To some people the destination of Tulum makes travellers envision majestic temples, secluded beaches and tranquillity away from the resort town of Cancun. However, in reality Tulum is quite different. Thanks to the power of social media and the Instagram influencers the small fishing town has been inundated with visitors and insta "models". You will come across large scale tour groups, shuffling through attractions like herded cattle. The oh so many selfie sticks and posers,
you will also come across (good for some) large coffee chains popping up all over the place. I'm looking at you Starbucks. Although I feel that Tulum has maybe lost it's authentic charm I still recommend you visit for a couple of nights. The ruins are a must see, just ignore the tourist tat shops on the way there. If you still want to experience a smaller, lesser known area of QR then I highly recommend visiting the inland lake town of Bacalar.
How to get there:
We took the bus from Cancun on ADO buses, I can highly recommend these buses they are clean, air conditioned and usually on time and can be booked in advance online here
From Cancun central bus station you can go direct down to Tulum, there is also 4 daily buses from Cancun Airport to Tulum. The journey is smooth as it travels along the 307 Highway. Journey time from Cancun is just under 2 hours.
The other alternative routes are from Playa Del Carmen where a bus will leave for Tulum every 30 minutes.
Prices: Single bus journey from Cancun is 262 Peso (£11.00)
If you want to splash out whilst in Mexico then there are luxury SUV van transfers available from Cancun or Cancun Airport.
Generally speaking a single journey will cost $185 USD or $315 return and can be booked here
Car hire could be a good option if you want to explore the surrounding areas. The roads are in good condition, especially along the main highways. Remember that along the 307 Highway there could be the occasional standard police checks. We did not hire a car, so if you want more information check out Getting Stamped blog post about driving in Mexico.
When arriving into Tulum:
The bus station is well serviced with local taxis. However, bare in mind these taxi's are not metered so always confirm the cost before boarding the cab. Tulum town itself is quite spread out, the beaches, ruins and main downtown area are spread out away from each other so consider that when booking accommodation. Uber is also available in town.
Things to do in Tulum:
When people think of the coastal town of Tulum they usually think of the stone Mayan ruins.
The ruins are the only Mayan temple built on the coast and their original name translates in to "place of the dawning sun". The steep fortress walls and steep ocean side cliffs protected this ancient city. Back in the 15th century the town of Tulum had a population of around 1,600 inhabitants. When the Spanish arrived they brought disease and the majority of the population declined.
The stone structures are surrounded by cacti, palm trees and the occasional sun bathing iguana. The most important structure to see is the El Castillo (The Castle) which is the main pyramid on site. There is also the House of Columns which is a building with 4 adjoining rooms and a series of large stone columns holding up the structure.
Below the ruins there is a secluded beach area (secluded in the early morning anyways) and there is a wooden staircase that takes you down to the white sand beach.
The ruins are impressive to see and I would highly recommend you see them, my advice is to get there early before the crowds arrive from nearby Cancun. Also allow yourself at least 2 hours to explore the site.
Information: The ruins are open daily from 8am until 5pm. The beach area is open from 10am.
Entrance into the ruins is 65 peso (£2.70)
Guided tours are available from around 600 peso (£25) and there is the option to add additional extras such as a boat trip out into the Caribbean sea or snorkelling experiences too.
Tulum is very hot all year round so take in plenty of water, there are onsite shops and cafes at the entrance but they are inflated tourist prices. We visited in November and we encountered a crazy rain storm so be prepared for all kinds of weather.
Hire a bicycle
You may think it's ridiculous to hire a bike in hot and humid weather, but the sea town breeze really does cool you down.
The ruins are about 1.7 miles from the downtown area of Tulum and there is a dedicated cycle path there. The beaches are also accessed by bike paths and I'd recommend taking some snorkel gear too. There are also local cenotes nearby which are accessible by bike, which saves you money on hiring a car or buying a tour package to get there.
There are numerous bike hire places in Tulum, I would recommend Ola Bike they offer standard one speed bike rentals for as little as 150 peso a day (£6.00). They also offer an additional drop off service for the bikes to various hotels in town.
