Tulum Tips for Beaches, Cenotes and Restaurants
Tulum in Mexico is the best example of what we would call a hype. We have never traveled to a place where we thought tourism was dominated by “Instagram hotspots” as much as in Tulum. You’ll see lists of the best photo spots, the most photogenic smoothie bowls, and the most Instagrammable cocktails circulating the internet. So these are our Tulum Tips for Beaches, Cenotes and Restaurants.
The fact that Tulum has experienced such a development in terms of tourism obviously has both its advantages and its disadvantages. Small spoiler: the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, however. In our blog post, we’ll show you what to expect on your Tulum vacation, and of course, we’ll show you our top travel tips.
1. Tulum in the Riviera Maya: what to expect
Let’s start with what Tulum is: Caribbean beach paradise. The sand on the coast is so wonderfully shiny, fine, soft and white that you want to walk barefoot all day.
Speaking of the beach. This brings us to the next important point: Tulum is divided into two parts. It consists of Tulum Pueblo and Tulum Beach. Tulum Pueblo is the name of the city and is located further inland, about five kilometers from the beach. You can also find economical accommodation and restaurants here in Tulum Pueblo. There is a main road that runs through the city center heading north and south. Idyllic would not be the word to describe the city center as it is certainly not a gem. While Tulum Beach is where the hotel zone is located, all along the coast, which is only a very long drive. Here you will find luxury hotels, shops and restaurants.
Tulum Beach’s accommodations and shops look like a boho-hippie Instagram feed attraction. We put so much emphasis on aesthetics that we often forget that we are in Mexico. Tulum has become the destination for “high society” and you can easily tell from the price point: a dress for $ 500 USD? Dinner for $ 150 USD? Overnight for $ 600 USD? Obviously, these examples are not representative of the whole of Tulum, but it is clear that the price points are very high, especially in or along Tulum beach itself.
Others Tulum Tips for Beaches, Cenotes and Restaurants that are good to know: There is a Mayan site in Tulum, known for its beautiful location on the coast. So, if you don’t have a lot of time for culture, you can at least immerse yourself in Mexican history in Tulum without having to drive very far. But we have to be honest: Compared to other places, the ruins of Tulum aren’t that spectacular, with the exception of this beachfront location.
How long do I have to stay in Tulum?
Tulum was the first stop on our 3-week trip through the Yucatán and in retrospect we would always choose Tulum as the first stop. How come? This is actually because Tulum is so touristy, principally when you are in Mexico for the first time, like us, you have doubts – but those doubts disappear immediately when you arrive in Tulum – of this we can tell you. to assure.
We spent 4 nights in Tulum and personally it was a perfect time for us. We are definitely not the kind of people you would see lying on the beach all day. Since we had a lot of planning, we were able to easily fill the full three days and didn’t have much time to laze on the beach. So, if you really want to disconnect and relax on the beaches for a few days but also go hiking, it is better to stay a little longer in Tulum.
Best time to visit Tulum
Although you can travel to Mexico and Tulum all year round, the months of November / December to April / May are the most ideal time to travel. During this period there is a dry season. The humidity is not that high, it rains little and the temperatures are pleasantly warm.
The equivalent of the dry season is the rainy season, which runs from May / June to October. During this period, precipitation is significantly higher and the hurricane season also falls into the rainy season, with the greatest likelihood of hurricanes between August and October. But don’t worry, dramatic hurricanes are rare in the Yucatán Peninsula.
We ourselves visited Yucatán between late November and mid-December. Our trip proved once again that the weather does not always match the weather forecast. We had a few rainy days with us, as well as a few showers during our stay in Tulum. What we’re trying to say is that you can never be 100% sure about the weather in the tropics.
2. The beaches of Tulum
Tulum is blessed with miles of coastline and the beaches are just as long, giving you a variety of spots to choose from. The sand is white and soft, the sea is an azure blue shining in the sun. While there are some sections where hotels are clustered along the beach, there are no hotel bunkers and the beaches don’t seem too crowded.
Following these Tulum Tips for Beaches, Cenotes and Restaurants, if you are staying at one of the Tulum Beach hotels, you will likely be spending time on the hotel beach. If you are arriving from Tulum Pueblo, you have two options: either look for a cool place or you can treat yourself to a sun lounger at one of the beach clubs. For example: Coco Tulum or Ziggy’s Beach Club are very well known and popular.
