Things to Do in Tulum, Mexico
As I mentioned in my April Picks blog post, I headed to Tulum, Mexico in March (to surprise my husband for a big-number birthday!!!). Let me just say, I was hesitant to visit Mexico until my first trip there in January 2017, mainly because of the press emphasizing safety issues in the country.
But after spending a day in Tulum and several days at an all-inclusive resort along the Riviera Maya, I knew I had to get back again. And I knew I wanted the Tulum experience: the perfect mixture of a relaxing beach vacation, a bit of culture, and a bit of authenticity. Tulum has it all.
Keep reading for ideas and things to do in Tulum, Mexico.
1. Rent bicycles.
My husband and I rented bikes from our hotel, the Diamante K. And although my husband’s rear wheel was crooked, we rode bikes up and down the beach strip, into Tulum town, and out to a couple of cenotes. It was a great way to get around and get some exercise. At times the traffic was a bit stressful (and I wished I had a helmet), but overall I felt comfortable. And there really is nothing like riding a bike while the sun beats on your shoulders in the winter while passing a sign that says “Chichen Itza.” Glorious freedom!
2. Visit the ruins.
After missing the ruins on my first trip to Tulum, I knew I wanted to make a point to visit them on this trip. We walked there our first full day in Mexico.
They were definitely interesting, but we got there later in the day, so they were pretty crowded. It was hot and I felt like I was being herded along.
If you choose to check them out, visit early. Also, instead of waiting in the ticket line, check out the ticket kiosk (which when we visited was a bit before the line and to the left if facing the counter). And, lots of people brought their bathing suits to swim at the beach at the ruins.
3. Enjoy the food.
Ohmygosh! I try to avoid the gluten and the dairy, and it was so easy in Mexico. Tacos, tacos, tacos!
We started a taco tasting contest, and it was so much fun. One notable taco joint was Antojitos La Chiapaneca in Tulum town (which is what one of our cab drivers called it–I have no idea if other people call it that too, but I loved saying it)(tulum town, tulum town, tulum town). My husband and I speak little Spanish, and it felt like a locals kind of place, and we had no idea what we were doing in there…we walked up to a man sitting at a plastic table, handed him money, found a seat, and then tacos arrived. They were good. I want some now.
We also went out for some fancier eats:
Arca Tulum is in the trendy beach area and we had a several course meal there. Every bite burst with flavor and the cocktails were delicious. It was nice sitting on their patio and taking in the tourists, the “jungle”, and the burning smell (maybe palo santo?)(or something to help ward off bugs?)(it wasn’t overwhelming–it was more part of a special evening out). This is an expensive place that only takes cash. I emailed them for a reservation prior to our trip.
Mezzanine Tulum is a bit north of the trendy beach area, but still along the beach strip. It was right next to our hotel, so we walked over for dinner one night. Sitting on the deck, taking in the Caribbean under the setting sun…it was another dreamy dining experience. They serve Thai food (perfect if you want a break from Mexican, right?) that tastes fabulous (as are their margs).
Our favorite meal was a bit unexpected. I noticed the Kitchen Table appeared on several websites, and when I realized it was also near our hotel, I thought we should stop by on the last night of our visit. Oh my gosh! It was fabulous! I had the best ahi tuna that I have ever eaten–it melted in mouth and tasted like heaven. It was fun sitting in the jungle, watching the chefs run around the kitchen and sing the occasional chant. The prices were very reasonable for the quality of the food and I highly recommend you trek it to the north beach area to eat here. One recommendation: use their bug spray! This is the only spot that I got bitten by mosquitoes on our trip.
4. Cenotes, cenotes!
I was not dying to go to cenotes, but felt I probably should check at least one out. We took a super long bike ride to Gran Cenote, which was gorgeous, but crowded. It was easy to spend an hour or so there, snorkeling and checking out the turtles as they swam by me.
It was Cenote Calavera that impressed me more. We also rode our bikes there from the beach area (and it is on the way to Gran Cenote). The entrance looks unimpressive…pay and walk back to the cenotes. Once there, you’ll see a couple holes in the ground…two small ones (eyes) and one larger one (mouth). (They call it the skull cenote because of the resemblance.)
There is a large ladder to access the water OR you can jump about 10-15 feet down into it. I hate heights. Hate, hate, hate them. No one (there was about 15 people there) was taking the ladder down…and I wasn’t about to be the first. So after a few minutes of working up the courage, I jumped in. SO MUCH FUN! I was so freakin’ proud of myself. Go me!!! I floated around for a while before we headed back into Tulum Town.
5. Beach time.
This is what I love more than anything else–give me palm trees, white sands, clear ocean water, a book, and I am set.
We enjoyed the somewhat secluded beach of Hotel Diamante K, and I loved their palm trees, beach beds, and padded lounge chairs. (Ever since kids I just cannot stay in the hot full sun.) I read Hamilton and was hopeful that the inspiration that struck Lin Manuel Miranda while he read in Mexico would rub off on me, but TBD.
One thing to mention: there was an abundance of seaweed. Like, it was kind of annoying. It was not there during my last visit in 2017. Some people seemed really upset by this, according to Google. While I didn’t love it, I was just so happy to be in Mexico on a vacation with just my husband…it didn’t matter a ton to me.
So, we didn’t do much shopping on this trip. I did find the most beautiful green dress in the south beach area, but I didn’t even look at the price. We did buy some touristy things in Tulum Town, including Mexican wrestling masks for the boys.
But, my favorite shopping experience in Tulum was a visit to a grocery store. It was AMAZING. There was someone dressed up as a tiger, there was singing into a mic, there was dancing. There were sparkly gold sneakers for sale. And cigars. And beloved bottled water.
7. Planning Your Trip to Tulum Mexio
Getting There — We flew into the Cancun airport, and I used Super Shuttle to transport us to Tulum, which I booked in advance. The drive takes about two hours, but because of all the hotel drop-offs in Playa del Carmen, it took even longer. Next time, I may splurge on a private Super Shuttle. I probably wouldn’t rent a car to get there if I went back–I really liked using the taxis and riding my bike.
The Language — My husband took Spanish growing up, while I took French. I enthusiastically tried to communicate in Spanish, but I really don’t know much, and instead found myself translating from English to French. Regardless, this didn’t matter at all. Most people spoke English.
Payment — Some restaurants did not accept credit cards, so be mindful. Some places accepted both pesos and dollars–this is enough to make my head hurt. We took out pesos around town in Tulum to have cash on hand.
Safety — I felt totally safe in Tulum. Barring freak accidents, I would say it is comparable to most of the USA, and I wouldn’t let our press prevent you from a trip to Tulum.
Area to Stay — We stayed on the north part of the beach area, which means we were removed from the super trendy beach strip. In some ways, it would have been fun to stay in that area, but I also enjoyed the quiet and almost private beach cove we had. We swam at a public beach closer to the trendy area–it was crowded. It would have been fun to beach it at one of the trendier hotels for a bit, but we never did.
I would definitely choose the beach area over staying in Tulum town, just to have that easy beach access. Plus I live in Colorado where oceans are a big treat.
Future Trip Plans — I’d budget in a spa treatment or a yoga class. I would also consider a visit to the Papaya Playa Project one night to take in some nightlife. I would spend some time in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and try to go to an area with manatees. But I wouldn’t change much. Tulum, I love you!