Top Things to Do in Tulum
Seeking serenity? There’s a little paradise called Tulum where vacationers find some of the best beaches in the world and pure bliss.
We’ve traveled here since the 1980’s and seen the Tulum Riviera develop from a hippie-haven into an eco-friendly beach destination. Guests choose Tulum for a variety of reasons…couples exchange vows at this perfect wedding destination, overworked professionals check into bikini boot camps, tired souls look to regain balance at yoga retreats, and some even decide to move here.
Today, this hidden Zen sanctuary has evolved into one of Mexico’s most stylish, yet earthy vacation spots. Tulum has world-class hotels, restaurants, spas, nightlife, yoga classes, and boutiques selling high-fashion to local handicrafts.
Situated between the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and the Tulum Mayan Ruins, this Riviera is divided by an emerald green jungle and white powder-fine sand lining turquoise blue Caribbean waters. It’s only 80 miles south of Cancun, about a 1.5 hrs drive to reach this southern tip of the Mayan Riviera.
Each trip to the Riviera Maya, we relax, eat delicious Mexican food, and discover the best that the Tulum area has to offer. Here’s our latest list of top things to do, where to stay, dine & spa in Tulum and the Riviera Maya.
WHAT TO DO
1. Snorkel and dive.
Explore the colors of sea-life and coral in the crystal clear ocean waters, or cave dive in one of the many subterranean fresh-water cenotes.
We visited the Cenote Azul & Dos Ojos & Gran Cenote which were amazing. Heard the cenotes – Ojo de Agua, Yax Mul, El Jardin del Eden, Tres Bocas are also worth a visit and the Aktun Chen Caverns are beautiful. Try to arrive early before the cenotes get too crowded. Don’t Miss! If you visit Chichen Itza, be sure to stop and see the Ik Kil Cenote.
2. Cycle the jungle road in Tulum that parallels the Tulum Beach.
There are lots of boutique shops, roadside snack stands, and small restaurants along the way. TIP! Be sure to cycle early in the day before there is traffic. This road can get congested later in the day and avoid “rush hour” around sunset.
Guests at some of the hotels have free bikes to use, but there are also bike rental places nearby.
3. Explore Ancient Mayan Ruins
The Tulum ruins are located on the Caribbean coast, just a 5 mins drive from Tulum town and beach.
There are more archaeological Mayan sites dating back to the 13th century, such as Coba, Uxmal or Chichen Itza within 1-3 hours drive from Tulum. We visited the Coba Ruins and enjoyed the pathways connecting the different groups of ruins.
4. Play in the water…
Kiteboard, surf and body surf the turquoise warm waters of the Tulum Riviera. There are local Kiteboard schools along the beach.
If you want to shop, stroll down the jungle side of the road along the Boca Paila, Tulum’s Beach and you’ll find clothing boutiques, art galleries, cafes & restaurants.
Also, if you’re in Playa del Carmen, go to “Fifth Avenue” where there are lots of souvenir shops, just a couple blocks from the beach.
6. Meditate and be “One with Nature”
Walk the Tulum Beach at sunrise & sunset, nap in a hammock.
Do a downward dog at Maya Tulum’s Yoga Class – check their website for schedules.
Visit Azulik’s new holistic center for the arts – Uh May. It’s about a 30 mins drive from Tulum, and you’ll need to get a reservation and directions before heading to this jungle gem.
Roth (Eduardo Neira) is a social entrepreneur and founder of AZULIK. His vision is to “reconnect individuals and tribes –both native and contemporary – with one another, with others and with the environment.”
Our tour with the Center’s Manager, Fernanda Galeria was eye-opening and we loved the experience and concept for this center.
9. Bikini Bootcamps
Sign up for the Bikini Bootcamp at Amansala – great program to reclaim your bikini body and get centered.
10. Visit the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve –
Lastly on our list of top things to do in Tulum Mexico…take a guided fly fishing or bone fishing tour offshore from the preserve or try deep sea fishing off the barrier reef.
WHERE TO STAY
TULUM & THE NORTH RIVIERA MAYA
Over the past 30 years, we’ve seen Tulum change! On our first trip, there were only a few hotels along the beach, and today there are over 50 hotels. Dozens of hotels have popped up in the town of Tulum just a few miles away from the beach, and tourists on a budget can either take a taxi or bicycle to the beach. We’ve heard from friends who have stayed at Tiki Tiki, Una Vida, and Elements in town and found these smaller hotels to be a good option.
We prefer to stay on the beach so we can go on long walks at sunrise and sunset, but this will be more expensive then staying in town. Some of our favorite hotels on the beach include Tata Tulum, Encantada, Maya Tulum and Ana y Jose.
