Mention Tulum, Mexico in your travel chats and a few key buzzwords will certainly come up: hippie town, cenotes, Mayan ruins, yoga and beautiful beaches, to name a few.
Free spirits have been attracted to Tulum, which sits on the tip of the Yucatan peninsula and borders the Caribbean Sea, for decades. It is home to the Mayans, and their culture is still deeply ingrained in the town today.
The town is divided into two distinct areas: Tulum Playa, with its high-end beach resorts, spas, cabanas, and Mayan ruins; and Tulum Pueblo, where most of the locals live. Pueblo is by far a more authentic Mexican experience, but the beaches are a must-see. The famous Corona commercials are filmed here.
We asked the locals for their best tips for visitors, and got some great insider’s tips. Here are some unique things to do when you visit Tulum.
Lounge Like A Movie Star
Maya Riviera is known for its white sand beaches, but what many visitors don’t realize it that the best beaches are not open to the public. Private – and very expensive – resorts have laid claim to these pristine stretches. If you just want to visit for the day, Ziggy’s Beach Club is an excellent, affordable option for enjoying the same VIP service that exclusive resort guests receive. For $25 (US), you can spend the day lounging on luxe sunbeds and order food and drinks from their world-class restaurant. Ask about their excellent selection of Mexican wines – the blush from Casa Madero is a perfect refresher on a scorching afternoon.
Swim in Cenotes
If you’ve never heard of cenotes (pronounced ceh-NO-tays), they are crystal clear, natural sinkholes in the earth. They form when limestone collapses, exposing the underlying groundwater. The Yucatan peninsula is scattered with cenotes, but they are especially plentiful in Tulum.
Cenotes are popular with snorkelers and scuba divers, of course, and many reach far into the earth via underground cave systems. You’ll see fish, turtles, and maybe even bats. Some of the most popular are Gran Cenote, Dos Ojos and Casa Cenote.
See Ancient Mayan Ruins
This is what Tulum is famous for. Located near the hotel zone in Tulum Playa, these dramatic Mayan ruins are situated on a 40-foot cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
Go at sunrise to avoid the hordes of tourists who begin arriving by bus around 8 a.m. Bring a swimsuit – after visiting the ruins, you can walk down to the adjacent public beach for a dip.
Tulum is a spiritual place, so if you have the chance, try the ancient purification ritual of temazcal. The ceremony takes place in a traditional clay dome, which becomes a sweat lodge/steam bath as water or fragrant tea is splashed over volcanic rocks. Its purpose is to cleanse the mind, body and spirit, and to reconnect with Mother Earth.
Several of the beach resorts offer temazcal ceremonies, which usually last a couple of hours. Try Casa Violeta or Papaya Playa Project.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
One of the less visited attractions in the area, Sian Ka’an (which means Origin of the Sky) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. The biodiversity here is truly profound. It’s home to jaguars, pumas, pink flamingos, sharks, manatees, spider monkeys, hundreds of species of birds, and much more.
Covering more than a million acres, the biosphere is an integral part of the Yucatan ecosystem. You can take guided tours through the mangrove forests, marshes and coastal lagoons. This is a great option for nature lovers who appreciate sustainable tourism and want to avoid the mass tours and crowds at other tourist sites in the region.
Strike A Pose
Attracted by the spiritual aspect of the area, Tulum is popular with yogis, as evidenced by the abundance of studios along the beach and in town. Many of the resorts and studios offer lengthy retreats where you can practice several times daily.
One of the more unique offerings is SUP Yoga (yoga on a standup paddleboard). Yoga Adventures Tulum offers classes, which are a great way to see the nearby Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. And if animals are your thing, be sure to check out Yoga Dicha Studio, where part of your class fee goes to support local nonprofit Help Tulum Dogs.
Sunday Salsa Party at La Zebra
If you’re in town on a Sunday, don’t miss the Sunday Salsa Party at La Zebra. At six p.m., locals and visitors alike gather on the beachfront deck for a free lesson with the resort’s resident salsa instructors. After a one-hour break for drinks and conversation, a live salsa band takes the stage. Dance the night away under the stars at one of Tulum’s most beloved hangouts.
Spanish Lessons at Meztli
You may not think “school” when you think of Mexican beach vacations, but trust us on this one. One week of Spanish lessons at Meztli Spanish Language School (about $180 US) includes three hours of instruction per day, plus the opportunity to participate in daily extracurricular activities like morning yoga, salsa lessons, and cooking classes. All activities are conducted in Spanish and included with tuition.
To get the full experience, ask about the host family option. For 600 pesos per night ($35), you can stay with a local family who provides meals and will happily help you practice what you learned in class.