Since we’re not the type to relax on the beach all day anyway, we would stay and relax for a few hours. Our two favorite beaches were:
The paradise beach is located quite far north (but still south of the ruins of Tulum). Playa Paraíso is a long, fairly wide sandy beach that is relatively uncrowded. If you walk north along the beach (to Playa Maya or Playa Santa Fe), you might even get a peek at the Tulum ruins in the distance.
It is a bit difficult to find public access to enter this beach. We had to cross by restricted paths such as walking through a campsite. There is also an access between Playa Paraíso and Playa Maya, where there are even a few parking spaces. We just parked our car along the main road.
Beach next to the Azulik hotel
We originally wanted to take a look at the exceptional eco-hotel called Azulik and unexpectedly landed on a really nice stretch of beach. The beach is like a bay and is very comfortable. There isn’t much to do, but if you want to enjoy a few peaceful hours at the beach, you’ve come to the right place. The access is rather hidden and right next to the main road at the height of Punta Piedra.
Algae along the Riviera Maya in Mexico
If you are planning to travel to Mexico, you have probably read or heard of the widespread seagrass problem. Until a few years ago, this problem was not really a problem in the region, but unfortunately the situation has worsened considerably over the past two years.
Explanation: What is sea grass and where does it come from?
Seagrass also called Sargassum is a genus of brown algae. The fact that seagrass beds are washed up on the beaches of Mexico is in principle nothing unusual during the hottest summer months. However, over the past two years, the situation has spiraled out of control. In just a few short months, tons of seagrass have washed up every day. Swimming in the sea is hardly possible, as it is almost impossible to cross the thick layer of seagrass.
Of course, there is the question of how this became and still is such a disastrous issue for the region. The answer about this matter is that it is not yet fully understood. However, there is no doubt that the problem is due to climate change, or at least to the negative environmental impacts of humans. The hotter the water, the more likely the herbaria are to multiply.
We also did some research ourselves and found that the US food industry is apparently partly to blame. Excess fertilizers and toxic substances are released into the surrounding rivers and reach the Gulf of Mexico. This creates an excess of nutrients and nitrates, which contributes to the spread of algae. We are not experts, but we assume that this problem is the result of many different factors.
Does Algae Affect Beach Vacations?
Despite the situation is rather dire, we would like to calm the situation down a bit: algae are not constantly shedding. There is no problem to swim in the sea – apart from the very unpleasant seaweed stench, which was a bit disturbing.
However, we have read various reports, and it seems that some months the situation seems to be worse. Of course, visually, it makes a huge difference that we look at an azure sea or just a carpet of seaweed in front of them. If you are booking a hotel on the beach, we ask that you ask the hotel directly – generally, the more expensive the hotel, the more likely it is that the beach is regularly cleared of seaweed.
If you want to know what a particular beach looks like, we have a tip for you. Updates and photos from various beaches along the Riviera Maya are posted daily to this Facebook group: the “Sargasso Seaweed Updates Riviera Maya” Facebook group.
3. Cenotes in Tulum
The enigmatic underground freshwater pools are found throughout Yucatán. Cenotes are limestone caves filled with crystal clear water. Those around Tulum are very easy to reach and therefore great tourist magnets. If you want to visit either of the cenotes, we recommend going in the morning. Most of the Cenotes are terribly overgrown in the afternoon. If you want to come in the afternoon, be aware that many Cenotes close at 4 or 5 p.m. An excellent option is to purchase tours to visit the cenotes
The Gran Cenote is a classic among the Cenotes around Tulum. We were there in the afternoon – our mistake! At that time, the whole place is like an amusement park. It was very crowded and the noise level was even higher.
Before you can go down the stairs to the Cenote, you must first take a shower. This serves to protect flora and fauna and is also checked on site by two supervisors. The water is crystal clear and wonderfully refreshing. Diving is not possible; the water is much too shallow. You can rest on a large meadow after swimming and appreciate the sun.
