Best things to do in Tulum - Swim in a cenote

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Last Updated on September 14, 2021

Tulum, Mexico is a vacation hotspot known for its white sand beaches, eco-chic luxury hotels, and Mayan ruins overlooking the sea.  But what are the best things to do in Tulum?  Read on to discover Tulum’s top sights as well as some hidden gems you won’t want to miss!

Travel to Tulum has exploded since I first visited more than 10 years ago.  What was once a sleepy off-the-grid spot for hippies and artists has evolved into a jetsetter getaway.  But for those who are just discovering the magic of this beach paradise, I’ve got tips on the best things to do in Tulum including tours to make your vacation effortless.

So whether you’re looking to add some adventure, pamper yourself and disconnect, or just find the best beach clubs, be sure to bookmark this for your Tulum itinerary.  These ideas are perfect for couples, families, girls’ trips, and anyone who wants to explore the artistic, adventurous, and wellness activities in Tulum, Quintana Roo.

Short on time and looking to visit Tulum from Cancun or other cities in the Riviera Maya? Check out these top Tulum tours with online booking and instant confirmation:

The Best Things to Do in Tulum

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In this Guide to the Best Things to Do in Tulum

Tulum Ruins | Tulum Beaches | Tulum Cenotes | Tulum Foodie Scene | Yoga & Wellness | Beach Clubs | Day Trips | Tulum Photo Spots | Souvenir Shopping | Exploring Via Bike

aerial view of the Maya ruins at Tulum overlooking the Caribbean

Explore the Tulum Ruins: Tulum Must-See Sight

Travelers to Tulum must visit its ancient Mayan ruins.  Perched at the edge of a high cliff, they offer sweeping views of the turquoise Caribbean waters and white sands below.  I recommend visiting in the early morning to beat the heat of the day and miss the buses with day trippers coming from Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

Tulum was one of the last cities built and lived in by the Maya, and its ruins date to 1200 – 1450 CE.  The ancient Mayan city of Tulum was walled on three sides, with the fourth protected by the sea cliff. It served as a center of trade for the Mayan civilization, where both sea and land trade routes converged.

Mayan sites with ruins stretch throughout the region even into Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.  Surviving ceremonial buildings at Tulum include the main temple overlooking the sea, called El Castillo, and a building with frescoes inside.  You can’t climb the ruins here, but you can hire a guide onsite to make the most of your visit.

Tulum is a must-see Mexico ruins site, because of its dramatic location and spectacular views.  You can also swim on the private beach, accessible by a long staircase from the cliff, and take selfies with the enormous resident iguanas. 

Be sure to bring a bathing suit, towel, water, bug spray, sunscreen and hat (there’s little shade, and the white paths reflect a ton of light!).  Bring cash to pay.  

Want a Tulum ruins tour with guide and transportation? Check out this Private half-day Tulum ruins tour.

photo of Tulum's white sand beaches

Relax on The World Famous Tulum Beaches

Tulum’s soft, white sand beaches are famous.  Its beachfront stretches about six miles, from the ruins down to the entrance to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere (more on that later!).  Along that path, there are a few different Tulum beaches that you can explore, listed below from north to south along the Beach Road.

The beaches of Tulum are calm and their shallow waters are good for swimming.

The Haphazard Traveler Pro Tip
Along the beach road, hotels and restaurants are usually designated by their mile marker starting from km 1 at the ruins down to around km 10.5 at the entrance to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere.

Playa Ruinas | Tulum Ruins Beach

Playa Ruinas is the beach located at the Tulum Ruins.  To get here, you’ll descend a set of steps down from the ruins; this beach isn’t accessible from the main beach.  Best for: cooling off on a visit, getting Instagram shots of the ruins overlooking the beach and turquoise waters below.

North Tulum Beaches

These beaches are less-developed than those along the South Beach Road.  It’s easier to find parking here, but be careful about leaving valuables in your car at public beaches.

