Tulum is the heart of the Riviera Maya. As the quieter neighbor of Cancun, Tulum is nevertheless celebrated for its beauty, most notably its Mayan ruins and beaches. As ancient ruins press themselves against the turquoise waters of Playa Paraíso, it’s hard to escape the feeling that this is coastal Mexico at its best.
To share some of the region’s lesser-known gems, we’ve worked with the Mexican blogging duo Cynthia and Gustavo at Nomadarte. They’ve spent the last three years traveling across Latin America with their beetle, El Poderoso, and are currently based in Mexico. So be sure to take note of their top tips for the best Tulum hotels and our favorites for Tulum all-inclusive resorts.
Tulum is known for being home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Playa Paraíso. As its English translation hints, this is a true Mexican paradise and one of the best-maintained beaches you can find.
Go snorkeling and follow the coast to explore the spectacular coral reef, the second-largest in the world. If it’s relaxation you’re after, take a walk along the shore and let those unforgettable surroundings sink in.
The Maya People
The magic of Tulum can be traced back to the 13th century, a time when the Maya people had chosen the Caribbean as one of their main settlements. Tulum as an archaeological site was one of the last cities of Mayan culture and had also established itself as a very important trading post.
The original name Zamá translates to “sunrise” in reference to the first rays of sunlight that could be seen emerging from behind El Castillo or the Templo de los Frescos. The panoramic views from the highest point on the cliff top are well-worth dragging yourself out of bed early.
Things to do in Tulum
To really get to know the town, you need to explore each of its narrow alleyways, lit up with restaurants, bars, and countless hotels. From the outside, they may look discreet and unassuming, but from the inside, you can find the hidden side of Tulum that makes this city a favorite of all travelers.
To help you make the most of this destination, here are a few tips that will be sure to transform your vacation into the perfect break for relaxing, having fun, and enjoying nature. No need for lounge chairs here, just lie back and soak up the sun on sand that is as white as snow and as soft as powder.
Hang out with Turtles
Fancy swimming with turtles? Then take a trip to Akumal, the Maya name for “Land of the turtles.” It’s located 27 kilometers from Tulum and is well worth a visit. You can get to Akumal in one of two ways. You can hire a bike, and make the most of the journey and the tropical scenery along the way. Or simply flag down the local minibus which will drop you directly outside the entrance to the village.
Once you’ve arrived in Akumal, make your way to one of the tour offices where you can choose between snorkeling or scuba diving. Whatever you decide, your experience is sure to be one you won’t soon forget. Akumal is known for its warm and shallow waters, making it the perfect spot for getting up close and personal with the turtles that live there. These waters are home to reefs, coral, and hundreds of different types of fish; all combine to transform this space into a natural aquarium worthy of the big screen. Although they are not shy creatures and will swim up quite close, you should never touch the turtles, or swim towards them if they decide to keep their distance.
Explore Tulum Pueblo
For some, the idea of exploring the pueblito of Tulum may not be as appealing as hitting the beaches, but in reality, it’s a great way to get a proper feel for the people of the region and its past. The best option for exploring the town’s many streets is to rent a bike, ideally in the evening. Dotted throughout the town, you’ll find meditation spaces, yoga classes, and even traditional Maya sweat lodges, known as temazcales. There are few other places that come as close to spiritual relaxation and inner peace.
As the sun goes down, make sure to take a stroll down Avenida Tulum. Lined with the best bars and restaurants, this street is ideally situated for a great night out. If it’s a full moon, make your way to one of the many fiestas that are organized on the beach, where you can enjoy delicious cocktails under the moonlight.
Discover the Cenotes
Right across the Riviera Maya, you’ll find hundreds of cenotes, some more famous than others, and in Tulum, you’ll find some wonderful examples, namely Cenote Cristal. Just five minutes from Tulum, Cenote Cristal is a natural pit hidden behind dense vegetation. This cenote distinguishes itself thanks to the special “halocline” effect that can be seen just under the surface of the water — a phenomenon where the water looks blurred because of the combination of fresh water and salt. It’s the perfect spot for swimming and snorkeling, while divers will find even more layers of life as they head deeper into the watery abyss.
Marvel at the beauty of the Kaan Luum Laguna
Twelve kilometers from Tulum lies the serene but relatively unknown Kaan Luum Laguna (which means “yellow land”). It may not look like it’s leading anywhere, but follow the trail right into the heart of the jungle, and after a while, you’ll spot a hut, which means that you’re getting closer to this incredible natural wonder. If you continue on for a bit, you’ll notice a change in the surroundings, and then through the lush rainforest, you’ll spot an expanse of emerald green water.
