Tulum is what I like to call, LA Hipster in the Jungle. It boasts some of the best matcha smoothies and prettiest acai bowls on one end of the beach, to the yummiest tacos and street vendors on the other. You can drink cevesas on the beach in the morning while doing a full yoga class on the sand immediately after. And don’t get me started with the beaches. Light blue waves and deep green cenotes? Unreal. Tulum can be incredibly overwhelming to plan though, as it is always developing and up to the latest trends. Here is my ultimate Tulum Travel Guide for everything you need to do!
Planning a Trip To Tulum?
Before diving into our Tulum Travel Guide, there are some things you have to consider! From safety advisories, to deciding whether to rent a car, and where to book our hotel, a lot of planning is going to be needed. After doing all the research, I decided to simplify it all down for you! Here is my list of all the important things you’ll need to know before planning a trip to Tulum.
WHICH CENOTES TO VISIT —
What is a Travel Guide to Tulum, without covering the best Cenotes? Cenotes are natural pits or sinkholes that form from the collapse of limestone. Once the limestone collapses, natural water is exposed underneath. This water sometimes houses sea life, from different types of fish, to turtles.
Scientists have uncovered jewels, clothes, and sculptures deep in certain cenotes, leading them to believe these were sacrificial sites. Human skeletons have also been uncovered! In the Mayan Culture, people were considered offerings in certain sacred cenotes as gifts to the Gods.
Best Cenotes to Visit in Tulum: Cenote Gran & Cenote Calavera
Best Cenotes to Visit in Valledolid: Cenote Suytan & Cenote Oxman
Other Notable Mentions: Cenote Dos Ojos, Cenote Ik-Kil
Cenote Gran is my favorite Cenote in all of Tulum, and it’s probably the most popular. This cenote is located right in the heart of Tulum. You can access this cenote by cab, uber, or bike. The cenote is super close to the city center, making it the easiest and most accessible. There is an admission fee (about $15pp) and they only take pesos. Before entering, you must shower off any sunscreen, residue, and bug spray that could be damaging to the marine life.
We got to this cenote in the morning when it opened, around 8:30AM. The main entrance of the cenote was super busy when we came in, but there’s a more secluded entrance to the far right (pictured below). The two sections of Gran Cenote connect with one another through swimming underneath a little cave.
Cenote Calavera is quickly becoming another popular cenote due to the ladder and swing deep in the sinkhole. Most people visit this cenote for the thrill of being able to jump into the sinkhole, but because it’s fairly small. It’s only a 5 minute drive from Cenote Gran so it’s a nice secondary stop. It’s not anywhere as large as Cenote Gran though, but there is plenty of seating, and you can buy beers and hang .
It may seem challenging to get a photo by yourself here, but with some patience, it’s not too bad. Everyone knows this is a super photogenic spot, so everyone expects photos!
This cenote is most famously known for the light beam that shines straight onto a carved out stage. Unfortunately we went at 8:30AM, and it wasn’t bright enough outside yet for there to be a light beam casting down. The cenote is about two flights of stairs deep into the sink hole.
Same protocols go, you have to fully shower before entering, and it’s now required to wear a life vest while you’re there and if you’re planning on swimming. Sometimes during the day, they will have Mayan shows on the center stage and there’s carved out seats within the cenote.
Also keep in mind that with the growing popularity, it seems like a tour bus stop now for a lot of visitors! My biggest advice for this trip out to Valledolid is, find out what time the tour buses leave, because once they do, I think you’ll probably have the best light for the beam, as well as an emptier cenote. I don’t think people visit this cenote as much as the other ones, because it’s quite a drive away.
While you’re visiting Cenote Suytan, make sure you stop by Cenote Oxman. This cenote is most famously known for it’s rope swing to dive in. It’s a beautiful cenote and probably the most fun. We spent hours here, swimming and swinging into the water. It’s also one of the deeper cenotes, so a life vest is required.
It’s also a hotel and hotel guests get earlier entrance times. If you are looking for a place to stay in Valledolid, I would highly recommend staying here too. It’s a good stepping point to also explore more of the Yucatan area.
MONUMENTS & RUINS
The Mayan Culture is so rich in the Yucatan Peninsula and Quintana Roo. From the Tulum Ruins along the coast, to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, here is a quick travel guide on the must see spots and monuments.
This Mayan Ruin sits atop a cliff overlooking the ocean, and once served as a seaport for trading jade and turquoise. Anthropologists say that these walls around Tulum only housed 600 nobilities and priests, while the peasants stayed outside the walls. These Ruins are incredibly beautiful and different than any ruin I’ve seen because of the way they overlook the water.
You can park right across the street in an open parking lot. Once you enter, there are a handful of restaurants and shops. Continue along the path to the entrance of the actual ruins! The Ruins are open every day between 8AM to 5PM according to google, but on the window at the ticket office, there are unofficial hours that show 7PM closing. After 5PM, the price for admittance is higher than regular.
Chichen Itza is the largest archaeological city of the Mayan Civilization located in the Yucatan Peninsula. The main pyramid of Chichen Itza, El Castillo, is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This Pyramid-Temple shows the Mayan’s fascination with astronomy, as each side of the pyramid holds 91 steps, with the final steps on top adding up to 365–the number of days in the solar calendar. The entrance fee is cheaper for locals, and it costs about $20USD to enter.