Considering the crowds, it’s a miracle that we managed to take a picture without anyone. Our advice: come in the morning, then you can enjoy this wonderful place in peace. In a separate area you may also spot turtles – so make sure you don’t miss this!
Information on the visit of the Gran Cenote
Address: On the road from Tulum to Cobá (right), approximately 5 kilometers outside of Tulum
Access: From Tulum Pueblo by car (about 5 minutes) or by bike (about 15 minutes), free parking is available
Entrance: 300 Pesos per person; Snorkeling equipment and lockers are extra (all given on our visit)
Cenote car wash
A slightly different but very interesting. Cenote Carwash or Cenote Aktun Ha. For those unfamiliar with cenotes, this one looks like a small lake than a cenote. This is not the classic cave shaped cenote and therefore not as spectacular as the other cenotes. But that doesn’t change the fact that you can bathe there. Apparently, there is even a species of small crocodiles that live here – but we haven’t seen them.
Cenote Car Wash Tour Information
Address: On the road from Tulum to Cobá (on the left), about 8 km from Tulum
Access: From Tulum Pueblo by car (about 10 minutes) or by bike (about 25 minutes), free parking is available
Entrance: 100 Pesos per person
The third Cenote we visited is called Cenote Calavera. Of all those mentioned above, this is the least suitable for swimming and snorkeling. The reason is: it is very dark and there are hundreds of bats buzzing all over the cave. Also, during our visit the water was not very clear.
But in saying this, the Cenote offers something special: with a little courage, you can jump into a small hole in the ground and land a few meters lower in the Cenote Basin. The Cenote is very famous with divers. We were there at 9am and were the only visitors with another couple.
Information to visit the Cenote Calavera
Address: On the road from Tulum to Cobá (right), about 2 km from Tulum
Access: From Tulum Pueblo by car (about 5 minutes) or by bike (about 15 minutes), free parking is available
Entrance: 250 Pesos per person
4. Mayan sites in and around Tulum
Mayan ruins of Tulum
No Mayan site in the Yucatán can match this spectacular location directly on the rocky cliffs. we think that visiting the ruins of Tulum should not be missed. From an architectural point of view, there are more impressive ruins in the Yucatán region. But that doesn’t matter, as the gorgeous backdrop here certainly makes up for it.
The visit to the ruins takes place along a sort of circular route. We recommend that you wait about an hour and a half for this. You can go swimming on the beach, so don’t forget your swimsuit if you want to swim. What to know: Due to the ruins’ proximity to Tulum and Playa del Carmen as well, it means you need to get up early if you want to avoid the large tourist crowds.
Tips for visiting the Mayan site of Tulum:
- Come early! The area opens at 8:00 – we were there just before 8:00 and at this time of day the site is fairly quiet on the site.
- Don’t come on Sunday! Mexicans have free admission this day of the week and you can expect to see more people on Sunday than any other day.
Information on visiting the Mayan site of Tulum:
Admission: 80 pesos
Arrival: About 10 minutes’ drive from Tulum Pueblo or, depending on the location, 5-30 minutes from Tulum Beach
Parking: 100 Pesos
Ruins of Coba
If you prefer to visit a ruins site further away from Tulum, we recommend Cobá. These Mayan ruins lie inland and are surrounded by jungles. Its peculiarity is that you can climb the highest pyramid The whole thing is a bit adventurous, as the ruins are very steep. It even seems that the ascent of the Nohoch-Mul pyramid in Cobá was the craziest part of our trip to Yucatán.
From above you have a breathtaking view of the jungle waiting for you alone. Be careful when going down as you tend to look down too often and you may quickly lose your balance. Going down to the side or walking backwards helps with stability and for added safety there is also a rope to hold on to. Double caution in case of rain), because the stones then become very slippery.
The Cobá ruins site is very large, which is why few people explore it on foot. Therefore, shortly after entering you will have the opportunity to rent a bicycle or be guided by a cyclist in a rickshaw. We opted for the latter. Payment is made at the end. The advantage of exploring with a bicycle rickshaw: You don’t have to worry about the route or get lost, as the driver knows where to go and takes you to the highlights without any stress.