As for vacation homes, our favorite place to go for a secluded and peaceful getaway is Rancho San Eric where you can truly get away from it all.
If you prefer to stay closer to Cancun, there are expansive luxury resorts like the Grand Velas Riviera Maya and other Mayakoba resorts like Rosewood, Banyan Tree and the Andaz properties.
Here are some descriptions of places we’ve stayed at to date in Tulum, Soliman Bay, Playa del Carmen and further north on the Riviera Maya near Cancun.
Rancho San Eric is a collection of privately-owned homes that are vacation rentals. Each villa has its own unique style, surrounded by verdant gardens of lush tropical palms and several of the villas are on the beach. There are 6 homes that are available that can sleep anywhere from 2 – 11 people. Perfect location for family reunions, girlfriend’s getaway, or couples looking for a private place to vacation.
We loved staying at in Studio Pericho at Rancho San Eric with easy access to the white sandy beach. Our Studio Pericho had a small kitchen where we could prepare our own meals or you can arrange to have a Chef prepare a meal for you.
Owner Stefan & Hui have lived here for decades and their family purchased an unspoiled stretch of Mexico’s Caribbean coastline in Tulum in the 1980’s. Stefan shared “Each home is an oasis of solitude and serenity, offering an ideal hideaway to free mind, body and spirit from the rigors of modern living—a return to a more uncomplicated existence.”
We love Rancho San Eric so much, we returned this year with a group of 8 friends and stayed at Casa Dunia.
Chef Mitch and Chef Mateo prepared private dinners and breakfasts for us. It was the perfect vacation!
If you want an exclusive and luxury adults-only hotel on a prime beachfront spot, this is it! We recommend booking Room #13, the Ocean Deluxe Suite with incredible 180 degree views of the Caribbean and white sand beach.
The hotel is named Tata (Tahtli) which means father in the native Nahuatl dialect, and father traditionally represents the sun.
Don’t Miss! The breakfasts at the hotel’s restaurant are delicious and you can choose from a variety of traditional Mexican dishes.
Looking for a place to balance your mind, body & spirit? Check into this “yoga paradise” with private rustic cabanas just steps from the beach. Each day we awoke to ocean waves and singing birds, and climbed out of our mosquito net cocooned beds, to connect with nature. Some of the highlights were yoga classes, delicious breakfasts with natural juices, and massages at the Wellness Center. Charming, mystical and authentic!
This intimate eco-beach hotel has only nine luxury villas designed with understated elegance. Villas are decorated with local embroidered fabrics and the beautifully made furniture shows refined craftsmanship. Guests find privacy and tranquility in spacious villas on this secluded stretch of beach. The location is ideal since it’s in the middle between the Tulum ruins and the Sian Kaan Reserve.
Famous for its Bikini Boot Camp and healthy food, guests check in for a week, sometimes a month and take yoga, pilates, and other classes. Staying here is about being in the moment and living simply. If you want to stay in a bungalow with a beatnik, bohemian feel, you’ll be happy here. Good to note, some rooms do not have locks, but reception reassures that nothing has ever happened and it’s safe to stay here. This is a “breathe deep and exhale” resort. Highlight: dining on the beautiful outdoor deck that looks out to the Caribbean Sea.
Jashita is an eco-friendly luxury boutique hotel on the shores of Soliman Bay. We found Jashita Hotel absolutely charming and it’s 23 suites are tucked away on a private lagoon next to a remote jungle.
Our suite was spacious and beautifully designed with a view of the sea and a generous balcony that included a private plunge pool.
Bougainvilleas and palms surround the suites and pool and guests love the nature and privacy this hotel offers. Soliman Bay is the most protected bay of the Riviera Maya, which allows guests to swim, kayak and snorkel safely all year long.
The Sahara Restaurant offers a variety of Italian, Mexican and international cuisine. One of the specialties is handmade pasta and we especially loved the ravioli with lobster. Don’t Miss! The breakfasts are delicious and healthy.
The Jashita Spa is one of the best spa experiences along the Riviera Maya. We signed up for the Couple’s Massage in the open-air beach cabana and surrendered to an hour of pure bliss while we listened to the sea lapping on the shore.
PLAYA DEL CARMEN AREA
A contemporary grand resort with a dramatic entrance! Designed by Mexican architect, Sordo Madaleno, the 314 suites and guest rooms are spacious with fine linens and amenities. This new hotel has clean lines with a natural element. Visually stunning. Guests enjoy the oasis of pools, just steps from the white sandy beaches of Playa del Carmen. Great place to stay if you want to visit Cozumel (just a ferry ride away), or visit Playa del Carmen before heading to the Tulum area.
