Tulum is the unassuming, more authentic sibling to Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. Set on the Caribbean Sea in the Yucatan Peninsula, Tulum almost seems like an undiscovered paradise compared with some of the other stops along the coastline. In fact, it could be argued that Tulum’s focus leans more towards nature than the commercial hype associated with some of the other towns, which is evident everywhere from the ‘eco’ retreats that are peppered amongst the upmarket resorts that line the beach, to the ocean-wise seafood you can find in restaurants.
If I could describe Tulum in one word it would be rich, but not in the monetary sense of the word. It is rich in natural beauty, history, and culture. The natural beauty that surrounds the town is endless, the Mayan history is plentiful, and locals stress the importance of preserving their culture.
Set amidst jungle, the apartment we called home for 10 days in the estate of Aldea Zama was the perfect base for our time in Tulum – scorpions, tarantulas and all. We were perfectly positioned between town and the gorgeous beaches of Tulum. Armed with bicycles we were never far from either a dip in the Caribbean or a stroll through town.
There is plenty to keep you occupied in and around Tulum, or you can seek out your own little piece of paradise and just relax amongst it all.
Here are a few of my favourite ways to pass time in Tulum:
Visit a centote. There are A LOT around Tulum, some quieter than others. Two of the most popular, and arguably most beautiful, are Grand Cenote and Dos Ojos. Timing is everything when visiting a cenote. Visiting first thing in the morning will reward you with peace and quiet, and possibly a cenote all to yourself.
My favourite was Grand Cenote; before the mass onslaught of other tourists descended on us that is. The azure water of this centote is almost too beautiful to believe. Limestone stalagmites hang from the cave’s ceiling, acting as a racecourse for the tiny swallows that nest in the cave’s nooks and crannies.
Once I’d worked up the nerve to lower myself into the chilly water I was greeted by a mass of fresh-water fish and turtles. While the turtles were a little shyer, the fish accompanied me into the darkest depths of the cave. Cenotes are very popular with divers and you will likely encounter at least two descending into the blue depths during your visit. A mask and snorkel will do the trick, though, if you’re not a diver.
Grand Cenote is a short distance from town so we decided to ride out there. While the ride was not at all difficult, the only access is via a main road, which can be a little unnerving when a large truck passes by. It is easy and cheap enough to get a taxi to Grand Cenote, or, rent a car for the day and you can visit some of the quieter, more remote cenotes.
There are a number of ruins to choose from when visiting the region. My favourite, perhaps for the stunning Caribbean backdrop, was the Tulum Ruins. Surrounded by a protective 5 metre high, u-shaped wall, the ruins are arranged throughout a grassy field 12 metres above the Caribbean.
The ‘city’ is said to have been occupied by the Mayans from as early as 564 A.D., however, the city didn’t peak until around 1200 A.D. when it was inhabited by just over 1,000 people and used as the primary hub for much of the trading to the region.
The Castillo is perhaps the most well-known structure here. The building is one of the most impressive at Tulum – towering above the others its height may have something to do with this – with a great deal of its structure still well-preserved. Perched on the sea cliff, the view from atop the Castillo of the Caribbean Sea would have been spectacular. Today, we can appreciate the view from the path that circles it, which is still pretty darn impressive.
A short stroll north of the Castillo is the Temple of the Wind. If the Castillo is the most well-known structure then the Temple of the Wind is the most photographed. The setting is postcard-perfect and irresistible to the lens from almost every angle. The building sits atop a rocky outcrop looking straight down over one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen. There is no access to the beach for public use, which only makes it even more beautiful.
The beach directly in front of the Castillo is accessible to the public, and visitors certainly make use of it. It’s no wonder, though, considering the sauna-like temperatures in Mexico during the summer months. While the beach is stunning I would recommend visiting early if you want to take a dip to avoid the mass numbers that relentlessly litter the water from 11am onwards.
As the most popular Mayan ruin on the Yucatan peninsula, the Tulum Ruins receive thousands of visitors every day. I recommend arriving as early as possible to avoid the tour buses that start coming in from around 11am.
The beaches of Mexico are known for being beautiful, one was even voted as part of the Top 25 Beaches in the World last year on Tripadvisor – more on that beach later. Once I set my eyes on the brilliant blues of the Caribbean Sea, and my feet nestled in the powder-white sand, I began to understand why. Tulum and its surrounds have some of the most beautiful beaches in the Mexico, and best of all there are still pockets of sand along the main beach you call your own.
If the stunning Tulum beach isn’t enough for you, you can always drive the short distance north to Akumal. Not only is the beach here beautiful, the turtles that patrol the bottom of the ocean feeding on seagrass are some of the most laidback I have encountered. Spending the morning floating in the ocean watching these beautiful animals feed is not a bad way to pass the time.
These were two of my favourite places to eat while in Tulum. The food was always the perfect combination of fresh, tasty, and reasonably priced.
Mateo’s has the best fish tacos around – so they claim. Not one to shy away from a good fish taco I was up for the challenge of judging whether this claim is fact or fiction. I must say, the fish tacos here are pretty darn good. The atmosphere at this laid back restaurant/bar is fun and unassuming, despite their claim to fame. If the fish tacos don’t sell you then maybe the rooftop bar with a view that goes on forever in all directions will entice you. This is the perfect spot to watch the sun go down.
If you tire of eating Mexican food breakfast, lunch, and dinner the delectable paninis at El Gourmet will fill the void. Owned and operated by a friendly family from Argentina, the clever concoctions – think prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, with homemade pickles, lettuce and tomato, and a sprinkle of oregano – they have on offer make for some delicious sandwiches. A traditional Argentinean desert tops off the meal perfectly – the strawberry shortcake type thingies were my absolute favourite.
Tulum seemingly has everything you could want from a visit to Mexico. It sure has me convinced. Admittedly this was our first stop in Mexico so I may be a little bias towards it considering my affinity to the ocean and my lack thereof for the past 15 months. Nevertheless, what a stunning introduction to Mexico it was.
There will be more from my time in Mexico up on the blog soon. In the meantime, you can find me on Instagram at @sv_images.