A Comprehensive Tulum Travel Guide
Tulum, a premium Mexican destination on Riviera Maya, is a tourist hotspot as it offers many activities such as nightlife, cenotes, beaches, shopping, and Mayan ruins. Read our curated travel guide on the best things to do in Tulum, top attractions, must-visit sights, tips on where to stay and eat, when to visit, what to pack, how to get to Tulum, how to get around, and how to stay safe. Everything you need to know before visiting Tulum is in this post.
We do not know a traveler who would have voluntarily decided to skip Tulum when in Mexico.
We traveled to Mexico via Guatemala and Belize, therefore the Yucatan Peninsula and Quintana Roo state was a logical stop on our itinerary. We did not even think of not visiting Tulum, not because of the beaches and swimming in the sea, but because we knew the destination has other qualities as well.
For us, it was important that from Tulum we could visit famous Mayan ruins, cool down in cenotes, admire native flora and fauna, and eat tacos, and all of that on our budget.
Once a small fishing village has been recently discovered by both luxury travelers and backpackers, so nowadays, you can find in Tulum a mix of eco-yoga-hipster retreats and small party hostels, and the same goes with restaurants, bars, and shops.
Have we enjoyed our time in Tulum?
Yes, we have, but paradoxically not because of the main highlight, the beaches, but because the town is a great base for visiting top attractions and for experiencing a ton of things to see and do, and doing one-day trips from Tulum.
In this ultimate travel guide, you can read more about the best things to do in Tulum, so you can plan your itinerary better, we share tips on how to get around, when to visit, where to stay, and other useful information.
No matter if you plan your one-week holiday or a month-long road trip, we want to inspire you to spend some time in Tulum, this small town will surely take you by surprise how much it offers.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN TULUM
Although the small town of Tulum is primarily the beach destination, except for lazing on the white sand beaches, there are many other things to do, so even travelers who prefer to spend a day more actively will enjoy the place.
Especially thanks to the top attractions to see and do in Tulum we evaluate our time on Riviera Maya positively, because honestly, we found beaches in Tulum pretty disappointing.
Here's a list of the best things you can do in Tulum, and best one-day trips possible taking from Tulum, because the town's surroundings are dotted with many must-visit places, which are fortunately well accessible.
It is not possible to write a travel guide about Tulum and not to mention beaches first.
Tulum for long has been known as a beach destination with pristine beaches, beautiful turquoise ocean, and idyllic atmosphere.
Honestly, had we arrived in Tulum simply for the beaches, we would have been very disappointed.
The town and overall Riviera Maya has been lately having troubles with seaweed which piles up on the beaches.
Yes, the sand is still fine and white, but to get to the sea, you must walk across a thick line of smelly seaweed.
Apparently, people still sunbath on the beach, but as our standards for pristine beaches are quite high after visiting the Galapagos Islands or Langkawi in Malaysia, after one walk along the coast, we did not have a single reason to come back, and I even did not force myself to go to the water.
The problem is seasonal, sometimes the situation is better and sometimes it is worse, also private hotel beaches are much better than public ones, but still, we must say it aloud, beaches in Tulum get thumbs down from us.
If you are looking for nightlife, shopping, a place to eat or a bar to have a drink, despite its size, Tulum offers travelers plenty of it.
Do not expect here any architectural gems or authentic atmosphere, but the center of Tulum offers enough to keep you happy for a couple of days.
Our favorite activity to do in Tulum was visiting Tulum Ruins.
Although small and crowded, the ruins perched on the top of a cliff overlooking the sea are very photogenic, and you can easily spend here two to three hours wandering around the site.
Except for the views, it is also wonderful to watch closely ruins, and learn more about the site history.
The best time to visit the ruins is early morning when it is not that hot, and you will beat tours arriving from other resort towns such as Cancun or Playa del Carmen.
Tulum ruins are not far from the town's center, to know more about how to get to the ruins, and what to expect, read our in-depth post.
Tulum has lately become a popular yoga retreat. If this is what interests you, it is pretty easy to find yoga classes in one of many studios in the town or right in the hotels.
We took a yoga class in San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, and believe us, there is no more laidback and meditative place where you can practice yoga, and contemplate your thoughts than near the ocean in a tropical paradise.
The Yucatan Peninsula is famous for cenotes.
Are you wondering what a cenote is?
It is a limestone cave filled with underground water or rainwater which back in times served as a sacred place, nowadays it is possible to swim in those easily accessible water holes.
Some cenotes are underground, some are open because the ceiling collapsed during centuries, but they have one in common - they are absolutely stunning.
There are more than 6000 cenotes only on the peninsula so in case your Mexico itinerary is packed to the brim, you still can swim in cenotes for example near Valladolid or Merida, in case you won't make it to Tulum's cenotes, but it would be for sure a shame, because Tulum has some of the most beautiful ones.
Among the most popular cenotes in the area belong Gran Cenote, Cenote Azul or Dos Ojos Cenotes.
