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The Ultimate Tulum Travel Guide For First Timers
If you are heading to beautiful Tulum, Mexico, you are going to love this post. This will give you all the best things to do in Tulum, Mexico to get the best pictures and have the best time!
Tulum, Mexico is a fantastic tropical, foodie destination that is at the top of so many people’s bucket lists. If you are planning a trip to Tulum, this post is for you. We visited recently and absolutely loved the diversity of Tulum and the Yucatan Peninsula. From Mayan ruins to beautiful tropical beaches and the ability to end every day with delicious Mexican food is a win for me.
We’ll go outline the best Tulum travel guide, the best things to do in Tulum, Tulum Beach, the best Tulum resorts, and cenotes in Tulum.
As a side note, we, unfortunately, lost almost all of our photos from Tulum because of a we were robbed shortly after our time in Tulum.
This post is all about the ultimate Tulum Travel Guide for first-time visitors!
Tulum Travel Guide:
The Tulum Ruins are definitely worth the stop. You may be in Tulum for the most beautiful beaches but these old Mayan Ruins are way more stunning than even we suspected. They are located on a cliffside overlooking the bluest water we have ever seen. You aren’t able to walk through the ruins as you can in Southeast Asia but the grounds are gorgeous and well kept. Plus there is so much wildlife on the property. We saw so many iguanas sunbathing and practically posing for photos, snakes (some poisonous), and even some monkeys!
PRO TIP: There is a secret beach on the grounds of the ruins by El Castillo. It is very small and absolutely STUNNING. It gets crowded so get there early if you want to go and be aware that the surf is often too rough to open. If you do get a chance to visit, definitely take it since it’s not always open.
If you are into seeing the ruins around the Yucatan Peninsula, Coba is definitely a good choice. It used to be even better as it was the last pyramid in Yucatan Peninsula that you could actually climb but as of 2020, they have closed that. This is a much larger city of ruins than even Chichen Itza but it is largely unexplored. The best way to get around is to rent a bike at the entrance and ride the grounds through the shaded city. It was definitely a fun change of pace from the pools and beaches of Tulum.
Tulum is a very up-and-coming, trendy area and they have tons of art that make for some spectacular photos and admiration. Most of the best art is located down by Tulum Beach. Here is a list of the best spots for art in Tulum:
- Follow that Dream Sign
- Matcha Mama Swings
- Ven a La Luz Sculpture
- Mia Beach Restaurant Entrance Sculpture
- Giant Hand Platform at Hun Tulum Hotel
Papaya Playa Project
Beach clubs are huge in Tulum and Papaya Playa Project is definitely the most recommended. Most beach clubs have an entrance fee or minimum spend on food and drink. These can definitely be worth the price if the food is good, the music is good, you get a nice lounge chair and beachside service. Since most beaches are privately owned, you likely will end up at a beach club and Papaya Playa Project is definitely the spot to be.
Playa Paraiso is actually a free, public beach. The only one in Tulum (without a 15+ minute drive) and is absolutely stunning. We arrived for sunrise and ended up staying all day. The water is shallow and clear and the sand is soft and white. We rented an Airbnb while in Tulum and they had towels and chairs for us but you can rent these from hotels as well! Well worth it!
This is the most popular cenote around Tulum because it is absolutely gorgeous and only 10 minutes away from town. We highly recommend getting there early to avoid the crowds and get that perfect photo without a ton of people in the background!
Sac Actún Cenote
We visited this cenote on a private tour and when we first got there, it was a gorgeous spot, but then we snorkeled into the cave system. It was an absolutely incredible experience to be in the pitch black (with a flashlight) with bats flying overhead and stalagmites and stalactites all around. We were incredibly lucky and had the entire place to ourselves and it was incredible. You have to have a guide to do that portion of the cenote. However, they have another section that does not require a guide and provides so pretty epic photo opportunities as well.
This is a photographer’s dream. If you visit this one at the right time of day, a beautiful sun ray will shoot through the small hole in the ceiling and perfectly illuminate the path in the middle. It is absolutely stunning at that time of day, but all also extremely busy! We unfortunately just visited after heavy rain and the pathway was 9 feet underwater. Just be aware of that depending on when you visit!
San Lorenzo Oxman
This was our favorite Cenote by far because we are giant kids and there was a rope swing! This is also one of the few cenotes we visited that had sunlight hitting the water. It made it far less cold than some of the others. There is also a pool and restaurant at the time so you can truly make this a whole day. You can purchase individual tickets or get a food & drink package and it was well worth it to do the combo.
This was our first introduction to a cenote and the water was perfectly clear and cool. There was even a place to jump off into the water. This is a great spot for divers as there is much more to see if you are diving!
As one of the Seven World Wonders, visiting Chichén Itzá is definitely an epic bucket list item. We rented a car through XX and drove up to Chichén Itzá for opening. Seeing the grounds in a foggy layer with no one around was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. It was incredibly hot there so come prepared! The grounds are so much larger than we expected and it is so much more than just El Castillo so be sure to walk around and see the sacrificial cenotes (spooky!).
Lagoon of Seven Colors in Bacalar
This incredible lagoon is an hour away from Tulum and is best to plan for a tour of the Lagoon. We prefer private tours as there is more freedom for us to take photos and videos and XX looks like a great option. You definitely have to get on the water no matter as this is where the magic is. The lagoon is called the Lagoon of Seven Colors because the water is stunning and actually looks like seven different shades of blue and green. The sunnier the day, the better the color changes.
Akumal Beach – Turtles
If you are looking for a bucket list adventure, heading to Akumal Beach to swim with the turtles in the wild is perfect! These turtles are 100% wild and are protected by no swim zones, reef-safe sunscreen, and guide-only areas. We went on a busy day but still got to see 5 different turtles. The water was beautiful and clear and especially refreshing in the afternoon sun.
> Related Post: The Most Unforgettable Tulum Jungle Tour
Tulum Travel Guide & Where to Stay:
On The Beach
If you are looking for a true Tulum beach experience, these are the best hotels for you.
- Budget: Coromoran Boutique Hotel & Cenote Tulum
- Mid-Range: Selina Tulum (Shared and private rooms)
- Luxury: La Valise Tulum (Master Suite room is a DREAM!)
- Unique: Azulik Tulum
There is plenty to see and do in town as well! Just a short drive to the beaches and this is where all the good food is!
- Budget: Hotel Mediterráneo Tulum
- Mid-Range (best options!): Hotel Tiki Tiki Tulum
- Luxury: Kimpton – Aluna Tulum
- Apartment: Xperience Tulum Hotel
- Unique: Huaya Camp (Glamping!)