If you’ve been looking into going on an awesome Mexico beach vacation, you’ve probably stumbled across the magical destination of Tulum. Tulum used to be completely off of travelers’ radars, but in the past 15 years, tourism has absolutely exploded! Located just under two hours from Cancun, Tulum is a very accessible beach destination that should definitely be on your bucket list.
Tulum is not just one of the best day trips from Cancun. This former small town has blossomed into one of the top destinations in the Riviera Maya.
This post contains affiliate links through which we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own.
Our Tulum Vlog shows EPIC Cenote shots, Angel getting her nose pierced by a local piercer, and surprising Angel’s family back home!
Best Things to Do in Tulum
Tulum is unique due to its blend of natural and cultural wonders that coexist alongside its modern, boho vibe. There are endless things that we could recommend that you do, but no Tulum trip is long enough to see and do everything that this town has to offer. To plan the perfect Tulum trip, try to at least check out each of these top things to do.
1. Go Swimming in Cenotes
Cenotes (Say-no-tays) are underground, fresh-water-filled natural sinkholes. Some of them are like watering holes and aren’t connected to anything, and others are made up of vast networks of interconnected caves that stretch for miles. Mexico has the vast majority of the world’s cenotes with over 6,000 scattered all over the country, and the majority of those are concentrated on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Each cenote is unique, and some are better than others, but they’re almost all worth a visit. For more information on visiting cenotes, check out the post I wrote about the best Cenotes to visit in Mexico.
Tulum is widely considered one of the two best bases in Mexico for a cenote hopping trip, as there are some really fantastic ones all within an hour drive of Tulum town. We highly recommend visiting Cenote Calavera, the Gran Cenote, and Cenotes Casa Tortuga.
2. Go to the Best Beach Clubs in Tulum
Tulum has a vibe that is unlike any other place in Mexico. While Mexico is filled with incredible white sand beaches and stellar resorts, we personally don’t think anywhere manages beach clubs as well as Tulum. Tulum is very small-business oriented; by that I mean almost everything is a boutique, and almost nothing belongs to a chain. The main road through Tulum Beach is lined by luxury hotel after luxury hotel, and many of the beach clubs along the main beach of Tulum belong to these luxury boutique hotels.
The advantage of this is that you don’t need to stay in an all-inclusive, Cancun-style resort to have a luxury experience. You can stay wherever you like in the Tulum area and visit any beach club on any given day as long as you’re willing to agree to a consumption minimum. Many of the clubs will tell you that you need to spend at least $25 or $50 per person for the day to use the beach club facilities, and if you don’t spend that amount, you’ll be charged the balance. While Tulum does have a public beach, it isn’t nearly as nice as the beach areas with turquoise waters around the boutique hotels.
If you do a little bit of negotiating, you can often get them to drop the minimum amount, especially when you aren’t visiting during high season. We visited during low season and the clubs were desperate for customers, so we got to visit most of the best beach clubs without a minimum expenditure. While having Mexican pesos on hand is always a good idea, most of these clubs accept major credit cards.
Something that really sets the Tulum Ruins apart from many of the other archeological sites in Mexico is the sheer size of the site and its remarkable levels of preservation. While the Tulum Ruins are not a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they are still the most important archaeological site in the whole area. From the top of one area of the ruins, you get an amazing view of the Caribbean, and it’s totally worth the slight climb!
One of the highlights of visiting the Tulum Ruins is how cheap they are compared to many of the other ruins in Mexico. For example, Chichen Itza charges over $25 to enter, while the Tulum Ruins only charges about $4. Beware of the scammers on your way in, as they are plentiful! Tour guide after tour guide will offer to give you a tour, people will offer to let you take pictures with monkeys and iguanas, and “artisans” will be selling goods that are quite possibly made in China.
Just understand that nothing will be free here, and you’ll also get much better prices on everything if you’re not in such a touristy area. If you really enjoy the Tulum Ruins and feel like seeing one of the 7 Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza is only a couple of hours away by bus, too!
4. Experience the Tulum Nightlife
Tulum has awesome nightlife, both in the hotel zone and in Tulum Pueblo. While the town doesn’t have very many clubs, there are a lot of great bars to check out all up and down the main street. We think that the nightlife in the town feels much more relaxed, and out in the hotel zone is where it is a bit wilder. In either area, there is a good chance that you will encounter live music, either of Mexican or international variety. There are also really great happy hours all throughout the town and the beach area, and you can really save money by hitting some of the best deals at these places’ happy hours to get your margaritas and mezcalitas 2 for 1!
