Surrounded by rainforest, ancient archaeological monuments, and subterranean lakes. Tulum is one of the most representative regions of the Riviera Maya due to its prodigious nature and unexplored beaches. In this article, you will find out what we think are the best things to do in Tulum.
It was once just a small quiet fishing village located on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, where tranquility and connection with the ocean are two elements inherent in this archaeological jewel. The bohemian and rustic aspect that characterizes Tulum is its main attraction, which, accompanied by lush jungles and an indigenous heritage, makes up an ideal destination for an unforgettable vacation.
Tulum is located 70 kilometers from the touristic heart of the Riviera Maya and all of Quintana Roo: Playa del Carmen. With easy access from this central place, Tulum is specifically located inside the Tulum National Park, a space dedicated to ecotourism and animal preservation. History, culture and marine diversity are elements that stand out in this Mexican region. It is known worldwide, as the most photogenic place of Quintana Roo for its great archaeological zone at the edge of the sea. Creations that dates back to 1000 AD as fortresses built by the Mayan tribes that lived there.
If you are planning a vacation to Tulum or the Riviera Maya then keep reading to find out what to do in Tulum.
No matter if you are looking for a quiet relaxing vacation or in the mood for adventure and exploration, Tulum will have you covered. There are tons of things to do in Tulum, and you can easily find fun and activities for any kind of vacation. And what better way to do it than in the beautiful nature and surroundings of Tulum.
What Are The Best Things To Do In Tulum?
Coastal and jungle archaeological ruins, charming beaches, reserved areas and crystal clear cenotes are the main tourist attractions of Tulum, in the Riviera Maya. So, here’s a list of the best things to do in Tulum and the best places to visit in Tulum. There is no particular order as the top choice always depends on what you like to do.
Visit the Archaeological Zone of Tulum
This archaeological site located in front of the sea in the Riviera Maya is one of the most photographed places in all of Mexico. This is due to the beautiful contrast that takes place between the remaining ruins and the radiant Caribbean sea.
The main building of the complex is El Castillo, which was an astronomical observatory and a lighthouse that helped the Mayan navigators to get around the Great Reef located a few meters from the coast.
El Castillo is located on a cliff from where you can appreciate the crystal clear waters of the sea. On Sundays, access to this rocky building is free and the view from its summit at dusk is usually the best scenario to immortalize in a photograph as millions have done before you.
Other important constructions of the Archaeological Zone of Tulum are the Palace, a residential building of the political and religious elite of the walled city of Tulum. The Temple of the Descending God named after a figure located at the door that seems to descend from the sky. The third one is the Temple of the Frescos. There are paintings in the Temple of the Frescos of some fabulous beings. This suggests that the Mayan artists had a great imagination or realized the works under the effects of some hallucinogen.
Visit the Coba Archaeological Zone
Located 47 km from the municipal head of Tulum, nestled in the jungle of Quintana Roo, is this archaeological site in which the Pyramid of Nohoch Mul stands. It is 42 meters high and is the highest pre-Hispanic construction of the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Pyramid of Nohoch Mul has 120 steps and from its summit, you have spectacular views of the immense green and lush forest, adorned by the blue of the lagoons.
Some architectural details of Coba suggest that it maintained close relations with other pre-Columbian people of the central region of Mexico, particularly with Teotihuacán.
Tour the Tulum National Park
The archaeological site of Tulum is located within this national park, which also includes a long stretch of beaches, forests, wildlife reserves and many other attractions.
The Tulum National Park is a massive 664 hectares area and covers a big stretch on the coastal zone. Apart from the incredibly beautiful beaches in the park, there are several environments of great beauty and importance for biodiversities, such as mangroves, cenotes, and tropical forests.
The park is home to several species of wildlife at risk of extinction, such as the white turtles and loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta Caretta).
Explore the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Tulum is surrounded by majestic and paradisiacal beaches, but also by a great tropical forest named after “Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve”, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. This natural area covers an area of 652.000 hectares (1.3 million acres) making it the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean.
The reserve is located 50 km from the center of Tulum and is known for its archaeological ruins, petens, sand, cenotes, mangroves and other environments. More than 20 Mayan communities are settled here and live in perfect harmony with its natural environment.
Particularly attractive are the petens, which are conglomerates of trees up to 30 meters high that rise between the wetlands and constitute almost unique ecosystems in the world.
