Believe it or not, Tulum was considered a hidden gem before 2016. Visited mostly on day trips from Cozumel and the Riviera Maya, the Tulum ruins and beach were the perfect stopover. Tulum’s popularity has dramatically risen in the last few years due to the perfect balance of culture, adventure and relaxation it offers its visitors. Becoming an Instagram darling didn’t hurt either! This Tulum itinerary will ensure you get to experience the best of this not so hidden gem and is perfect to add to any longer Mexico itinerary.
Tulum Itinerary Guest Post by Ioana Stoica
The rise in popularity has given way to a drastic increase in development of resorts, restaurants, shops and the entire Tulum Beach Strip. Tulum is comprised of three areas: the Tulum Beach Strip, the Tulum Ruins, and the town center (Tulum Pueblo) which is the least touristy part of the area.
Where is Tulum and how do I get there?
Located in the Quintana Roo region, your best bet of getting to Tulum is by flying to Cancun International Airport (CUN). From there take a bus, private shuttle or rent a car.
The airport is 120 km away from Tulum and the journey is around two hours. The drive is scenic and worth the effort as it follows the coast all the way down from Cancun. While the Cozumel airport is much closer to Tulum than Cancun, its island location makes the trip more complicated.
Here is my Tulum itinerary on how to spend three days exploring Tulum and all it has to offer.
Stay at Kasa Hotel Parota Tulum
I spent over a week at Kasa Hotel Parota Tulum and it was a dream! Built in 2018, the hotel feels cozy, remote and luxurious and it doesn’t break the bank.
Located in the middle of a forested area, the property has a dreamy pool in the middle of the property. It makes a perfect hangout spot any time of day.
I stayed in their Superior Room and it was perfect for two people. I had a group of friends that stayed in the 2 Bedroom Suite and their room was also awesome. Not only was it incredibly spacious, it even had a hammock on the balcony overlooking the pool!
If you’re looking to splurge, they also have some penthouse suits that have their own private pool, terrace and bar. Not a bad deal! Whatever your budget and preference, rest assured there’s a room for everyone.
Looking to explore Tulum, but need to stick to a budget? Check out the best hostels in Tulum.
Where it the hotel located?
While not located on the beach, the hotel has a free shuttle. It can take you to the town center, beach, Tulum Beach Strip or cenotes. You’ll also have full access to the bikes on site so you can explore the area. You can get to the town center in 10 minutes. To get to the Tulum Ruins, Gran Cenote and to the beach it takes just under 20 minutes by bike. It’s a lovely and pleasant ride in every direction!
Tulum Itinerary Day 1 – Hang Out on the Tulum Beach Strip
The best way to get a feel of Tulum is to head to the Tulum Beach Strip. This street is parallel to the beautiful Tulum Beach. The beach is jam-packed with gorgeous eco-friendly hotels, dreamy restaurants and Instagram-worthy beach bars. Most things along the strip have been built in the last 3-4 years. It has since become one of the most popular places to visit while in Tulum.
You can move around the long strip on foot, or by bike. If you prefer not to bike from the hotel, you can rent a bike from one of the many shops (~10 USD).
I recommend making your way down the strip and coming back along the long Tulum Beach (or the other way around) since the two are parallel but offer diverse experiences. You can make plenty of stops along the way.
Tulum has fully embraced the Instagram culture – you won’t be able to take ten steps without seeing a cute swing against a beautiful backdrop or an adorable colorful 70s car that you can take pictures with.
Restaurants on the Tulum Strip
The restaurants on the strip are diverse, uniquely designed and on the healthy side. If you’re gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan, you’ll absolutely love the immense variety you’ll have to choose from!
One of my favorite places on the strip is Raw Love – they had me with their delicious vegan bowls, hammocks and trampolines. Depending on the time of day you go, you may find it packed or completely empty! We went a couple of times and loved the atmosphere each time. I just had to squeeze it in the morning before my flight and we had it to ourselves to enjoy the food and take a siesta in one of the awesome hammocks.
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Along the beach side, my favorite spots are Coco Tulum and the Real Coconut.
I recommend getting a coffee or drink at Coco Tulum and taking advantage of their porch swings facing the Caribbean Sea. It’s gorgeous at sunset but it’s even better in the serenity of the morning when you can have the porch and the beach in front of it to yourself. They even have a funky outdoor beach shower you can use to take the sand off! Coco Tulum is also a hotel so they open the café as early as 7:30 in the morning – just in time to catch that golden sunrise hour!
Another great sunset spot, the Real Coconut has hearty and healthy meals that are perfect for both lunch and dinner. The views from their patio are nothing short of spectacular. This is something you must add to yout Tulum Itinerary. We had a great group lunch here and ended up hanging out on the premises and the beach for hours afterward.
