Things to do in Tulum

by Jack Cheng
Things to do in Tulum

Tulum is just like the brochures, what you see is what you get. More than living up to the hype of a culturally rich destination by unbroken stretches of quiet, idyllic beaches, this coastal town in the Riviera Maya begs to be explored.

If pictures of arching palm trees by the glistening, turquoise bay of Tulum’s rugged shoreline are not enough to entice you for a visit, check out our list of top 5 attractions in Tulum, and see what the town has in store.

Visit the Tulum Ruins

The site of a major port and trading centre in ancient Maya, the walled city of Tulum perches above the craggy limestone cliffs of the Yucatan coastline, in full view of the picturesque beaches and rippling ocean waves below.

Tulum ruins

Perhaps one of the most photographed destinations in Mexico, the Tulum ruins have the slight edge of natural scenery over the tourist juggernaut Chichen Itza. Surrounded by curving palm trees, the stone temple grounds are dappled with succulents, desert flowers, and crawling with sunbathing iguanas.

Touring the archaeological site, Zama, or “City of Dawn,” can be done from 8 am to 5 pm every single day of the week. The entrance fee is 70 pesos with optional charges for a shuttle train ride from the ticket booth. Local guided tours are available from anywhere between 200 – 700 pesos.

Explore Cenotes

Tulum is in close vicinity to several different types of cenotes. These natural underground sinkholes connected to subterranean river systems were once considered by the Mayans to be passageways to the underworld. Today, they are diving pools for snorkelers and scuba divers to explore Yucatan’s cavernous, labyrinthian underground depths.

The Gran Cenote just north of the Tulum’s main town is popular with both swimmers and snorkelers. A combination of both underground and open-type cenotes, the location contains partially submerged caves with crystalline waters linked by wooden walkways snaking across lush green jungle floors.

Tulum cenotes


For scuba diving, Dos Ojos, meaning “two eyes,” offers two separate water depths for exploring. One section is shallow and clear, perfect for snorkelling and swimming. The other part of the grotto’s floor plunges deep below, with stalagmites jutting out from underneath, penetrating the glowing, inscrutable watery depth, ideal for the more adventurous to dive into.

A bit farther north, Casa Cenote is above ground, resembling a crystal-clear lake, and can be kayaked across. Rafting, paddle boarding, and snorkelling are also popular here. Parts of the cenote are connected to the ocean and are deep enough for scuba diving.

Stay by the Beaches

Where the azure, gentle waves lap against the shore of Tulum, you’ll find many quiet, secluded beaches hidden beneath its jutting limestone cliffs.

Tulum beaches

The beaches in Tulum are never crowded. Even Playa Paraiso (Paradise Beach), one of the largest beaches in the area, enjoys comparably less foot traffic than other beaches along the coast. Here, the pearl-white, silky sands are favoured by outdoor yoga enthusiasts, sunbathers, and swimmers. The beach is within walking distance of many open-air bars and restaurants, along with snorkelling rentals and boat tour operators.

For an even more bohemian, barefoot beach, walk half a kilometre south to Las Palmas Public Beach, and experience an authentic beachside getaway.

Eating out by Oceanside Restaurants

Tulum’s oceanfront is dotted with world-class restaurants. From local staples like Hartwood to new contenders like ARCA, Tulum is the place for wood-fired grill seafood and local-style cerviches.

Tulum oceanside restaurant

Contemporary fine-dining options can be found in seaside hotels such as Mezzanine and La Zebra. Both in-house restaurants put on modern spins on classic Mexican menus.

For authentic Mexican-style tacos, head into town, and sit by the roast spit of Antojitos La Chiapaneca, or the outdoor tables of Taqueria Honorio, and order a plate of cochinita pibil on tortillas, topped with fresh guacamole.

Mezcal bars and Nightlife

Mojitos by the beaches, what more could you ask for? In Tulum, you’ll find this winning combination in many bohemian jungle-theme bars serving up tall drinks by the beachside.

Tulum nightlife

Bucolic, straw roof establishments like Papaya Playa Project throws DJs and monthly full moon parties into the mix. But if you were hoping to sip mezcal by candle lights, Casa Jaguar and Gitano bring cocktails to you tableside surrounded by palms and potted tropical shrubs.

For authentic mezcaleria, head into town, and check out trendy bars like Todos Santos, Pasito Tun Tun, or swing by the hard-to-miss painted Volkswagen Beetle in of front Batey for a Cuban-style mojito made with freshly crushed sugar canes.