Not only the great pyramids are worth seeing, but also the small ruins. For your visit, plan to spend at least two hours there. We spent about an hour and a half on the rickshaw and eventually explored the ruins on foot near the entrance. Cobá is no secret, but the crowd of visitors is more bearable.
Information on visiting the ruins of Cobá
Admission: 80 pesos
Transport on site: preferably by bicycle rickshaw accompanied by a driver (140 Pesos per hour) or by bicycle (the two rental stations are immediately after the entrance)
Arrival: Approximately 45 minutes’ drive from Tulum Pueblo
Parking: 60 Pesos.
5. Restaurants and cafes in Tulum: our recommendations
With the huge selection of restaurants and cafes in Tulum you can quickly lose track. The good news: there is something for everyone in terms of taste and budget. As Tulum is very popular with expats, you will also find many options outside of Mexican cuisine. Here our Tulum Tips for Beaches, Cenotes and Restaurants.
Tulum Art Club
Our favorite spontaneous find in Tulum Pueblo and the place to be for our daily caffeine fix and sometimes even their delicious avocado toast. The atmosphere is reminiscent of a vast gallery that could easily be in New York or London. There is a nice green courtyard.
The staff are very cordial and accommodating. Most of the guests were our age and many would have worked away thanks to the free WIFI. Bottom line: there is a reason why we come here so often!
Address: Avenida Tulum 111, 77780 Tulum
Prices: espresso macchiato 30 Pesos, avocado toast 125 Pesos
The small cabin just off the main strip in Tulum Beach has become an Instagram hotspot in recent years. We only noticed this when, in a very short time, we witnessed several photo shoots, while enjoying our Açai Bowl.
However, Matcha Mama is worth a visit. Freshly squeezed juices, smoothies and, of course, smoothie bowls are served here. Since everything is freshly done, it takes a little longer than usual, but it doesn’t matter. Unfortunately, the place is very small and does not have enough
Address: Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila, km 8.2
Prices: Açai bowl around 200 Pesos, Green Smoothie around 120 Pesos
Hartwood is currently one of the trendiest restaurants in Tulum. This means that people queue to eat here and without a reservation you have little chance of securing a seat. Even after our visit, we still don’t understand why the restaurant has experienced such an exponential hype.
The food is exquisite, no doubt. We ate very well. However, the price level is really excessive. We paid around 90 euros for two people. But when we looked at what we paid for, we only ordered and shared a starter and main with a side dish. Unfortunately, there is no classic menu. Instead, the waiter brings a large table and explains the individual specials of the day. Furthermore, there are only a few vegetarian dishes, most of which are based on fish and meat. Our conclusion: The food here is really delicious, but whether it’s worth it or not is questionable.
Address: Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila, kilometer 7.6
Prices: cocktails around 200 pesos, food between 350 and 700 pesos
Del Cielo is a rather advertised breakfast bar in Tulum. The menu is very large: everything from avocado toast to porridge and muesli. The dishes were delicious. Lots of fresh smoothies and juices to drink, plus good coffee.
Del Cielo was quite busy during our visit, so we found the atmosphere a little too hectic and the noise level a little too high. The interior lighting was personally a little too dim, but the terrace and outdoor seating were much nicer.
Address: Avenida Satélite Sur 5, 77780 Tulum (Tulum Pueblo)
Prices: Superbowl (vegan with coconut yogurt) 180 Pesos
El Asadero is actually a popular steak restaurant, but there was plenty of choice for us vegetarians too. It was recommended to us by our hotel staff. The prices are fair, the atmosphere rather international and the staff very amicable. As a welcome appetizer, they serve nachos with five different sauces.
Address: Avenida Satélite Norte, 77780 Tulum (Tulum Pueblo)
prices: 350 Pesos for 2 dishes and 2 coronas
6. Staying in Tulum: our accommodation tips
We spent a total of four nights at the Biwa Tulum hotel. It is located in Tulum Pueblo and not along Tulum Beach. We would have imagined the Biwa Tulum on a somewhat smaller scale, but felt very comfortable. The rooms are enormous and the bed is very comfortable.
The roof terrace is great. They also serve breakfast which we think could be improved. The portion was too small, so we ended up at the nearby Art Club on the third day. However, the staff were super amicable and accommodating. There is also a swimming pool in the courtyard, which we did not test. You can also borrow bikes for free. Overall, very good value for money and ideally located if you want to stay in Tulum Pueblo.