All of them are easily accessible from Tulum either by colectivos or with tours.
Visiting Xel-Ha, a large aquapark is a popular activity among families with kids, but we believe every water lover will enjoy the day filled with sun, water slides and good food and drinks.
The entrance fee (around $80) is not the cheapest, but you will get a lot of fun and great services for your money.
If you've ever been to Tikal in Guatemala, you might find Coba ruins a bit similar, because they are also located in the jungle, among trees and roots.
The most popular way how to explore Coba ruins is cycling because the grounds are pretty large, but we walked around, and it was not somehow challenging either.
No visit of Coba ruins is complete without taking a short side trip to three cenotes nearby - they are more secluded, therefore not that busy such as swimming holes closer to Tulum, and it is also a perfect way how to cool down after wandering around Mayan pyramids all morning.
Sian Kaan Nature Reserve
A biosphere reserve is renowned for its natural beauty, and the good news is, that it is only a short drive from Tulum.
Inside the reserve, you can see thousands of species of flora and fauna which is best to be seen with a guide who knows the area and can point out the most interesting animals, trees, mangroves or flowers.
The most famous Mayan ruin not only in Mexico but also in the world can be visited literally from every single city and town on the Yucatan Peninsula, and Tulum is no exception.
We decided to travel to Chichen Itza from Valladolid because it is nearby, and the city fitted in our itinerary, but you can take either public transport, a tour, or travel by rental car to the ruins from Tulum as well.
Chichen Itza is simply a sight you must see by yourself, and no photograph will prepare you for the grandeur, and the way how Maya people were able to work with the stone.
Only thirty minutes drive from Tulum is notoriously known Akumal beach, where you can swim with turtles. Officially, there is no entrance fee, and you should be able to walk freely to the beach, but we've heard that touts are forcing tourists to pay for the entrance.
Politely refuse, and walk through Akumal Dive Shop to the beach.
Here, you can decide whether you will take a short boat tour which will take you to the open sea a bit further away from the shore, or you can swim in the sea independently, and look for turtles on own.
It is possible to rent snorkeling gear, buy it in a local shop or bring your own.
If you do not plan on traveling from Tulum further south to the borders with Belize, you can consider taking a one-day trip to Lake Bacalar, one of the most beautiful blue lakes we've ever seen, ok, maybe right after the lakes in the Canadian Rockies, where the mountains around enhance the dramatic effect.
For sure, Lake Bacalar was a worthwhile stop on our itinerary.
You can choose from quite a lot of water activities to do in Bacalar, but there is also an option just to sit on a jetty, soak up the views and enjoy the sunshine.
BEST ONE-DAY TOURS FROM TULUM
Yucatan Peninsula is rich in Mayan ruins, beautiful beaches or cenotes, and the great thing about Tulum is that it can be your base for exploring the area deeper.
Although we prefer to travel independently and on a budget (when possible), we know that for some people can be this travel style uncomfortable (which often is), and time-consuming.
In case you want to see more Yucatan Peninsula has to offer, we've handpicked the best one-day tours from Tulum, so you won't have to arrange anything, and simply enjoy the moments.
WHERE TO STAY IN TULUM
When looking for accommodation in Tulum, you must first narrow down your priorities.
Do you want to stay in a resort with all-inclusive services with the ocean view?
Great news, there are plenty of hotels matching this description, only these hotels are a bit more expensive.
In case you are looking for budget accommodation, no worries. Tulum also has a large selection of hotels, or hostels for backpackers.
We've handpicked three best places for every type of traveler.
Budget | Nativos Tulum Hotel Boutique - Perfectly-located hotel close to many bars and restaurants features an outdoor swimming pool, garden, shared lounge, stable wifi, and continental breakfast.
Mid-range | Azura Boutique Hotel - Beautifully appointed rooms with a kitchen and modern furniture, stunning rooftop, and helpful staff are the chief reasons why to stay in this moderately priced hotel.
Luxury | Dune Boutique Hotel - An exceptional boutique hotel offers the best, you can get for the price in Tulum. The hotel is situated right on the beach, the rooms are comfortable and spacious, there is a large selection of food at breakfast, and an outdoor swimming pool is lovely.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
WHERE TO EAT IN TULUM
Tulum lives out of tourism, and you can be sure that you won't be hungry when in the town.
There are so many restaurants and small bistros, that you can literally go every day to a different place try yet another tortilla, tacos or burritos.
Unless you have a full board in your hotel, to find the largest selection of restaurants and cocktail bars, head to Cancun - Chetumal street which is on both sides dotted with many businesses offering food and drinks in different price ranges.
For cheaper eateries, we found a couple of nice places on Avenida Satelite.
HOW TO GET AROUND TULUM
Tulum is quite a small town, so getting around on foot is for sure doable, depending on where you stay.
Except for walking, the most popular way how to get around Tulum is on a bike.
You will find bike rental shops literally everywhere, even many hotels and hostels in the area offer their own bikes for guests, so shop around to get the best rate.
