Tulum is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico, and it’s easy to see why! Unique Mayan ruins; gorgeous beaches; nearby nature reserves and some of the best cenotes in Mexico; a selection of incredible hotels and delicious restaurants make it a must for anyone on a road trip around Mexico.
Located in the Yucatan Peninsula, just 1.5 hours drive from Cancun, Tulum is the perfect place to end your trip before you head to the airport, return your car and fly home. Curious to discover the best things to do in Tulum, Mexico? Continue reading – I have been there three times and know a great deal about it!
Looking for information on how to get to Tulum? Click here.
The Best Things To Do In Tulum, Mexico
Explore Tulum Archaeological Zone
Tulum Ruins are an iconic destination in the town and it goes without saying that visiting the site is one of the unmissable things to do in Tulum. Set on an impressive cliffside location, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, they may not be the most extensive of Mexico’s Mayan ruins, but it is worth a visit nonetheless.
The ruins of the 13th-century watchtower and temple are all that remains of a Mayan walled city that once stood here which doubled up as the major port for the more important city of Coba. Interestingly, ancient Tulum – thought to have been called Zama, meaning “City of Dawn” – was one of the last cities built and inhabited in the Mayan world, and survived 70 years into the 16th-century Spanish colonization.
Zama is further considered to be an important site for the “Diving” or “Descending” god.
Cool off in the Gran Cenote
Just outside of Tulum is Gran Cenote. Easily one of the most popular cenotes in Tulum, it’s a collection of caves and an open-air cenote all linked up by wooden boardwalks. With many facilities, it’s popular with snorkelers and divers who explore the waters both in and out of the cave system.
It’s also a spot for those who simply want to swim and lounge around in the cooling beautiful waters of the cenote itself. Gran Cenote is particularly nice as it is surrounded by nature – lots of green lush plants provide the backdrop to your day of chilling out at this exquisitely chilled spot.
Make sure to read my post The Best Cenotes Near Tulum.
Go underground at the Caves at Cenote Caracol
Another of the amazing cenotes situated near Tulum, Cenote Caracol is just a few miles north of the town and is well renowned for its caves. This captivating cenote and cave complex will be perfect for casual visitors and intrepid explorers alike.
Formed over millions of years, the caves are absolutely covered with enormous hanging stalactites, creating otherworldly rock formations that make for an eerie, awe-inspiring atmosphere.
The cave system itself is vast, and it can be explored on a tour or by yourself (it’s fairly developed). After you’re done journeying through the magical caverns, you can cool off with a dip in the glimmering blue of the cenote that is located here.
Spend the day at Laguna Kaan Luum
While cenotes may be the go-to for travelers looking to cool off in a beautiful natural setting, there are other ways to relax in a watery setting in Tulum. Laguna Kaan Luum is one of those places. Just 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) and around 15 minutes drive south of Tulum town, this shallow lake boasts unbelievably turquoise water which actually has a deep cenote at its center, making for a unique place to explore.
It’s thought that the central sinkhole is around 80 meters (around 262.5 feet) deep, giving a dark blue contrast to the pastel blue lagoon waters – however, divers will be disappointed as it’s off limits. It’s easy to get to the lake and it’s just 100 Mexican Pesos (that’s $5 USD) to enter, after which you can enjoy the shallow waters. Definitely a hidden gem in Tulum.
Chill out on Paradise Beach
As you might be able to tell from the name, Paradise Beach – also known as Playa Paraiso – is a true slice of coastal beauty. You absolutely must visit – it’s one of the top things to do in Tulum!
Think white sand, turquoise waters and palm trees (yes, just like a postcard). It’s one of the most famous beaches in Tulum and is a popular area for locals and visitors alike, who come for snorkeling, water sports, and relaxation.
Lapped by the sparkling Caribbean Sea, this gorgeous beach is free to enter as it’s a public beach. But while it is free, you can pay to use sun loungers of the beach clubs situated here, and here you can also pick up food and drink. Thankfully, even though Paradise Beach is popular, it never feels too crowded as it’s pretty large.
