Sun, sand, surf, eat and repeat. If this sounds like your type of vacation, pack light and head to Tulum, an eco-chic tropical paradise set along the Mexican Caribbean on the Yucatan Peninsula. Located approximately two hours and 132 km (82 miles) south of Cancun at the southern end of the Riviera Maya, Tulum has it all—silky white sand beaches sloping into warm azure waters, rustic cabanas to luxurious boutique inns and all-inclusive resorts, cool spas, aquatic adventures, and terrific cuisine.
From ancient Mayan ruins to subterranean limestone caverns ripe for exploration, these are our top picks for sights and experiences in and around Tulum:
Experiences In Tulum
Discover Ancient Mayan Culture
No trip to Tulum is complete without a visit to the Tulum Ruins, one of Mexico’s top archeological sites. Perched on a limestone cliff with magnificent views of the sea, this impressive walled Mayan city was built in the 13th century as a commercial trading port, reaching its zenith in the 1500’s. Wind and time have weathered the remaining structures, once decoratively covered in stucco and pain.
The Castillo, the largest building on the site, served as a temple and fortress. In front of the Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes depicts fresco remnants honoring the Diving God. Overlooking the sea, the Temple of the Winds allegedly served as a hurricane warning system.
Off-season is the best time to visit but, no matter when you go, get there early to avoid the tour buses and midday heat. Take a self-guided tour or hire a trained tour guide at the entrance to learn more about this historic Mayan site. And be sure to bring a bathing suit to cool off with a dip in the sea—there’s a spectacular crescent beach below the cliffs.
Smaller, less crowded, quieter and 20 minutes south of Tulum is where you’ll find Muyil (aka Chunyaxché). Here in this partially- excavated archeological site, you can almost feel the presence of Muyil’s former inhabitants. At 57 feet high, its Castillo is the tallest on the Riviera Maya. Make your way to the boardwalk, a lush pathway (bring bug spray!) that will bring you to a lookout tower offering phenomenal views of the Sian Ka’an lagoons and mangrove forests. For a waterborne adventure, board one of the two-hour boat tours that float down the labyrinth of canals in the fresh water lagoons.
Explore the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Another alternative for accessing the Sian Ka’an Biosphere is the scenic coastal road to Boca Paila Lagoon or Punta Allen. A UNESCO World Heritage Site that spans 1.3 million acres, the reserve’s fragile ecosystem is home to thousands of flora and fauna, a barrier reef containing more than 80 types of coral, four species of marine turtles, manatees, monkeys, and more. Experience the best of Sian Ka’an on a full- or half-day eco tour with excursions ranging cruising the lagoon by boat, snorkeling in the reef, bird watching and even first-rate fly fishing in the saltwater lagoons.
Swim in a Cenote
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula has more than 6,000 cenotes, natural sinkholes fed by the three largest underground rivers in the world. Popular with divers and swimmers alike, these subterranean caverns offer an incredible world of underwater exploration. Located 5 km outside of Tulum on the highway to Coba, Gran Cenote is one of the largest.
Scuba dive, snorkel or simply float in this circular shaped grotto filled with the most incredible stalactites and stalagmites. Thirty minutes north of Tulum is where you’ll find Cenote Dos Ojos (Two Eyes Cenote). Natural light bathes the crystal-clear waters of this natural wonder that boasts one of the longest cave systems in the world at approximately 61 km. The cenote’s Bat Cave is worth exploring (if you’re not chiropterophobic!).
There’s an entrance fee and snorkel gear is available to rent onsite if you need it. Local companies like Ko’ox and Diving Cenotes Tulum offer PADI certification courses and a variety of snorkeling and diving adventures.
Swim with the Dolphins at Xel-Há
Vacationing with the grandkids? The Riviera Maya’s Xel-Há water park offers an unforgettable adventure for all ages. Plan at least a full day to experience Xel-Há’s array of activities and attractions. Within its web of waterways, paths and lagoons, you’ll discover plenty of opportunities for snorkeling, swimming, river tubing and picnicking. Optional activities for an additional price include zip biking, scuba, Sea Trek tours and close-up encounters with manatees and stingrays. And, if you’ve never swam with dolphins, it’s a magical experience interacting playfully with these beautiful, intelligent creatures of the sea.
Get a Mayan Clay Massage
After all that adventuring and/or tanning at the beach, nothing wraps up a Tulum vacation like a rejuvenating spa treatment. For a unique spa experience, reserve a treatment at the Mayan Clay Spa, situated within an exotic jungle garden right off the beach road. This indigenous mineral rich mud has many beautifying and healing benefits. Pamper yourself with the original clay treatment featuring a head-to-toe clay massage, invigorating rinse in a hot shower and natural oil application. The spa menu also includes couples massage, facial, sea salt exfoliation, body wrap and a three-hour, to-die-for detox treatment in the bathhouse utilizing clay, epsom salts, fruit mask and natural oils.