The vacation resort roots of Tulum date back to the days of the Mayan kings and elite who used to relax here in the early times. Given the tranquil, tropical paradise backdrop this picturesque town on the Yucatan peninsula, it’s easy to see why. Compared to other popular ruins in the area such as Coba, Chichen Itza and Ek Balam, the ruins of Tulum are a refreshing site as they are located in an amazing sea-side setting. The most important thing to note is that there are three distinct areas all known as Tulum. While they are relatively close to each other, they’re far enough that walking from one area to another can be uncomfortable.
Known as “El Pueblo” among locals, this side of Tulum is where most locals who service the tourism industry. Most of the area’s stores, supermarkets, banks, hostels and small hotels are located here, in addition to two major bus stations. El Pueblo is the place to go for shopping, a modest nightlife, and studying the Spanish language at Instituto Chac-Mool Spanish School.
Where to Stay in Tulum Pueblo
This part of the area caters mainly to boutique and spa hotels, in addition to a number of affordable beach-front cabanas. Located along a stretch of white sandy beaches, Tulum Playa rests adjacent to the Caribbean sea and eventually leads into the popular Sian Ka’an Biosphere Ecological Reserve, which can be explored by tourists. Most accommodations are very close to the ocean, offering quick beach access. The only downside to staying overnight here is proximity to amenities. It’s quite far from stores, restaurants, and bigger town offerings in El Pueblo as Tulum Playa does not offer easy walking access to town. The best way to get from Tulum Playa to El Pueblo is to take a taxi.
Where to Stay in Tulum Playa
The famous archaeological site of the Mayan ruins is known as Tulum Ruinas. Consisting of excavated ruins that rest on a cliff above a tropical white sand beach, Tulum Ruinas contain both historical sites and a beach for sunbathing and swimming. The ruins zone also has several restaurants and a large parking lot. There is a mile-long road stretching from highway 307 to the entrance of the ruins site, so the best way to get to Tulum Ruinas is to take a bus or taxi, or walk if you enjoy a long stroll. The ruins are open from 8 am to 5 pm. However, you should visit early in the morning to avoid large tourist crowds. There is an entrance fee of approximately $35-40 pesos per person.
What to Do in Tulum
The most obvious vacation activity is relaxing beachside on one of the area’s amazing white sand beaches. Other activities include the following.
Tulum Mayan Ruins
The biggest ancient building of the ruins stands on the shores of the Mayan Riviera, or Coba ruins. It is home to “el castillo,” a tall Mayan ruin peak that can be climbed on foot. The ruins are located in the area, whereas Coba is a 30-minute car ride west of Tulum just off of highway 307.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere
This nearby nature reserve that contains acres of mangrove swamps and wetlands, home to thousands of local birds. Pull into the reserve and head to the beach, or take a guided tour offered by one of many fishermen at the dock.
For a quick escape from the beach, the freshwater cenotes, or sinkholes, are also ideal for experiencing. Cenotes are underground caves and tunnels that are filled with crystal clear, cool rainwater. Many cenotes offer swimming and diving as activities and some area filled with fish, turtles, and even bats. Local cenotes worth visiting include El Gran Cenote ($100 pesos for entrance), Casa Cenote (about $25 pesos for entrance), Cenotes Cristal and Escondido (about $50 pesos for admission to both), and Dos Ojos Cenote ($150 pesos for entrance).