Check out my post The Best Beaches In Mexico.
Enjoy the vibrant nightlife
You might be in Tulum to hit the beach, marvel at Mayan ruins, and visit a cenote or two, but while you’re here, why not let your hair down on a wild night out? Ok, so it doesn’t have to be that wild – nightlife in Tulum ranges from having a few cocktails at a chic bar, to dancing the night away under a full moon (and everything in between).
Tulum has an eclectic mix of nightlife spots making it perfect for party lovers of all kinds and tastes. One cool place to check is Casa Jaguar. In the week, this is a Caribbean restaurant, but as the weekend arrives, international DJs take to the decks for late night parties. There’s also the notorious Papaya Playa Project (or PPP) claiming to host the biggest party in town – particularly at full moon, where you’ll find big name DJs spinning tunes into the early hours.
Take a class at Casa de la Cultura de Tulum
The Casa de la Cultura de Tulum is a cultural center (as the name suggests) situated inside a colorful, visually striking building. If you’re curious about learning a new skill or want to learn about local heritage and culture, then you should definitely make a beeline here to see what events are on offer.
From arts exhibitions and workshops, all the way to concerts and cinema screenings, there’s always something going on at the Casa de la Cultura de Tulum. It’s fairly off the beaten track, and one of the more unusual things to do in Tulum, and ideal for those who aren’t here for partying.
Admire Tulum’s street art on a tour
Murals in Tulum have a history starting back in 2014 as an idea by a local business owner who wanted to create a vibrant, creative scene in the city. Since then, the streets of Tulum have been daubed in an array of colorful murals, with street art in various styles popping up all over the city. It really adds to the cool charm of the town itself.
However, these murals aren’t always easy to find – they’re often tucked away down side streets and on local people’s houses. The best way to explore them all is to take a tour and get a local guide to show you around to the best and most impressive of all the murals.
To book a guided tour of Tulum which includes a murals tour with a local guide, click here.
Splash out on fine dining at Hartwood
Hartwood is arguably the most high-end restaurant in Tulum, and because of that, eating here comes with a certain prestige. Naturally, tables at this stylish eatery are not always easy to come by – in fact, reservations are taken for up to one month in advance. So if this sounds like your thing, make sure to book ahead!
At Hartwood, you can expect dishes made with fresh ingredients sourced from markets and farms throughout the Yucatan, bringing local flavors together in a down-to-earth style of cooking, all rooted in “Mundo Maya”. Sustainability is also key to the restaurant – it’s actually off-grid, meaning its power comes from solar panels, and they have a zero-carbon footprint, with cooking done only with their open fire. It’s pretty easy to see why this place is so popular – it may just be the one of the best meals you ever eat.
Visit the Muyil Archaeological Site
Muyil is one of the oldest and longest-inhabited Mayan sites in this part of the Yucatan Peninsula (300 BC to the time of the 16th century AD). Situated only around 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from Tulum, Muyil is also known by its ancient name – Chunyaxche. It may be relatively small compared to some of the more major archaeological sites in the region, but this results in an atmospheric spot that’s less crowded and easy to explore.
Spread across 38 hectares of jungle, Chunyaxche features, at its center, a pyramid which, at 15 meters (59 feet), is the highest in the entire Maya Riviera. At its peak, Chunyaxche, whose name means “Where the Sky is Born”, was a densely populated city situated along a Caribbean coastal trade route. It was accessed by a series of canals which can still be seen to this day, partly in the form of a lagoon that you can swim in or explore via boat.
For a guided tour that goes to Muyil as well as Sian Ka’an Reserve, click here.
Spend the day in Coba
About 27 miles (43.4 km) northwest of Tulum, Coba is one of the most impressive Mayan sites in the region. What’s special about it is the incredible system of sacbeob, Mayan pathways – it’s the largest in the ancient Maya world and it won’t take you long to realize it: the site is massive and it will take you a good half day to explore it on foot (you can also rent bikes or bici-taxi).