5. Take all the Necessary Tulum Instagram Pictures
Tulum is one of the most Instagrammable places in Mexico, if not the most. The influx of young, free-spirited travelers has led to a unique style in all of Tulum, and countless eye-catching places have popped up as a result. One thing that a lot of people feel the need to do when they visit Tulum is visit the slew of places that are constantly trending on Instagram and take their pictures there. The most famous of these places is probably the big sculpture of a man made out of a tree, but there are so many others that you’d probably like to check out, like swings dangling over the water, palm trees lining the road, and a sign that says stay present (which is literally our motto).
6. Check out Sfer Ik Museum at Azulik
Sfer Ik is a very popular multidisciplinary museum located near the hotel zone that uses its proceeds to fund local social development projects in areas like education and the environment. The museum is very small and only runs a couple of exhibitions at a time but is worth a quick visit during your Tulum trip!
The whole Azulik resort has a no-shoes policy, so you will be required to take off your shoes before you can enter. While you’re there, you can head to the rooftop restaurant and bar, Kin Toh. If you plan on visiting the restaurant, be prepared that there is a smart casual dress code and reservations are strongly suggested.
Like most of Tulum, the restaurant is not cheap, but it is widely considered to have some of the finest food in Tulum. They serve a unique fusion of cuisines, and a foodie would definitely enjoy it!
7. Eat or Drink on a Swing
This is something that Tulum very quickly became famous for. Around the town and the hotel zone, you can find several great restaurants and bars that have swings as seats. This makes for a very relaxing atmosphere while you’re sipping a happy hour cocktail or chowing down on a good Mexican meal. One of the best places to do this is Matcha Mama, which is a famous place for acai bowls and smoothies. You’ll literally find places all over the town with these seats, and they’re a really cool experience! If you’re in the mood for a drink, we recommend trying a Mezcalita – A margarita made with mezcal instead of tequila. You can get these all over town, but one great place for them is La Malquerida.
8. Visit the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a nature reserve located just to the south of Tulum. The name translates to “Gate of Paradise” and is regarded as one of the most serene places to visit in the Yucatán Peninsula. You can take a guided tour from Tulum to the reserve, and many visitors choose to go on boat tours from Punta Allen once they get there.
How to Get to Tulum
Getting to Tulum is very straightforward, but a little bit of coordination goes a long way. Currently, the closest airport to Tulum is Cancun International Airport (CUN). This is one of the busiest airports in all of Mexico, which means that there are a ton of international direct flights all over the world. The only busier airport in all of Mexico is in Mexico city. If you’re coming from anywhere in North America, Europe, or Latin America, odds are you’ll only have one layover, if any.
In recent years, local authorities have approved plans to open a new airport within Tulum itself. While this airport will be incredibly convenient, there is a good chance it will not open until 2024 or later.
How to Get Around Tulum Safely
UBER | TAXI | CAR | BIKE | COLECTIVO
Where to Stay in Tulum
When you look at traveling to Tulum, you’ll very quickly notice that you have two very different choices for where to stay: the town center and the beach zone. Tulum is divided, as the town itself sits a few kilometers off of the beach and is totally separate from the beachy hotel zone.
Both areas are awesome, and you’ll definitely wind up visiting each one during your stay, but picking where to set up camp is a fairly involved decision to make. Either area could be the perfect place for you, depending on what you plan to do.
Staying in the town is almost always cheaper and places you very close to a bunch of restaurants and stores, but leaves you a 30-minute bike ride or 15-minute taxi ride from the best beaches. Most of the budget hotels are located in and around Tulum town, and there are very few affordable options closer to the water.
Staying in the hotel zone is costly, as the beachfront hotel prices are usually very steep. Many of these small hotels operate like inclusive resorts, and guests pay a premium for the deluxe amenities, like a gym, room service, and a hot tub. Most of the top yoga retreats are hosted in beachfront hotels, which is part of what makes them so expensive.