The hours of Chichen Itza are 9AM to 5PM, and most tour buses enter around 11AM or noon. I highly recommend going right when it opens to avoid the insanely large crowds. It can also get unbearably hot when the sun is fully out, so going in the early mornings avoids this problem too. On Sundays, Mexican residents can enter for free, so I also advise to go on another day of the week to avoid crowds.
MONUMENTO A LA PATRIA
Monumento a la Patria or Monument to the Fatherland is a monument located in a roundabout in Merida. This monument is considered an example of neo-indiginist or “neomaya” architecture. It was created and sculpted to tell the key moments of Mexico and its’ history, from the pre-hispanic state up until the twentieth century. This monument was created in the 1950’s.
This Monument is located in the heart of Merida at one of the busiest junctions and roundabouts. Be careful crossing the street to get to the monument! We were luckily enough that a police officer on a motorcycle saw us trying to cross and escorted us over :’) or else we probably would’ve just stood in the street like a bunch of goofs, waiting for an opening in a crazy busy road. We visited this Monument after Chichen Itza, which is about a 2 hour drive. Considering that it’s in the middle of a roundabout, there is never too many people.
HOTELS & ACCOMMODATIONS
One of the coolest aspects of Tulum is the incredible properties and spaces they have on the strip. From the hotels of Azulik and Nomade, to the art gallery of Casa Malca, here are my top three hotels to visit!
Azulik Tulum is one of the most gorgeous and unique hotels I’ve ever visited. This space is built elevated with wooden paths that twist and turn, allowing the trees and earth to grow freely. The entire hotel is also lit purely by candles, and the property has built in paths for water to flow from the lobby to the decks of the bungalows. Everything about this space screams an eco-paradise, and is a must visit when coming to Tulum.
Their primary restaurant to visit is Kin Toh. They open their doors at 5PM, but if you come early you can enjoy the art gallery next door as well as the clothing boutique. Once the restaurant opens, you can go freely around the hammock and bar area, as well as the bird nest restaurants.
Casa Malca has a super interesting hotel history and for this reason alone, it’s worth a visit. Once owned by the late Colobmian drug lord, Pablo Escobar, this mansion was used during the 1980’s for cocaine trafficking.
Rumor also has it that bullet proof walls are built into the property, and a secret tunnel exists for an escape if needed. When Escobar was gunned down in the 90’s, this hotel a New York artist purchased the property and turned it into an art-centric hotel. The lobby opens up with wedding gowns draped into curtains and floating sofa’s hoisted up by chains. A KAWS statue is right inside.
Nomade Tulum embodies and encompasses the free, gypsy, boho spirit of Tulum. The hotel is human centered, a temporary habitat for those who want to awake their soul and free their mind. The hotel sits right in front of the Caribbean Ocean, and wellness retreats and yoga classes are hosted daily.
Even their main restaurant, La Popular, is located right on the sand, and you can sit in communal tables on the sand with pillows and throws. The beach property also has hammocks, teepees, and day beds for guests as well as non-guests.
I know this is a Tulum Travel Guide, but I can’t help to include some other beautiful nearby cities. Tulum is located in the Yucatan Peninsula, and there are so many hidden gems just short drives away. You can make plenty of day trips if you have a car, or even hire a driver for an affordable price! Even though Tulum is a little paradise in and of itself, I highly recommend visiting these nearby cities and towns!
Izamal, also known as the Yellow City or the Magic City is one of the cutest places I’ve ever been. The entire town is painted yellow, from homes, to churches, to walls around. We were deep in Merida, and stopped by Izamal on our way back to Tulum, which is about a 3 hour drive. There are also a ton of little shops and food vendors in the main circle.
Tiffany and I briefly discussed getting a hotel out in Merida one of the nights so our 4 hour drive out there wouldn’t turn into an 8 hour round trip drive in one day. But that’s what ended up happening. All we saw in Merida was the Monumento de la Patria, (totally worth it), but I would love to come back and spend more time in the capital of the Yucatan Peninsula!
I really love road trips and can drive for hours on end, but this one was a little disappointing for me. Last year when I went to Tulum with my dear friend, Patrick, we drove out to Rio Lagartos and had the opportunity to see the Pink Lake of Las Colorades. We’ve heard rumors of the lake closing because too many people were coming, but we also read that as long as you come early, you can enter. It’s a 3 hour drive from Tulum, but luckily there is a one hour time change that favors us.
We arrived around 8AM, and were immediately turned away by the guards.They also built up some wire fencing and put up signs everywhere to not enter. The water is a bio-reserve and there’s a flamingo sanctuary nearby. According to the guards, I can return the following day, as long as I enter before 7AM. That would’ve meant driving another 3 hours and starting at 3AM. The sun also doesn’t come out until about 7AM, so we didn’t think it was worth it to return. Here are some photos I took in February of 2017 when I went though, if you wanted to come and test your luck!
An hour drive away, Valladolid is another town west of Tulum. It boasts some incredibly cute churches and has vibrant colors all over town. I didn’t get to spend much time here with the exception of stopping by Suytan. We drove through it plenty though and next time, I would make it a priority to stay out here!