  • Playa Santa Fe: just south of the ruins, this small public beach has a beach club and two hotels (Hotel Santa Fe and Zazil Kin).  Best for: views of the ruins, more secluded, boat rides for snorkeling and views of the ruins.
  • Playa Pescadores: named “Fisherman’s Beach,” this small stretch of beach is where local fishermen bring in their catch.  There are several beach clubs, glamping and hotel options nearby including one of my favorites, Villa Pescadores.  Best for: beach clubs, fresh seafood,  views of the ruins, a laid-back atmosphere.  You can also hire a boat captain here to take you on a tour to Akumal or to see the ruins from the sea.
  • Playa Paraiso: just south of Pescadores lies Playa Paraiso, or “Paradise Beach.”  This is a picturesque stretch of public beach, with several hotels, restaurants, and beach clubs available.  Most people think Paradise Beach is the most beautiful in Tulum, but you should probably check it out for yourself! Best for: beach clubs, atmosphere, one of the most beautiful beaches in Tulum.
  • Playa las Palmas: another picturesque beach but less busy, Las Palmas is the beach adjacent to hotel Poc-Na.  Best for: beach clubs, beach walks. 
  • Playa Mirador: around km 6, this rocky section of the coastline is a popular spot to watch sunrise and sunset and take Instagram shots.  (The reason why it’s also known as Sunrise Beach and Sunset Beach!) You can have a drink at the hotels near here, Zamas and El Pez, or at Mateo’s restaurant which will always hold a special place in my heart as the first time I had a fish taco.  There is parking along the road in certain sections.

South Tulum Beaches

The beaches along Tulum’s South Beach Road lack public parking and easy access from the road.  Unless you’re staying at a hotel along this stretch, you’ll probably want to settle in at a beach club for the day. The coastline here is one long stretch of sand, so the beaches are mostly known by the name of the hotel or beach club.

Sian Ka’an Beaches

Within the protected area of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere lie many pristine, white sand beaches.  Consider a day trip to explore the flora, fauna, and beaches of this reserve.

The Haphazard Traveler Pro Tip
In recent years, there have been outbreaks of sargassum seaweed in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic beaches of Central America during the summer months, including Tulum and the Riviera Maya.  Most hotels have staff clear their beachfront throughout the day, and conditions can vary from day to day.  Check out webcams in the region here.

For more tips on Tulum’s beaches and beach clubs, don’t miss my guide!

photo of Tulum's white sand beaches

Tulum Beaches Ultimate Guide + Best Beach Clubs

Tulum’s soft, white-sand beaches and turquoise waters are world famous. Whether you’re looking to dine with your toes in the sand, sip cocktails at a chic beachfront bar, or just bliss out on a beach bed lounger, discover the best Tulum beaches and beach clubs for your trip.

Best things to do in Tulum - Swim in a cenote

Cool Off in a Cenote

Even if you haven’t yet visited Tulum, it’s possible you’ve heard of cenotes.  These are fresh water filled sinkholes found throughout the Yucatan Peninsula that form when limestone bedrock collapses.  Some are open pools, while others are caverns. Some cenotes have both open and cavernous sections. Nowadays they’re perfect spots for swimming and cooling off on a hot day. But in ancient times the Maya made offerings to the gods at cenotes, believing that they were portals to the underworld.

You’ll definitely want to add jumping into the cool blue waters of a cenote to your list of things to do in Tulum! There are thousands of cenotes in the region, but some of the most popular and easiest to reach from Tulum are:

  • Gran Cenote: large system with crystal clear waters set in the lush jungle; contains open cenotes and caverns connected by wooden boardwalks. It’s possible to snorkel or scuba in the caverns here. Gran Cenote is located just a mile outside Tulum town center, on Quintana Roo 109 (the road from Tulum to Coba).
  • Cenote Calavera: located on QR 109, Cenote Calavera is more off-the-beaten path and is perfect for jumping and swimming.
  • Cenote Aktun Ha (Carwash): one of my favorite cenotes, Aktun Ha is also located on the road to Coba.  This cenote is popular with divers. There is also a rope swing, and it has beautiful underwater plants that make dreamy photos!
  • Cenote Zacil-Ha: an open cenote located just past Cenote Carwash, Cenote Zacil-Ha has a zipline and platforms for jumping, as well as hammocks for lounging.
  • Cenote Cristal and Cenote Escondido: located just outside of Tulum town on 307, these cenotes have one entrance fee but are located on opposite sides of the road.  Both are picturesque pools with clear water set in the jungle.
  • Cenote Encantado: located on the beach road at km 10, Cenote Encantado is the easiest cenote to reach from Tulum’s beach hotel zone.
  • Cenote Dos Ojos: located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Cenote Dos Ojos is one of the best cavern cenotes (underground cenotes) for scuba diving in the area.