If you intend to visit Mexico's Yucatan or QR region then you HAVE TO visit a cenote. They are natural sink holes in the ground where fresh water flows, some are deep underground and you can access them by a set of stairs, the underground ones are likely to have stalagmites and stalactites (who remembers which is which...?) . The cenotes are usually filled with crystal clear water in which you can swim in.
I went to ones nearer to Merida, and I highly recommend you seek them out. There are over 6000 different ones in Mexico to choose from.
Some near to Tulum include: Gran Cenote, Car wash Cenote, Zacil-Ha and Cenote Calavera (& many many more to choose from).
Calavera Centote is named so because it looks like a skull, there is a main sink hole and 2 smaller holes which look like the eyes of a skull. Don't let this put you off though, this is one of the lesser known ones and if you arrive very early in the morning it is exceptionally quiet. There is a rope swing, ladder and small resting area with table and chair. Bare in mind there are no lockers here, but because this area is quite compact you can keep an eye on everything.
Opening times: 9am-5pm daily
Entrance to the Cenote is 100 peso (£4.50)
Location: 3km from Tulum.
Gran Cenote is probably the best known one in Mexico, for good reason but bear in mind if it is well know then it will be mobbed with insta famous starlets posing for pictures.
Gran Cenote has such clear water that you can see small fish underneath the water without a snorkel.
Opening times form 10am-5pm everyday.
There is changing room facilities at the Cenote and you can hire lockers and snorkel masks there too.
Entrance to Gran Cenote: 180 Peso (£7.50)
Life jackets for hire are 30 Peso (£2.10)
If you are interested in seeing more Cenotes I recommend you use this website "Cenotes of Mexico" they have you covered.
Day trips from Tulum can be arranged, a half day tour suggestion would be this one here
If you'd like to snorkel in the hidden cenotes of Tulum, then this highly rated experience on Airbnb Experiences can be booked here
Boat Trips & Snorkel
Tulum is situated on the Caribbean sea and has perfect conditions for some snorkelling. The beach fronts often have different tour boats that take you out. The barrier reef is about 300m out of the lagoon and has the richest variety of fish. Look out for parrotfish, barracudas and if you are very lucky some green sea turtles. My favourite bit about taking a boat out to sea was that you can see the ruins from the ocean and you can really appreciate the full scale of them.
Zip line through the jungle
Tulum is surrounded by thick Mayan jungle and if you have time I suggest you take a day trip out to Tulum National Park, there are 7 ziplines over the jungle canopy and there is up to 5 different styles and speeds to choose from. Flying high 70 meters up this is really something to do for a sense of adventure. Yes it is expensive, but to be surrounded by lush jungle, history and then to finish off with a dip in one of the cooling nearby cenotes is something unique!
Zip line day trips can be booked here
Prices start from $116 per person - which includes transportation, a guide, snorkel equipment, medical insurance, buffet lunch and zip lining through the jungle.
If you want to be a beach bum for a day or two (that's my limit) then Tulum has an excellent reputation for beautiful beaches. One of the most impressive ones is aptly named "Paradise Beach" - Playa Paraiso. White sand lined with palm trees and rugged rocky cliffs. This beach was voted Mexico's best beach and it is not hard to see why.
There is a range of restaurants along the way to indulge in. Be wary, some are very overpriced.
A more popular and well known beach is Akumal Beach locally known as "Place with turtles" is about 30 minutes by car from Downtown Tulum. This stretch of beach is more commercialised and you will see more beach umbrellas and sun loungers here. This beach is better for families however, as it has a larger selection of restaurants, dive shops and beachfront accommodation.
If you want to have a unique experience on the beach, then there are yoga and yin yoga sessions available. One I have found is sunset yoga guided with a fully qualified yoga instructor. This experience can be booked here:
Thanks for reading, I have neglected to mention where to eat, next week there is a follow up post which what to eat in Mexico. Stay tuned for that.