Where to stay: Tulum Pueblo or Tulum Beach?
Most of the hotels are located either in Tulum Pueblo or along the street from Tulum Beach. Of course, now comes the question: in which neighborhood is it better to stay? We summarize the pros and cons of both.
Staying in Tulum Pueblo
Downtown Tulum is not a gem, but we felt very comfortable here. It consists of a large main street, which sees a lot of traffic, as well as a few checkered side streets. Tulum Pueblo is definitely the most authentic place to stay.
The price for accommodation in the city center is lower, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t good hotels here – in fact, you get much better value here and the restaurants are generally less expensive.
However, being in the center of the city has both advantages and disadvantages. Of course, the biggest downside is that you’re about a 10-minute drive or 15–20-minute bike ride to the beach. So, a nice evening walk from your bedroom to the beach doesn’t quite do the trick.
If you are traveling by car, be aware that the parking situation in Tulum Beach is a disaster as you can hardly find a park on the street these days. Previously you could do this, but now you find road signs everywhere with the “E” crossed out, which means something like “no parking”. Unfortunately, we traveled mostly by car and we often regretted it as you are probably faster on the bike in the end.
Tulum Beach is a one-of-a-kind stretch of road that winds for a few kilometers along the coast. However, don’t expect it to be the romantic kind as there is a ridiculous amount of unanticipated traffic and the road conditions can be rather abysmal in some sections.
Of course, the biggest advantage of Tulum Beach is that you are near the beach. You don’t have to think ahead of what to pack for your beach day because you’re not that far from the bedroom anyway. So, if the beach is the goal of your vacation, you had better go to Tulum beach.
The huge downside to Tulum Beach is the price – hotels can be extremely costly, which means you have to shell out extra just to hit a certain level. The same goes for restaurants, but in our opinion the price difference for accommodation is much more noticeable.
We would like to add that Tulum beach is really very touristy and the whole street with all its shops and restaurants is purely touristy. Either way, even if you’re in Tulum Beach for the night, it makes sense to borrow or rent a bike.
Best day trips from Tulum
The most popular day trips in the area include.
- Visit beautiful and eerie cenotes for swimming or diving
- Swim with turtles in the ocean in Akumal
- See the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza
We highly recommend doing all of this – it was worth it and it is truly unique! Where else can you swim with turtles for free, right in the ocean, without diving?
Other popular things to do in Tulum are visiting Coba and Vallodolid.
The most convenient way to see any of these is to book a tour as they take care of all rental equipment, including lunch and private transportation. There are many dive shops in the city of Tulum Central that can organize day trips to all these spots and take special tours for diving in the cenotes, swimming with bull sharks, etc.
Visit the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
Listed as a UNESCO heritage site since 1987, the biosphere of Sian Ka´an is the biggest protected reserve in the Caribbean. If you continue south on the Tulum Road, you will arrive at the entrance to the preserved area and leave the paved road behind. Admission is paid and the bumpy dirt road turns into a long stretch of lean road with the ocean on one side and the lagoon on the other.
You can take a collective taxi which lasts up to 4 hours, where you want to stay overnight, or you can take a day or half day trip with a group and take a boat. This option is more expensive but they take care of the logistics. Seems like a great tour option with great reviews. Reading other people’s experience of trying to drive there, we would suggest avoiding this option. It takes about 3 hours as you have to go very slowly, although there are some nice beaches to stop along the way.
There is another entrance to the biosphere but it does not involve the long dirt road. Highway 307 from Tulum pueblo actually goes to the ruins called Muyil which you can reach by car or take the bus. From there, you can follow a path to the lagoon and hire a boat guide to take you on a tour. Apparently, the prices are fixed, non-negotiable and ridiculously high. But you’re rewarded with a fabulous boat ride through the mangroves and a float through the canals. Along this main road leading to the biosphere is also the Kaan Luum lagoon. It is a beautiful calm turquoise lagoon with a long dock perfect for swimming or snorkeling. Read our guide to visit Sian Ka´an.
And follow our Tulum Tips for Beaches, Cenotes and Restaurants