Tulum is one of Mexico’s crown jewels, a place of picture-perfect beaches and ancient seaside ruins, where nature and art intertwine, and a boho-chic vibe permeates.
It’s also a city with two souls – beach and town – and offers easy access to nightlife and good food plus magnificent outdoor adventure. To help you enjoy the diversity and breadth of what Tulum has to offer, here are the top things to do while you’re there.
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1. Snorkel or dive in a cavern
Floating through a cenote, you’ll pass yawning caverns and narrow passages, illuminated stalactites and stalagmites, with eyeless fish swimming alongside you. It’s otherworldly – no wonder the ancient Maya considered cenotes entrances to the underworld. Part of the world’s largest underwater cave systems, Cenote Dos Ojos is run by a local Maya community project. Snorkel guides lead you through the labyrinth of water-filled caverns, an eerie and unforgettable wonderland, and qualified divers can visit too.
2. Spend time on the beaches
Walking onto Tulum’s beaches is like stepping into a postcard – soft white sand between your toes and vast views of turquoise water, towering palm trees and bungalows behind you. This is why you came to Tulum.
Local Tip: If your hotel isn’t on the beach, no worries! Head north along the beach road, where two public entry points lead straight there.
Be sure to visit a cenote when you’re in Tulum © Iren Key / Shutterstock
3. Leap into swimming holes in the jungle
Tulum is dotted with open-air cenotes, sublime swimming holes surrounded by dense forest, their waters cool and clear, home to schools of tiny fish. Many cenotes, including Carwash, Cristal and Escondido, have simple rope swings and jumping platforms, their surfaces, like mirrored glass, hiding the wondrous caverns below.
4. Soak up the views at the remarkable Tulum ruins
Tulum ruins are an archaeological site like no other, an ancient walled city with ornate stone structures perched on a seaside cliff, high above the brilliant Caribbean waters. True, the structures are modest compared to other sites, but those temples and those views… they can’t be beat. And there’s even a beach!
Planning Tip: Arrive early to avoid the midday crush, and don’t forget your bathing suit.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere is a top bird-watching destination © Justin Foulkes / Lonely Planet
5. Take a guided tour of the glorious Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Directly south of Tulum, Reserva de la Biósfera de Sian Ka’an is a vast and magnificent reserve of tropical forests and untouched beaches, coral reefs and impossibly blue lagoons. Having a guide is the only way to really explore and appreciate the reserve; the Maya-run Community Tours Sian Ka’an is a good option with snorkeling and kayaking tours, bird-watching trips and even swimming through ancient Maya canals.
6. Settle in for a night of live music at El Batey
El Batey’s live music will pull you in, Latin beats filling the night air, the crowd spilling into the street. This is a longtime fave in town and the go-to for mojitos, sweetened with freshly pressed sugar cane and prepped on the bar’s iconic VW bug.
Planning Tip: Arrive early to nab a seat – most nights, it’s standing room only.
Bike hire is inexpensive in Tulum © Linda Raymond / Getty Images
7. Bike the beach road
There’s something about riding a bike that evokes a feeling of freedom and belonging. In Tulum, it means pedaling past stop-and-go traffic, a sense of liberation as you explore the beachfront from the ruins to Sian Ka’an, a canopy of leaves lining the way.
Planning Tip: Hotels often offer complimentary bikes, and affordable rentals are easy to find.
8. Party (or peace out) at Papaya Playa Project
The artful hotel and beach club Papaya Playa Project draws crowds for its full-moon parties and Saturday DJ nights on the beach – an extension of the nightlife in town. Midweek is quieter; come for sunset yoga and oh-so-Tulum workshops on topics like “ecstatic movement” and “love immersion.”
9. Experience the thrill of kiteboarding
When nortes (northerly winds) blow in during the winter season, kiteboarders come out like muscly butterflies, skimming the water’s surface before lifting, flipping and flying above the waves. Join the crowd! Book lessons or rent gear from water sports operators on Tulum’s southern beaches – Mexican Caribbean Kitesurf is a top choice.
10. Walk barefoot through SFER IK art museum
Wandering barefoot through the surreal SFER IK art museum pronounced “spheric”), its circular windows peeking into Tulum’s dense tropical forest, you feel like you’re in a giant cocoon made of bejuco (vine-like wood) and undulating cement. All your senses take over, the contemporary works of art becoming part of this place as much as you, which is exactly the point of this architectural beauty. Located just steps from the beach, a visit here is dreamy, unique and unmissable.
11. Steam and cleanse yourself in a temescal
There’s no better place than hippie-chic Tulum to experience a temescal. Dating to pre-Colombian times, these spiritual cleansings involve sweat – lots of it, with participants sitting in a windowless structure heated with steaming volcanic rocks. At Yaax Healing Sanctuary, a Maya healer leads the ritual. You emerge with a renewed sense of balance and calm (and gratitude for the cooler air). Isn’t that what vacation is all about?
Enjoy a soak in the Kaan Luum lagoon © Florian Springer / Getty Images
12. Soak in mud at Laguna Kaan Luum
Slather yourself in the restorative muds of Laguna Kaan Luum, a stunning circular lagoon with waters that alternate between blue and green, depending on the day. Fed by a deep cenote that’s visible from the lookout tower, the waters are warm and shallow – perfect for washing off the mud!
13. Dine at low-impact restaurant Hartwood
If you’re lucky enough to nab a seat, eating at this off-the-grid restaurant is a classic Tulum experience. The chalkboard menu changes daily, and the ingredients are always fresh and locally sourced. Expect simple yet sophisticated meals – nouvelle-cuisine at its best – cooked over a wood fire and served in an open-air dining room. Buen provecho!
Be sure to sample tacos al pastor from a street-side grill © Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez / Getty Images
14. Eat street tacos
As the sun sets, Tulum’s street-side grills light up. Hungry customers order platefuls of tacos al pastor – pint-size tortillas topped with sizzling spit-roasted pork, bright red with achiote seasoning and topped with pineapple.
Planning Tip: Get your fill at Taquería El Carboncíto, with plastic tables on the sidewalk. It’s the sort of place you pine for long after you’ve gone home.
15. Tour Tulum’s vibrant murals
Walking through Tulum town, there’s an explosion of art. Dozens of murals brighten the streets: swimming sea turtles and Maya jaguars, psychedelic flowers and fish-headed people. And more appear each year.
Planning Tip: Get a map of the murals at the tourist information booth, or simply wander along Calle Sol Oriente – the heart of the street gallery.