5 things you can’t miss when in Tulum, Mexico

Swim with turtles, explore caves and Mayan ruins

Beach in Tulum Mexico

Tulum is a destination for beach lovers, vegan hipsters and all sorts of beautiful people 😉 If you want to do a lazy Tulum vacation, you’re allowed to stay at your (probably amazing) hotel at the beach, lounge in the sand and maybe go out only to have a fancy dinner in one of the incredible restaurants in the evening.

But: If you want to spice up your vacation with some extra adventures, here’s 5 things you can’t miss when you visit Tulum.

5 things to put on your To Do list for Tulum

  1. Snorkel with turtles
  2. Explore a Cenote and swim in it
  3. Visit the Mayan ruins and learn about their culture
  4. Feed pelicans with the locals
  5. Stay at the beach during a thunderstorm and watch a rainbow

Swim with turtles in Tulum, Mexico

1. Snorkel with turtles in Akumal

Akumal is located 20 minutes north from Tulum (by car) and well known for it’s turtle snorkelling. Here’s what you have to know about it:

?‍? Pro tip:
YOU DON’T HAVE TO PAY A GUIDE!
(Even if there’s several people in official looking shirts telling you otherwise.)

Set your GPS for the Akumal Dive Center, park at the official parking lot and walk straight past the self-acclaimed “official guides”.

  • At the Akumal Dive Center you can rent snorkel gear for 20 dollars and just head out to the beach by yourself.
  • Bring a driver’s license or something to leave at the diving center as pledge.
  • The beach in Akumal is crowded and there’s certain parts of the beach that are reserved for hotel guests. So this is not a beach to hang around and chill. Go there to snorkel with the turtles and then leave again 😉

Seagull at the beach in Tulum

You’ll find the turtles easily! Just swim towards the area where sea grass grows on the ground (you’ll easily spot it with your diving goggles on). The turtles feed on the sea grass, so there you’ll find them.

  • Do not touch the turtles or get too close to them!
  • Respect that this is their natural habitat and try not to interrupt their feeding time. They are used to having spectators by now, but can easily be intimidated by you getting too close.
  • If you watch a turtle feed for 5-10 minutes it will have to come up to breathe at some point. You can go up with the turtle, stick your head out of the water together and breathe together. It looks like a snake’s head coming out of the water and is a truly magical moment.

Try to avoid the groups! The people who did believe the guides will have to go in the water together as a group and will try to find one turtle for all of the 10-15 people to watch together. Just swim on to the next sea grass spot and you’ll easily watch a turtle all by yourself.

Snorkel with turtles in Akumal Mexico

2. Explore a Cenote and swim in it

Mexico is the land of Cenotes! These caves are the hidden secret of the Maya’s fresh water supply. They feature underground rivers and lakes with the clearest water.

There’s hundreds and thousands of Cenotes all over Yucatán, but around the Mayan Riviera we had a hard time finding a smaller and less visited one. Instead we opted for Aktun Chen, which is rather touristy (unfortunately).

Aktun Chen Cenote, Tulum Mexico

Aktun Chen Cenote

As we went late in the afternoon we were amongst the last visitors at Aktun Chen. We arrived at 4:30pm and the Cenote closes at 5:30pm.

?‍? Pro tip:
Don’t come any later than 1 hour before closing time, as they won’t let you in anymore. We already had discussions 1 hour prior to closing!

  • We paid 33 dollars entrance fee.
  • Then we got transported from the reception area to the Cenote with a minivan.
  • Upon arrival at the Cenote we got our snorkel gear and could leave our stuff at a locker.
  • A guide brought us to the cave and explained the process of our visit. Then another guide picked us up to snorkel through the Cenote and discover the local fish species, the stalagmites and stalactites.
  • Although we were the last guests, that were allowed to enter, there were still at least 20 other people taking selfies, screaming around and swimming in the Cenote from the previous group.
  • All in all it felt like a very touristy visit and we wouldn’t really recommend this, unless you don’t have time to visit another Cenote.

