The highlights of Tulum include its Mayan ruins and pristine beaches, both located a short distance east from Tulum’s downtown. Adventurous travelers should take advantage of the great opportunities to observe the Riviera Maya’s natural attractions, including Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. You can also check out the several cenotes, or subterranean water caverns, around Tulum.
Tulum doesn’t have a great nightlife scene, but Playa del Carmen (40 miles north) and Canc?n (80 miles north) come to life after dark.? Keep in mind that it?s probably not safe to party in one of these towns and make the long drive back to Tulum in the same night.
Tulum’s Mayan ruins are some of the most well-preserved in all of Mexico. Constructed between 1200 and 1450, they include several temples and shrines devoted to Mayan gods. Many are within walking distance of Tulum’s downtown, but there are also several structures at Muyil, located on the western edge of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
Tulum’s beaches are some of the largest in Riviera Maya, and they won’t disappoint. You can enjoy a scenic swim right in front of the famous Mayan ruins, or travel south along the road to Boca Paila, where you’ll find beaches like the popular Playa Para?so and a few beachside resorts. You can also charter diving expeditions to nearby reefs or underground water caverns, known as cenotes.
The largest beach in the area stretches south from the ruins to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Beachside boutiques and cabanas run along the coast, offering excellent accommodations ranging from upscale resorts to spare, beachside cabanas.
South of Tulum along the road to Boca Paila, you’ll find the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a 1.3 million acre national park that features an abundance of plant life, marine life and a coral reef. Sian Ka’an — and the lush coast surrounding Tulum — makes the Riviera Maya a favorite getaway for ecotourists. Also be sure to visit the Gran Cenote — a large underground water cavern and nearby Xcaret, an old sacred Mayan city and, now, a 250-acre ecological theme park.
he best way to get around Tulum is in a taxi. You can walk or bike to the beaches, to the ruins and to Tulum Pueblo, but there’s a chance of overexerting yourself. If you’d like a car you’ll have to rent one inCanc?n or Playa del Carmen, but we don’t recommend driving because of reported auto crimes. Buses aren’t a viable option either — the only ones available are the shuttles that take vacationers to and from the other Riviera Maya areas, and to and from CUN airport in Canc?n.
Privately owned buses travel the difference between Tulum and the rest of Riviera Maya, as do colectivos, or chauffeured white vans. To visit the island of Cozumel, you can take the bus to Playa del Carmen followed by a ferry ride.
|Driving from Canc?n or Playa del Carmen to Tulum is not worth the hassle — residents motor the rocky roads swiftly, and you could easily be overwhelmed. Some travel sites have also reported problems with auto robberies (particularly at night) and even police scams, where the officers pull drivers over and then demand a bribe.
|Taxis pretty much have a monopoly on getting you from your hotel to the beach (your other options are to walk, bike, drive yourself or hitchhike — and the last two aren’t recommended), but you can also use them to get to the ruins or the reserves. They dawdle around the hotel areas, but you can also find them near the bus terminal. Luckily, the fixed fares are reasonable. You’ll pay between 35 and 50 pesos (or $3 and $4 USD) to ride from the popular hotels to the beach.
|You’ll get a little exercise and have a little independence by biking your way around town. The only rental company, Iguana Bike, will deliver your wheels to your hotel, and according to user reviews, the fares are reasonable (even though a traveler tells TripAdvisor that the company’s customer service isn’t so accommodating). The company also offers tours of the area cenotes and beaches.
|Walking is always affordable, and in Tulum, it’s also feasible. You could choose to hoof it from the hotel areas to the beaches, the ruins and even Tulum Pueblo, depending on where you’re located. You’ll find taxis are a more comfortable option, given the heat. And you should always exercise common sense and not walk long distances alone at night.
Bring an up-to-date passport with you to Mexico, and expect to be issued a Mexican Tourist Permit when you arrive. Its cost is absorbed into your plane ticket, but you’ll need to hold onto that card and present it upon departure. For more information on entry and exit requirements, visit the U.S. State Department’s website.
Tulum consists of three zones: Tulum Pueblo, the town center where you can find numerous restaurants; Zona Hotelera, the hotel zone near most of the beaches; and the Tulum Ruins, home to many of the area’s old Mayan structures.
Tulum Pueblo lies along Highway 307, an area Lonely Planetconsiders more “like a truckstop than a tropical paradise.” In previous years the Pueblo had a decidedly “dumpy” feel (asMoon Travel Guides so eloquently points out), but there are some new caf?s, restaurants and hotels that have lately redeemed the area.
Zona Hotelera is just east of the Tulum Pueblo and houses the more upscale and expensive hotels, resorts and beach clubs. It used to be more isolated and home to independent-minded travelers, but in recent years the beach area has turned ritzy. The beaches are accessible by bike, small bus (colectivos) and by taxi. To avoid theft, don’t bring anything valuable on to the beach.
The Tulum Ruins are right on the beach and of the late post-classical design, constructed roughly around 1200 to 1450. The area was originally known as “Zama” (or Dawn) to its Mayan inhabitants and remained a Mayan worship area until the early twentieth century. One of its most popular sites, the Temple of the Frescoes, contains a number of frescoes that represent the rain gods Chaac and Ixchel. Travelers cannot enter the building, but the frescoes are visible from a viewing area. We also recommend the Temple of the Descending God and the Kukulc?n Group, which holds several smaller structures, including the Temple of the God of the Wind.
Writers also recommend the nearby Cob? ruins, located north of Tulum along Highway 307. Playa.info says that many tour companies offer trips to Cob? from Playa del Carmen. Writers also recommend seeing the Gran Cenote, a large open-water pool with impressive rock formations, caves and caverns. The Gran Cenote is accessible along the highway between Tulum and Cob?. Just follow road signs.
Touring the ruins by the seaside won’t take too long, so use some of your Tulum time to explore Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve to the south. A non-profit eco-tourism team, CESiaKoffers an assortment of tours throughout this federally protected UNESCO site, which features an assortment of dunes, lagoons, beaches and protected habitats and ecosystems. Fishing-, biking- and archeological-dig tours are also available, and you can also explore the ruins of Muyil, another Mayan ruin site and the home of El Castillo, one of the largest buildings in the Yucat?n.
While Mexico has experienced a surge in drug-related violence, Tulum has remained a relatively safe travel destination. Travelers should exercise common sense when traveling in the downtown area. Don’t walk around alone at night. If you’re staying in a beachside cabana, be sure to lock your doors (many writers note that travelers frequently sleep with the door open). Don’t walk on isolated areas of the beach at night. Driving during the daytime is relatively safe, but writers warn travelers against driving at night, as some foreign travelers have experienced robbery.
You should avoid the tap water in Tulum, but the food is generally safe to eat.