A First-Timer's Guide to Tulum

By Briana Seftel


Known for its laid back lifestyle, incredible beaches and world-class dining, Tulum has quickly become one of the hottest destinations on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Located 90 minutes from Cancun, this hippie paradise is the antithesis to its rowdy neighbor up north. Whether you’re dreaming of the ultimate getaway or already packing your bags, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about Tulum.

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What to Know

Until recently, the only reason to visit Tulum was for its cliffside ruins. Today, this Mayan site has turned into a major tourist destination with quite a celebrity following. Located on the Yucatan peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo, Tulum is part of a tourist district known as the Riviera Maya.

The town itself (apart from the ruins) is divided into two sections: Zona Hotelera and Tulum Pueblo. Located along a narrow road bordering the coast, the Zona Hotelera (Hotel Zone) is lined with upscale hotels, restaurants, shops and bars that cater to a mostly international clientele. Tulum Pueblo, generally speaking, is the “real” Tulum and where you’ll find supermarkets, banks, and more local-centric businesses.


When to Go

Tulum has warm weather all year round, with temperatures hovering around 70 to 80 degrees. The rainiest months are June, September and October, while short showers are common throughout the year. Busy season is from January to March.


Getting Around

If you plan on taking day trips and seeing other parts of the Yucatan, it’s a good idea to rent a car. This part of Mexico is flat and roads are in good condition, meaning driving here isn’t difficult - although you should avoid driving at night because it is pitch black.

If renting a car isn’t an option, you can also opt to take taxis or local shuttles known as colectivos. You can also rent a bike from your hotel or at one of the many bike rentals in town.


Where to Eat

Luckily for travelers, Tulum offers everything from Yucatan specialties to international cuisine and fresh seafood. From fine dining under the stars to hole-in-the-wall taco stands, Tulum is a foodie paradise. Night owls won’t be disappointed either, with plenty of upscale and laidback bars promising a memorable night.

Insider tip: Many businesses in Tulum only accept cash, so it’s wise to have pesos on you at all times. Take money out in Tulum Pueblo for smaller transaction fees.


What to See

There is no shortage of things to see and do in Tulum. Lather up on sunscreen before enjoying a day out!

Tulum ruins

The third most-visited archaeological site in Mexico, the Tulum ruins are situated in probably the most spectacular setting of all - right on the edge of the Caribbean! Tulum was one of the last cities built by the Maya, and was dedicated to the planet of Venus. The ruins open at 8am, and it's advised that you arrive early to beat the crowds and tour buses.

Beaches

Tulum arguably has the nicest stretch of beach in all of the Yucatan. Whether you choose to spend the day at a public or private beach, you’ll find only soft white sand and crystal clear water. Popular public beaches include Playa Paraiso, Playa Pescadores and Las Palmas. You can also opt to rent a cabana or lounge chair at one of Tulum’s many hotels allowing non-guests. To spend a day here, you will have to meet a minimum of food and drink.


Cenotes

Pronounced “cen-o-tay,” these giant sinkholes are among the highlights on a trip to the Yucatan. Luckily, Tulum has several incredible options when it comes to cenotes. Most visitors head to El Gran Cenote, where you can swim, snorkel or dive among stalagmites and stalactites. Dos Ojos Cenotes is another popular choice with two separate cenotes. For a more laid back experience, don’t miss Cenote Car Wash off the 109 highway.


Day Trips

Venturing outside of Tulum? Here are a few ideas for memorable day trips.

Chichen Itza

A two-hour drive from Tulum, the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza make a fantastic day trip for those wanting to add a bit of history and culture to their trip. After touring the ruins, make a stop in the pretty pastel city of Valladolid, founded in 1543 by the Spanish.

Akumal

Just 20 minutes from Tulum, Akumal is another tourist hub on the Riviera Maya. With its long stretch of pristine beach, this area makes a great beach day, but the real highlight are the sea turtles. Rent snorkel gear in town, head for the bay and say hello to the resident turtles!


Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

This UNESCO World Heritage site and coastal wetland is a beautiful place to experience pure, untouched nature. Hop on a small boat and wind through the mangrove-lined canals as you observe the stunning wildlife, including 300 species of birds.

Xel-Ha Theme Park

This eco-park just outside of Tulum makes a great day trip for families and nature lovers. From snorkeling to relaxing down a lazy river, you could spend an entire day exploring Xel-Ha without doing anything twice.

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