Tulum is the heart of the Riviera Maya. As the quieter neighbour of Cancun, Tulum is nevertheless celebrated for its beauty, most notably its Mayan ruins and beaches. As ancient ruins press themselves against the turquoise waters of Playa Paraíso, it’s hard to escape the feeling that this is coastal Mexico at its best.
Let trivago and Nomadarte talk you through the lesser known gems that this magical destination has to offer. Having travelled all of Latin America by car, Cynthia and Gustavo have just hit Mexico, so make sure to take note of their top tips for the best Tulum hotels and our favourites for Tulum all-inclusives.
Tulum is known for being home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the Playa Paraíso. Stretching out before you, as its name indicates in Spanish, is a true Mexican paradise (and one of the best maintained at that).
You can go snorkelling and follow the coast to explore the spectacular coral reef, the second-largest in the world. If it’s relaxation you’re after, why not take a walk along the shore and take in these unforgettable surroundings?
The Maya People
The magic of Tulum can be traced back to the 13th century, a time when the Maya people had chosen the Caribbean as one of their main settlements. Tulum as an archaeological site was one of the last cities of Mayan culture and had also established itself as a very important trading post.
The original name Zamá translates to “sunrise” as in the first rays of sunlight that could be seen emerging from behind El Castillo or the Templo de los Frescos. The panoramic views from the highest point on the cliff top are well-worth the early wake-up.
Things to do in Tulum
To really discover Tulum Pueblo, you need to explore each of its narrow alleyways, lit up with restaurants, bars, and countless hotels. From the outside, they may look discreet and unassuming but from the inside, they reveal themselves as lively spaces that combine to make Tulum a favourite for many travellers.
To help you make the most of this destination, here are a few tips that will be sure to transform your vacation into the perfect break for relaxing, having fun, and enjoying nature. No need for lounge chairs here, just lie back and soak up the sun on sand that is as white as snow and as soft as powder.
Hang out with Turtles
Fancy swimming with turtles? Then make the most of your time in Tulum and take a trip to Akumal, the Maya name for “Land of the turtles”. It’s located 27 kilometres from Tulum and is well worth a visit. You can get to Akumal in one of two ways. You can hire a bike, and make the most of the journey and the tropical scenery along the way. Or simply flag down the local minibus which will drop you directly outside the entrance to the village.
Once you’ve arrived in Akumal, make your way to one of the tour offices, where you can choose between snorkelling or scuba diving. Whatever you decide, your experience is sure to be one you won’t soon forget. Akumal is known for its warm and shallow waters, making it the perfect spot for getting up close and personal with the turtles that live there. These waters are home to reefs, coral, and hundreds of different types of fish; all combine to transform this space into a natural aquarium worthy of the big screen. Although they are not shy creatures and will swim up quite close, you should never touch the turtles, or swim towards them if they decide to keep their distance.
Explore Tulum Pueblo
For some, the idea of exploring the little town of Tulum may not hold appeal, but in reality, it’s the best way to get a proper feel for its people and its past. The best option for exploring the town’s many streets is to rent a bike, ideally in the evening, just as night is falling. Dotted throughout the town you’ll find meditation spaces, yoga classes, and even traditional Maya sweat lodges, known as temazcales. There are few other places that come as close to spiritual relaxation and inner peace.
As the sun goes down, make sure to take a stroll down Avenida Tulum. Lined with the best bars and restaurants, this street is ideally situated for a great night out. If it’s a full moon, make your way to one of the many fiestas that are organized on the beach, where you can enjoy delicious cocktails under the moonlight.
Discover the Cenotes
Right across the Riviera Maya, you’ll find hundreds of cenotes, some more famous than others, and in Tulum, you’ll find some wonderful examples, not least the Cenote Cristal. Just five minutes from Tulum, Cenote Cristal is a natural pit hidden behind dense vegetation.This cenote distinguishes itself, however, thanks to the special “halocline” effect that can be seen just under the surface of the water, a phenomenon where the water looks blurred because of the combination of fresh water and salt. It’s the perfect spot for swimming and snorkelling, while divers will find even more layers of life as they head deeper below.
Marvel at the beauty of the Kaan Luum Laguna
Twelve kilometres from Tulum lies the serene but relatively unknown Kaan Luum Laguna, which means “yellow land”. It may not look like its leading anywhere, but follow the trail right into the heart of the jungle, and after a while, you’ll spot a hut, which means that you’re getting closer to this breathtaking natural wonder. If you continue on for another few metres, you’ll notice a change in the surroundings and then through the lush rainforest, you’ll spot an expanse of emerald green water.
