Tulum Travel Guide

​​source:Lola Méndez

Tulum's idyllic beaches, mouth-watering cuisine, fascinating history, beautiful nature, and artist community, attract travelers from all over the world.

The energy of this chic coastal village is palpable thanks to the spirituality left behind by the ancient Mayan civilization. 

Situated by the Caribbean coast and located in a dense jungle, the Maya Rivera's most famous beach town is one of the easiest places for English-speakers to visit.

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Tulum is not like the other towns in Mexico. It has its own unique culture and has become extremely Americanized over the years. A large majority of people speak English, ride bikes, are eco-friendly conscious, love trendy restaurants, and dress in bohemian clothing.

Depending on the person, people either love or hate Tulum.

Regardless of how one might feel about the culture and community, it’s hard to argue against the fact that Tulum has some of the most beautiful beaches and nature sights in the world. 

1. Visit Tulum’s Beautiful Cenotes

Cenotes are sinkholes that appear when bedrock collapses and exposes underground water.

Tulum has many incredible cenotes as it’s home to the largest underwater cave system in the world, the Sistema Sac Actun, which is 215 miles long and has more than 220 cenotes.

The Grane Cenote is one of the most popular because it includes a gigantic area for swimming. It’s also one of the best cenotes for snorkeling as it has crystal-clear water that makes it easy to see fish swimming around.

Another must-see cenote is Dos Ojos, which is the third-largest underwater cave system on Earth and is home to The Cenote Pit—the deepest hollow in Quintana Roo at 400-feet deep. If you’re a diver you can explore the depths of this pit and try your luck at finding freshwater shrimp.

You can also ask locals for suggestions to less-popular cenotes. Some are even located in the backyards of hotels like Cormoran Boutique Hotel and Hotel Esencia.

Fun Fact: Cenotes were the main source of water during the ancient Mayan civilization and continue to hold significance for Mayan people who believe that natural swimming holes are gateways to the underworld. In the past, sacrifices would be made at select cenotes to appease the gods in exchange for good fortune. Many cenotes are closed to the public because they are still considered sacred today.

Please Note: As they are vulnerable to the ecosystem, most will require guests to shower before entering. If you’re at a small cenote with no regulations, be respectful and only wear mineral sunblock in order not to cause damage.

2. Visit the SFER IK Museum at Azulik

Azulik is one of the most Instagram-worthy boutique hotels in Tulum. Don’t fret if you can’t afford the nightly rate here, which is $1,190 in July,  you can still enjoy the beautiful ambiance by visiting the hotel’s museum, SFER IK, which is aptly situated in a treehouse.

Seasonal exhibitions display contemporary art, while past exhibits were dedicated to exploring spirituality, alchemy, and the pathway of the human journey.

The interactive multi-sensory displays include stunning installations that rely on natural elements to portray movement and creative expression. The museum follows the ethos of reconnecting with the environment.

Please Note: No shoes are allowed in the space and you’re welcome to take personal photographs. Admission is complimentary and donations are encouraged.

Soft shell crab taco at Arca | Photo By Luisa Navarro​​

3. Dine at Arca restaurant

Don’t leave Tulum without scheduling a reservation at Arca. The restaurant’s innovative menu offers modern twists of ancestral Mexican dishes prepared over open-fire with micro-seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients.

Coconut fish filet at Arca | Photo By Luisa Navarro​​

We suggest going with friends and ordering plates to share. Some of our favorites include the grilled avocado, soft shell crab taco, coconut fish filet, roasted pepper tartare, and sea urchin ceviche.

Arca opens at 6 p.m, which means guests can arrive early to enjoy the lush restaurant and the golden hour glow. Don’t forget to order a cocktail before the night settles in! We recommend the Chechén—tequila blanco, roasted pineapple syrup, lime, and angostura bitters or El Solar—mezcal, hibiscus, chipotle piloncillo syrup, lime, chapulin, and a salt rim.

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Temple of the Frescoes | Photo By Luisa Navarro​​

4. Tulum Ruins

Tulum was built in the late thirteenth century during the Mayan post-classic period as a seaport for trading fine gems like turquoise and jade. It was the only Mayan city built on the coast and one of the very few protected by an exterior wall.

We recommend setting aside half a day to stroll the fortified area and to take time to read the placards which give insight into the various structures. The most important buildings to visit include the Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the limestone fortress, which is in incredible condition.

Guests can also support local tourism by hiring a certified guide who will share the story of Tulum and guide you through the must-see sites on the property.

5. Scope out street art

The Tulum town center has gigantic wall-sized murals that include illustrations from day-to-day life as well as whimsical creatures.

The street art movement in Tulum exploded thanks to the artist collective Tinasah. The group of artists focuses on creating works of art that spark conversations surrounding social issues and awareness of threats to the environment.

The murals in Tulum change often so instead of seeking out a particular piece of art, wander around and see what you find. Also, be sure to tag the artist when you share your snapshots on Instagram.

Be on the lookout for pieces painted by celebrated Mexican street artist Senkoe, who is known for drawing scenes inspired by dreams and pre-Hispanic art inspired by colors from Mexican textiles. You’ll also come across work from Emma Rubens who specializes in portraits.

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6. Explore Tulum’s Flora & Fauna at the Sian Ka’an Reserve

The Sian Ka’an Reserve has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. While cenotes are the gateway to the underworld, Sian Ka’an means the gateway to heaven. 

The nature zone is located at the southernmost point of Tulum and covers marine and land areas. It’s the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean.

The sprawling biosphere reserve is home to an abundance of wildlife such as Yucatán black howler monkeys, white-nosed coati, American crocodiles, jaguars, roseate spoonbill, and more.

Within the area there are also 23 Mayan archeological sites including the beautiful Muyil pyramid.

There are also plenty of locally-led tours to keep guests occupied in the reserve for a day trip from Tulum. Some of the the tours include a river float and a snorkeling excursion with wild sea turtles and dolphins.

How Long to Spend in Tulum

To enjoy everything that Tulum has to offer, plan to stay in town for at least five days if you have time for a leisurely trip. If you’re limited on time you can experience the highlights of Tulum in three days. A week-long trip will allow you to explore nearby sites such as the Mayan archaeological zone of Cobá.

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About the Author

Lola Méndez

Uruguayan-American freelance journalist who spent the summer of 2019 in Mexico and enjoyed several weeks in Tulum. She writes about sustainability, travel, culture, and wellness for many print and digital publications such as CNN, Lonely Planet, and InStyle. She's a full-time globetrotter who travels to develop her own worldview and has explored over 60 countries. Passionate about sustainable travel, she seeks out ethical experiences that benefit local communities.

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