Aktun Chen Cenote Mexico

If you do want to research a bit more, try to start from this tripadvisor thread, that might be helpful. We hope you can find a less touristy Cenote in the Tulum area, as this is really a great experience!

P.S.: We actually found the best Cenote south of Mérida (see our blogpost featuring Cenote Kankirixche). There you only pay a few Pesos and can just swim and discover it by yourself! But if you’re only visiting Tulum this might be too far of a drive (3,5 hours).

3. Visit the Mayan ruins and learn about their culture

Tulum Ruins Mexico

When visiting Tulum the Mayan ruins are a must do!

What makes the Tulum ruins special is their location facing the water. Most of the Mayan ruins are located in the jungle, but this used to be the Mayans door to the world. A seaport from which they traded their goods (it’s said to be mostly obsidian, turquoise and jade).

This city is believed to have been one of the last built and inhabited by the Mayans. After the Spanish began settling in Mexico, Tulum was abandoned by the Mayans – probably after Spanish diseases began spreading among the population.

The city was inhabited by around 1.000 to 1.500 people and you can still see many of the structures. There’s whole houses standing, believed to be of priests or other important people – as they had stone walls.

?‍? Pro tip:
Go first thing in the morning (it opens at 8am) to beat the crowds. There’s some groups who are allowed early entrance, so even if you’re the first individual visitor, you won’t be completely alone!

  • The entrance costs about 3,50 dollars (70 pesos).
  • You won’t get a guide and there aren’t a lot of signs with infos around the site. So bring a guidebook or inform yourself before your visit.
  • The beach is not open everyday – it depends on the weather, wind and currents. Although we visited on a calm and sunny day, the currents were strong and the beach was closed for visitors. But do bring your swimming gear, just in case 😉

Tulum Ruins Mexico

Tulum Ruins Mexico

Tulum Ruins Mexico

Tulum Ruins MexicoTulum Ruins MexicoTulum Ruins Mexico

Tulum Ruins Mexico

4. Feed pelicans with the locals

You won’t find this in any guidebook, but we loved the experience!

If you drive down south through the hotel zone of Tulum towards Sian Ka’an natural reserve you’ll find one stretch of beach that isn’t occupied by hotels or restaurants. It’s called “Sunrise Beach” on Google Maps and you can just park your car alongside the road. It’s not a wide stretch of beach, so nothing to lounge around and swim.

But it’s the perfect place to feed the pelicans at sunset. The local fishermen bring their leftover bait and serve it to the pelicans.  And the pelicans know this by now and gather there in dozens.

Feed pelicans in Tulum, MexicoFeed pelicans in Tulum, Mexico

 

Pelicans at Sunrise Beach Tulum

Pelicans at Sunrise Beach TulumPelicans at Sunrise Beach TulumPelicans at Sunrise Beach Tulum

5. Stay at the beach during a thunderstorm and watch a rainbow

Ok, this is a lucky one – but even in winter (January) the weather won’t be perfect all the time! In summer it’s more common to have thunderstorms rolling in from the Gulf of Mexico, but even in winter it rarely stays clear and sunny all day long.

So don’t go running back to your room with all the tourists, but stay at the beach and find a nice spot. You’ll be practically alone and if you’re lucky you’ll even see a rainbow!

Beach at La Zebra TulumRainbow in Tulum, Mexico

Beach in Tulum Mexico

This beach is right in front of the “La Zebra” in Tulum
Beach at La Zebra Tulum
Everyone fled the scene (and it wasn’t even raining)

Rainbow at La Zebra Tulum

?‍? Pro tip:
The famous Taqueria La Eufemia is just a few steps to the north and has better food than “La Zebra” 😉 You can still park your car across the street from “La Zebra”, as there’s not too many other parking options around here.

