There’s a lot to love about Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. The Caribbean coast is famous for its postcard-perfect white, sandy beaches and warm, turquoise water, and the thick, tropical jungle in between. While some beach destinations offer nothing but, well, beach time, a trip here will promise you all that and so much more, if you’re the kind of person that likes to have a little adventure along the way!
About two hours south of Cancun, Tulum trades big, all-inclusive resort ambiance for more boutique properties and bohemian design. The destination often stirs up mixed reviews from visitors, with some saying Tulum is the most beautiful, exotic, spiritual getaway there is (because of this, it’s often compared to Bali). I’ve heard others refer to Tulum as overrated, because it’s admittedly quite different from the rest of Mexico and its popularity has exploded significantly in the last decade, leading to growing pains and a whole slew of new opportunities and challenges.
I spent nearly a month with Tulum as a home base on a recent work-cation, and I can honestly say that I found truth in both opinions. Tulum is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. From the beach, to the jungle, to the cenotes and Mayan ruins, I was completely captivated by this special place. But I wasn’t blind to the traffic, the New York-priced restaurants (delicious as they were), and the Instagram-focused designs that, while extremely cool, sometimes seemed a little annoying.
All that said, I do think that there is a right way to do Tulum, and that its allure is undeniably cool and worth a visit. After spending a decent amount of time here, I compiled some of my favorite activities and experiences into an adventure- and relaxation-filled itinerary for your first visit.
Read on for my one-week guide to Tulum and beyond!
The Ultimate One-Week Guide to Tulum, Mexico
DAY ONE: Get Acclimated By Enjoying Tulum Beach
Tulum is consistently ranked among the top beaches in Mexico, thanks to its white sand, palm tree-lined coast, and pastel, calm waters. Dedicate your first day in Tulum to getting acclimated and relaxing on the sand with a cocktail or cerveza in hand!
There are generally three ways to enjoy the beach in Tulum:
Stay in a Tulum Beach Hotel
The beach area of Tulum is dotted with hotels and resorts that offer “private” access to the ocean. These hotels are generally much pricier than the rest of Tulum’s accommodations, but if you can swing it even if only for a night or two, it’s worth it to be able to wake up just steps from the water.
My recommendations on places to stay can be found at the bottom of this post!
Tulum Beach Clubs
If you aren’t staying on a beachfront property, you can visit a beach club instead. Some beach clubs I experienced or heard good things about while I was in town include:
- Taboo Tulum
- Papaya Playa Project
- Mia Restaurant & Beach Club
- Nomade Tulum
- Habitas Tulum
- Ziggy Beach
- Coco Tulum
- Ahau Tulum
Tulum’s Public Beaches (North Playa)
For a more chill atmosphere, you can bring your own towel and drinks and head to one of Tulum’s true public-access beaches, which are equally beautiful:
DAY TWO: Visit A Cenote And Explore Tulum Town
Now that you’re acclimated with the beach, spend day two getting to know one of the other great ways to swim in Tulum – in a cenote!
Cenotes in Tulum
This guide to Tulum would not be complete without mentioning the Yucatán Peninsula’s awe-inspiring cenotes.
There are tons of super cool cenotes near Tulum and I encourage you to visit at least one or two while you’re here! I personally visited Dos Ojos (my favorite), Zacil-Ha (great for swimming and lounging around in the sun), and Calavera (super fun sunken cenote that you can jump into!), but here are all of the cenotes near Tulum I’ve heard great things about:
Whichever cenote(s) you choose, plan to pay an entrance fee plus an additional fee for any camera or drones you plan on bringing in with you. In general, I found myself spending between 45 minutes to two hours at each cenote I visited, depending on how big it was.
Explore Tulum Town
Now that you’ve explored Tulum beach, you can head to Tulum town! The beach and town areas are distinctly different and about 20 – 45 minutes apart by car or bike, give or take. While the beach area is more glamorous, bohemian, and expensive, town is comparably more chill, local, and affordable. This is a great place to spend some time walking around, shopping, and grabbing a bite or a cocktail at a much more reasonable price than you’ll find near the water.
TIP: Many people will actually divide their hotel time between staying at the beach and staying in town in order to experience the best of both worlds and make their vacation a bit more affordable overall. I bounced back and forth while I was here, too. My time in Tulum looked like this:
4 nights in Aldea Zama (an up-and-coming neighborhood of apartments, condos, and vacation homes, situated in between the beach and town zones of Tulum)
1 week in Tulum’s hotel zone, on the beach
1 week in Tulum town, where I found my money could stretch much further in terms of affording a nice room (I even got my own villa and plunge pool at a hotel in Tulum town for a couple nights!)
1 week exploring other parts of the Yucatán
DAY THREE: Go on a Sian Ka’an Biosphere Expedition
One of the most unique natural attractions in Tulum is the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, a 2,000+ square-mile reserve that protects a network of freshwater marshes, mangroves, lagoons, and barrier reef, serving as the home base for tons of magnificent wildlife.
Because of how massive this reserve is, you’ll need to choose between one of the two main areas that can be explored in Sian Ka’an: Punta Allen or Muyil. Regardless of which area you choose to explore, plan to dedicate an entire day to this experience!
Sian Ka’an via Punta Allen: This section of the reserve takes you through mangroves and open ocean, where your odds of having a wildlife encounter are high! It’s common to spot manatees, crocodiles, dolphins, birds, turtles, and more. The only drawback to Punta Allen is that it’s virtually impossible to do on your own, unless you plan on spending one or two nights in Punta Allen. The roads leading to Punta Allen are just too poorly maintained for anyone with a rental car to try and endure. If you want to do a day trip to Punta Allen, you’ll need to book a tour (see below!).
Sian Ka’an via Muyil: This section of the reserve is doable either on your own or as part of a tour. While you won’t really see any wildlife in this part of Sian Ka’an, you will get to see Mayan ruins and float down ancient river canals!
I chose to visit Punta Allen, and I cannot recommend the experience enough for anyone visiting Tulum. It was my first time seeing manatees and crocodiles out in the wild, and it blew my mind! I took a tour with Mexico Kan Tours, who I chose because of their commitment to responsible tourism and nature conservation (quick disclosure! I received a media discount on this tour).
- Click here for day-long tours of Sian Ka’an via Punta Allen
- Click here for day-long tours of Sian Ka’an via Muyil
DAY FOUR: Bike Around the Coba Ruins
Another great day trip from Tulum is to Coba, which is just 45 minutes to an hour outside of town, depending on where you’re staying. I highly recommend taking the time to visit these lesser-known ruins and the surrounding cenotes if you’re spending a week in Tulum.
Coba is an ancient Mayan city that is known as the intersection of the largest network of raised pathways (sacbe in Mayan) in the ancient Mayan world. Here, you can visit a huge connected archeological area dotted with structures, engraved stones, and pyramids, the most well-known of which is the Nohoch Mul Pyramid. In order to see all of the sites here, you can rent bikes or have a local Mayan guide take you around on a bicycle carriage. Being able to bike through the jungle from pyramid to pyramid is a unique highlight of visiting these particular ruins!
Cenotes Near Coba
After visiting the Coba archaeological site, you have to stop at at least one cenote here before heading back to Tulum. There are three well-known cenotes located in close proximity to one another, and you can buy an entrance pass for all three, or just one, depending on how much time you have to spare. The one I visited, which is pictured above, is Choo-Ha!
DAY FIVE: Enjoy Some Yoga, Try a Temazcal, and Indulge in Tulum’s Foodie Scene
After a big day out exploring Coba, spend day five enjoying the wellness, spiritual, and culinary offerings Tulum is so famous for. You’ll feel relaxed and rejuvenated just in time for day six!
Yoga in Tulum
Tulum is a haven for yogis, and it seems like the scene has only continued to grow and expand in recent years. You can find everything from more laidback studios to luxury beachfront shalas offering everything from vinyasa to breathing techniques.
If you’re staying at a hotel in Tulum, it’s likely your hotel will offer yoga classes onsite for free or by donation. Otherwise, it’s not hard to find a studio near you to sweat it out in the jungle heat.
Some highly recommended places to practice yoga in Tulum include:
Temazcales are essentially Mayan sweat lodges, and the ceremonies are led by a shaman and said to purify your mind and body. This ancient Mesoamerican ceremony can actually be found all over Tulum (in some cases, your hotel may even have a Temazcal onsite), and is a popular spiritual experience to undertake while here. The Temazcal kind of looks like a giant pizza oven, and in addition to sweating it out, you can expect chanting, singing, and intention-setting throughout the ritual.
I didn’t get to try a Temazcal myself while in Tulum, unfortunately. I’ve heard others be skeptical of their effectiveness, but I personally think that ceremonies like this have a lot to do with the mindset you have going into it. If you try a Temazcal ceremony, approach it with an open mind and who knows, you might walk away pleasantly surprised. And, if you do try it, let me know in the comments how it went!
By now, you’ve probably already gotten a good idea of Tulum’s culinary scene, but if you haven’t taken an evening to experience one of Tulum’s more upscale dining options, let tonight be the night! Along the hotel zone, you’ll find a pretty significant selection of restaurants to choose from, each offering its own spin on international cuisine or modern Mexican flavors. Make a reservation in advance if you can, and expect to pay a decent amount (estimate $100+ per person, depending on whether you’re getting drinks). It’s a bit of a splurge but worth it for at least one evening of getting dressed up and heading out to experience Tulum after dark.
DAY SIX: Visit The Famous Chichen-Itza Archeological Site
No trip to this part of Mexico would be complete without a visit to Chichen-Itza. If you haven’t been, be sure to dedicate some time for a day trip to see one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, just two hours from Tulum!
Driving to the archeological site is easy and there is a parking lot at the entrance. Once here, you’ll notice that if you’d like a private guide to show you around, you will have two opportunities to obtain one – the first will be before the entrance to the parking lot, and the second will be once you’ve parked.
The guides you see first, before entering the parking lot, are a local Mayan cooperative that essentially get first access to visitors. The second group, I’ve been told, are government-employed tour guides. We spoke to and decided to go with a Mayan guide from the first group, and he got in our car with us and rode to the parking lot to enter the site with us, which I thought was odd at first but ended up being standard procedure. Our tour was great! If you decide to take a guided tour too, it’ll last you between 60 – 90 minutes and can be offered in English or Spanish, but English will cost a bit more.
Of course, you can walk around the ruins on your own, but in my opinion, if there’s anywhere to let a local Mayan guide show you around and teach you a little bit more than what you’ll observe on the surface, it’s here!
If you care about visiting this site when there are less crowds, know that the early bird gets the worm – showing up right around opening time will provide you with the best chance of beating tour busses and having more of the grounds to yourself.
Cenotes Near Chichen-Itza
Like Coba, there are some pretty epic cenotes near Chichen-Itza. Try to visit at least one!
DAY SEVEN: Take It All In on Tulum’s Beach Before Leaving
On your last day in Tulum, take it easy and spend some time back on the beach to soak up all the beautiful views, warm water, and tropical breeze you’re bound to miss once you leave. On day seven, if you haven’t visited yet, now is the perfect time to check out the Tulum ruins which overlook the ocean. Towards the end of the day, get a good view of the sunset over the jungle and toast to your unforgettable, adventure-filled week in Tulum!
While Coba and Chichen-Itza are epic, incredible sites in their own right, the Tulum Ruins are also worth a visit. In ancient times, Tulum was a trading hub, explaining the significance of the old structures found here. What makes the Tulum ruins so significant is that these structures are located on high cliffs overlooking the water, making for a visually stunning sight that other ruins can’t offer. Be sure to bring your swimsuit, because during your visit you can take a staircase down to the sand and swim at the beach directly below the ruins!
To wrap up your week in Tulum, end your trip with a sunset view of the magnificent jungle and coastal surrounds.
While a bit pricey, making a reservation for the AZULIK Sunset Experience is said to offer great views from a cool, boho “nest-like” terrace. Here, you can get dressed up and enjoy a cocktail on the terrace while mingling with others just before the sun sets on the jungle behind you. If you prefer to sit and enjoy a meal, Azulik’s Kin Toh and Tseen Ja restaurants will require a reservation but will also offer similar views.
Mateo’s is another well-known, albeit much more casual, Mexican spot for a rooftop drink overlooking the jungle at sunset.
Or, if you just want to admire the ocean and be as close as possible, sunset drinks at Mezzanine are truly where it’s at.
Other Things to Do If You Have More Time
Visit Kaan Luum: If you have a drone, paying a visit to Kaan Luum Lagoon is a worthwhile half-day trip. Here, you can get an amazing aerial view of a giant, circular cenote nestled within a large, shallow lagoon. On a clear day with no rain, the color contrast between the lagoon and the cenote is super impressive!
Explore More Cenotes: Of course, any extra time in Tulum could easily be filled with more cenotes. If you can, visit more of these natural freshwater swimming holes in the area. Each one offers its own unique experience and ambiance!
Snorkel in Akumal: Akumal is a popular day trip for snorkeling. Here, next to the coral reef, you have great odds of being able to swim with sea turtles and other marine life.
- Day Trip to Valladolid: Next to Quintana Roo, the state of Yucatán is home to a slew of charming, colorful, colonial towns, with Valladolid being one of the closest. While many skip over Valladolid to head straight to Chichen-Itza, this city is well worth a stop in its own right.
- Spend the Weekend in Merida: A bit further than Valladolid but with similar charm, Merida is a beautiful, vibrant colonial city with a colorful historic center. This city is known for its salsa dancing, lively nightlife, and cultural displays in the form of parades, dancing, museums, and street performances.
- Get Lost in Izamal: Located not far from Merida, Izamal is one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos, or “magical towns.” This magic town is painted bright yellow and is a visual feast that’s well worth the longer drive!
- Take the Ferry to Cozumel: A ferry ride away from Playa del Carmen, Cozumel is an island revered for its beautiful, lazy beaches and world-class diving. Spend the day, or stay overnight in Cozumel to enjoy the island in the evening and early morning, when cruise shippers are gone and the small town center is yours to enjoy alongside the locals.
RELATED: A 3-Day Guide to Cozumel, Mexico
Where to Stay in Tulum
- Hotel Bardo (Tulum town): Bardo is a secluded masterpiece of beautiful modern-meets-bohemian design. Each independent villa offers its own plunge pool, hammock, and garden. It was my favorite place to stay while I was in town, hands down!
- Hotel Tiki Tiki (Tulum town): For an affordable hotel with lots of personality, Tiki Tiki is a crowd favorite for visitors and locals alike. I loved the retro pool and bar. Plus, free continental breakfast is included daily!
- Ahau Tulum (Tulum beach): While I didn’t stay here personally, I loved the vibe of Ahau Tulum when I worked remotely from their onsite restaurant during the day. I’ve heard their rooms are great, too.
- Delek Tulum (Tulum beach): While I didn’t stay here personally, my friends who did had nothing but good things to say about their time at Delek Tulum.
- Coco Tulum (Tulum beach): This hotel was high on my list, but fully booked during my time in Tulum.
- Hun Tulum (Tulum beach): Another hotel on my list, Hotel Hun Tulum offers beautiful rooms with private terraces or pools.
- Papaya Playa Project (Tulum beach): A bit costly, but if you can swing it, the suites here with private plunge pools are insanely beautiful.
- Airbnb options in Tulum (New to Airbnb? Use this link to save up to $55 on your first booking!)
- Other hotel options in Tulum
Where to Eat and Drink in Tulum
- Rosa Negra (Tulum beach)
- Hartwood (Tulum beach)
- The Real Coconut (Tulum beach)
- MEZE (Tulum beach)
- Mezzanine (Tulum beach)
- Clan-Destino (Tulum beach)
- I Scream Bar (Tulum beach)
- Mulata Tulum (Tulum beach)
- Taqueria La Eufemia (Tulum beach)
- La Taqueria (Tulum beach)
- Uno Japanese Noodles (Tulum town)
- Taqueria Honorio (Tulum town)
- El Camello (Tulum town)
- Burrito Amor (Tulum town)
- Palma Central (Tulum town)
- Bonita (Tulum town)
Tips to Know Before You Go to Tulum
Currency: Tulum uses the Mexican Peso ($1 USD = ~20 MEX$). Here, carry cash with you as often as possible, because not all restaurants will take card, and ATMs can be hard to find.
Language: The official language spoken in Tulum is Spanish, but in the hotel zone you should have no problems getting by with English.
- Transportation: If you’re staying exclusively in Tulum beach or Tulum town, you should be fine getting around on foot or by bike. Otherwise, you’ll need to rely on a car rental or public transportation.
- Bike rentals: Bikes are everywhere in Tulum and pretty easy to rent. Your hotel might even lend you bikes during your stay! Otherwise, I saw a lot of people using Ola Bike Tulum
- Find car rentals in Tulum here
- Hire a taxi (taxis are easy to find all over the hotel zone. If you don’t see a taxi in the area, have your hotel call one for you)
- Take a colectivo: a shared mini-van ride that’ll get you from point A to point B as cheaply as possible
- Take a bus: ADO busses are widely used by locals and those looking for cost savings
Weather: The weather in Tulum is warm, humid, and tropical year-round, with temperatures averaging 75 – 90 degrees F during the day and 60 – 75 degrees F in the evening. While there technically isn’t a bad time to go to Tulum, June – October (and sometimes into November) are the rainy / hurricane season in the region.
Attire: Pack a good selection of lightweight, loose, breathable clothing so you can be comfortable throughout Tulum’s hot days and warm, humid evenings. You’ll also want a good selection of swimwear and beach cover-ups, plus waterproof footwear and good walking shoes you don’t mind getting dirty (in the event of rain, which can make Tulum’s beach road quite muddy).
Bathrooms: Bathrooms throughout the Yucatán will kindly ask that you throw your toilet paper away in the trash can versus in the toilet. The plumbing in this part of Mexico can’t handle toilet paper the way toilets can in the US. So, keep that in mind!
Ready to go to Tulum?
What are you most excited to see, do, eat, or experience in Tulum? Tell me below!
Book Activities In or Near Tulum Here:
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- The Top Things to Do in Merida, Mexico
- Where to Stay in Cozumel: Villas El Encanto