Things To Do in Tulum, Mexico

No visit to Tulum is complete without a tour of the Mayan Ruins that share the same name. While the site does not include a large number of restored buildings, the setting of the Castillo on the edge of a cliff overlooking the South Caribbean Ocean is the worth the visit alone. Click on the link above for a more detailed description of the Tulum Ruins.

About 45 km west of Tulum are the even more impressive Coba ruins. We visited there again in 2007 and found the road there and the facilities for taking care of visitors have been vastly improved.

  1. credit: lecates on Flickr

Tulum borders on the northern end of the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. The reserve includes 1.3 million acres of lowland forest, flooded savannas, mangroves, and a portion of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. There are hundreds of plant species, birds, wild cats, monkeys and numerous species of reptiles.

There are several tours with different themes (birding, flaura & fauna, etc.) offered by several groups but we took one called “Muyil: Forest and float Tour”that included a walking tour through the Mayan ruins at Muyil and then a and loved it. It’s owned and operated people from the local Mayan community who seem to have a real interest in sharing what they knew about the history and beautiy of the area. We were picked up at our hotel in Tulum but I think they might even pick up as far away as Playa. We were driven about 25 km south of Tulum and we walked into the forest and saw a few Mayan ruins. One in particular was dedicated to Ixchel the same goddess of fertility that that the San Grevacio ruins in Cozumel were dedicated to.

It’s not the largest temple I’ve ever seen but it really was one of the prettiest. Then they walked us through the jungle and we came out on a large lake. They put us into pangas and as we approached the other side of the lake, it looked like we were going to ground the boat but at the last second, a small canal appeared. Then it opened up onto another lake. Same routine with a slightly larger canal at the other side. But then they gave us life jackets and told people to lay on them or wear them like a diaper and we floated down the canal for about half an hour. That was really fun (but we got a little sunburn.) Then they served lunch and stopped by a cenote for a swim on the way back to Tulum.

Centro Ecologico Sian Ka’an(CESiaK) is another company that has accommodations within the park and offers similar tours.

Other Tulum day trips to consider

  • Playa del Carmen is located about 45-minutes north and offers some very nice beaches. You can hire a cab for about $25-$35 one way. There is also regular bus service run by several companies that leaves very frequently to and from Tulum to Playa. The Riveria Bus line is a good one for a ride to Playa or most of the other daytrip locations listed below.
  • Go snorkeling or diving in a cenotè. Cenotès are actually part of an elaborate subterranean cave system where the roof has collapsed revealing a section of an underground a river. The literal translation from Maya for cenotès is sacred pool and the ancients considered them gifts from the Gods. You can book a tour from a local company or just drive up and down Highway 307 and follow the signs to one of the many that dot the area.
  • Chichen Itza is a very impressive Mayan ruin that is more inland and a bit further away than Coba. There are regular tours that you can buy from any hotel travel desk. This one would be harder to do as a self drive day trip unless you were a little more familiar with the area.
  • Xcaret promotes itself as an eco-friendly natural park. It features a wide range of water sports including a Dolphin experience and nature trails. It’s a little like Disneyworld with a Mayan theme.
  • A trip to the Xel-Há ecological park can be an all-day experience taking advantage of the myriad of water and land activities. The inlet there is described as “an aquarium free of walls and glass panes” and allows visitors to swim with native tropical fish. For an additional fee, visitors can take part in a Dolphin Swim Adventure. Xel-Ha is located 15 minutes from Tulum at kilometer 240 on highway 307, also called the Chetumal-Cancún highway. It is open 365 days a year from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm.