When planning a vacation to Mexico, the “usual suspects” probably come to mind: Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Cozumel, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, or Playa del Carmen.
And don’t get me wrong, they’re incredible destinations, but why not think outside the Senior Frogs?
I recently walked the beaches of Tulum, Mexico and my love for Mexico was not only rekindled, but I re-evaluated my impression all-together. I found so many reasons to travel to Tulum.
Tulum provides the ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts looking for an intimate experience with nature, local culture, fresh seafood, and of course, a little tequila.
Stay in a cabana on the beach, practice yoga, or lay in a hammock and read. And when you’re ready for a little adventure, it’s never far.
Tulum is surrounded by magical ruins, cenotes, and an Eden created by the Mayan gods.
Yes, that’s right, an Eden.
If you don’t know what any of those things are, just know this: bring your suit, you can swim there – and you’ll never see water so blue.
Tulum is divided into three areas:
– the ruins
– the village
– the hotel zone
Typically, I would try to avoid anything called “the hotel zone,” but I can assure you, these aren’t your traditional hotels. Along a beautiful stretch of beach are a number of small beach bungalows. Just imagine thatch roofs and mosquito-net covered beds rather than high-rise hotels and you’ve got the right idea. Each boutique hotel has its own unique variation, but the theme is consistent.
A bike makes for great transportation in Tulum. Rent a bike and cruise into town in a matter of minutes. The population is about 10,000, so don’t expect something extravagant. You’ll find small restaurants, vendors, guide shops, open markets, banks, ATMs, money exchange, and friendly locals. This is an excellent spot to book outdoor excursions to experience the many natural wonders surrounding the town.
Places to explore when you travel to Tulum
A few popular places to explore in the area include Xelha, Xcaret, the Tulum ruins, Sian Ka’an, and a number of cenotes.
Xelba (pronounced, shell-ha) is a popular eco-park and archaeological site known to the Maya people as their Eden. Swim in the crystal blue lagoon, explore the lush jungle, and make reservations to swim with the dolphins. The waters are abundant with social fish who are fed by tourists and park officials.
Xcaret (pronounced sh-cah-ret) is another popular eco-park and archaeological site most notably known for its successful preservation with its environmental management system. Additionally, the park works to promote marine turtle conservation and is frequented by both green and loggerheads sea turtles. Like Xelha, Xcaret is also a truly magical place to swim and explore.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site also once inhabited by the Maya people. Here you can explore tropical forest, mangroves, marshes, secluded beaches, and a barrier reef. The area is also popular for wildlife and bird enthusiasts.
The Tulum ruins
The Tulum ruins are unique to the other Mayan ruins because they’re right along the coast of the beautiful blue Caribbean Sea. Seeing the crumbling ruins of the ancient culture with the electric blue ocean as a backdrop is truly stunning. These are smaller ruins. It’s estimated that Tulum was one of the smaller Mayan communities. Bring your suit because it’s a public beach!
More places to visit near Tulum
If you’ve got the time while on the Riveria Maya, why not venture out to see a little more? Chichen Itza is the largest and most popular of the Maya ruins to visit for tourists. It’s also one of the new seven wonders of the world (well, new-ish, since 2007).
Here, you’ll see the famous Kukulkan Pyramid known as “El Castillo” (The Castle). Chichen Itza covers about 2 sq miles, so wear your walking shoes. There’s lots to see and you’ll probably want to see it all.
The Coba ruins are especially interesting b/c of how many ruins still remain un-excavated. Large heaps of earth loom, letting your imagination wander. It’s also much less crowded at Coba, but no less interesting. You can walk, rent a bike, or have a local cart you around along the dirt roads through the shaded jungle for a small fee.
The Nohuch Mul temple at Coba is one of the only ruins left that tourists have permission to climb.
Swimming in cenotes in the Rivera Maya
Finally, when visiting the Rivera Maya you’ll hear lots of talk of cenotes. “What in the heck is a cenote”, I thought? In English, it literally translates to “sink hole” which sounds much less romantic.
You absolutely must swim in a cenote if you make it to the Yucatan Peninsula.
There are a number of popular ones: Azul, Gran, Los Ojos, Calavera Cenote, Sistema Aktun Chen, Sistema Xcaret, among so many more.
I was fortunate enough to get to swim in the private Xochempich cenote which was organized by Catherwood Travels. It was probably the highlight of my experience in the Mundo Maya.
Where to stay in Tulum
The entire region between Cancun and Tulum offers a wide range accommodation options to choose from, including a wide range of vacation rentals – from luxurious beachfront villas, to jungle homes, to condos in the most popular cities.
Read more about where to stay in Tulum: budget beachfront accommodation.
Tulum is absolutely enchanting!
Tulum is 79 miles south of Cancun and 38 miles south of Playa del Carmen. Travel to Tulum involves flying into Cancun (search for flights here) and arranging for transportation from the airport, which is about an hour and half drive.
It’s worth it, I promise.