Margaritas, Mayan Ruins and Mexico: The best things to do in Tulum
This popular destination brims with history, culture and natural wonders. | By Alesandra Dubin | June 2, 2022 (Updated March 10, 2023)
The ultra-popular destination of Tulum has it all. On Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula its exciting geographical features make for grand exploration, rich cultural history and stunning beaches and resort properties beckoning travelers with total relaxation. With so many things to do in Tulum, there are only down days if you want them. Create your perfect trip to Tulum by experiencing:
Cultural treasures: The famed Tulum ruins include the Maya’s only settlement located on the beach
Swim in undersea caves: Tulum’s cenotes are a must-visit attraction for swimmers and snorkelers
Fun on the sand: The area's beaches range from peaceful paradises to party central
The Tulum region is a marvel of natural beauty, home to thousands of species of flora and fauna. Appreciate and explore this wild diversity at Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve — a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean — a popular spot for snorkeling, boat tours, bird-watching and more.
About 40 miles north of Tulum and farther off the beaten trail, Punta Laguna Nature Reserve offers the chance to check out spider monkeys and other exciting creatures as you explore the jungle around a tranquil lagoon.
Go for a swim
Cenotes — natural fresh-water sinkholes developed from collapsed limestone under the Yucatan Peninsula — offer one of the most unique and beautiful Tulum experiences. Of the thousands of cenotes, some are expansive systems of underground caves; others are jungle swimming holes. The sparkling open-air Gran Cenote is just a short drive from Tulum, and a smidge farther, Cenote Dos Ojos is ideal for diving and snorkeling.
Tulum’s beaches are also one of its (many) standout features. Jump into the sea at Playa Ruinas after an exploration of the ruins above, or hit the popular Las Palmas and Paraisoor Akumal beaches — the latter of which offer kids and adults the possibility to swim with turtles. For added comfort on the sand, set up shop and enjoy gourmet fare alfresco at a venue like Ziggy’s Beach Club.
Explore Mayan Ruins
Spectacularly excavated Mayan ruins dot the Yucatan Peninsula, and Tulum’s ruins boast a special feature: They represent the rare walled Maya settlement and the only one constructed at the beach. The Muyil ruins in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and other nearby ruins are also worth the trip, including the ancient pyramids of Coba — you could even take a worthy day trip farther afield to the enormous site of Chichen Itza.
An array of resort experiences can help visitors connect to the ancient cultures represented at these fascinating sites as well. At Conrad Tulum Riviera Maya, an in-house shaman and expert healer use sound and scent to lead guests in a purifying gratitude ceremony. It’s an experience best paired with a visit to one — if not several — of the above sites.
And when in Tulum, do as many travelers do: Get around by bike. Bikes are ubiquitous here, often available on loan from local lodgings, or you can rent one from the popular Ola Bike Tulum. Ride comfortably in the designated bike lane along the main drag, or bike between the beach and town on the paved route along Avenida Coba.
The dining and drinking scene in Tulum is lively and diverse, with an emphasis on healthy, local fare, and featuring a range of options from low-key taquerias on the white sand to sophisticated, Michelin-star experiences. But wherever you choose to dine, you can almost always wash it all down with an icy margarita, of course.
Check out renowned favorite restaurants like El Asadero Tulum, Encanto Cantina (make sure to visit the garden), Hartwood, Gitano and Antojitos La Chiapaneca, or stay right at your resort — Maxal, part of Hilton Tulum Riviera Maya All-Inclusive Resort, is a standout for Mexican cuisine enhanced by regional flavors.
Explore art galleries
Looking for a feast for the eyes, instead? Art galleries are sprinkled between the city’s top-tier restaurants and you can scout for one-of-a-kind finds, like the popular painted feathers at Balam. If you want to check out a space that’s as artistic as the work it holds, consider Sfer Ik: an architectural wonder with a rotating list of multi-sensory exhibitions. You don’t need to make a formal day of it to see Tulum in technicolor, however. Simply open your eyes and pay attention to the city’s colorful street art and murals. They’ll make the perfect backdrop for all your vacation snaps.
Alesandra Dubin is a news and lifestyle editor and writer based in Los Angeles. A veteran digital journalist, she’s covered travel, food, events, fashion and beauty, entertainment, home, parenting and viral content for more than 15 years. An avid traveler, she trots the globe with her husband and 5-year-old twins.