Tulum is one of Mexico’s most popular beach resorts and with good reason. The vast stretches of white sand are lapped at by the turquoise waters of the Caribbean with the ancient ruins perched overlooking the sand precariously on the rocks above.
For the above reasons the popularity of Tulum is increasing but it remains not as busy or rowdy as its neighbour Cancun. Tulum is the perfect place to relax and while away a few days on the sand but as this may seem tempting, there’s more to Tulum than just cocktails on the beach.
1. Visit the Ruins
The Tulum archaelogical site is the third most visited in Mexico after after Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza due to it’s proximity to the beaches of Riviera Maya. Although it is much smaller than those sites, the way it is picturesquely perched on the rocks 12 metres above the white sandy beach attracts pretty large crowds from all over the Yucatan so it is definitely worth getting there early to beat the rush (The site opens at 8am so you should have a good hour to explore before the tour buses arrive).
The walled city of Tulum was occupied from the 13th century until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th Century and served as a major port for Cobá. If you’re interested, Coba is also worth a visit (although I didn’t get there when I was in Tulum) and as it is only 44km northwest of Tulum, it’s easy to get to.
2. Watch the Voladores
As you walk from the main area of town towards Tulum ruins you may be suprised to see 5 costumed men climbing a hige tower and preparing themselves to jump off. Don’t be alarmed, they’re recreating a prehistoric ritual most often associated with the Totonac Indians of central Mexico. Known as the Voladores, these guys climb the spinning tower, attach their feet to the top by a rope and gradually swing outwards to the ground while one of their number plays meso-american music from the safety of the top (I think he’s the lucky one). It’s a pretty spectacular sight.
The performances are technically free but if you stop to watch or take photographs, you will be asked for a small ‘donation’. Yes it’s a tourist trap, but it’s one that is worth seeing.
3. Take a Plunge in the Gran Cenote
Scattered around the Yucatan peninsular are cenotes – sink holes and underground cave networks filled with crystal clear water. These were considered sacred waters by the Mayans and citied were built close by as the wells were their main source of water.
Of all of these, Gran Cenote is the most popular and it is the perfect place to snorkel in crystal clear waters (there are some fish in there) or if you’re feeling more adventurous, scuba dive through the network of caves.
Gran Cenote is located just 20 miles outside of Tulum so it is fairly easy to cycle to but I recommend hopping in a collectivo from the town.
Admission: $150 MXN. The $80 MXN for snorkel and mask rental is a little steep so bring your own if you have them.
4. Rent a Bike
As Tulum is perfectly flat, it’s the perfect place to see by bike. The main drag of shops and restaurants is pretty long so can be a pain to walk but a pleasure to pedal along. Also, if you’re staying in town, it is the best way to get to the beach. We were lucky in that our hostel let you use their bikes for free and it seems that most other hostels do the same.
If you’re feeling fit, then cycling is a great way of getting out of town to the cenotes cheaply.
Yes, I know I said that Tulum is more than just cocktails on the beach but when the sand is this white and the sea this turquoise, it would be a shame not to spend a day or two sipping a mojito on a sun lounger.
There are over 50 beach clubs along the stretch of sand, each with their own private section of beach, and spending a day at one of these is a great taste of luxury. Each beach club offers great food, drinks and spa treatments or if this isn’t your thing, just relax under an umbrella with a Margarita and a good book.
The life of luxury may not be to everyone’s taste (or budget) so you can always buy your own drinks at the 7/11 in town and sit on the sand to watch the sunset. We ventured in to Papaya Playa Project, an eco resort and beach bar, and were allowed to hang around on their sun loungers in return for buying a few beers.
What are your top tips for Tulum? Let me know in the comments below.
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