Located just 10 minutes north of Playa del Carmen is one of Riviera Maya’s best-kept secrets – the Viceroy Riviera Maya. We were greeted with cold towels, and coconut lemongrass tropical drinks, then escorted to our private villa with its own plunge pool. On the way, we were given a Mayan blessing by a local shaman to purify the soul. Each guest can select from handmade soaps – chocolate, lavender, rosemary. One of the best welcomes we’ve experienced at any hotel.
We love this luxurious refuge in the tropical jungle, with paths meandering to a beautiful pool and beach. It’s no wonder Viceroy Riviera Maya is considered one of the Top 100 Resorts in the World! You’ll want for nothing, as you’re surrounded with a warm ambience and exceptional hospitality. The Viceroy experience feeds the senses and is a must from our top things to do in Tulum Mexico list!
Special Feature: Read our exclusive post on Viceroy Riviera Maya, click here!
The entrance to the Hotel Esencia is very private and feels like you’ve entered a tropical fantasy world. On the quiet beach of Xpu-Ha, guests find the seclusion needed for a peaceful getaway. We visited Hotel Esencia for lunch and hope to return for a stay in one of the 29 villas and suites. The lush tropical grounds, well-manicured gardens, and perfectly restored villa once owned by the Italian Duchess of Ferrari, is well managed by owner Kevin Wendle.
FURTHER NORTH – CLOSER TO CANCUN:
Further north from Playa del Carmen on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast and the Yucatan jungle is the Grand Velas Riviera Maya. This all-inclusive luxury property is just off Highway 307, the main stretch between Cancun and Tulum.
It’s a refuge on a vast property with 539 rooms/suites, infinity pools, white sandy beach, award-winning restaurants and a world-class spa (42-treatment rooms!). Read the Spa Section in the article below to find out about our Se Spa experience.
Rooms are spacious and beautifully designed. Your every need will be tended to by an attentive staff with excellent service.
Culinary artists and renowned chefs work their magic on authentic gourmet dishes at seven fantastic restaurants. A dining highlight was at the Frida, a AAA 4-diamond restaurant, where you’ll savor traditional Mexican dishes.
WHERE TO DINE
One of our favorite restaurants is ARCA, an outdoor dining experience in the jungle that’s absolutely magical! We dined on smoky wood-fired leg of lamb with ancho chile, cauliflower purée and sautéed chard, and a roasted catch of the day, and a plate of very tender braised suckling pig. A favorite side dish was the wood-fired zucchini with pumpkin seed mole and topped with queso fresco. Executive Chef Jose Luis Hinosfroza has a strong farm to table philosophy, sourcing local, seasonal, sustainable produce, and organic whenever possible.
Azulik Kin Toh: We booked a reservation at Kin Toh to see the beautiful sunset, and were enchanted with the architecture at Azulik. Hotel guests get priority for restaurant bookings so call in advance to make your reservation.
Make a request to shop in their unique boutique, and arrive early to visit the art gallery next door. Check the yoga and sound chanting schedule to sign up for a class and experience the Azulik dome structure.
One of our favorite dining experiences while in Tulum! Ready for a regional food experience, a taste of Yucatan, a taste of México? Chef Javier works wonders at this intimate boutique hotel – every dish prepared is authentic Mexican cuisine and absolutely delicious.
A full breakfast with Italian coffee, home-baked whole grain breads, freshly prepared banana or coconut bread, fresh fruit platter and juices, yogurt, granola and egg dishes, omelets, smoothies and Mexican favorites such as chilaquiles and huevos rancheros. The cuisine is a wonderful blend of traditional Mayan and Mexican flavors, using locally sourced, organic produce whenever possible.
Located at the Viceroy Riviera Maya along the Playa Xcalacoco, we dined on an array of contemporary variations of Mexican cuisine with Mediterranean influences. Executive Chef Jorge Ildefonso surprised us with an explosion of delicious local flavors in every dish, so artfully presented. The grand finale was the dessert, a local specialty, a steamed Chile Guajillo with chocolate mole!
If you’re looking for traditional Mexican cuisine, make a reservation at El Tabano. Owners Paf y Laura opened their restaurant 8 years ago with the intention of offering true Mexican homemade recipes with Caribbean flavor. One of our favorite dishes was the shrimp with Veracruz mole sauce and plantain chips.
Photos courtesy of El Tabano
Flavorful and healthy, fresh food – we loved the cinnamon vanilla French toasts, fresh mango and pineapple, and ranchos hueveros breakfasts!
Healthy and delicious salads and smoothies! Get their cookbook available on Amazon Bikini “Bootcamp: Two Weeks to Your Ultimate Beach Body”
For a beachfront dining experience, make a reservation at Philosophy. Located at Casa Malca Hotel where guests enjoy the whimsical interior and open air setting.