Try a relaxing yoga session or a temazcal experience
For its environmental quality and dazzling beauty, Tulum is one of the favorite destinations in Mexico for yoga workouts and the incredible temazcal experience.
There are many agencies offering special yoga vacations and yoga retreats in which you only have to decide the number of days you want to program. The combination of yoga, temazcal and walks through the beautiful and luminous Riviera Maya will leave your body and spirit in a state of well-being like never before.
At 10 km from Tulum, in a jungle setting, you will find Camping Lula (AirBnB), which offers yoga and temazcal in a quiet, family and healthy environment. Camping Lula is camping in its basic form where you rent a tent and spend time in the most natural settings. Keep in mind that there are no luxury amenities.
Yogadicha Studio offers group and private yoga sessions, as well as temazcales ceremonies, including retreats, and have highly trained professionals to guide you through every step.
Consult your hotel of choice and ask if they offer Yoga classes, and you will find several resorts with meditation areas. Take a look at our list of top beach resorts in Tulum as quite a few of them offer Yoga classes.
Explore the best cenotes
Tulum and its nearby areas are dotted with cenotes, the wonderful aquatic bodies that are formed by the slow dissolution of the superficial mantle of limestone by the effect of the waters.
The Maya believed that the cenotes were the entrance to the underworld or world of the dead, but beyond mythology, in these bodies of karst origin, life bursts, as can be witnessed by the thousands of tourists who are visiting to dive and swim in them.
The Cenote Dos Ojos is so called by its two cavities that resemble the eyes of a colossal stone monster. It is integrated into a system of underwater caves of more than 60 km in length and is truly a paradise for diving.
Other cenotes very close to Tulum that stand out for their beauty are Cristal, Calavera and Escondido. The Cenote Calavera (Calavera meaning human skull), lives up to its name with a bewitching atmosphere and is located just 3.5 km from Tulum.
Also near the center of Tulum are the cenotes Aktun and Casa Cenote, which are among the most frequented for diving.
The Great Cenote is another one of the excellent cenotes that simply has to be included on our list. This is mainly because of the sharpness of its waters, which allows you to observe the stalactites and stalagmites of its interior.
Go diving in the Great Mayan Reef
This immense coral barrier of about a thousand kilometers covers the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, being the second largest in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of northeastern Australia.
Due to its size and rich marine biodiversity, the Great Maya Reef or Mesoamerican Reef System is one of the world’s sanctuaries for diving.
Through the clear and warm waters and more than 65 types of stony corals that make up the reef, divers are admiring barracudas, sea turtles, rays, morays and a variety of species.
In Tulum, the local diving operator Dive Shop Tulum can take you to dive the Great Reef and even the cenotes. They will help you out even if you have no experience diving. The Great Mayan Reef is an excellent place to do your diving course, and Dive Shop Tulum have PADI certified diving instructors.
Spend a lovely day at Playa Paraiso
White and smooth sand; warm waters, clear and incomparable colors of blue; radiant and hot sun; and the best Caribbean cocktails in all of Tulum. This is what awaits you in Playa Paraiso, for many, one of the most spectacular beaches in Mexico.
This natural jewel of the Riviera Maya is just 7 km from Tulum and has all the services and entertainment so you can spend a splendid day sunbathing, resting, swimming, reading or sharing with friends while slinging back margaritas, frozen beers, and pina coladas.
In the vicinity of Playa Paraiso, there are several hotels with pleasantly rustic atmospheres, all with great comfortable amenities and excellent service.
Akumal could easily have become what Cancun is today. Just 28 km north of Tulum, Akumal is an incredible stretch of beaches and natural beauty, with very little invasion from modern resorts and constructions. The serene beaches of Akumal and its wild natural beauty are now its main attractions, drawing in many tourists for some much-needed relaxation.
The coast of Akumal is formed by coves and caverns in which the corals have a particular morphology, creating wonderful environments for diving and snorkeling.
The area of Akumal is also dotted with cenotes of great beauty, such as the Blue Cenote and Eden, while archaeological tourists can admire a Mayan shrine located in the cove of Xaac.
Visit Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen, located 65 km from Tulum, is the main city of the Riviera Maya and is comparable to Cancun in terms of the quality of its tourist infrastructure.