Neither place is better than the other across the board. The boutique hotels in the hotel zone are beautiful and would be a great place to stay if you don’t mind paying their high prices or being detached from the town. There are plenty of local restaurants in the area, too, so you won’t really be needing anything if you stay there. However, I’d really only recommend staying near the beach if you’re looking predominantly for a beach vacation.
If your Tulum itinerary is going to include checking out some of the other great things to do in the area, like some ancient Mayan ruins and the Grand Cenote, I recommend staying in the town.
This applies to most people on their first trip to Tulum. Many of our favorite restaurants and favorite places to shop are located within the town, and the central location makes exploring the surrounding area much easier, as the cenotes and ruins will be half as far away.
We have stayed in both areas, and we have had great experiences with both.
The Best Restaurants in Tulum
1. Prieto for Breakfast or Coffee
$$$ | Healthy Food
This place is awesome. I am a cold brew fiend, and they serve strong, high-quality cold brew in a glass decanter. While my fondest memory of the place is their coffee, their breakfast food is also fantastic! The acai bowls were incredible, their salmon and lox bagel was great, and we have not had a single bad thing in the several times we’ve visited. It’s located right in the middle of town and is a surefire great place to grab a bite to eat.
2. Aldo’s for Premium Gelato
$$ | Dessert
Aldo’s serves some of the best gelato we’ve ever had outside of Italy. They have several locations throughout Mexico’s Caribbean coast, and we’ve been to the ones in Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Every flavor we’ve had is just fantastic, and you really can’t go wrong. They manage to make the perfect creamy gelato, and there is no better way to cool off from a hot Tulum day than some Aldo’s gelato before taking a dip in an outdoor pool.
3. Matcha Mama for Smoothie Bowls
$$ | Açai Bowls
I’m mixed on this one and am mostly only recommending it because of its popularity. Matcha Mama is a cute place with a couple of locations in Tulum that serves smoothies and smoothie bowls. Don’t get me wrong; the bowls here were great. It’s just that they’re super expensive, the portions are small, and they aren’t any better than the ones served at Prieto.
Matcha Mama is one of the most Instagrammed spots in all of Tulum and has swings to eat on, but I’d say that you’re going and paying for the vibe, not necessarily the quality of the food.
4. Del Cielo for Breakfast or Brunch in Tulum Town
$$ | Healthy Food
Del Cielo is a popular breakfast spot located right in the heart of Tulum Pueblo. Visitors always rave about the food, and for good reason! Del Cielo uses very fresh ingredients, and its menu is loaded with delicious options. The prices at Del Cielo are pretty pricey, but it is still worth visiting at least once.
5. La Malquerida for a Meal in Town
$ | Mexican
This place is nothing too special, but it offers consistently good Mexican food. We have been here a handful of times now and have been satisfied each time. The outdoor tables have swing seats, too, which is a great added bonus! You really can’t go wrong with anything here, and they do have a happy hour special that provides some cheap eats and affordable drinks.
The Best Time to Visit Tulum
As a beach town, Tulum experiences a wide range of weather patterns throughout the year. The best time to visit Tulum is when you will experience the best weather, which is right before or after the rainy season. The rainy season in Tulum runs from June through October, and it is best to visit outside of these months.
Another important factor to consider is sargassum seaweed. Sargassum is an ugly breed of seaweed that washes up on the shores of Mexico’s Caribbean coast every year. This tends to appear between April and September each year.
For the best weather and the prettiest beaches, I recommend visiting Tulum in late October or in March. The summer is the warmest, but there is more rain and seaweed all over the beaches. In November, you can still enjoy a warm day on the beach and get a tan.
Is Tulum Worth Visiting?
As one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Mexico, it’s fair to say that Tulum has built a strong reputation for itself. Really though, is Tulum worth visiting? I think the answer to this question heavily depends on what you want to do while you’re in Mexico. If you want pristine beaches, great food, parties, and trendy cenotes, the Tulum is likely the place for you. There really is no better place for this, as Tulum absolutely smokes Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and the Oaxaca beaches in these categories.
If you want a more laid-back environment, though, that still has cenotes, great food, and fun activities, I recommend checking out either Valladolid or Merida. For more information on these cities, be sure to read my Valladolid travel guide and Merida travel guide.
Our Final Tips for Visiting Tulum
That’s all we have for you about Tulum! Hopefully this ultimate Tulum travel guide helps you to plan the perfect Tulum trip. If you have any questions, drop a comment below!