We especially loved the wood fired pizza and fresh seafood. Great place to dine for lunch or dinner as the sun sets.
Other Restaurants (to try on our next trip!)
El Pez – We stopped here for a freshly squeezed fruit smoothie and enjoyed the ocean breezes from their fabulous deck.
Heard Las Estrellas, Gitano, Matt’s Mexican Grill, Cenzontle, Posada Margherita and Hemingways are good choices too, but we ran out of time to visit these restaurants.
Among our top things to do in Tulum Mexico is getting a massage. There are so many places to relax we wanted to share the best ones with you!
Yäan Wellness: The setting for this energy healing spa is magical…just a 5 mins walk from the beach at Be Tulum, and it’s in the jungle! Architect Sebastian Sas designed a center for wellness and healing that incorporates the elements of fire, air, water, and earth.
Yäan’s therapists are trained in the Mayan traditions and use crystals and oils for chakra balancing, botanical herbs from their gardens for healing treatments.
Start your spa journey at the “Healing Waters” circuit in purified crystalline water pools, steam and sauna. You can choose from a menu of therapies including traditional indigenous treatments, energy healing, deep muscle relaxation techniques, herbal and flower baths prepared in custom made copper tubs.
After your treatment…relax in the jungle gardens and take a dip into the soaking baths. My therapist Montserrat was fabulous!
Don’t Miss! The Ceremonial Temazcal, a “sweat lodge” where you can purify and cleanse your mind, body and spirit in a traditional ceremony.
Maya Tulum: The Wellness Center at Maya Tulum is world class! Known for honoring the Mayan healing techniques, Maya Tulum incorporates ancient inspiration into their therapeutic treatments. We loved the beautiful setting with palm trees, pathways to thatched roof casitas where we were pampered with treatments. Check the spa menu for treatments and services, click here
Viceroy Riviera Maya: One of the finest spas in Mexico under a giant palapa thatched roof, where guests are pampered with soothing massages in rooms that open to the jungle. Upon arrival, guests are blessed by a local Shaman and greeted with, “May the peace and the nature of the cosmos be with you.”
A highlight during our stay at Grand Velas Riviera Maya was checking into the Se Spa. My spa concierge introduced me to the Water Ceremony, a series of water experiences from the sauna, steam room, clay room, ice room, sensation showers, hot tub & cold plunge, to the sensation pool – sensory pebble walkway, cascades, bubble beds, neck massage jets, and a bubble geyser. Afterward this water journey, I felt totally relaxed and ready to check in for the Organic Kaab Honey Experience.
Here’s the description of this unique signature treatment that will leave you feeling relaxed, destressed and your skin smooth and soft: Indulge in a face and body massage experience with organic Xtabentun honey, continuing with a regional Mayan Chaka tree bath elixir to heal your energy. Seal your experience with a vanilla balm. Bees were considered by the Mayans to be the connection with the spiritual world. Honey carries the vital energy of nature, infused by the energy of the sun, taken from the nectar of the Xtabentun flower.
We rented a Budget rental car and had the car for the week to drive around and explore the Riviera Maya. Budget has a professional team who greets you at the airport and after a 2 mins shuttle ride, you arrive to their rental location. It only took about 10 mins to get the paperwork processed and get our car.
The Budget staff were helpful with directions and providing us with maps. When we returned the car, Budget was very efficient with the car return and getting us to the airport in minutes. Our experience with Budget was excellent – the car performed well, and the staff delivered service with a smile.
We arranged for our shuttle transfers with Happy Shuttle to/from the Cancun International Airport and our hotels along the Mayan Riviera. Our experienced driver and guide, Alejandro, arrived on time and always greeted us with a smile, had a great sense of humor and was very knowledgeable and professional. Happy Shuttle Cancun is a 10 year experienced, transportation company offering inexpensive shuttle services between the International Airport and the Hotels in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
Happy Shuttle can also provide day tours to important sites (ruins, cenotes, etc.) in the area.
Whether you want a private transfer or shared transfer, Happy Shuttle can arrange a customized service for you.
Once you’re in Tulum, you can bike or walk around. There are lots of places you can rent a bike, and some hotels offer free bikes.
Several major airlines (Alaska Airlines, American, Jet Blue and Virgin America) fly direct to Cancun, Mexico, and then it’s just a 80-mile drive to get to the Tulum area.
Global Adventuress would like to thank those mentioned in this article for hosting our stay, and inviting us to their restaurants and spas.
Finally big thanks to Budget Rental Car for hosting us with a car, as well as Happy Shuttle Cancun for hosting our transfers and driving us to magical places throughout the Riviera Maya and Tulum!