like, you can simply jump in a taxi or collectivo (small vans) and arrive shortly after.
There isn’t just one cenote to experience here. Cenotes Dos Ojos has a total of seven underwater caverns to explore. After paying the entrance fee, you’re free to roam and snorkel through. There are even two cenotes that connect to each other via a passageway.
Snorkelers can enjoy Dos Ojos’ translucent water, with the stalactites dangling from above and the stalagmite shining through the water below. You can also scuba dive here. First timers can sign up for a tour, which will include certification.
1. Tulum Archaeological Site
Alongside beaches at the top of the list of reasons to visit Tulum, is the town’s incredible history. Such is the preservation of many iconic ruins that much of Tulum is a living museum. At the forefront of this is the Tulum Archaeological Site.
The ruins sit on a large swath of land on the peninsula just outside of downtown. Visitors will find a multitude of ancient temples and monuments that provide an exceptional example of the Mayan culture during the Classic period. These structures were originally built as early as the 6th century.
Visitors should arrive at the site when it opens at 8am. This is a great way to explore before the crowds arrive. As you wonder, keep an eye out for iguanas lazing in the early morning sun.