Head South on the Strip
As you make your way further south on the strip you’ll find the beaches becoming smoother and the hotels becoming more luxurious. Most of the hotels have beach bars or restaurants you can enjoy, each picture-perfect in their own way.
The Tulum Beach/Strip is about half of what is known as Zona Hotelera or Tulum Playa, an 11 km long beach that connects the edge of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve to the Tulum Ruins. If you have about 2+ hours and love the beach, you can even walk it. The other half is mostly forested and houses many luxury hotels and resorts, including the picturesque and infamous Azulik Resort.
Tulum Itinerary Day 2 – Explore Mayan Ruins, Beach and Cenotes
This one will be an exhausting day!
Tulum is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world and this is the day you’ll find out why.
Tulum Itinerary: The Ruins
Recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, these Tulum ruins will take your breath away. Nestled on a seaside cliff, these Mayan ruins are the only archaeological site built on a coast and the only ruins of their kind in the Quintaroo Region.
Built around 564 A.D., the ruins are the site of the ancient walled city of Tulum that housed about 1,600 people and are an amazing example of Mayan culture. The strategic seaside location enabled Tulum to become a very significant seaport until the 16th century, where most of the population was eradicated by disease.
The castle is quite impressive, standing at 25 feet high and towering over the rest of the site and the beach below. Don’t miss checking out the Temple of the Frescoes in front of the castle. Formerly one of the most significant buildings in the complex and covered in breathtaking frescoes on the inside, the temple is quite impressive and unfortunately now closed off to the public.
How much time do I need at the Tulum ruins?
The entire complex is larger than you’d expect, and you need at least 2-3 hours to walk around leisurely, especially if you plan on taking pictures. You can walk around by yourself by the signage on the structures isn’t great. If you want to learn about the history and significance of each building, I recommend taking a tour. It’ll only set you back around $30 USD.
You can buy tickets from the cashier or machines at the front for about $5 USD if you prefer to do a self-guided tour. If you are driving, parking will also set you back about $6 USD. The parking lot is a good 10-minute walk from the site. Alternatively, you can grab a taxi to and from your hotel, just make sure you negotiate the price ahead of time.
If you don’t want to worry about getting there, tickets, and all the other details I suggest booking a Tulum Ruins and Cenote Tour.
Perfectly located under the ruins, this beach is my favorite beach in Tulum. There’s really nothing else like it. It mesmerized me when I saw it during my first visit 8+ years ago, and it’s remained just as beautiful when I visited it again last year.
The beach can only be accessed from the ruins, and as such is limited by the opening hours of the archeological site which opens at 8am and closes at 4:30pm daily. You’ll want to give yourself enough time to see the ruins and head down to the beach before site closes.
Bring a light towel, a bathing suit and a snorkeling mask if you have one. It’s a great spot to check out the coral reef.
Since the ruins close relatively early, you have some time to check out the nearby cenotes!
Cenotes are natural pools that are created when the roof of an underground caverns sinks. There are more than 6,000 different ones of all shapes and sizes in the Yucatan Peninsula alone. That’s quite impressive. They’re categorized into four types – pit cenotes, cylinder cenotes, shallow basin cenotes and cave cenotes.
The most famous cenote in the area is Gran (Grand) Cenote where you can snorkel, swim or cave-dive.
If you’re driving and you have time, check out some of best cenotes in Tulum. The ones that are privately managed close before 6pm so check timing before you schedule your day.
Tulum Itinerary Day 3 – Spend a Day at Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Another UNESCO site, the Sian Ka’an, became a Biosphere Reserve in 1986. It was made a UNESCO site due to housing thousands of species of flora and fauna. As the largest protected site in the Caribbean, Sian Ka’an prides itself on sustainable tourism and protecting its fragile ecosystem.
Spread over half a million hectares, you’ll want to plan your visit in advance so you can make the most of your day there. You have plenty to choose from since the diverse ecosystem includes beaches, wetlands, coral reefs, rainforests, nd dunes.
The Reserve is still relatively under the radar as most people stick to the ruins and the beaches, and don’t add this to their Tulum itinerary.
Take a Tour
There are a number of different tours you can take that last between 4 and 6 hours and cater to your interest. These tours include snorkeling around the Mesoamerican Reef, touring the lagoons, and bird watching. Book in advance to avoid disappointment as they’re typically sold out a few days out.
You can also take a self-guided tour of the Reserve but you’ll want to do research in advance and plan where you want to go since there’s a lot of ground to cover.
Dinner in Tulum Center
Head to Tulum town center for dinner and get to know the side of Tulum that few tourists see. It is still authentically charming despite the recent development of the area. There are lots of great restaurants around, you can’t go wrong with any of them!
About the Author:
Ioana Stoica helps people fall in love with hidden corners of the world. Having recently left the corporate world, Ioana now freelances and authors The World Is My Playground, a culture and adventure travel blog that follows her travels around the world. Follow her on Instagram!