Back in the day, Coba was actually the most important city in the region – it is thought that Tulum actually served as its port. Around 50,000 people lived there, and construction of the city occurred between 500 to 900 AD. Here, you will be able to see pelotas (ball) courts and climb the pyramids (it’s one of the few places in Yucatan where this is still permitted) for stunning views of the surrounding jungle.
For a guided tour of Coba departing from Tulum, click here.
Make sure to read my post The Best Day Trips From Tulum.
Have a coffee break
Tulum has no shortage of cute cafes and cool coffee joints where you can go to spend a relaxing time with a cup of joe. So when you’re not lounging around at the beach or hiking around some ancient ruins, it might be a nice idea to unwind in one of the many coffee shops in town.
There are a lot to choose from. Try Cara Feliz, a bookstore cafe with a scattering of tables, sofas, and a shady courtyard to spend a while reading and sipping on coffee. There’s also the family-run Ki’Bok Coffee Shop, which is a very popular spot to grab a coffee in Tulum (the ice coffee is particularly good here). Alternatively, you could try Coati Cafe, a stylish coffee bar close to the beach that also serves tasty food.
Be amazed by nature at the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest area of protected nature in the Mexican Caribbean. Located around an hour and twenty minutes’ drive from Tulum, this vast natural environment is a unique place to visit.
At Sian Ka’an (meaning “Origin of the Sky”) you’ll find a breath-taking mix of habitats – from mangroves and marshes to tropical forests and even part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. It is home to an incredibly rich array of flora and fauna – here there are more than 300 bird species and a large number of other vertebrate species, too.
The exceptional diversity can be explored easily on a tour of the reserve which can be arranged in advance. There’s a choice of different ways to see what’s on offer, from the “ancient Mayan route” to a reef and snorkeling tour.
For a guided tour of Sian Ka’an Reserve departing from Tulum, click here.
Snap a picture at one of Tulum’s famous signs
The Tulum Sign is a colorful spot that makes for a popular photo opportunity for Instagrammers and tourists in town. It may be a pretty touristy spot, but it’s still a lot of fun to go and snap a pic for some memories and strike a pose or two in a selfie. You’ll find it near the Tulum Ruins, so it’s not hard to stumble across.
Another notorious sign that’s often seen on Instagram and on many travel sites is the “Follow your dreams” sign. This quirky sign could be mistaken for just another traffic warning, but this little slice of inspirational aesthetics is perfect for a quick snap as you’re exploring Tulum. It’s situated just in front of Lolita Lolita Boutique.
Treat yourself to a day at a beach club
If you don’t just want to spend the day laying out on the sand and you feel like a little bit more luxury, then you’re in luck. Tulum has its very own array of beach clubs just waiting for you to turn up and soak up all of their chic ambience.
However, they actually come in all shapes and sizes. Some are more family-friendly, while others are definitely more party-centric. One example is Casa Malca, which is a glamorous, artistic space that has a decidedly exclusive atmosphere (it costs over $100 USD per day to use).
For something more down-to-earth but still stylish, try out Ahau Tulum – an eco-conscious beach club with cabanas and beach huts right on the beach. They also host yoga classes. For a bargain option, try Zazil Kin, where you can rent a sunbed for the day and have access to waiter service and the restaurant.
Soak up the views from Tulum Tower
For views out over the surrounding area, one of the best things to do in Tulum is climbing Tulum Tower. This 35-meter (118 feet) tall structure soars above the surrounding jungle canopy and provides an expansive vista. Seeing the white sands of the Caribbean coast and the lush greens of the jungle is amazing enough, but you can also enjoy a drink (or two) when you’re up in the tower itself. It’s pretty fun and definitely recommended for those who like a good view – especially of Mayan ruins down below.
You can get tickets for Tulum Tower here.