In Playa del Carmen there are hotels for all budgets and the world’s great cooks have stoves in the city to satisfy the most demanding gourmet tastes.
Near the city, there are formidable water parks, beaches, cenotes and other places of interest, which form a complete package of attractions.
5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen provides a delightful urban setting in front of the Caribbean Sea, with its boutiques, galleries, designer stores, restaurants and other cosmopolitan establishments.
Hit the nightclubs and bars
In Tulum and its surroundings, you will find establishments with excellent environments to enjoy a noisy night of drinks between friends or a more private evening with your partner.
On Calle Centauro Sur, El Batey Mojito & Guarapo Bar offers a great variety of drinks at affordable prices, with a great musical atmosphere featuring a small jazz band.
The Mezzanine Bar, on the 1,5 km stretch of the Tulum-Boca Paila road, faces the sea and serves the best local beers in the area. This is a great place to take in the view while enjoying local beers.
Curandero’s specialty, on the Beta corner of Tulum Avenue, is chelas with clamato (beers with tomato juice), while Drink House Tulum has become famous for its Passion Ginger cocktail.
Eat in the best restaurants
Tulum is an ideal place to taste the best fish and seafood from the Caribbean Sea. Likewise, in Tulum and in the Riviera Maya you can find all types of fast food that you like, such as pizzas, chicken, hamburgers, tacos and other dishes of mass consumption.
There are high-end restaurants available but a good tasty meal doesn’t equal expensive. For example, in the Taquería La Eufemia, they prepare exquisite seafood tacos, while Taquería Honorio is known for its delicious pork tacos. La Barracuda seafood restaurant has the best seafood at great prices.
If you fancy a huge and rich pizza, we recommend you go to Pizzeria Manglar, while Antojitos La Chiapaneca has the best tacos al pastor you will find in Tulum.
I always recommend asking the locals for advice as they can guide you to the best places to eat. How else do you think I found the amazing local places to eat in Acapulco that I wrote about earlier?
Have FUN outside – Book a day of adventure sports
In Tulum, you have a wide range of possibilities to practice your favorite outdoor sport, either at sea or on dry land, in the most spectacular scenarios and with all the security guarantees.
Apart from packages for diving and snorkeling in the sea and cenotes, the operator Agua Clara Diving Tulum Snorkeling & Eco Tours can organize days of hiking, bird watching, turtle watching, kayaking, zip lines and other entertainment.
Agua Clara Diving Tulum Snorkeling & Eco Tours has excellent ratings by the users of TripAdvisor travel portal.
Relax at your hotel of choice
Accommodations of all kinds and price ranges are available in Tulum. Everything from small eco hotels and cabins to the more luxurious beach resorts.
Stay in, and just relax by the hotel pool, read a book or treat yourself to a day of beauty at a spa. The options are many and varied, but the important thing is that you carve out time for yourself to really relax and enjoy your vacation. We can all be guilty of doing too much and vacations are supposed to be just that; a vacation. I have done it too several times myself. I plan too many activities without pause and have little to no time for actually taking a step back and unwind.
Trust me. You will not regret taking a break from activities. And no… don’t even think about what tour you could have taken. Why stress about what you could have been missing, when you deep down know that couldn’t possibly have done all the tours or activities available. Make your decision and don’t look back. You will be happy that you did – I certainly have enjoyed our vacations much more after I stopped second guessing myself.
Haven’t figured out where to stay yet? You can get some inspiration from our article about the Tulum beach hotels we think are the creme of the crop.
Enjoy the holidays in Tulum
The carnival has become a very attractive celebration in the Riviera Maya, standing out are those of Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum.
The Mayan Alborada takes place in March, a celebration with religious, musical, cultural and sporting events, whose purpose is to offer thanks to God for the good harvests.
The Feast of the Talking Cross is held in Tulum during the month of July, mixing pagan and Christian traditions. This festival commemorates the discovery of a mahogany cross in a cenote of the Quintana Roo community of Chan Santa Cruz.
An event highly appreciated by ecologists is the Festival of the Sea Turtle, which has the participation of the environmental communities of Cancun and the Riviera Maya. On Xcacel Beach, 16 km from Tulum, an impressive ceremony is organized to release hundreds of baby turtles into the sea.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and found some inspiration for an upcoming vacation to Tulum or the Riviera Maya. Drop us a few lines about what you will be doing, or let us know about which things you have done in Tulum.