With a bike, you can not only travel around Tulum but also reach some of the top attractions such as Tulum Ruins or cenotes close to the city.
Mexico, in general, is often explored by rental car.
In case you will make Tulum your base for several days and do not need a car for your whole holiday, it is fine to rent a car in Tulum only for a couple of days to be more independent, and to visit for example to Bacalar, Playa del Carmen, or Chichen Itza. Always ask first in your accommodation about the parking situation, because parking lots are either limited, or fairly expensive.
The last option how to get around Tulum or to the nearby sights is to either jump on a bus (colectivo) which is circling the city, or flag down a cab, which should not be a problem as there are way too many taxi drivers in Tulum (no Uber), only remember to agree on a price before you sit in the car.
HOW TO GET TO TULUM
Tulum is Mexico's top tourist destination, and getting to the city has never been easier.
We were pretty impressed by the level of Mexico's public transport.
Most of the time we traveled by ADO buses which serve the biggest part of the country, and these buses are frequent on Riviera Maya, so we did not have any issue to get from one place to another, for example from Bacalar to Tulum or from Tulum to Playa del Carmen or Cancun. If you plan on traveling during the high season, we recommend you to buy a bus ticket at least one day before the departure date to ensure there will be a seat available.
Roads in this part of Mexico are well maintained, so traveling by rental car is very easy, even on longer distances.
WHEN TO VISIT TULUM & WHAT TO PACK
Tulum is best to be visited between November and April which is the dry season, and during this time you can expect blue skies, warm temperatures (it can be sometimes chilly at night), and least amount of rain, but prices are also skyrocketing, especially in December, January and then during Holy Week.
The rainiest, but also hottest months are July, August, and September, but no worries, it usually downpours for a couple of hours, and then the weather should clear.
We traveled in Mexico in May, which is the shoulder season, and although it was at times maybe too hot than we would have found comfortable, we cannot complain at all. Tulum is usually free of international travelers between June and September, but keep in mind that from the end of June to the end of August are school holidays in Mexico, so Tulum is flooded during this time of the year with local families with kids, and although rates are cheaper, they are still not that low as they should be during offseason.
In general, to get the right combination of lower prices, fewer crowds, and pleasant weather, the best months to visit Tulum are November, April, and May.
Water temperature is similarly enjoyable all year round (it is a bit warmer between June and October), but Tulum and Riviera Maya in general recently have been having a problem with seaweed, especially closer to the end of tourist season, which we found pretty disgusting.
As you will spend most of your time in Tulum near the water or inland exploring ruins, here are several items you should pack with you for visiting this destination:
HOW TO STAY SAFE IN TULUM
Even though you can often read about Mexico that it is not a safe destination for travelers, we had a quite different experience.
There are indeed some less safe parts of the country, for example, close to the borders with the USA or the road between Palenque and San Cristobal de las Casas is better to be avoided, but we found the most touristy places extremely safe, even after dark.
When talking specifically about Tulum, it is a small town where it is safe to walk anytime of the day, and even solo female travelers should feel here completely comfortable.
Thefts are opportunistic, as always watch your belongings, and when going to the beach, it is better to keep your valuables in a room.
Tulum is not only a resort town, but also a town for backpackers, so you can meet in the center quite many people even after dark.
It is recommended to pay attention to your surroundings all the time, walk on a well-lit streets and always remember that alcohol can make you more vulnerable.
IS TULUM FOR BUDGET TRAVELERS?
Quite many posts were written about how expensive Tulum is, mostly because it is so popular among American travelers, who do not mind splurging on their holidays, but on the other hand, we did not have a problem to travel on the Yucatan Peninsula on a considerably low budget
I think we visited all the major sights, and although we had to pay for the entrance fees or bus tickets, we were able to meet our daily budget.
Even when limited by money, we stayed within walking distance from a beach (we must note here, that we do not mind walking a kilometer or two to get somewhere), we did shopping in a local grocery store, and prepared breakfast and dinner in our hotel room with a kitchenette, and we had lunch in a local eatery every day.
We usually do not go out for a drink, so if this sounds like your travel style, we believe you should be ok in Tulum.
Of course, if you require a higher level of comfort, and eating in upscale restaurants, expect prices like in the USA or Europe.
HOW MANY DAYS IS ENOUGH TO SPEND IN TULUM
If you are a beach bum, you only have to ask yourself how many days you need to feel well-rested.
Normally, people spend in Tulum anything between three to seven days.
If you made it to the very end of this post, you have an idea there are plenty of things to see and do in Tulum and its vicinity, so it is only up to you how many top sights and must-see places you will put on your itinerary.
For us, it was enough to spend three days in Tulum, mostly because we spent literally zero time on the beach, and dedicated our time to exploring ruins and cenotes instead.
TRAVEL INSURANCE - SIMPLE & FLEXIBLE
We never leave our home without travel insurance which is designed to help cover your expenses if something goes wrong on your trip. World Nomads Travel Insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, to cover your trip essentials.
Travel smarter and safer!