Kaan Luum Laguna’s cenote is calling out for scuba divers, which plunges to a depth of more than 80 metres. Free-diving is also possible, but you must be accompanied by a guide.
For those less daring, there are the banks of the cenote where the water is more shallow, warm and crystal clear. The sand here is so soft that you can exfoliate with it. No photo could ever do justice to this mystical place, but one thing is for sure, this is one destination in Tulum that should not be missed.
Where to stay in Tulum, Mexico
When it comes to accommodation in Tulum, luxury options co-exist peacefully with eco-friendly options, however, one thing that makes this paradise location stand out is its wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget. Whether it’s close to the beach or a more central location you’re after, here are Nomadarte’s recommendations for hotels in Tulum:
This hotel is the ideal option for experiencing the “eco-chic” essence of Tulum, without compromising on comfort, or more importantly, good taste.
Its 12 rooms come equipped with everything you’ll need, and tasteful decor that creates an “adults only” ambiance of deep relaxation and tranquillity. This exclusive ambiance extends to the friendly service offered by the hotel’s staff, its relaxing pool, and easy transportation options to the attractions nearby.
Enjoy a refreshing drink from the O’Tulum bar lounge as you soak up the sun on the terrace, or if you prefer, while relaxing in the comfort of your room, as most rooms come with a balcony and room service.Check availability »
Breakfast is included, and the hotel’s restaurant, Costa Brava, offers a fusion of exciting culinary styles for evening dining. Last but not least, O’Tulum has its own private beach – the jewel in the crown that makes this hotel the ideal option to complete your Tulum holiday experience.
Elements Tulum Boutique hotel
Another option that really shows off the best side of Tulum is Elements Tulum Boutique. This hotel opened just over a year ago and was quick to garner attention for its impeccable service.
Elements Tulum Boutique is located very close to the centre, which means you can borrow a bike from the hotel or simply enjoy the stroll into town. If you decide you want to visit the cenotes or water parks, the hotel will also help you organize transportation.Check availability »
The hotel offers free valet parking, complimentary breakfast buffet, and a very pretty garden. All of the rooms have modern furnishings and luxury bed linens. Although the hotel doesn’t offer a spa, you can dial up a massage treatment in your own room.
Looking for a home away from home? Livetulum offers an aparthotel with your own lounge, kitchen, and bathtub. The ambiance is so warm and inviting that the thought of returning to your actual home dare not enter your head.
The hotel has spa facilities, a garden, terrace area, and outdoor pool. It even has its own library, where you might get lost in a good book or relaxing in a peaceful environment destined for your personal unplug.Check availability »
Because it’s an aparthotel, you can cook your own meals, and any money you save can be put toward one of the eco-friendly activities mentioned above, just ask the staff for transportation tips and let the fun begin…
Kore Tulum Retreat and Spa Resort
Whether it be stretching out on a Balinese bed overlooking the vanishing edge of the infinity pool or taking a free rental bike into town, Kore Tulum has no shortage of ways to make every day of your stay a little different.
Guests at this Tulum all-inclusive are treated to two restaurants, two bars, and room service around the clock, in addition to activities like yoga on the beach.Check availability »
Hydrotherapy enthusiasts will have no other choice than to reserve themselves into one of Kore Tulum’s Luxury Jacuzzi suites which includes a private outdoor hot tub built into the balcony.
The Unlimited-Luxury brand of the all-inclusive experience at Dreams Tulum goes beyond the top-shelf spirits and the gourmet à la carte dining. Treat yourself to a temazcal sweat lodge ceremony, free WiFi and long-distance calling and learn how to make your own spa products.
Teeing off at the Riviera Maya Golf Club is included in your room rate as is access to the Explorer’s Club for kids 3 to 12 and the Core Zone for teens 13 to 17.Check availability »
Back in your guestroom make use of a mini bar that gets replenished daily, whirlpool tubs in select rooms and twice-daily housekeeping service. Families and groups coming to Tulum may be interested in requesting connecting rooms.
Eating out in Tulum
Coctelería El Dorado
There’s nothing quite like sampling the typical dishes of a region, so why not make the most of your time in Tulum and visit Coctelería El Dorado, where you’ll be served up the best shrimp ceviche and snail dishes in the region. The prices are super affordable and the quality is second to none.
The best thing about Tulum is that it caters to every taste – even the most demanding of palates. No matter how picky (or adventurous) you are, you’ll find a plate at Restaurante Primitivo. The food is fabulous, the presentation impeccable, and the succulent flavours of each dish will leave you wanting more. Our favourite pick — the octopus.
So there you have it. Need any more convincing that Tulum really is a paradise on earth?
This article originally appeared on Room5 Mexico in collaboration with Nomadarte.