Kaan Luum Laguna’s cenote is calling out for scuba divers, which plunges to a depth of more than 80 meters. Free-diving is also possible, but you must be accompanied by a guide.
For those less daring, there are the banks of the cenote where the water is more shallow, warm, and crystal clear. No photo could ever do justice to this mystical place, but one thing is for sure, this is one destination in Tulum that should not be missed.
Where to stay in Tulum, Mexico
When it comes to accommodation in Tulum, luxury options co-exist peacefully with eco-friendly lodgings. However, one thing that makes this idyllic location stand out is its wide range of accommodations to suit every budget. Whether it’s close to the beach or a more central location you’re after, here are Nomadarte’s recommendations for hotels in Tulum:
O’Tulum is the ideal option for experiencing the “eco-chic” essence of Tulum without compromising on comfort, or more importantly, good taste.
Its 12 rooms come equipped with everything you’ll need, and tasteful decor that creates an “adults only” ambiance of deep relaxation and tranquillity. This exclusive sensation extends to the friendly service offered by the hotel’s staff, its relaxing pool, and easy transportation options to the attractions nearby.
Enjoy a refreshing drink from the O’Tulum bar lounge as you soak up the sun on the terrace, or if you prefer, while relaxing in the comfort of your room. (Most rooms come with a balcony and room service.)View Hotel
Breakfast is included, and the hotel’s restaurant, Costa Brava, offers a fusion of exciting culinary styles for evening dining. Last but not least, O’Tulum has its own private beach – the jewel in the crown that makes this hotel the ideal option to complete your Tulum holiday experience.
Elements Tulum Boutique hotel
Another option that really shows off the best side of Tulum is Elements Tulum Boutique. This hotel opened just over a year ago and was quick to garner attention for its impeccable service.
Elements Tulum Boutique is located very close to the town center, which means you can borrow a bike from the hotel or simply enjoy the stroll into town. If you decide you want to visit the cenotes or water parks, the hotel will also help you organize transportation.View Hotel
The hotel offers free valet parking, complimentary breakfast buffet, and a lovely little garden. All of the rooms have modern furnishings and luxury bed linens. Although the hotel doesn’t offer a spa, you can dial up a massage treatment in your own room.
Looking for a home away from home? Livetulum offers an aparthotel with your own lounge, kitchen, and bathtub. The ambiance is so warm and inviting that you’ll be beating away the depressing thought of returning to your actual home.
The hotel has spa facilities, a garden, terrace area, and outdoor pool. It even has its own library, where you might get lost in a good book or you can simply relax in a peaceful environment as you unplug from the rest of the world.View Hotel
Because it’s an aparthotel, you can cook your own meals, and any money you save can be put toward one of the eco-friendly activities mentioned above — just ask the staff for transportation tips and let the fun begin.
Kore Tulum Retreat and Spa Resort
Whether it’s stretching out on a Balinese bed overlooking the vanishing edge of the infinity pool or taking a free rental bike into town, Kore Tulum has no shortage of ways to make every day of your stay a little different.
Guests at this Tulum all-inclusive resort are treated to two restaurants, two bars, and room service around the clock, in addition to activities like yoga on the beach.View Hotel
Hydrotherapy enthusiasts will have no other choice than to book themselves into one of Kore Tulum’s Luxury Jacuzzi suites, which includes a private outdoor hot tub built into the balcony.
The Unlimited-Luxury brand of the all-inclusive experience at Dreams Tulum goes beyond the top-shelf spirits and the gourmet à la carte dining. Treat yourself to a temazcal sweat lodge ceremony and sing up to learn how to make your own spa products.
Teeing off at the Riviera Maya Golf Club is included in your room rate as is access to the Explorer’s Club for kids 3 to 12 and the Core Zone for teens 13 to 17.View Hotel
Back in your guestroom, make use of a mini bar that gets replenished daily, whirlpool tubs in select rooms, and twice-daily housekeeping service. Families and groups coming to Tulum may be interested in requesting connecting rooms.
Eating out in Tulum
Coctelería El Dorado
There’s nothing quite like sampling the typical dishes of a region, so make the most of your time in Tulum and visit Coctelería El Dorado where you’ll be served up the best shrimp ceviche and snail dishes in the region. The prices are super affordable and the quality is second to none.
The best thing about Tulum is that it caters to every taste – even the most demanding of palates. No matter how picky (or adventurous) you are, you’ll find a plate for you at Restaurante Primitivo. The food is fabulous, the presentation impeccable, and the succulent flavors of each dish will leave you wanting more. Our favorite pick — the octopus.
So there you have it. Need any more convincing that Tulum really is a paradise on earth?
This article originally appeared on Room5 Mexico in collaboration with Nomadarte.