Short on time?  Book a tour to visit three popular cenotes near Tulum!

Affordable Tulum

Explore Tulum’s Foodie Scene

Thanks to Tulum’s international profile, its restaurants attract chefs from around the world.  As such, delicious food options here range from taco trucks to new spins on native Mexican ingredients and gourmet farm-to-table fare.  It’s also possible to take cooking classes.

  • In the Tulum Beach hotel zone: check out Hartwood, Arca, RosaNegra, and Gitano for modern Mayan plates, wood-fired fare, and the iconic Tulum candle-lit jungle ambiance.  For tacos don’t miss Taqueria Eufemia right on the beach and Charly’s Vegan Tacos.
  • On the Beach Road North: check out Moro at Habitas and the restaurant at Mi Amor Hotel. 
  • In Tulum Town: Tulum Pueblo is full of up-and-coming restaurants for everything from breakfast bowls to tacos and fine dining.  Check out Matcha Mama, Taqueria Honorio, Antiojos La Chiapaneca, Verdant, and Burrito Amor.

Food Tours and Cooking Classes

Foodies can dive deeper into Tulum’s gastronomy scene with tours and cooking classes!  Check out these options with great reviews and online booking:

Things to do in Tulum - Yoga and wellness

Tulum Yoga & Wellness: De-Stress and Detox

Tulum is known as a destination for yoga and wellness, with many hotels offering retreats, spas, and massages to help you disconnect and recharge.  Hotels like Amansala, Ahau, Shambala Petit, Nomade, Habitas, Maya Tulum, and Holistika feature regular yoga classes and special retreats.

If you’re looking for a unique local experience, consider a temazcal, a Mexican sweat lodge ceremony.  Inquire at hotels Delek, Maya Tulum, Casa Violeta, or at Yaan Wellness Center.  Or take a tour that combines a visit to the Tulum and Coba ruins with a temazcal.

For spa treatments, massages, crystal therapy, and more, Tulum has a wealth of options to help you center your mind and body.  Check out Encantada hotel, Kaze Therapy Center, Mayan Clay Spa, Yaan Wellness Energy Healing Spa, and Sanaprana Tulum.  Or book a full-day beachfront healing experience.

Tulum Mexico beach restaurant and bar - Tulum style - Tulum fashion - Tulum outfits

Kick Back at Tulum’s Beach Clubs

If you’re not staying at a beachfront Tulum hotel, or if you want to check out other beaches for the day, the best way is to find a beach club that allows day guests.  Most beach clubs let you rent a beach chair or lounge bed for the day, or meet a minimum food and drink spend.  (Check out pricing and availability ahead of time.)

Here are some of the most popular beach clubs in Tulum for your visit:

  • Beach Road South: Papaya Playa Project, Ziggy Beach, La Zebra, Coco Tulum, Ahau Tulum, Mia Restaurant & Beach Club.
  • Beach Road North: El Paraiso, Villa Pescadores (when I stayed here, I remember that their minimum spend for non-guests was very low).

For more beach clubs, don’t miss my guide to the best beaches and beach clubs in Tulum.

Best Mexico Ruins - Mayan Ruins of Coba

Day Trips in the Region: Sian Ka’an, Chichen Itza and More

If you’ve got a longer stay in Tulum, plan some adventures further afield to explore other ruins sites, discover history, and connect with nature.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

The Sian Ka’an Biosphere, located past Tulum’s hotel zone, is a paradise of unspoiled beaches, ruins, and nature experiences like kayaking among mangroves.  This protected reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Mexico’s natural wonders. As such, it’s another one of my top recommendations of the best things to do in Tulum.  Sian Ka’an contains tropical forests, dense jungles, marshes, lagoons and an offshore barrier reef teeming with marine life. It’s perfect for a hiking, snorkeling, and kayaking day trip.