These were our 5 To Do’s when in Tulum.
Before you get to do these we also want to give you a few basic infos about Tulum (how to get around, where to eat, etc.)

How to travel around Tulum

Rent a car (instead of a bike)

This brings us to our most important tip: Don’t make the mistake to go to Tulum without a car. (Unless of course you only want to stay in your hotel and eat hotel food all day long). The stretch of beach alongside the hotel zone is longer then you might think! And this is where all the shops and restaurants are.

We saw a lot of people riding their bikes to get to Tulum Pueblo (the city) from the hotel zone at the beach by bike and it didn’t look like fun. Why? A) the streets are a “holey” mess and B) the heat makes this rather uncomfortable (even in winter).

Your own car will save you a lot of money (and waiting time) for taxis in Tulum. We overheard one of our hotel guests complaining after he had waited for a taxi more than 20 minutes to go to dinner. You also can’t really do the turtle snorkelling in Akumal, the Cenote visit or get to Sunrise beach without a car… (unless you want to book a tour, which is at least 50 dollars per person and then you’ll be stuck in a group).

Bike riding in Tulum

This street isn’t really made for bikes (it’s narrow, has a lot of traffic and holes – and goes for miles and miles!).

Our rental car in Mexico

Our rental car in Mexico – we did a whole road trip around the Yucatán peninsula with it!

?‍? Pro tip:
Renting a car from Cancún airport is really cheap (we paid just 150 dollars for 8 days) – if you book it online in advance! And make sure that you have a fully comprehensive insurance upon booking. Otherwise you’ll have to pay the insurance at the local rental shop which is way more expensive.

Restaurant tips for Tulum

  • Veggie Dinner at Restaurare:
    Most definitely eat a vegetarian dinner at “Restaurare” (Carretera Tulum Boca-Paila Km 6, Ejido Jose Maria Pino Suarez, 77780 Tulum) and order the Coconut Ceviche – it’s divine!

Vegetarian Restaurant Restaurare Tulum Mexico

Vegetarian Restaurant Restaurare Tulum Mexico

Vegetarian Restaurant Restaurare Tulum Mexico

Vegetarian Restaurant Restaurare Tulum Mexico

  • Brunch at Tunich
    Sleep in & Eat brunch at “Tunich” (we recommend the Blueberry Pancakes and the Eggs Benedict without bacon). They serve breakfast all day, fresh squeezed juices (and even have wifi) 😉

Brunch at Tunich Tulum Mexico

Tunich Tulum Brunch & Smoothie BarTunich Tulum Mexico

  • Fancy vegan 5 course dinner at Kin Toh:
    Lounge in the giant hammocks and have a vegan dinner at “Kin Toh“, the brand new fine dining restaurant of the Azulik Resort. (Check our blogpost about the Azulik hotel as well – it’s one of the most beautiful hotels we have ever stayed in). We recommend to climb up to one of the look out spots in the restaurant, that look like bird’s nests. They are located in the floor above the restaurant level and you can watch the stars over a glass of wine.

Kin Toh Restaurant Tulum Mexico

Kin Toh Restaurant Tulum Mexico

Kin Toh Restaurant Tulum Mexico

Kin Toh Restaurant Tulum Mexico

Kin Toh Restaurant Tulum Mexico

Kin Toh Restaurant Tulum Mexico

Kin Toh Restaurant Tulum Mexico

Kin Toh Restaurant Tulum Mexico

What we didn’t manage to squeeze in, but could be worth a trip if you stay in Tulum longer:

Beach in Tulum Mexico

We found this hidden beach on the way to the Tulum ruins!
So make sure to stop your car once in a while alongside the road.

We hope you enjoyed this comprehensive list of To Do’s for a visit of Tulum.

If you’re searching for a hotel, make sure to check our blogpost about the most romantic hotel we’ve ever stayed in!

Hotel: Azulik Resort in Tulum, Mexico