Tulum’s beaches might just be the most beautiful in Mexico. The stretch of shoreline adjacent to the town boasts 10km of sublime white sand, lapped by the turquoise Caribbean Sea, which is clear and temperate almost year-round.
At one end lie the dramatic Tulum Ruins, and at the other is the vast Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. In between sit boutique hotels, boho beach clubs and, occasionally, blissfully empty shores. It’s a place designed to unplug, play in the water and ooh-and-ahh over the views. Here’s our pick of the best beaches in Tulum.
Playa Ruínas is one of Tulum’s most spectacular locales, and it’s often busy as a result © M Swiet Productions / Getty Images
1. Playa Ruínas
Best landmark beach
From the foot of El Castillo, Tulum Ruins’ largest pyramid, you can see visitors playing and posing on the beach below, the very same stretch of sand where Mayan canoes once arrived laden with honey, cotton and all manner of goods from far off lands.
Today, Playa Ruínas is one of Tulum’s most spectacular locales: a small sandy beach backed by dramatic seaside cliffs, graced by Tulum’s brilliant turquoise waters, and only reachable by a staircase that descends from the sentinel-like temples above. A visit here is like no other – after all, how often does anyone get to swim at a Maya ruin?
Planning tip: If you’re here to swim, get here early! By midday, it’s overrun with tour groups.
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2. Playa Paraíso
Best public beach
Playa Paraíso is a classic Caribbean beach with wide soft sand, tranquil waters and towering palm trees (even one you can drape yourself luxuriously on, like a vintage postcard). It’s no wonder it’s one of the area’s most popular sandy spots.
Although Playa Paraíso is home to several small hotels and restaurants, it’s best known for its namesake beach club, a behemoth operation with rows and rows of lounge chairs and beach beds, with servers weaving between them, loaded down with ceviche platters and cold drinks. This is not hippie chic Tulum, but it’s definitely a scene – and certainly the place to come for a thumping beach party or a pickup volleyball game. Dancing ‘til dawn not really your thing? Head further down the beach for quieter sections of sand.
Playa las Palmas is undeveloped and ideal for a swim © Eduardo Fonseca Arraes / Getty Images
3. Playa las Palmas
Best swimming beach
As you head north along the leafy beach road, an unexpected opening in the dense tropical forest appears, acting like a window into another world. It’s Playa las Palmas, a wide sloping beach with tranquil blue water, a rocky cove on one end, a ribbon of white sand on the other and… well, not much else.
Only two small hotels overlook this beach, keeping it gloriously quiet and making it the perfect place to go for a leisurely swim or hunker down with a good read. Bring your own snacks and drinks, and bring a beach umbrella if you can, as there’s little shade here.
The rows of red and white fishing boats are a staple of Playa Pescadores © Loes Kieboom / Shutterstock
4. Playa Pescadores
Best picturesque beach
Arrive early in the morning at Playa Pescadores to catch fishermen arriving in their red and white boats, sterns filled with fish that will become lunch specials later that day. In the distance, the Tulum Ruins stand atop rocky cliffs, their stone walls gleaming in the sun. Sitting on your towel with the soft sand beneath you and the blue water before you, it’s like looking at the cover of a magazine.
As the day heats up, nearby kiosks open their doors, with a handful offering snorkeling trips. Consider booking an excursion, not only for a peek at the underwater world but also for the stunning views of the ruins from the water – a vantage point that really showcases the magnificence of Tulum’s glorious coastline.
Detour: For more snorkeling adventures, head 4km west of Tulum to Gran Cenote to swim with the fish while admiring the beautiful rock formations of the caverns.
5. Papaya Playa Project Beach
Best hotel beach
Among the first hotels on Tulum’s exclusive southern beaches, Papaya Playa Project captures the essence of Tulum, where boho-chic meets luxe earthiness. The artfulness of the hotel extends to its beach club – a two-story bar with seating pods and comfy beach beds, all with thatch-roof shade and overlooking the undulating beach.
Weekends draw crowds for Papaya’s DJ-fueled dancing on the sand (the full-moon parties are legendary), while weekdays feature sunset yoga and mindfulness workshops on the beach.
Planning tip: Follow the beach club’s events calendar to keep up with who’s performing and when.
Ahau Tulum Beach certainly wins the award for most memorable entrance © Ingus Kruklitis / Shutterstock
6. Ahau Tulum Beach
Best active beach
The entrance to Ahau Tulum is unmissable: a 10m-tall wood sculpture of a person prying open their chest, which forms a leafy walkway into the resort. Walking through, a winding path brings you to the beach, a perfectly manicured spot where every speck of white sand appears to be in its rightful place. Beyond, the water almost begs you to come crashing in.
This is the home of Mexican Caribbean Kitesurf, one of the top watersports providers along Tulum’s southern beach. Lessons and rentals are offered for all levels of paddleboarders, kiteboarders and even surfers here. If you’re game to explore, sign-up for one of its tours, including paddling past Tulum’s ruins.
Detour: Explore nearby Cenote Manatí, where clear waters wind like a river through a mangrove forest, connecting the Caribbean to one of the world’s largest cave systems.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve’s hidden beach is a tranquil spot to find native wildlife © Eduardo Fonseca Arraes / Getty Images
7. El Último Maya Beach
Best secret beach
Traveling south along Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve’s rutted dirt road with dense vegetation on either side, you soon come upon El Último Maya, a simple thatched-roof restaurant that hosts occasional campers.
A sand dune blocks the view from the road, but as you climb over it, a sweeping bay opens in front of you to reveal the ocean, a study in waves of teal lapping the golden sand. There isn’t a soul in sight – it’s a wild beach (at long last!) and a throwback to when Tulum was a backpackers’ haven.