To visit Sian Ka’an, it’s easiest to join a tour – here are my best picks:

Mayan Ruins at Coba and Chichen Itza

Explore more Mayan ruins at Coba or the iconic Chichen Itza.  Coba is a large archaeological site, and you can climb the ruins for views over the jungle.  Many tours to these sites also include a stop at nearby cenotes to cool off; Cenote Ik-Kil near Chichen Itza is one of the most well-known cenotes. Many tours also include a stop at the colorful colonial town of Valladolid. See below some highly-rated tour options you can book online:

Don’t miss all my tips for visiting Valladolid!

Swim with Turtles in Akumal Bay

Just up the coast from Tulum, you can take a day trip to swim with turtles in Akumal Bay.  If you have never been up close with sea turtles, it’s an amazing experience!  The Akumal Beach is located in a half-moon bay, and is famous for the same white sand beaches found in Tulum and throughout the Riviera Maya.

Check out this Akumal Beach and cenote tour with great reviews, included transportation, and instant booking confirmation:

most instagrammable Tulum hotel - Ahau Tulum

Snap Photos of Tulum’s Instagrammable Sights

Tulum’s boutique hotels, stylish restaurants, and stunning beaches are perfect for some stunning photos.  Punch up your Instagram feed or get a personalized photo shoot with a local Tulum photographer during your stay.

Tulum Instagram Spots

Be sure to visit Ven La Luz & popular photo spots to make everyone back home jealous!  Matcha Mama, I Scream, Mia Beach Restaurant, the “climbable” palm trees at Playa Paraiso, Casa Malca hotel, beach bar swings at Coco Tulum, and Nomade hotel are all popular Insta spots.  Also, don’t miss the Ven La Luz sculpture by Daniel Popper at the Ahau hotel and the SFER IK museums at the Azulik hotel.

Book a Tulum Flytographer

The company Flytographer offers photo shoots in destinations around the globe including Tulum.  Book a photo pro for special family photos, an engagement or proposal, or your girl gang getaway.

Other Tulum Photo Shoots

Want all the glam with less work?  Get amazing photos with the help of a local photographer, including underwater cenote photos! (Yes, really!)

Shop for Souvenirs

Tulum is a boho paradise, and local artisan wares can be found in shops both in town and in the beach hotel zone.  There are boutique shops offering clothing, home decor, hammocks, dream catchers, organic beauty products, ceramics, jewelry, and traditional Mexican crafts.  Check out MexicArte, Mixik and La Llorona for traditional Mexican artisan goods, La Madre Tierra for natural soaps and products, and Kahaal Home.

Things to do in Tulum - explore via bicycle

Explore Tulum Via Bicycle

Tulum’s Beach Road is only two lanes, and traffic jams are common here during high season.  One of the easiest ways to get around is by bicycle!  Many hotels either lend or can assist you with arranging bike rental.

To bike the 5-6 miles from the main beach zone to town or vice versa, it takes about 20-25 minutes.  There is a bike lane for part of the way, from the north end of the hotel zone to the Coba road and into town. 

Planning Your Trip to Tulum

If you haven’t yet booked your trip, be sure to check out all of my tips for visiting Tulum, including packing advice, Tulum Airbnbs and boutique hotels.

Tulum Packing List

Tulum Packing List: What To Wear In Tulum + Outfits Inspo

Pack light and chic for your Tulum, Mexico getaway! My Tulum packing list will help you be ready for a perfect vacation in any season, including weather info and extras based on activities.

Tulum where to stay - Tulum Mayan ruins

Where to Stay in Tulum: Best Tulum Beach Hotels, Resorts & Villas

Tulum has a seductive hold over many vacation-goers thanks to its stunning setting and beach hotels that let you step from your room right into sugary-soft white sand. Find out the best places to stay for a dream vacation, honeymoon or girls’ trip here!

Affordable Tulum: Beach Bliss on a Budget

Tulum on A Budget: 6 Steps to Beach Bliss on a Budget

Tulum, Mexico is a dream luxury destination. Get my best tips for an affordable Tulum trip: budget hotels, restaurants, activities & more!

Pin the best things to do in Tulum for your trip!

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Adrienne, The Haphazard Traveler

I used to be a hot travel mess, but I got better! I kept the name and now blog my best tips for culture and adventure travel from around the globe. Follow along for travel advice, destination info, and photography from faraway lands - and at home in Washington, D.C.

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